After making the game-changer move of ending all of their monthly series in August 2011 and, calling it the “New 52”, re-starting them with brand new first issues, DC Comics continues to evolve. This year, the publishing company has definitely been shining a light on the darker corners of its universe. The mature, sophisticated publishing arm of Vertigo Comics is still undergoing changes as well, with flagship title Hellblazer recently ending it 300-issue run. The main protagonist of that series, the beloved chain-smoking English occultist, John Constantine, has been folded up into the DC universe proper, continuing his supernatural adventures in a new ongoing monthly series called, appropriately enough, Constantine.
Ray Fawkes has worked for both DC Comics and Vertigo Comics along with a host of other publishers including Oni Press, Image Comics, Top Shelf Comics and Marvel Comics. The Eisner, Harvey and Shuster Award nominee is now writing some of his most high-profile work to date at DC Comics, namely Justice League Dark and Constantine as well as having a hand in DC’s upcoming Trinity War summer blockbuster storyline.
JP Fallavollita met with the Toronto-based writer and artist at the 2013 edition of the Toronto Comics Arts Festival (TCAF) and had a chance to speak with him over the phone about his recent writing responsibilities. In the first part of this interview, Fawkes talks about his experiences with fan-favourite character, John Constantine, the history and responsibility of writing him in both a solo series and a group series, and his story plans for the near future.
JP Fallavollita: Ray, there’s been a lot of the esoteric, the eerie, the mystical, and dark elements in much of your comics work. What is it about the supernatural that interests or inspires you?
Ray Fawkes: You know, it’s hard to say. I think I’m just a person who’s always been into that stuff ever since I was a kid and fascinated by supernatural stories and ghostly stories – it just stuck with me. The things you’re into turn into the things that you spend the most time with, which turns into the things you know the most about, right? So, it’s sort of my zone of fascination and I just can’t get myself away from it.
JP Fallavollita: I think it makes for a great fit with the Constantine ongoing series that you’re writing. I’m curious in terms of what your first experiences with that particular character were. What was it about him that maybe even appealed to you?
Ray Fawkes: My first experiences reading the character?
JP Fallavollita: Yeah, absolutely.
Ray Fawkes: Well, my first experiences reading the character, this is going to date me, but I was reading Swamp Thing back when he first showed up. I was buying it off of the newsstand and was instantly, totally, captivated by the character. He was this mystery man. There was so much more to him than you even knew you were seeing – you could tell that there was so much movement below the surface. He’s the con artist. He’s the trickster. Right off the bat, back in Swamp Thing, you could see he was playing a larger game than everyone else in the story, more of a chess player and a lot of the people in the story, the characters, didn’t even realize that they were pieces on the board and that’s something that’s always held true for John Constantine. He’s always been this character who looked at the big picture and was willing to make moves that perhaps no one else was willing to make, especially with regards to sacrifice, and I think that adds a really amazing human quality to him and it also adds a touch of darkness that I just love.
JP Fallavollita: When we were talking at your table at TCAF last weekend, he’s a bit different now, under the New 52.
Ray Fawkes: Well, he’s a little bit different, yeah, in that he’s younger and more impulsive than the character that a lot of people have gotten used to, especially since the Vertigo run of Hellblazer. He’s aging, he aged quite a lot, and he became quite experienced and quite cynical and so, with the New 52, we were given the opportunity to scroll him back sort of into a younger time where he’s more impulsive and more active and you can kind of get to see maybe he’ll do things that perhaps he might not have been willing to do in the Vertigo version.
JP Fallavollita: In the Vertigo version, there had been so many different iterations of that character and now, like you said, scaling him back and bringing him into a wider universe, there’s probably more stories there for him, isn’t there?
Ray Fawkes: Well, there certainly is because one thing that he never had in that universe was to find himself plopped down in a world full of superhuman characters. There was always the element of magic and mysticism in those stories but in this story, we had to bring him back, in essence, bring him back to his origins where he was this sort of underground operator in a world full of superheroes.
It’s funny, I actually just tweeted today that last night I was re-reading Crisis on Infinite Earths to check something out and I actually found the scene with John Constantine in it. He’s in there! He’s in there!
JP Fallavollita: Not many remember that! Its fantastic that he’s actually there, right?
Ray Fawkes: Yeah! It’s just a short scene but he’s in there and then in the big sort of climax of the story, where all the mystics of the DC Universe are getting together – and we’re talking about characters like Dr. Fate and the Spectre. John’s in there with them, and so this is our opportunity to tell the stories about John operating in that world, in a world of the superheroes and the metahumans and the Justice Leagues.
JP Fallavollita: So, going from a reader of Constantine and now becoming his writer in both the Justice League Dark series and the Constantine series, he’s obviously got a larger audience now, I think, coming under the DC banner rather than the Vertigo banner. Do you find that your approach to the writing of him is any different now for this larger audience?
Ray Fawkes: Not at all. No. There’s nothing that I would want to do with John that I can’t do. I love the challenge of what being in this new world poses for him. So, no. It hasn’t really changed the way I would want to write him.
JP Fallavollita: I think that even for me, reading this series, your voice for that particular character has developed in great leaps and bounds over the first three issues. I really enjoyed that last issue. And part of him being that loner with the sidekick in that first issue – I know there were some people upset that he was so cold when that one character passed away (sorry about the spoiler for anybody who hasn’t read it) but the voice is right! Even his diction, that sort of Liverpudlian accent, you got that right for him.
Ray Fawkes: Well, thank you. If anything was the most daunting about that, it’s making sure that John’s voice rings true. The thing about John coming off a little too cold, I thank the readers who stuck with me after that because, obviously with John, nothing is as it seems. He may act cold but he may not feel that way or vice versa. So, yeah, keep reading.
JP Fallavollita: Absolutely. Well, you’ve come to the sort of close of that first brief story arc, but there’s a sense there that there’s a lot more to be told with these characters going forward with the storyline and the Cult of the Cold Flame. What’s it like with John Constantine, pulling his strings in his own monthly book and also in a team-up book in Justice League Dark. How does he act differently in each of these different titles, Ray?
Ray Fawkes: Well, with the Justice League Dark, John is aware that he’s in the milieu of people who think of themselves as more traditional superheroes even if they are a bunch of weirdoes. He sort of speaks their language. One of John’s core, best abilities, is his ability to manipulate, so he knows that when he’s with that team, if he wants to get things done, he kind of has to be the quarterback, he has to be the guy who gets the team excited and working together and all that. Because of that, he puts on a face that is perhaps a bit friendlier, perhaps a little bit funnier. And then, when you see him alone in Constantine, you get to see him more unfiltered. You get to see that he doesn’t have to motivate people like Deadman or Zatanna, so he can speak more directly with his own voice rather than trying to keep things light and calm.
JP Fallavollita: Does it re-energize you going from script to script for the two different titles as well?
Ray Fawkes: Oh totally! In fact, I feel like it probably re energizes me in almost the same way it re-energizes John, you know? He goes out with the team, he has to be “on”, then he goes home and he’s like, “Oh thank God I’m by myself!” And then he has all these troubles, so he’s like, “Oh, you know what, I need the team!” Yeah, it totally re-energizes.
JP Fallavollita: You’re already creating a rogues gallery for Constantine. You’ve got the Cult of the Cold Flame, you’ve got Sargon, Zatara, Mister E, Tannarak – actually, the new Sargon, daughter of the original. You’ve got a whole new universe that opens up for you with this character, don’t you?
Ray Fawkes: Oh yeah, absolutely. And there will be more characters to see and some of them will be sort of reimagined or returned versions of older characters and some will be brand new. Some old readers of Hellblazer may recognize the name Papa Midnight.
JP Fallavollita: Right!
Ray Fawkes: He’ll be showing up and he, well, he’s not exactly John’s enemy and he’s not exactly his friend.
JP Fallavollita: Right. Perfect! It’ll be good to see him. He’s a fan favourite character.
Ray Fawkes: (Laughs) Well, I hope that you like this new version!
JP Fallavollita: With Constantine, for me, that particular character has become synonymous with runs by acclaimed writers and artists: the magic and mystery of Moore, like you talked about, in the mid 80’s and how he wrote him in the pages of Swamp Thing, the politics that Delano was writing at the beginning of the Hellblazer series, the fiendish action of Ennis. Do you feel there’s a sense of responsibility for the history of that character and the people that have come and written him before? At this early point in your storytelling, what do you want to bring to this particular character if you were to look back, years from now?
Ray Fawkes: You know, it is daunting because a lot of the people that have dealt with this character and written this character are among my favourites. I mean we’ve pretty much covered the bases. Alan Moore worked on him. Jamie Delano worked on him. Neil Gaiman worked on him. Grant Morrison did some. Warren Ellis, Brian Azzarello. You list the name and you get this list of top-level creators. It would be my great hope that after this run is done, I could just be proud of my contribution. As far as the political side of things with this John, I do want to get a little political with it but in a different way. We’ll see…we’ll see how. This John has to deal more with the politics of metahumans than the politics of the streets of London.
In part 2 of our interview, published tomorrow, Ray Fawkes talks about making personal connections in his stories, Constantine and the new, mysterious character called Pandora as they relate to the upcoming DC Comics summer blockbuster storyline, Trinity War.
Many thanks to Ray Fawkes for taking the time to talk to Biff Bam Pop! and thanks to the folks of DC Entertainment for helping set up the interview. The fourth issue of the monthly Constantine series will be published on June 12. The long-waited for Trinity War storyline, slowly building over the last two years, begins in earnest this July within the pages of Justice League, Justice League of America and Justice League Dark.
You can visit Ray Fawkes at his website: www.rayfawkes.com or follow him on Twitter at: @rayfawkes