Friday, June 14, 2013


I must have told the story about a thousand times.  When I was in my senior year of high school, my friend, CJ, got me back into comics by lending me three books:  EVIL ERNIE, PREACHER, and HITMAN.  From that moment, my life changed.  John McCrea illustrated HITMAN back in the day, and it was great to meet him.  Some of you will recall when I wrote about meeting him last year, but this year was waaaaaay better.  Not just because I got to hang out with him for quite a while, and not just because he drew one of the awesomest sketches any artist has ever done for me, but because I also got to interview him.  I stopped by on Friday and asked if I could do an interview with him, and he asked me to come back on Sunday, when things were a bit quieter.  (It should also be mentioned that when I stopped by that first time, he was working on a sketch of Tommy Monaghan for a fan.  While he was doing this, his phone rang, and he talked with someone who was either his wife or his child.  The whole time he talked, he didn’t stop working.  He produced this amazing sketch.  It was the finest example of multitasking I’d ever seen.)

I came back on Sunday, and he was working on a sketch of Wolverine for another fan (who was absent at the time).  He asked if I minded whether or not he worked while I interviewed him, and I said I was completely OK with that.  However, after we’d been talking a little bit, he stopped working on the sketch.  It seemed like he was having a lot of fun with the interview, which I consider to be one of my finer moments (if I don’t say so myself; more on that in my C2E2 wrap-up).  Here is what he had to say . . . .

[WARNING:  Here there be HITMAN spoilers.  If you haven’t read the series, you might want to do so before reading this interview.]

JOHN BRUNI:  First of all, HITMAN was one of my all-time favorites—

JOHN McCREA:  Thank you.

JB:  Do you ever miss it?

JM:  Of course.  I think I worked on that book for seven years of my life pretty much solidly.  I did a few other things here and there, but it was seven years of Tommy and Natt, and they all sort of seemed like friends.  When the book ended, it was like—well, you’ve seen the ending.  It’s a real tearjerker.  When I read the script, I had a little tear in my eye.  Just saying bye to Tommy and his friends, it was a relief in one way.  It was a slog, physically producing that much work, but to say goodbye to Tommy and Natt was quite a tearful experience.  I do miss them, but at the same time, it was the right end.  They had to go.  Garth [Ennis] and I were adamant that [UNCLEAR, BUT HE SAYS SOMETHING ALONG THE LINES OF “THEY HAD TO DIE], otherwise it would ruin the whole thing anyway.  People ask us if there’s a chance with the New 52 of bringing them back.  No.

JB:  It was one of the greatest endings in comics ever.

JM:  Part of it’s the fact that it’s finite.  You have the whole story, and it’s not just rolling on and on forever.  They lived by the gun, they had to die by the gun.  It was the right ending.  It improves the story, I think.

JB:  Very Butch and Sundance.

JM:  Oh God yes.  I think Garth wrote that in the script.  It was Natt who said it, wasn’t it?

JB:  Yeah.  Why do you think the book didn’t hit it off with a wider audience?

JM:  Garth and I always intended for it to be finished around about . . . originally we hoped for seventy issues.  There were a few other stories we wanted to tell, one of them being the JLA/HITMAN story, which we eventually did.  DC told us at a certain point that the sales are okay.  Probably pretty good by today’s standards, but for the time they were okay.  They were going to cancel it.  We had a choice between finishing it at 60 and finishing it properly the way we wanted to, chopping out the non-essential stories, or we might make it [to 70] or we might not.  We didn’t want to risk that, so we just finished it.

JB:  That sounds like the smart way to go.

JM:  Well, DC were honest and decent about it.  They let us know, so . . . it could have been a disaster.  It has a good, solid fan base, it just wasn’t big enough to continue the series.

JB:  There is still one character from the book lurking around the DCU somewhere.  Will there ever be a Bueno Excellente one-shot?  [Come on, you all knew I was going to ask it.]

JM:  We’re all hoping for that.  He was one of the most deranged human beings I ever got to draw.  Him, and possibly Six-Pac is still around.  I think a mini-series would be a pretty sweet thing.  An untold story, four issues.  If only people had realized how wonderful a superhero team [Section Eight] were, like the JLA.  We could have had action figures.  A little wind-up guy, or maybe a Dog Welder with detachable dogs.  What I would do for that!

JB:  You and Garth Ennis do a lot of work together.  How did you guys meet up?

JM:  We went to school together.  We’re from Belfast, and he was in my brother’s year at school.  He knew I was into comics, and after I finished school, one of the first things I did was run a comics shop.  I started one of the only comics shops in Belfast, and Garth used to come in and buy his comics.  One day, he just said we should do a book, and that turned into TROUBLED SOULS about the Troubles in Northern Ireland.  It was very successful, and that was that.

JB:  TROUBLED SOULS also has Dougie and Ivor from DICKS.

JM:  That’s true.  That is true.  They were incidental characters in TROUBLED SOULS.  We kinda-sorta made fun of them.  Garth in particular is not enamored of TROUBLED SOULS, so he kind of wanted to piss all over it.  He used Dougie and Ivor as a way to do that.  We’re working on a new book in the series now.  Garth’s written it all, finished it about two years ago, and I’ve been slowly grinding my way through it.  I’m on issue four at the moment.  Two more to go.

JB:  Some of the covers are pretty crazy.  Is there anything you wouldn’t put on the cover of DICKS?

JM:  I haven’t run into it yet.  There might be.  There are a few things, but I don’t want to even answer for fear of getting arrested.  So far, not yet.

JB:  Garth Ennis has a reputation for going a bit too far, like with CROSSED.  Would you ever want to work on the book?

JM:  I read one issue of CROSSED, and that was just about enough for me.  It was too much for me.  When I read a comic, I like to enjoy myself, not be harrowed to the marrow.  It was too harrowing for me.

JB:  Have you ever thought to yourself that you might be going too far with DICKS?

JM:  Oh God no.  Never.  When I first started doing these books, William [Christensen, editor-in-chief of Avatar Press] kept saying, “No, no, no, you haven’t got the idea.  Not enough.  Not enough.  You’ve got to make it worse.”  Now, I think I’m at the level I think he’s happy with.

JB:  If you had to be Dougie or Ivor, which one would it be?

JM:  My God, what a choice!  Uh . . . probably Ivor.  He’s just happy in his own self-absorbed moronic way.  Dougie’s just miserable because he’s relatively intelligent and can see the terrible travesty which is his life.  So yeah, I think it’d be Ivor.

JB:  Can you talk about what’s in store for us with DICKS 3?

JM:  Satan and the Dong are both back.  They’ve teamed up, and they’re trying to destroy the world.  It’s up to Dougie and Ivor to travel through time, collecting the icons of bigotry that the Dong are using to destroy the world.  They have to go back in time to gather these objects in order to stop the Dong.  Much hilarity ensues.  At one point, Dougie and Ivor get to meet Garth and myself.  They end up in our studio . . . by, uh, complete coincidence, and even more hilarity ensues.

JB:  So they get to meet their gods?

JM:  Exactly!  Not just meet them, they do quite a lot more.

JB:  That sounds very cool.  What else do you have coming up besides the new DICKS?

JM:  I’m working on MARS ATTACKS for IDW.  I’ve finished the ten issues, which was supposed to be continuing, but they decided to can it and do mini-series instead.  I’ll be doing MARS ATTACKS/JUDGE DREDD, a four issue mini-series which is written by Al Ewing, who writes JENNIFER BLOOD as well.  It’s fantastic.  It should be out in the not-to-distant future.  I’m working on something called PROGENITOR, which is written by Phil Hester for David Lloyd’s new online comic called ACES WEEKLY.  So, I’m busy.

JB:  Speaking of IDW, they have a lot of franchises from the ‘Eighties.  Is there any one of those that you’d like to work on?

JM:  I wouldn’t mind doing the Turtles.  I like the Turtles.  I’m not really a TRANSFORMERS guy.

JB:  What about G.I. JOE?

JM:  When I was breaking into comics, I did two stories for ACTION FORCE, which is the British name for G.I. Joe.  I did a Snake-Eyes five-pager, and I did a Storm Shadow five-pager.  I enjoyed those.  I like the ninja guys.  I would love to do Snake-Eyes.

JB:  Thank you very much for your time.

JM:  It’s been a pleasure.  Cheers.

At about that point, he realized that he’d forgotten about his previous sketch, which he put the final touches on before starting the sketch for me.  I requested Tommy Monaghan and Natt from HITMAN sitting at Noonan’s bar, just having a drink, and the request seemed to surprise McCrea, but he was happy to do it.  I hung out with him, just talking while he drew.  I told him about how even my mother enjoyed reading HITMAN almost as much as I did.  We talked about other things Mom liked to read, which comprised of a lot of Garth Ennis’s work.  It was one of the few things that brought me and her together, especially near the end of her life.

While we hung out, talking about this and that (he mentioned that he was persona non grata over at DC, except for the short he did for GHOSTS), I can’t tell you how many fans came up and saw what he was doing for me.  Each and every single one of them said, “That is the coolest sketch ever.”  One of them said, “I wish I’d thought of that.”  I talked with a lot of fellow fans while McCrea worked, and I discovered that I’m not alone in thinking that some of the best parts of HITMAN were the quiet moments at the bar, when Tommy and Natt were just shooting the shit, maybe talking about THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY.  Why?  Well, it’s because that’s what I do with my friends.  I hang out in bars and just talk the night away.  I felt a real connection with Tommy and the boys in those moments.

I was going to run a scan of the sketch he did at the end of this piece, but I think I’ll save it for my wrap-up.  It is seriously that good.  Stay tuned!

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