Hellblazer returns with two new publications - Jamie Delano interview
While his creators may not care much for him, John Constantine remains an iconic figure. Henry Northmore chats to the writers of the latest Hellblazer chapters
Originally created by Alan Moore on the pages of his groundbreaking Saga of the Swamp Thing, John Constantine has gone on to become one of the comics world’s most fully realised characters. As writer Jamie Delano explains: ‘Constantine is often described in the following terms, variously combined: chain-smoking; British; working-class magus; The Laughing Magician; ruthless bastard; cunning opponent of both Heaven and Hell; champion of humanity against supernatural oppression and indifference; devious gambler; horror junkie. All of which are appropriate.’
It was Delano who put flesh on the bones of Moore’s creation as the original writer of Constantine’s monthly title Hellblazer, and now the deeply flawed occult conman is celebrating 25 years in print, so it seems only fitting that Delano should return to help mark this anniversary with the release of a new graphic novel Hellblazer: Pandemonium. ‘Try as I might I can’t shake the asshole off,’ says Delano. ‘John Constantine is a dangerous addiction: I enjoy long periods of remission, but inevitably relapse and succumb to temptation, shrugging on the old bastard’s trenchcoat, to again observe the world through his corrosive eye.’ It’s Scottish artist Jock who brings Constantine’s trip to Iraq in Pandemonium to life. ‘An original hardback graphic novel gave me the opportunity to put a lot into the art and apply a style I usually only use on covers throughout the book,’ adds Jock. ‘Jamie’s script was great; there’s a tangible underlying sense of dread throughout the story, not an easy thing to achieve.’
In the world of comics, characters live on, as writers hand over the reins to the next scribe; Garth Ennis, Warren Ellis and Brian Azzarello have all dipped their toe in the murky Hellblazer world. He’s such a unique fictional construct even Scottish crime novelists Ian Rankin and Denise Mina made a leap into comics to tackle him. Peter Milligan is the current writer of the ongoing Hellblazer series. ‘Obviously Constantine has to be recognizable as the Constantine that’s been knocking around all these years,’ he explains. ‘And sometimes you have to be careful you don’t directly contradict what’s happened in his long history. But as long as I keep to this I have the freedom to write my version of who I think Constantine is.’
One of Constantine’s strengths is that he’s set very much within the real world. Most of his stories are based on the gritty streets of London, Liverpool or even Glasgow (as seen in Mina’s superb run which can be found in the collected editions Empathy is the Enemy and The Red Right Hand), the supernatural creeping in at the edges of our reality. It means some rich allegorical tales can be told through a medium usually obsessed with superpowers. So, in the first collected edition of Milligan’s, Hellblazer: Scab, he has used this parallel world to tackle the gentrification of London and the role of the unions and strike breakers. ‘I’ve been interested in really putting Constantine through the wringer, Job-style, with skin diseases, mental illness, substance addiction and ferocious beatings, and to see what kind of a man staggers out the other side. It’s almost as though I’m trying to see what’ll wipe the smile off his face.’
Hellblazer: Pandemonium and Hellblazer: Scab are out now published by Vertigo/Titan.