I have in my possession a videotape of one of comedian Bill Hicks' final performances. It may even be the last one, I don't know. One of the attendees shot it with a camcorder. The first time I saw Bill Hicks on TV, he was working one of the big comedy festivals, Montreal or the like. By the time everyone else noticed him, he was doing big London venues, professionally shot for video-sales posterity. A big man, clean shaven, haloed with the half-mad stage confidence of the religious and impassioned.
On this tape, he is thin, misshapen-looking in a rumpled babyshit-green suit. Scraggly beard, hair long and greasy. He looks broken. It's a small club, chairs arranged around a meagre pit of space. In LA somewhere, I think. He used to joke about ending up playing The Comedy Pouch in Possum Ridge, Arkansas. He used to prowl a stage like a panther, thrash, bend double and scream into the mike. He doesn't have a mike here. He could probably spit to the back wall of the club. His entrance/exit music is on a tape deck balanced on a stool behind him. He has to turn it on himself when he finally leaves his little pit. He stands there and vomits out the last of himself, one last shot at making people listen to what he has to say. He's dying, right there in front of those people. A few weeks later, cancer will kill him, at age 32. They don't know. I do, watching this tape. It's a heartbreaking piece of film.
He had so many things to tell these people. But they just laughed at him. And he had to play his own exit music, for a couple of dozen people. No one to turn the lights down. Two dozen pairs of eyes on his bent back as he staggered off.
Never, ever leave the stage like that.
On Finishing TRANSMETROPOLITAN
In 1996 I sat there writing a plot document thinking, I'm never going to get the five years I need to finish this. A 1300-page graphic novel, serialised in 22-page episodes over five years. A science fiction graphic novel, even -- sf comics have been a signal failure in American comics over the last twenty-odd years, and this was being written for the American market. Worse, its intent was British -- the science fiction novel as social novel, right out of HG Wells, as followed through by the New Worlds authors of the Sixties and pretty much left for dead ever since. There haven't been many American sf writers of a left, humanist political bent -- Alfred Bester, Norman Spinrad and Bruce Sterling are among the better-known -- and fewer still prepared to get as emotionally dirty as I wanted TRANSMET to be. Bester was as bad with people on the page as any Fifties sf author. The cyberpunk authors carefully rendered their characters as emotional blanks, powerfully influenced by the New Worlds school (especially Michael Moorcock's JERRY CORNELIUS sequence), where the moral and ethical questions of the worlds they inhabit are simply taken as read. I wanted to write something involved. I wanted to use the future as a tool with which to examine the present.
And, God help me, I wanted to write a complete longform novel for comics.
The eighth collection will be available in March 2003. The tenth and final collection will, at the current speed, be out in early 2004.
But the initial serialisation is done, now. Sixty chapters. It was a horrible fucking struggle, the single longest and biggest job I've ever done. It's going to be a long time before I attempt something of that size again. But now I'm part of a weirdly select club. I've completed a closed work of more than one thousand pages. In a market not designed for finite works, and a market that "doesn't like" sf comics, according to the Received Wisdom. If the work has achieved nothing else, I'm proud of having achieved that.
Now I just need to decide what's next.
On What's Next
No more internet communities for me for a long while, if ever again. There's not going to be any Artbomb Forum. I am consultant to two communities - Opi8 Forum and ComicsPro, a gated community for comics professionals -- and I'll look in on those two semi-regularly, but that's about it. Time to do something else.
Incidentally, if you do work in comics professionally - creative and editorial, marketing and publishing, retail and distribution - and you'd like entrance to ComicsPro, email Forum Director Amanda Fisher at email@example.com with your bona fides.
All my new works are either serial-to-collection or original graphic novel. But nothing on the order of 1300 pages. A couple of hundred is my limit for a while. I feel like a marathon runner who really doesn't want to do anything more dramatic than walk to the pub for a while. Small, self-contained, affordable works. Nothing wrong with that.
I am so tired.