Wednesday, July 06, 2016

EL MUERTO RESURRECTION: New comic gives renewed life to a series.

This is the new comic book I'll be premiering at the upcoming Latino Comics Expo this August 6 & 7 in Long Beach, CA. : El Muerto Resurrection. This is in fact the exclusive cover that will be available at the show.

In the shortest terms possible, it's a relaunching of the series. For the last two years or so I've been working on new story pages, the actual Part II to this comic:



DEAD AND CONFUSED, Pt 1 is a continuation of the El Muerto origin story, this installment finding Diego de La Muerte on a journey into Mexico to try to discover some sort of answers on why he was transformed into a pawn by the Aztec God of Death, Miclantehcuhtli. While there, he gets involved in a circus, one featuring a now-out-of-vogue 'freak show'. Here's a sample page from Part 1:

That book was published in 2008! So yes, it's been a long time coming in releasing the conclusion. (As a lesson to any aspiring comics creator, I would strongly advise against having such a glacial place in between issues....). So as I mentioned I've been working on the conclusion of the story. Pt 2 runs about 60 pages, I just need to finish some details on some pages and then scan and letter them all. Here's a camera shot of one of the new pages:


So my plan was to collect the earliest two El Muerto comics (seen below) and both Parts 1 and 2 of DEAD AND CONFUSED into a paperback collection and finally present to the world the complete initial story to El Muerto.


But the more I thought about it (and believe, I gave it serious deliberation) the more I realized that if I was going to publish a whole new book, a graphic novel of El Muerto, then it was best I produce a worthy product. The art in both EL MUERTO THE AZTEC ZOMBIE (2002) and EL MUERTO MISHMASH (2004) was done very early in my comics career. In fact, the origin story in EL MUERTO THE AZTEC ZOMBIE was reprinted from the very first El Muerto comic, the b&w photocopied book from 1998 shown below:



Judging the old stories against the new material I've been working on, the fact was that the earlier stuff doesn't hold up and would in fact provide a lesser reading experience than the newer work. The whole point of the book collection is for people to enjoy one long story about the character, so the decision was made that I would redraw the origin storyline, how he actually becomes El Muerto. I didn't really change any of the details, but I did expand the story to include a lot more about Diego's childhood and early friendships and romance. A much stronger debut for the character, and like I've mentioned, much more in keeping with my level of storytelling I'm at now. Here's a lettered page from the upcoming story:


 

I know that ultimately I'm making the right decision for the material. I always criticize whenever someone goes back and tries to fix old work (filmmakers like George Lucas come to mind). But here I am presenting a new work, a complete graphic novel, so I feel the best thing to do is provide the reader with the best experience possible. Comic book storytelling isn't hindered by money or technology, like a film might be. One improves as a writer and an artist, and it's that reasoning that allows me to want to make my story as cohesive as possible. There will be a section in the middle of this book that was done in 2008 (Part 1 of DEAD AND CONFUSED), but with some minor touch-ups I feel they'll blend in with the new material. I guess the reader will have their own opinion, ultimately, but on my end, as the creator, I'm putting out something I believe in. So stay tuned here for more updates, as I'll be announcing a pre-order campaign shortly.

It's not a reboot or a re-imagining (not my favorite words, by a long shot!), but it's bringing new life to an existing idea.

A resurrection!

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Interview with EL MUERTO fan film director Elijio Carlos Ramirez

Last May, as I was preparing to attend the Phoenix Comic Con, I received an email one night. It was from a young filmmaker from Phoenix, Elijio Carlos Ramirez, informing me that he had created a fan film based on my character EL MUERTO! He was going to be screening it at the convention, and was inviting me to attend.


The surprise I had when reading the email was genuine, and flattering. Without knowing anything about the film, I knew it was an undertaking, both in time, effort and expense. I assured him that I would definitely be there...

The night of the screening I was rushing back to the convention center from my hotel, running into conflicting One Way streets at every turn. At one point I was heading down one of them, a pedestrian yelled out "You're heading the wrong way!". I eventually made it to the screening in time, sitting down as a few of the other shorts were playing. Once "EL MUERTO: A DAY FOR THE DEAD" started, a complete wave of anticipation gripped me. 




Having worked on the full length production of the adaptation of my comic back in 2005, being intimately involved in every step of production (including a cameo!), my curiosity in seeing a film done without any participation from me was high. As the film played on, I took delight in the interpretation, and the sheer bravado on display in the production. Afterwards I met the director and two of the stars, thanking them for their work. One of the truly wonderful surreal moments I've had since creating the character back in 1998.

I asked Carlos if I could interview him for the site. Here's what we talked about....


So who in the world is Elijio Carlos Ramirez? In case anyone is wondering....

ECR: Ha ha, sometimes I wonder who I am too! I guess the most basic answer is that I'm a creative out here in Phoenix, AZ who's just trying to promote production in my home state. And the best way I know how to do that is by trying to produce projects locally.

In your youth, which movies or filmmakers sparked your interest in filmmaking?


ECR: I think like any child of the 80's I was strongly influenced by pop culture: Saturday morning cartoons, Star Wars, comic books. I loved Tim Burton’s 90’s-era aesthetic, how it played with shape and proportion. Quentin Tarantino’s “Pulp Fiction” has such a pop intensity that it really fired up people’s imaginations, mine included. And I loved Julie Taymor’s embellished realism in “Titus” and “Frida”.

How did El Muerto get on your radar?


ECR: It was around the mid-2000's when superhero movies were really starting to catch fire. I knew that I wanted to do something cool and action-packed like that, but I wanted to build it around a Latino property. But it also had to be something I knew I could actualize with the skills that I had, so… sorry Living Lightning! I can’t create a person made of electricity.

Then after going through racks and searching online I eventually found "El Muerto". I read as much as I could find about the character, the comic, and the mythology, and I thought it would make a great film. And then later I found out they already made one! But mine was different enough so we went for it.

What drove you to make '"El Muerto: A Day for The Dead"? The film's got some quality production value behind it.


ECR: Thanks! What I liked about “El Muerto” was that, besides being a great comic with this awesome black-and-white neo-noir style, I felt that it really said something about the origins of Latinos in North America. You have this young kid who dies but is called to the Aztec underworld of his ancestors and is sent back to earth with the cross on his forehead, which calls back to Catholic rituals, while dressed as a mariachi. It blends so much of our archaic, historic, and modern identities, and up until recently there hasn’t been anything in pop culture that did that. You have it now with movies like “Book of Life” and Disney’s “Coco”, but El Muerto came out before all that.

When I was planning the film, I felt it was very important to make something that would make a good story and had a lot of production value behind it, because otherwise it wouldn’t be taken seriously. “El Muerto” has a great origin story but the series was left open-ended enough that we could build on it. We took some creative license, obviously, but I think we stayed pretty true to the character.


The film is concise and packs a great punch. Is the final cut the original idea you had, or did you alter your story.
ECR: The final cut is actually a very close approximation to my original idea. We didn't have much of a budget, so there were some things that we weren’t able to include. I had wanted to include a scene where Diego digs himself out of his grave, partly catatonic, and pulls open his shirt to show that his heart was cut out of his chest. It would have tied the character more closely back to the original comic where the character clearly receives a cardioectomy, but we just couldn’t make it happen.

There was another scene I was actually inspired to add while we were filming! I wanted to add an origin scene for the main villain El Vivo. In the film, spoiler alert, it turns out that El Vivo is actually another Aztec Zombie! I’ll admit I didn’t know much about the character but based on the doll that was made for him, I had to draw my own conclusions. The story that I built for him was that he was actually a 16th century Spanish conquistador who was responsible for massacring scores of Aztec natives. So as punishment, they perform the ceremony of undeath on him and remove his heart, forcing him to walk the earth for eternity. I thought that really would've tied a lot of the story together, but filmmaking is a collaborative process with a lot of moving parts so even though we tried (really, really hard) to pull it off, sadly, the stars did not align in our favor. So… end spoiler!


A lot of the movie is done digitally. I imagine that while time consuming, it definitely helps in cutting down on expensive location shooting.


ECR: Ha ha, yeah, going digital cut down on location expenses, but it definitely presented its own challenges. We shot the whole film in a green screen studio so I spent plenty of time in front of my computer working in After Effects pulling keys, rotoscoping, and basically using every trick I could think of to remove the background from the characters. It is definitely not as easy as it looks!

But I knew I wanted to use Phoenix as my setting. I really wanted to show off the visual appeal of all the midcentury architecture in our downtown area, which made the setting seem more timeless. So I went out and took pictures to use as backgrounds, but the challenge was taking pictures from the same angle from which the actors were filmed. That required the occasional use of a ladder or some light climbing and a few casual explanations to City of Phoenix police officers.



Any particular problems, or pleasant surprises. that arose during production?

ECR: The most pleasant surprise was how readily this project came together! At the time, I was working for a great production company here in AZ, Point In Time Studios, that worked closely with another company, Arizona Virtual Studios (now it's Arizona Studios), and that gave us access to everything we needed. I had met the cast (Jacob Orta, Tess Hernandez, and Alejandro Sanchez Vega) as an actor working with Teatro Bravo, Arizona's premiere Latino theater company, and that gave me a deep well of talent that I could call upon. I had performed with another actor, Sarah Clevinger, on a show at Arizona State University and she revealed that she's also a very talented makeup and prosthetics artist! We found Ramiro Quezada when he came in to audition, and he had such a strong, brooding presence and great martial arts skills that I knew I wanted him to play the lead villain.
 


The biggest problem we ran into was casting someone for the role of El Fuerte, one of the supporting villains. We really needed someone who could meet the physical demands of that character because if we didn't then the character wouldn't be believable and the short wouldn't be taken seriously. The first actor we cast dropped out two days before filming (because that's how these things work) so I started calling every single person I had ever shaken hands with to find a replacement. And mercifully (thanks to Miles Nuessle at NPC Miles Productions) we found Ryan Foxx, a competitive bodybuilder who was just everything we needed. He came in like a boss, all ripped and huge, and he just delivered!


But the most heartening surprise was working with a great crew. Working as crew isn't easy and it's not glamorous, so not a lot of people are eager to do it.  But working with Point In Time I met a lot of great kids who really wanted to pitch in and be a part of this project, and I was able to work with one of my mentors Ralph Lopez who really helped bring the whole thing together.

You contacted me last year that you were screening it at the Phoenix Comic Con, and invited me to attend. Coincidentally, I was already scheduled to exhibit at the show. Did you have any trepidation when you emailed me about the creation of your film?


ECR: I did, actually! When you do a fan film, you never know how your work is going to be received by the person or people who created the original property, especially considering that we took some creative license. But I was pleasantly surprised and, quite frankly, relieved at how open you were to the project. But everyone in the cast and crew has been very appreciative of the support you've shown for us and the film.

Any future endeavors you care to share with us?


ECR: Right now we're getting ready to submit the short to Comic-Con International's film festival, so if anyone is in a position to bend the ear of the selection committee, please put in a good word for us! Aside from that I'm keeping myself busy with a few other projects, and keeping an eye out for new films to produce. So here's hoping we can build on the success that "El Muerto" has brought us so far!

Me with the director and cast of EL MUERTO: A DAY FOR THE DEAD.

My thanks again to Carlos and his cast and crew for putting together an imaginative interpretation of my character. On it's own, it's a firecracker of a film, and inspiring in it's own right. I'm always glad to see others put their creative energies to use, and it also gives me a great personal satisfaction to see young Latino talent express themselves through their artistic efforts.

Here's a piece of fan art I did the other day, in honor of their movie.


EL MUERTO: A DAY FOR THE DEAD
is currently available to watch online. Click here to see it!  


Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Pre-order MANIAC PRIEST: BOOK ONE!

I'm now taking pre-orders for my new book, MANIAC PRIEST: BOOK ONE!

Los Angeles, 1985.... The city's in the stranglehold of a crime wave. When the latest victims include the sister and niece of a young priest, a Biblical vengeance shatters the night! Maniac Priest....You don't confess your sins to him, you pay for them! 


Inspired by the vigilante genre (DEATH WISH, The Punisher, The Executioner), this new book is a mix of revenge story and supernatural thriller. Featuring 4 stories, colored in gray tones with selected spot colors, the story of Maniac Priest is my first 'Mature Readers' release, in keeping with the genres that inspired it, as well as staying true to the subject matter.

The book is 37 pages, 8.5" x 11" squarebound, and features guest pinups by a variety of cartoonists with
diverse interpretations of the character: Pharoah Bolding, Brad Dwyer, Michael Aushenker, Eric Mengel, Rafael Navarro, Byron Black with Michael Neno, and Ofloda Monstro. Also features behind-the-scenes material on creating the character.

I've had tremendous fun working on these, and I really feel the work reflects that. Here are some selected sample panels:



Pre-order campaigns, which some of you have been so kind to support in the past, help me pay for the initial print run. So your patronage is greatly appreciated. (Think of it as a bit like tithing, but you'll get a cool comic in the end!). Every book pre-ordered will come signed with an original sketch in the book by me.

I've also included several Artist Editions where in addition to a signed copy of the book, you can own some of my original artwork. One is a the colored marker drawing below and the other is a black & white ink drawing (this image is featured in the book). 


And for the adventurous collector, you can also own the original black & white artwork of the wraparound cover. This is done on an 11" x 17" sheet of Bristol paper, drawn in blue pencil and black ink. This wraparound cover is exclusive to the First Release Edition of the book, so you'll have a rare piece  on your hands...



Follow me on Facebook, Twitter or Tumblr to see more updates and previews during the Pre-order campaign. To get your copy of the book, please visit my Los Comex webshop.

Thanks, and peace be with you....

Javier

Friday, January 01, 2016

Happy New Year 2016!


Starting, and ended, the year working on a new book. Finishing up some pre-production work on it before I send it off to the printer for a proof copy.
 

Coming your way soon....

© Javier Hernandez

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Read ¡THE NIGHT BEFORE NAVIDAD!

I first wrote this poem, a mash-up of Dia de Los Muertos and Christmas, back in 2006. Last year I finally got around to illustrating it.

My Christmas story starring El Muerto, The Aztec Zombie.

Thanks to everyone who's paths I crossed this past year. In person or online, in one way or another, we've connected in various ways.... Wishing you all the best this Holiday Season!






El Muerto and The Night Before Navidad © Javier Hernandez

Friday, November 13, 2015

THE 12 DAYS OF MUERTO: Day 12...The future

Day 12: And finally, here we are...

Going back over the past 17 years has helped me relive some warm memories. I look at a lot of it as a combination of hard, diligent work mixed with some 'how did I get here' moments! But it all comes from one's desire to leave a mark, to leave your signature on that great landscape we all live through for any certain number of years.

El Muerto, and any work I do, any work anyone creates, is the result of making the effort to start a project or goal. To express an idea. We ultimately do it by ourselves and for ourselves, at least that's my initial starting point. But I've reached out to people for any number of my projects, sometimes for actual assistance, sometimes for feedback or advice. You form partnerships with individuals and organizations, you work with others in pursuing your dreams, and sometimes theirs. 

Sometimes El Muerto comes back to me via someone else's hands, believe it or not. Over the years, I've had the good fortune to receive artwork of all kinds based on El Muerto: drawings, paintings, custom action figures, statues, etc. I'm always honored to be the recipient of such work. I like contributing my own interpretation of other artist's characters, so getting such work myself is inspiring. This past May I received an email from an individual informing me that he had made a fan film starring El Muerto, A DAY FOR THE DEAD. He was going to screen it at the Phoenix Comic Con, which I was actually scheduled to be a guest of. So I told Elijio Carlos Ramirez, the writer/director of the film, that'd I be attending the screening. The film was an exhuberant take on the character, one I found myself enjoying immediately. The amount of time and energy, not to mention passion, Elijio and his fellow filmmakers put into making it was charming. I was really flattered with the whole experience. The plan is to show it online eventually, but Elijio's taken it to several film festivals in the meantime. 



Just the other day I was informed that a new book, TERRA ZOMBI (an anthology on zombies in pop culture) was just published in Puerto Rico from Editorial Isla Negra. The book features an essay on El Muerto contributed by poet and scholar Mauricio Espinoza. I haven't read the piece yet, but it's an honor to have the character written about in such venues. There's been other opportunities like that over the years, and it's no less humbling each time.




As for what you can expect from me next... As I mentioned in an earlier post in this series, I've got a new chapter of the El Muerto story on my drawing table. This will be published in the early part of 2016, as part of a trade paperback collecting the earlier El Muerto comics. So a lot, if not most, of the Holiday Season will be devoted to finishing this up, the long-awaited conclusion to DEAD & CONFUSED.


Here's a 3 page sequence from the new story. This is what the pages look like after I ink them, before I go in and erase any pencil lines, or digitally clean up the pages in Photoshop after I scan them: 


 And a page from another scene:


As an artist you create something, and you hope others like it as well. You become the custodian for that character. And over the years you find a lot of goodwill comes back to you because of it. I couldn't possibly thank everyone who's supported my work, embraced my comic book character, offered a helping hand along the many years and countless miles. But I appreciate each and every person. All of you!

Thank you for reading along here on THE 12 DAYS OF MUERTO. Lots more days ahead!

El Muerto and all related characters are ™ & © Javier Hernandez 1998-2015

Thursday, November 12, 2015

THE 12 DAYS OF MUERTO: Day 11...Film festivals and DVD release

Day 11: With the principal photography on the movie completed, it was time to catch a breather. For a minute or two, at least...

My day-to-day duties working on the film were done, as I was only contracted to officially be on the payroll for 6 weeks. Of course, there was no loss of contact, as I was updated regularly on developments. One of the biggest came about a month or so later, when my producer Larry Rattner invited me over to the office to watch the trailer. I was extremely eager to see it, anticipating it like I was opening a huge Christmas gift. It didn't disappoint. Take a look if you haven't seen it yourself:



Watching the scenes play out before me, having seen most of them being filmed, was such an intense rush. Soon as it was over he asked if I'd like to see it again, which of course I did. This was really the beginning of the promotional push for the film, as we soon booked a booth and a panel at the San Diego Comic Con. This was back in early 2005, when you could actually contact the convention this close to the event and secure such arrangements!

In May, an early cut of the film was actually shown at the Cannes Film Festival, which totally blew my mind. Sure, it wasn't an official screening held in one of the palatial theaters (it was shown to gain interest from distributors) but we can say it played at Cannes. Here's how it was covered by the pop culture news site JoBlo.Com:




 That summer, after having spent the previous 8 years in Artist Alley, I found myself on the main floor of the convention with a full booth (paid for by the producers, naturally!). On our panel (moderated by my friend and fellow comics creator Mort Todd) we had stars Tony Plana, Joel David Moore and Wilmer Valderrama , as well as myself and producer Larry Rattner. It was cool to be up on the stage, having sat in the audience myself over the years listening to similar panels. But here the audience was gathered to see our preview, and definitely see our star Wilmer (but I spotted a lot of my friends sprinkled throughout the crowd!).



I spent the whole weekend at the booth, greeting fans and hyping up the movie. Wilmer and the other stars even came down for a bit after the panel, adding to the excitement. At one time, actor Seth Green walked by, and saw the poster with Wilmer on it, his eyes fixated on it as he kept walking by. I yelled out "Hey, Seth, that's your buddy Wilmer on there!". He raised a hand and smiled as he continued on. That was a funny moment.

The film still needed post-production work on it, mainly digital effects, scoring and such. So I used the rest of 2005 to return to the drawing board, and work on the next chapter of the El Muerto comic. It was interesting to sit there at my desk, all by myself, armed with my pencil, and once more be the sole voice in the telling of the story of my character. Having seen a whole team of creative people gather together to create the film, even being part of that team myself, it was satisfying to once again, quitely and at my own pace, create the latest chapter.

In November of 2005 I was asked to do a specific job for the film... My director, Brain Cox, asked if I could provide artwork for the opening titles. He wanted to incorporate my art into the film, and also needed some images to complete the opening narrative of the film. The credits would be place into the drawings. There were a couple of scenes he didn't film that could be shown with an illustration. I loved the idea, and told him 'Yes'. Then I immediately contacted my lawyer and told him we'd need to ask Larry for a contract, so I would get paid for this work. Hey, I may be the Associate Producer but I'm also a working artist! Anyway, I did a total of about 24 images. For the opening of the film, Brian requested a particular image of El Muerto. Originally it was a pencil drawing for the cover of a preview comic I published earlier, so I redrew it in ink and we cropped it to fit the widescreen format:







By September of 2006, the film was completed and ready to screen. The first time I saw the film was in a screening theater they had rented on the Warner Bros. lot. We arrived at the theater but then they told us it was moved to another one a few doors down. Evidently, Clint Eastwood was showing the WB executives an early print of FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS. I figured if I'm going to get bumped out of a theater, better be someone of Clint's stature! Seeing EL MUERTO, complete from beginning to end, was a most memorable experience. I was invested in the movie as a viewer as much as possible, trying not to see it through the eyes of a creator or filmmaker. The fact that the bulk of the movie was original material from Brian's script (with my characters and origin story being the spring board) allowed me take it in as a fan. Seeing my cameo was particularly surreal, in that I'll forever be immortalized on screen with my character at those cemetery gates on East Los Angeles. It's a nice little atmospheric film, letting it's cast of characters wind through the story as it unfolds before them. I still enjoy watching it every so often, letting myself be taken along for another journey by the characters. Sure, I could always sit there and wish we had lots more money for more elaborate set pieces and explosions or whatever, but getting that movie made is an experience I don't take for granted and I'm very satisfied with our final product.

2007 came around and it was time to hit the film festival circuit. Here on the west coast I was able to attend all the screenings: Los Angeles, Oxnard, San Diego, San Jose, San Francisco and also one in Texas. And while I didn't travel with it, it did screen in New York and Toronto, Canada. Not too bad for a small little independent movie. The festival screenings were as fun as you can imagine. There really is an undeniable attraction to all the hype and excitement of movie screenings and the whole festival circuit. There's Q&A with fans and press, and after-parties of one sort or the other. A whole different level of engagement than we normally find in the comics biz. 


Me and actor Tony Plana (Aparicio) at the San Diego Latino Film Festival 2006:



With Maria Conchita Alonso (Sister Rosa) at a screening at Cal State LA:


In San Francisco:



Working the crowds in Oxnard, CA: 


 Me and Tony Plana even returned to San Diego Comic Con in 2007 with an actual screening:


We also prepared for a DVD release and that was another thing I was heavily involved with. I suggested some of the special features, such as an art gallery with guest artists that I handpicked, a how-to-draw El Muerto tutorial, and the El Muerto mini-comic made exclusively to be included in the DVD package. I also got to record the commentary on the DVD with our director, Brian.

For purposes of marketing, the distributor strongly suggested that the DVD be released under the title THE DEAD ONE. So that's how it was first released initially. 6 months later I was glad to see it re-issued as EL MUERTO. Interesting to have two versions out there. I guess the DEAD ONE is our rarer variant, for all you collectors out there...



Eventually I got copies of the both the Polish and Australian versions as well:


















In September of 2007, we even had one more final victory run for the film, a one-week exclusive engagement at the Laemmle's Grande 4-plex in Downtown Los Angeles. On the Opening Night our director, Brian Cox, Larry our producer and myself held a Q&A after the screening. I went at least twice during the week it played there, and lots of my friends reported going throughout the week. One friend even told she and her family ran into one of our actors, Billy Drago, who was in the audience checking out the film himself! Here's me and Brian by the poster, and my and Martin Espino (a friend and accomplished musician who worked with our film composer to provide authentic pre-Columbian music to the soundtrack) outside by the marquee. 



With the DVD on the market, and multiple runs on cable tv and streaming services, the film continued to make it's rounds, and I periodically hear from someone who's seen it. Usually at a convention or other appearance I may hear from someone "Oh, I saw that movie!", to which I always say "Well, here's the comic it's based on!". The movie was a big part of my career, and it continues to be a welcome presence in my life.

Tomorrow, we wrap up this series with the 12th day of THE 12 DAYS OF MUERTO. See you then!

El Muerto and all related characters are ™ & © Javier Hernandez 1998-2015