‘Yesterday I was shivering in London. Now the Sudanese sun scorches the skin from me, like a blowtorch.’
In this premiere issue of Hellblazer, streetwise magician John Constantine meets an old friend and goes in search of a hunger demon.
The first Hellblazer issue I bought was number 31 back in July 1990. It was written by Jamie Delano with art by Sean Phillips. The story is titled “Mourning of the Magician” and tells the tale of John Constantine’s father’s funeral. I was vaguely aware of the character of Constantine but had no idea who anyone else was. What I do remember is how much the story pulled me in. It was a ghost story set in England with references to occult magic. I instantly wanted to know more about these characters and the world they inhabited.
I continued to buy Hellblazer monthly and made it my mission to get hold of the previous thirty issues that I’d missed. Some were easy to find, others not so much, especially the first ten issues. I remember tracking down issue one at a comics fair in Manchester, England. I don’t recall how much I paid for it but it can’t have been very much because I was in college at the time. I can trace my infection with the “collector-bug” to this comic book as well as Neil Gaiman’s Sandman.
I enjoyed John Ridgway’s artwork on this title and thought it really suited the book. It was gritty and realistic, and suited the dark themes of the stories. Ridgway drew the first nine issues and was succeeded by Richard Piers Rayner (pencils) and Mark Buckingham (inks). I’ve since read in an interview that John Ridgway didn’t think much of the characters, especially the self-serving Constantine and his ever-growing collection of dead friends.
‘Confined in a glass box for three score years and ten. A human lifetime. Time moves no faster for my kind than it does for humanity, and in prison it crawled at a snail’s pace…’
Sandman #1 introduces us to self-styled “magus” Roderick Burgess and his attempt to summon and imprison Death in a magical ritual.
Sandman is a stunning work of art. Every single issue of its seven-year run is worth reading. I have all 75 issues plus the 1991 Special: “The Song of Orpheus.” I’ve read them four or five times in total and will read them again in the future. I remember how much I looked forward to each issue when it was being published. It’s sad to admit that I have never felt like that about another comic book, before or since.
I still buy comics but they are mainly digital collections rather than individual issues. I can’t get hold of physical copies where I live, plus the price of modern comics is too expensive. $3.99 is the current standard price for around 24 pages and they can cost as much as $7.99 depending on the title. Both Comixology and Kindle offer good deals for digital releases these days, but I miss the “real” thing.
I’m afraid my photos don’t do the original pages justice. The entire series has since been re-coloured and looks even better now. If you have any interest in non-superhero comic books then I highly recommend Sandman. Some of these stories are masterpieces!