Actually, by the standards of any respectable comics reader, I am a mere dilettante. I took a break from the habit through most of the 90's and aughts, making only the occasional foray back into it. Lately, I've been catching up on some of the good stuff I missed.
And, man do I ever love Preacher.
Preacher is the story of a hard-drinking preacher named Jesse Custer from a rural Texas town who has been possessed by the offspring of an angel and a demon, an entity with unimaginable power but no will of its own. The entity's escape from heaven has prompted God to flee the scene, abandoning his creation. Jesse goes on a road trip to (literally) find God, along with his former girlfriend (who has been working as a hit man lately) and an Irish vampire.
Then it gets weird.
It's bloody, profane, hilarious, and nearly impossible to describe succinctly in a way that does the story credit and also makes sense. (It took me forever just to come up with the paragraph above.) I read volume 5 this week (there are 9, and I'm trying to parse them out slowly) and came across a great scene in what is already quickly becoming one of my all-time favorites. Jesse and Cass (the vampire) are talking about the general depravity of humanity, and Cass refers to our species as a "virus with shoes". At which point I put down the book, and said out loud: "Bill Hicks."
I have mentioned Hicks a few times over the years, to the point where I sometimes find myself making an effort not to mention him too often in writing, comments, or general conversation. Suffice it to say that my admiration for the man and his body of work is...rather high.
And I recognize his jokes from a mile away. As would anyone else who knows and loves him.
So here I sit, reading Preacher, and for a brief moment I find myself wondering if this is a case of a meme (as in the original definition) percolating from fairly obscure early 90's stand-up into late 90's comics, or of blatant plagiarism. I regret having thought this, because I wasn't giving Garth Ennis enough credit either way.
Because when I picked the book up again, Jesse utters two words in the next panel: "Bill Hicks".
I put the book down again, now a big grin on my face. And if Ennis had left the scene there, it would have been a great little piece on its own. A fine place to cut away, a wink and nod to those of us in the know, and on with the story. Again, I failed to give Mr. Ennis enough credit.
What follows is a flashback in which Jesse recounts seeing and meeting Bill Hicks at a club in Texas, back before all his craziness started and shortly before Hicks himself died of pancreatic cancer (in real life). It goes on for several pages, with some of Bill's more memorable bits interspersed. The two meet at the bar after the performance, and Hicks, seeing Jesse's collar, exclaims, "Holy shit, you're a preacher!" To which Jesse replies, "I guess that makes two of us."
I can probably count among my friends and acquaintances maybe a dozen people who are as into either Bill Hicks or Preacher nearly as much as I am. I doubt I would need more than one hand to count the ones that know them both. There's a great rush in feeling that you've discovered something wonderful that not everybody knows about, that not everyone can appreciate. And the irony is in the era of the long tail, of instant access to damn near everything, of endless ways to find new things, that feeling is actually harder to come by. Or at least it feels that way.