“Those that refuse to learn from history are doomed to repeat it,” says artist Darick Robertson, when asked about the longevity of Transmetropolitan, the politically-charged cyberpunk comic that he co-created with author Warren Ellis in the late 90s. “The humanistic themes Warren put beneath our sci-fi — rich versus poor, political corruption from the top down, and ‘truth shall set you free’ — are resonant.”
Transmetropolitan — and its tattooed protagonist Spider Jerusalem, along with his filthy assistants, and many other familiar faces from the series — returns later this month, about ten years after the original critically-acclaimed series ended, in the form of a one-off charity art book (for more about the book itself, read our interview with its general production manager Chunk Kelly). Darick, along with a whole host of artists, will be contributing new pieces.
“[These characters] never feel like they’re away from me,” he says. “I get requested to draw them so often and they live in my head, so it’s not that much of a reach. I do however, miss Warren Ellis’ scripts.”
Darick’s career in comics began when he was just 17 — and still in school — with his own creation, Space Beaver. This led to work with major publishers like DC and Marvel, and he soon found himself illustrating Acclaim Comics’ The Man of the Atom with the scribe who would eventually be his partner on Transmetropolitan.
The collaboration with Ellis was arguably the most rewarding of Darick’s career at that point. Even though the initial idea for the comic was Ellis’, Darick was responsible for many of the iconic elements of the series, including the concept of buy bombs, the chain-smoking two-headed cat — and, most notably, Spider’s tattoos.
“[The] ‘Kiss Here’ on his ass cheek is fairly self explanatory,” he says, when asked about the meanings behind Spider’s ink. “I also imagined it would be really controversial if corporations were tattooing logos on people, so the ‘POTI’ on his shoulder is a fictional soda company. I had imagined it was Spider’s first tattoo that he’d got as a teen, and [that he] exposed the corporation behind it for paying kids to tattoo their logo. Little did I know that people would, in present day reality, pay to happily put people’s corporate logos on themselves.”
He continues, “I’ve always had affection for tribal tattoos, symbols and shapes as opposed to pictures. I assumed Spider got them one by one and there would be a story with each. Warren did a bit illustrated by Cliff Chiang, as I recall, in one of the collections where he had Spider getting mass tattooed all at once. Having five [tattoos] myself, I know that would be an intense experience.”
Darick politely declined to talk about his own ink though, but for very good reason. “All of mine are deeply personal, so you’ll forgive me if I don’t discuss them here.”
He, however, elaborates, “I always contended that I wouldn’t get anything that didn’t have meaning or a story. I avoided getting Hobbes the tiger, and then felt like I’d dodged a bullet. (Although Hobbes is still cool). I also avoided Bart Simpson in 1989, right before the TV show hit. Seemed very edgy before it became a series! (And I have huge respect and love for Matt Groening, so that would be OK too.)”
Darick designed most of his own tattoos, but his favourites are the ones that were gifts to him. “My most recent came from a fan in Auckland, New Zealand, who loved Transmetropolitan so much, she refused to read the final book, as she didn’t want it to end.”
That ever-growing army of fans is legion and, unsurprisingly, many are adorned with ink inspired by the series. “I find it quite flattering and strange,” Darick says when asked about fans with Transmetropolitan ink. “I love that I drew something that people feel that passionately about and I worry that they’ll regret it.”
Even though we’ve been focusing mostly on his work with Transmetropolitan, Darick’s been keeping very busy since the series ended all those years ago.
Returning to Marvel, Darick worked on numerous projects with Preacher scribe Garth Ennis. The two formed a solid working relationship that endures till today with the pair’s wildly successful superhero satire The Boys, a series that’s earned a following that’s arguably as strong as Ennis or Darick’s previously best-known works.
But even The Boys will come to its inevitable conclusion. And just like when Transmetropolitan ended, Darick will diligently move on to creating more and more widely loved comics. When we ask him about his future plans, he answers simply, “To do my very best to take things day by day and create new things that will not leave people missing The Boys or Transmetropolitan; to remain ever vigilant to improve my craft and be a good human being.”
(Photo is © Aaron Munter. Artwork is © Darick Robertson. Transmetropolitan is ™ & © Warren Ellis and Darick Robertson.)