“Dark, sexy, cyber-noir, hard-boiled, black, erotic, uncompromising” Noel K Hannon and Rik Rawling look back at 90s small press classic Streetmeat

The 90s are back in a big way, and riding this wave of nostalgia for the decade of grunge and generation x are Noel K Hannan and Rik Rawling who have compiled a new collected edition of their classic 90s series Streemeat. But how has this world of guns, girls and grunge faired in the past 30 years? of changing attitudes? Noel and Rik reveal all:

You are bringing back your 90s series Streetmeat in a new collected edition, what has brought this on and what can fans look forward to in this new edition?

Rik Rawling: This book brings together all the material published in the 1990’s. That’s Books 1 & 2 of Streetmeat, the Solo spin-off book (short strips and fiction, set in the ‘Streetmeat’ world of Seattle 2020, together with an art gallery featuring some big name contributions), and – just for this special edition – a 20-page taster for what the sequels we’d always planned to do could have looked like, featuring all-new artwork created in the past 5 years, plus script sample pages, and – as if that wasn’t enough – a special 4-page strip created especially for this edition. It’s 170 pages in total. All the original artwork was rescanned and digitally remastered, with some panels completely redrawn, and the whole book designed in the aesthetic of mid-90’s zines. We’re both very pleased with how it looks, and feel it really is the definitive edition.

Noel K Hannan: Nostalgia!  It’s been 25 years now since Rik and I collaborated on Streetmeat, it remains the project we are best known for from that period, and we always felt it was unfinished business in some ways.  It was written in 1994 and we self-published it in and its accompanying one-shot SOLO between 1995 and 1997.  The amazingly easy and efficient digital printing processes now available (Streetmeat 25 has had a UK print service print and is also available via Lulu) mean that although a great deal of work went into bringing the new edition to life, the actual act of bringing the book to print has eased massively.  It is the first of many republished and new work that we are planning under our new banner, RAWHEAD.  As for fans who have read Streetmeat before, you’ll be getting a digitally enhanced edition with all the material from both books and SOLO, plus 20+ pages of brand new and stunning work from Rik.

And what can new fans look forward to if they haven’t read it before? How would you describe it to them and entice them in?!

NH: Streetmeat has been described in many ways!  Dark, sexy, cyber-noir, hard-boiled, black, erotic, uncompromising.  If you like a story which moves at a pace, has a strong female lead and reads like a graphic representation of a classic grunge rock track from 1994, Streetmeat should be your choice.

RR: It’s a neo-noir cyberpunk action revenge thriller set in what was back in 1994 the impossibly far future of 2020. Perhaps this review by a reader of the new edition will help:

Your publication is grade A awesome.  Blitzed books 1 and 2 last night.

Absolutely loved every panel.  Great story, great main character and enjoyable cultural references for anyone around in the 90s/into grunge/etc.

I’d describe it as a cool, dark, violent, sexy Frank Miller, Akira, Lone Wolf and Cub, Scorsese, 2000 AD dystopian mash-up that left me feeling grubby, voyeuristic, anxious and exhilarated all at the same time.

From my own perspective, all I can say that Streetmeat was where I put two years (1994-96) of blood, sweat and tears, compressing every influence that had ever impacted on my third eye. So if you like any of the following – 2000 A.D., Escape From New York, The Cult, Blade Runner, William S. Burroughs, A Better Tomorrow II, Neuromancer, Nine Inch Nails,  Sin City, Soundgarden, Hard Boiled, Pussy Galore, The Warriors, The Crow, Guitar Wolf, Andrew Vachss, The Stooges, James Lee Burke, The Cramps, Charles Bukowski, Tetsuo, David Simon’s Homicide, King Of New York, Akira, Hunter S. Thompson, Give Me Liberty, Ray Gun, Elektra: Assassin, The Church of the Sub Genius, etc. – then you’ll find something to like in this.

Can you tell us a bit about how the original Streetmeat came about? How did you develop the character and the story? And what was the publishing history of it? And where did the name come from?

RR: Noel first came up with the story (and Noel will correct me on this) after a drunken karaoke night in Derby. In the original conception, Mel was intended to be a ‘homeopath’, cursed with the ability to telepathically visualise the past events that led to the spilling of blood. This was quickly abandoned in favour of a narrative more rooted in realism, albeit with stylistic flourishes that came from our joint immersion in the best cyberpunk (William Gibson’s Neuromancer trilogy, Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash, etc.) and a fondness for a darker strain of crime fiction, such as Andrew Vachss’ ‘Burke’ novels. What starts out as a fairly standard revenge story, becomes so much more as Noel brings in elements from Japanese culture and his own prescient readings of our immediate future, with paramilitary police forces, media hacking and corrupt and perverted politicians. That much we saw coming. What we missed, as did everyone writing speculative fiction at that time, was mobile phones. Even Gibson didn’t foresee that.

As far as the art style was concerned, I had to find an economic way of just getting the pages done, as the whole book was drawn while holding down a full-time job. It took about 18 months to do 90 pages, so that was about 2 full pages per week, done on evenings and weekends. I could not try and be Barry Windsor-Smith under those circumstances, so the obvious solution was Frank Miller’s Sin City, where his stripped down line work was like a chopped hog of a Harley Davidson, crude but effective and built for speed. Part way through the art on the first book I discovered Geof Darrow’s work on Hard Boiled and it blew my mind, as it did everyone else’s at that time. Inevitably, that influence started to creep in, and I found a way to meld the two styles that I think worked well.

Once we had the character and her world established, the whole thing took on a life of its own. I started writing my own prose stories set in that world, and we started developing plans for sequels, some of which was used in the Solo spin-off book. The first book of Streetmeat (#1 of 2), was published to coincide with the UK Comic Art Convention in London, held around late September 1995. Book 2 was published for the same event the following year, and we did Solo for UKCAC 1997. As we gained confidence in our self-publishing the overall look of the books got better, and by the time we did Solo I was getting experimental with the design, using the photocopier at work in ways it was never intended to be used to warp text and images – the kind of thing you can now do on Photoshop in two clicks. All of this was done pre-digital, and having those limitations forced us to find creative solutions, and I kind of miss that.

NH: If I recall correctly, I had started self-publishing and writing again in 1990 after a hiatus of about 7 years (I had been but a bit of a child prodigy, writing and publishing from age 10 up to about 15, my zines SANDOR and STRATOSFEAR were quite popular).  I had absorbed all the new upswell of adult graphic novels – Watchmen, Dark Knight – and reconnected with 2000AD.  From 1990-1994 I met several new artists – Derek Gray, Rik, Jim Boswell – and re-established contact with some artists from my younger years, notably the incredibly talented John Welding.  Together we produced a huge amount of work for US independents Fantagraphics, Caliber and specifically Fantaco, where for a time we were their prime creative team.  Rik and I produced a Night of the Living Dead series for them, Derek and I did a creator-owned Euro style graphic novel called Air Warriors, and Streetmeat was supposed to have been the first major creator-owned book by myself and Rik.  Unfortunately the classic ‘creative difference’ occurred between ourselves and Fantaco and the plug was pulled, so we self-published it.  In terms of its creative history, Rik and I had been tossing around the concept of a tough female lead for some time and the story grew organically in the pubs of Crewe, Leeds, London and Glasgow over that period.  I cannot recall where the title came from but both Rik and I maintain vast and lovingly curated notebooks with ideas for stories, characters and titles, far too many for one lifetime, of which Streetmeat was one – perfect for the story of Melanoma Solo.

I have one correction from Rik’s memory – the drunken karaoke (which was a competition which I won – slow night in Derby) came after a marathon session in a hotel room writing Streetmeat Book One.  The ‘haemo-empath’ idea was quickly binned for this story, but popped up again in a novel I wrote called The Children.

What have you and Rik been up to in the years between Streetmeat and now?

RR: After 1997 the comics scene imploded, in the UK and USA. Attendance at UKCAC 98 was pretty dismal and life outside of comics got in the way, so the reasons for sticking at it started to fade. Noel became a father for the first time, I moved south, thus severing what had been a vital geographic connection (between Crewe and Leeds, my home city) for collaboration, and things just…drifted apart. In the late 90’s and early 00’s I did a lot of design work, producing art for album covers and rock posters, including gigs like illustrating the Slipknot 2002 UK tour brochure. I became a dad myself in 2004 and all the art stuff pretty much stopped. For the next ten years we kind of did our own thing. Noel was passing through my neck of the woods in 2013 or so and called in to see me. We talked for hours, and it was like the intervening years had just slipped away.

During our conversation he floated the idea of doing a 20th anniversary edition of Streetmeat, and figured I would not be interested. By then I’d done nothing but paintings (mainly landscapes and wildlife) for several years and had assumed that I would never go back to comics. But something about the idea appealed. Part of it was the sense that there was “unfinished business” (Ian Astbury said much the same when he and Billy Duffy reformed The Cult in 2000), and part of it was the desire to challenge myself. For the next 5 years the project drifted in and out of my priority list, until early 2019 when Noel probably thought I’d been procrastinating for too long and forced my hand by booking a table at the Lawless convention, scheduled for May 2019. That gave me about 4 months to crack on and finish it. That experience taught me that going back to full-length graphic novels on top of the kind of demanding job I do now is impossible but has rekindled my love for the medium and the possibilities of working in it in some way, even if it’s just covers and scripts. My restless brain has not slowed down, even though I’m now in my 50’s, and there’s so much I still want to do creatively. When that urge ever goes away, then I’ll know I’m headed for the knacker’s yard.

NH: From my perspective, our last dip into self-publishing was Air Warriors #1 in around 1999, I think, where we reprinted that story in its intended US comic book format, but went no further with the reprint unfortunately.  I carried on writing short stories and novels but no more comics for a while, and in ‘real life’ had begun to work in IT (I was originally a printer).  I started at university in 1999 which would eventually lead to degrees in Applied Computing and Computer Science and a career as a cyber security consultant, something which is my current main occupation.  I am also a member of the Army Reserve and have served in Iraq and Afghanistan on several occasions in the past 15 years.  All these experiences and professional life continue to influence and affect my work and interests.

It’s a book that is steeped in 90s culture and references (with a lot of grunge references), why do you think that period was such a ripe period for this type of story? It feels both really futuristic and also not by having it exist in a time before the internet became so common place!

NH: Rik and I are huge fans of the grunge period which was at its height at this time, so it wasn’t too hard to project that 25 years into the future – 2020 felt a long way away at that point – and in classic SF writer fashion we are mapping a ‘now’ story into a future setting, so you have Seattle where grunge never went away, AIDS, high-tech drugs, Yakuza gangs, etc.  Seattle was such a great city to use as a character in itself (I have not as yet visited, but Rik has) and was obviously such an important element of the music, once we decided to set it there, it opened a whole new set of options. And yes, we didn’t realise at that point, with our 14k modems chirping away, that the nascent Internet was about to change everything.  We should have listened more closely to William Gibson (which is always good advice).

RR: Seattle was pretty hard to avoid around that time. We both liked a lot of the ‘grunge’ bands, and liked the idea of using that city as a location, just because it was different to the usual locations of New York or L.A. It was the home city for Sub Pop, so pretty much Ground Zero for all the music that was such a driving force behind what we were doing. I look back on that era and my head still spins at just how much amazing stuff was swirling around at the time. We just opened our heads and let it all pour in. The 20th century was hurtling to an end, and there was a palpable sense of just having to get it all done, before it was too late. So many great bands, so many great films, artists, writers, zines, clubs, you name it. And a lot of that stuff still stands up to this day. I listen to it now and, like all old men, sigh wistfully and say to myself “They don’t make ’em like that anymore…”

We can see a lot of Frank Miller influence in there (from Sin City to his Wolverine mini series), but were there other books or films which inspired it? It feels a bit like it was inspired by the 90s bad girl characters as well?

NH: I will let Rik respond to his artistic influences, but I am also a big fan of Miller as a writer and yes we were both wearing our hearts on our sleeves, I think.  Also big influences from this period were Tarantino, Luc Besson (particularly Leon), Akira and other anime, and the books of William Gibson, as mentioned before.  Rik and I are also huge 2000AD fans so Wagner/Grant and the classic artists of our youth – Ezquerra, Bolland, McMahon, Gibbons, Dillon.

RR: I think we were ahead of the 90’s ‘bad girl’ fad, and while never shying away from some of the overt imagery – we were in our 20’s and testosterone still triumphed over logic – we were confident that the story was rooted in a genuinely complex character with a deep back story and huge narrative potential. For me, that came from the female characters in Andrew Vachss’ early novels – Flood, Strega, Blue Belle and the incredible Hard Candy – who are all as hard as nails in their own way. Miller used to write female characters like that, before he went off the deep end, so there’s undeniably some Elektra and Martha Washington in there as well. Miller had a huge impact on the comics we came of age reading, and it would be doing him a disservice to not acknowledge the influence but, then he went and made Holy Terror and… say no more.

How do you think it has stood up to the test of time? Has the shift in gender politics helped or hindered it? And do you think you would be able to write a similar book in the current climate? (I.e. one packed with so much violence and nudity!)

RR: I think that were we doing this book today so much of it would be changed, but it would only be surface detail. Mel’s back story is rock solid, and would stand as is no matter what, but we’d probably eschew shower scenes in favour of something more attuned to the present political climate, and the climatic chase scenes at the end would probably involve more clothing. I’m guilty as charged there, but at the time we didn’t have the life experience under our belts and, to be honest, we were probably both hoping it would provoke a response, especially from the target audience which was, at the time, young men of the same age. We’re both older and just don’t think like the young men we were anymore. Also,  I’ve got a teenage daughter, and would be embarrassed to be cranking out that kind of work now. She would quite rightly disown me.

NH: That’s an interesting question for two reasons.  First, the night before LAWLESS at Bristol in May where we launched the Streetmeat 25 book, I stood back from our stand and had a cold feeling that we had seriously misjudged what we were doing and we should pack it all away and go home!  The next day, after seeing the reaction at LAWLESS to our work by fans and fellow creators alike, I thought we still had a place and a story to tell.  Streetmeat has been labelled misogynist by some, but the reviews we get are generally very positive and ‘get it’.  And I think Streetmeat has as many female fans as it does male, which is vindication in itself I feel.

Secondly, I have recently started work on a new story called ZEROGRAD which at the moment is prose stories but may include some graphic novel elements over time, as it is very much an ensemble piece.  ZEROGRAD makes Streetmeat, from a violence and nudity perspective, look like Harry Potter.  However, the intended aesthetic is very much European graphic novel style, and as such the violence and sexuality are two way, and my intent certainly is develop this as story which can be enjoyed by anyone with an open mind.  As a work in progress, I should and will say no more

Any plans to write new chapters? And if so, would you adapt the character at all for a modern audience? Or keep it as a period piece?

RR: Noel and I have discussed this. Should any publisher out there come to us and say “You’ve got something here, but…” I know we’d have to do something significantly bigger in terms of themes and narrative complexity. The new audience has grown up with Game Of Thrones, and straight-forward linear narratives will taste like thin gruel to them. The long-proposed sequel to Streetmeat – MeatEater – features in the ‘Sequel’ section of SM25, with key characters profiled and a brief synposis of the story, but in my own head I’ve got most of it planned out and it would probably have to be something of the length and scope of a big novel to do it justice, and I doubt that – much as I’d want to – I’ve got the years left to draw something on that scale. But we would also have to address the fact that we are now living in the era the story was originally set, and either depict our world as we see it every day on the news – which doesn’t really appeal – or cast the action 20 years into our future, thus giving us scope to explore the ‘cyber’ aspects of that world. They managed it with the Blade Runner sequel, and that’s not a bad example to follow. Mel as a woman in her 40’s, still driven by demons, still on the run, still taking no prisoners. I think it’s still got great potential.

NH: Streetmeat 25 as it stands I think is a great testimony to a piece of work Rik and I are immensely proud of from our youth.  We have no plans to re-hash Melanoma Solo for a modern audience, however would consider doing a modern updated version if the timing and conditions were right.  The new book contains covers and snippets from our planned but unrealised sequels, and some of the new short vignettes Rik produces continue to add layers to that world.  There are also three new Streetmeat related stories in Rawhead’s next publication, an anthology called Stripped to the Bone, which will be available later this year, and we are also planning to give the Air Warriors books the deluxe 25 year treatment, because they really deserve to be seen again too.

You can purchase Streetmeat 25th Anniversary Collection from lulu.com here. To see more of Rik’s work visit www.rikrawling.co.uk