Abby's Reviews > Hicksville

Hicksville by Dylan Horrocks
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's review
Jul 12, 08

bookshelves: comix, 500-essential-gns
Read in July, 2008

Quite simply one of the most AMAZING books I have read in a long while. Horrocks has penned a heartfelt -- and sometimes heartbreaking -- homage to comics and their creators that encompasses the full spectrum of the medium: from superheroes to self-published mini-comics to graphic novels. Hicksville is a magical place -- a tiny New Zealand town where the lending library includes the full run of Action Comics, the local teashop is called The Rarebit Fiend (after the Windsor McKay comic of the same name), and locals debate the literary merits of Sergio Aragones and Edgar P. Jacobs as freely as most of us chat about the weather, or politics. It is a place where your cartoonist friend that you haven't seen in some time will give you an autobiographical mini-comic describing what he's been up to instead of simply telling you. In other words, it is a place that those of us who love comics and zines visit sometimes in our dreams -- a utopian vision of comics creation and readership removed from the pressures and obligations of the marketplace.

But beyond creating this fantastic and wonderful place, and populating it with complex and three-dimensional characters, Horrocks has raised some pretty weighty issues -- about loyalty, love, and friendship, and how the need to pay the bills can lead us to compromise our most cherished beliefs and personal integrity. The main storyline follows Leonard Batts, an American writer for Comics World magazine, who travels to rural New Zealand in search of information about Dick Burger, the reigning giant of the American comics industry (thanks to his colossally successful Captain Tomorrow series) who was born and raised in Hicksville. Shortly after arriving in Hicksville, Batts quickly learns that Burger is almost universally despised among the townspeople, yet no one will tell him why.

Horrocks deftly interweaves Batts' attempts to get to the bottom of the mystery with the homecoming of Grace, a Hicksvillian who has returned to her hometown after several years of travels to face joyous but complicated reunions with friends, lovers, and her garden. Another voice in the narrative is that of Sam Zabel, the Hicksvillian cartoonist who has returned after a year of work for an Auckland humor magazine and has his own tales of woe and lost love to relate (which he does, naturally, in mini-comic form!). Horrocks brings all these threads together in an inventive technique that slips effortlessly between the present action and comics written by his characters about the past. It is a testament to Horrocks' skill as a cartoonist and storyteller that this technique never feels gimmicky or stilted; on the contrary, readers almost immediately forget that they are reading a comic within a comic and become engrossed in the unfolding action. In many respects, it is the comics equivalent of experimental novels like David Mitchell's "Cloud Atlas" and Richard Flanagan's "Gould's Book of Fish" (incidentally, two of my favorite novels from the past 5 years).

My friend Davey says that people who love Hicksville are "true comics believers," but I think even those without a deep knowledge of comics will enjoy this story and relish the innovative way that it is told. I loved it so much that I read it twice in two weeks, and will probably read again before it's due (of course SPL does not own it; I had to get it through ILL). Sad to say, Hicksville's been out of print for several years now -- so ILL's your best bet for tracking this baby down. Or perhaps you have a friend who is a superhuge indie comics collector -- most likely they'll own this one. Do whatever you need to do to get your hands on a copy. I swear you won't regret it.
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Edmund Davis-Quinn I would love to see more stories of this amazing place.

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