Conskipper may be brand new, but our journalists have been covering the world of pop culture conventions for years. The following interview was originally conducted by Nick Banks as a freelancer on October 29th, 2019.
John Constantine has been a perennial favorite ever since he slid his way out of Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing (way back in 1985) and into his own series, which would forever associate the characters with the moniker, Hellblazer. Constantine has undergone many revamps and reimaginings ever since, but the one constant with the chain-smoking magician has always been the talent that the characters and series has attracted, namely a who’s who of the greatest writers in comic book history.
Much to the delight of long-time fans around the world, Si Spurrier’s take on the character grounds him in classic Constantine lore as part of DC’s ever expanding Sandman Universe. Spurrier spoke to us about his version of the character, on the eve of Constantine’s return to the “real world”, in what promises to be an exciting new chapter in the life of John Constantine.
John Constantine has a long publication history and, over the past decade or so, the character has experienced a wide variety of interpretations. How is this one different than the ones fans have seen in recent years?
Si Spurrier: The object here is to return Constantine to his first and natural state: as a cynical, manipulative and deeply flawed trickster – a bastard with a conscience, as I like to put it – who lives in world haunted by supernatural horrors and underscored by adult themes.
The new book starts by acknowledging the character’s many lives and contradictory alternate selves, then finding a really neat way to home-in on the one version we really want. We’re basically giving ourselves a way to drop him back into the “real” world, with all his old Hellblazer memories intact, and a few more besides. (The “real world”, incidentally, being quite distinct from the shared DC Universe, with its heroes and capes and costumes. Or, as John calls that stuff, “the flashy shit” — which has never really been his natural scene.)
The biggest difference between our John and the one who snarked and smoked his way through 300 issues of Hellblazer, is that our John no long has a seemingly endless parade of old buddies and ex-lovers on whom he can call for help. He’s quite profoundly alone, for the first time in his life. And he goes about building a new circle in all the worst ways.
Does grounding the character in the “Sandman Universe” (as opposed to DC proper) add elements to Constantine that have been dormant or unexplored?
Spurrier: Somewhat, in that we’ve had a lot of fun in the run-up to the relaunch, seeding John in the other ongoing Sandman Universe titles. Some of those cameos will be overt, others less so.
The biggest touch points between the ongoing Gaimanverse and the new Hellblazer, are that we use some cool stuff from Neil’s Books of Magic as an excuse to return John to the real world; and that the circumstances of his return make a confrontation with one of Neil’s characters – Timothy Hunter – inevitable. That confrontation takes place in Books of Magic #14, which I co-wrote with regular series writer Kat Howard. It’s a really neat little book.
But, just to be clear, the muddled continuity of all this stuff should never feel like an obstacle to new readers. We relaunch Hellblazer with a one-off title in late October (which luxuriates in the longwinded title The Sandman Universe Presents: Hellblazer), then from November we’re straight into the ongoing Hellblazer comic — neither of which iterations needs any prior knowledge to enjoy.
Aaron Campbell is coming off of the critically acclaimed Infidel series and certainly has horror sensibilities as an artist. What is it like working with Campbell on the new title?
Spurrier: Couldn’t be better. He understands the pacing of a horror comic better than anyone, and his London is a tungsten-lit nightmare of haunted shadows and rain-slick sidewalks.
Is there a particular run of Hellblazer that informs your writing for this series or one that you admire?
Spurrier: I did a huge reread lately, for obvious reasons. The runs that stick out (necessarily defined by writers – sorry artists – simply because there were so many different pencillers that came and went) are those of Jamie Delano, Garth Ennis and Mike Carey.
Will we be seeing the return of any of the supporting characters from previous iterations of John Constantine?
Spurrier: Sort of… I have to be a little circumspect here to avoid spoilers. There are a few loose ends immediately tied-up in the Special, then – broadly speaking – we’re into a whole new lonely existence for the laughing magician.
Many of our readers enjoyed your take on Titan’s Hook Jaw. Was it difficult writing a book around a killer fish (including getting into the mind of the infamous shark)?
Spurrier: Actually, not as difficult as you might think. There’s something horribly seductive about a mind which has been reduced to its purest and most linear instincts. Eat, mate, breed; repeat. What makes Hookjaw a little different is that one begins to suspect a certain corrupting quantity of Taking Things Personally added to the mix. We kept it reasonably ambiguous, as I recall, but that’s a compelling little feature. A dispassionate murder-machine which is learning to bear grudges… brrr!
Are there any upcoming projects or story arcs in Hellblazer that you’d like to discuss?
Spurrier: We launch Hellblazer with a three-part arc called “A Green and Pleasant Land”, which mixes literary elements with a very grimy street-level haunting. That’s drawn by Aaron Campbell, and it’s shaping up to be very very cool indeed. The next arc will be a little lighter in tone – working title for that, right now, is “The Scrubbing Up”. One of the joys of ‘Blazer is that one can pivot between different tones, always with a horror-ish bent, between arcs.
Elsewhere, the big thing I’m excited by right now is a new creator owned comic I’m launching through Boom! Studios, titled Alienated. That’s with the extraordinary Christian Wildgoose on art. The concept couldn’t be simpler: three teenage outcasts stumble upon an alien superorganism in the woods one day and accidentally use it to murder a bully. Hijinks ensue. It’s sort of Alien by way of Heathers, with a lot of really trippy psychedelic horror.
Why has Constantine remained a fan-favorite character for the better part of the last 30 years?
Spurrier: For me, it’s because he has utterly honest self-knowledge. He lies and cheats the people around him, but not himself. He knows he’s a weasel and a snake. He knows that he’ll keep on betraying the people around him. He knows he’ll spend his whole life feeling guilty. He’s doomed to keep doing the wrong thing for the right reasons, and that’s a really toothsome set of ingredients. As I mentioned before: he’s a bastard with a conscience. You wouldn’t necessarily want to meet him in real life – you certainly wouldn’t want to trust him, anyway – but he’s utterly compelling to watch.