Rake At The Gates of Heaven: A Hellblazer Thought Experiment

(Image from www.mindlessones.com)

 

Hellblazer is cancelled with issue 300. It strikes me that there are people reading this who weren’t born when Hellblazer was launched so here’s the short version; John Constantine is an amoral, massively troubled punk rocker turned magician who lives and works in London, getting into trouble with Heaven, Hell and everything in between. John isn’t nice, John isn’t brave, John is you or me with a well-defined survival instinct and magical ability. He’s the anti-hero’s anti-hero and for 25 years he’s sauntered along, causing trouble and making a name for himself. Throw a rock at any serious UK comics talent in the last twenty years and odds are they worked on Hellblazer at some point; Morrison? Check. Ellis? Check. Ennis? Check. Jenkins? Check. Moore? INVENTED him for his run on Swamp Thing. John has friends in high places, and he knows all the right people.

 

Except it seems for people in editorial. The series, with dismal sales figures, has finally been cancelled and is set to be replaced by Constantine, a mainstream version of the character based on his appearances in Justice League Dark. I’m reliably informed that that’s vastly improved from the first arc, and frankly it needed to, so I’m cautiously optimistic.

Nonetheless, I’ll miss Old John when he goes. That comic was the first thing I read that I knew I wasn’t old enough for and that illicit thrill, combined with the great plotting and uniquely British horror of the title, endeared it to me and many others, albeit, it seems not enough people.

So here’s the thing: The small press comic industry in this country is unlike any other I’ve ever seen; extraordinarily vibrant, creative, varied and alive with superb talent. Look at any of the reviews I’ve done recently and any of the ones still to come and you’ll see that. These are people who love their work and love to create and love comics. All comics. Even the ones you think are rubbish and even the ones about an aging Liverpudlian mage. I’m amazed a tribute title hasn’t been announced yet and whilst I know, the last two times I raised this online, people yelled something about how DC’s lawyers are trained by Russian Special Forces and already know where we all live but I have a one word answer to that;

 

Dogbreath

 

Dogbreath and Zarjaz are the perfect examples of small press comic fan work, each dedicated to Strontium Dog and 2000AD. They’ve produced amazing work and several of their contributors have gone on to work for 2000AD itself. They’re not quite a farm league, but they were and as far as I know still are a recognised and respected talent pool.

 

So why not Hellblazer? Why not assemble creative teams for an anthology of say eight ten page stories, each about Constantine, or his world, or his London.  Let’s look at the questions about it:

 

-How would you pay printing cost?

Go through a service like Magcloud or Lulu and that cost is eaten by the cover price. It puts the cover price up admittedly but it means no upfront costs.

 

-How would you find creative teams?

Ask Twitter. Look on sites like Digital Webbing. Post an open submission call. Start a fan page and see who joins it.

 

-What about artists?

In my experience there’s an operational ratio of three artists to every ten writers in small press comics. The trick isn’t to find one, it’s to find one that’s good and reliable.

 

-What would the teams be paid?

Nothing, other than the exposure they’d get through the project. Small press comics are always all about the calling card, about the last job you did and let’s face it, this is a hell of a last job.

 

-What about DC’s lawyers?

This is the question I’ve been trying to get answered for days. The closest I’ve come to an answer is this; surely you could get away with a single issue? I know there’s a Hellblazer fan web series some people are gleefully awaiting reaching DC’s radar, but surely a single issue fanzine for a dead book would fly under the radar? Even then if you were worried, donate any profits to charity.

 

-Who’d edit it?

Good question. Not me, I don’t have the time or the contacts but there has got to be someone out there willing, surely? It’s a thankless task but take it from someone who knows there is nothing on Earth like holding a printed copy of a book you edited in your hands, nothing.

 

And what if you decided to err on the side of caution? Easy.

Make it about London.

London is such an intrinsic part of Hellblazer that you can riff on the series without ever crossing the red line and having the copyright police kick your door in. There are thousands of supernatural stories about the city, and, true or not, any half dozen of them would make a great anthology, stories like;

-The fact a Mummy’s scream is said to be heard in the old, abandoned Museum street Underground station.

-The group of feral Londoners living in the Underground tunnels.

-The countless reports of hauntings in and around the sites of Jack the Ripper’s murders.

-The Bermondsey house which was bombarded with stones from no visible source for over eight hours.

-Ann Boleyn’s execution barge making its way silently down the Thames.

-The angel reported hovering over the Thames in 2006, near the London Eye. Sightings date back to the Great Fire of London.

London is one of the largest cities in the world, a place soaked in history and story and myth. It’s one of the reasons why John Constantine ended up there and you can put together a great anthology just setting stories inside its boundaries.

 

John Constantine is dying. It won’t last, as I say Constantine launches shortly, but 25 years of accumulated stories are about to end. That should be celebrated and celebrated in the medium he was born in. The only question left is; does anyone want to see the sly old dog out in the style he deserves?

(Constantine concept art, from MTV Geek)

 

 

 

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