Monday, November 02, 2015

THE 12 DAYS OF MUERTO: Day 1...Origins

In 1998, I published my first comic book. The first appearance of El Muerto, the Aztec Zombie. Basically it was the launching of my imprint, Los Comex, and subsequently the beginning of a career path as an independent artist/self-publishing cartoonist.

Some 17 years later, I'm on that same path, but along the way, like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, I've picked up so many companions and allies and experiences and twists & turns along that Yellow Brick Road! 

Over the next 12 days here on Javzilla, I'd like to share a lot of those memories: the stories, the artwork, the unforgettable opportunities afforded me. I always say this sprang from the initial creation of my character. Obviously a lot of what I've done over the years has been beyond El Muerto, but that initial spark, the thing that gave me the drive to seriously express myself as an artist and put my entire energies into creativity.... It was coming up with El Muerto and finding ways to get his story out into the world.

"What's the story about?" and "How did you come up with the idea?". Two questions most creators of fiction probably get asked most often. (Another favorite question from kids is "Are you famous"!)

As a kid, I was a huge fan of comic books and superhero characters. My older brother Albert gifted me his collection of comics one day, as he slowly drifted away from reading them. I was about 8, and that collection of classic Marvel Comics was a revelation. Art and story in the service of telling stories about these larger-than-life heroes, sometimes battling personal demons as much as the constant barrage of super-villains reigning down on them.

By 1975, I was heading over to the local 7-11 store and buying my own comics at 25¢ a pop. These books with their shiny, glossy covers and cheap newsprint pages of superhero melodrama only fueled the imagination in my head. My fervent mania for comics lasted up until the late 80s, maybe early 90s. As far as the mainstream characters, like Spider-man, Iron Man, Batman and the rest, I guess I felt I had pretty much 'seen it all'. Plus the art styles were changing and lots of my favorite creators weren't actively working on the books I had eagerly consumed in the prior years.

Flash forward to the mid-90s and I'm working as a production artist in the art department of a screenprinting company. But while I'm learning valuable computer skills, it's not what I really want to be doing. At that time, I had already been reading independent & self-published comic book titles. Most I can't recall nowadays (the majority of them abandoned by their publishers and creators), but I still have a smattering of them in various boxes here and there. With examples of some folks I knew, or met at comic conventions, I decided that I should exercise my creativity and self-publish my own comics. I certainly wasn't interested in working for a publisher on their titles, I was definitely hearing the call to create my own works.

The question was what exactly was my own comic going to be? Instinctually, I wanted to do something with a cultural emphasis, particularly dealing with the Mexican Day of the Dead/ Dia de Los Muertos and Aztec mythology. I was always interested in mythology, with tales of gods and warriors stemming from cultural identities. And I felt that we had already had more than enough exposure to Greek and Roman myths, so in my egotisical glory, I declared it was time to shine a spotlight on Mexican folklore and mythology! Gilbert & Jaime Hernandez had already been producing groundbreaking work with their LOVE & ROCKETS series, focusing on groups of characters from a working class Mexican-American neighborhood in Los Angeles as well as the fictional village Palomar in Central America.

My interest was in producing a superhero comic, through the my own particular lens. The celebration of Dia de Los Muertos was, back in the mid-90s, nowhere as widespread as it is today in the United States. Back then you could certainly find the celebration being honored in communities with large Mexican populations, but it was still somewhat off the mainstream radar. And as for seeing Aztec mythology reflected in American pop culture, you'd see far more movies and TV shows about Bigfoot than you would about the gods of pre-Columbian Mexico.

The idea I came up with as simple (as far as outlandish premises go!): A young man, Diego de La Muerte, chooses to celebrate his 21st birthday at a local Dia de Los Muertos festival. On his way to the event, he's involved in a calamitous car crash. But he finds himself awoken in the Land of the Dead, and soon finds himself at the mercy of the god of death, Miclantehcuhtli and the god of destiny, Tezcatlipoca.

Putting the hero in the hands of the two gods allowed me to get right into mythology of the Aztecs (albeit stylized for my purposes). And using Dia de Los Muertos as the backdrop to the event brought the celebration into the comic book genre. El Muerto/Diego of course was drawn from numerous inspirations. The haunted hero that Marvel excelled at, the troubled protagonist who helps others even while dealing with dilemmas that play havoc with his personal life, that was a core aspect I knew I wanted to explore. Getting a second chance at life, and love.... That would be a driving element of the narrative. Plus a cool costume, an evocative name, and all the other elements at my disposal as a comic book creator. And what was really key to me back then in the beginning was to create a Mexican-American character with as much chance to be a hero as any other in comics.

These were my guiding lights when I set about to create my comic, the direction I would direct my self-expresssion and creativity toward. Tomorrow I'll take you into that first issue, published in February of 1998, and explore the comic book world of El Muerto!

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

No comments: