I can't believe it was only this past sunday that I was in San Francisco screening EL MUERTO at the Another Hole in the Head film fest film festival! Pressing matters (which of course involves the film in question!) have kept me at bay for the whole week, but I wanted to share some stories on this screening.
So, since this was a three-day trip, and I was going up there by myself, I decided to fly. This way I could spend more time enjoying the trip rather than spend over 12 hours driving up and back home. Mind you, I love the drive, as I've been doing it for the past 10 years, attending the annual APE comic show and a couple of other events in Northern California. But the decision was made that I would fly. No problem. Except for one little detail... I hadn't flown for over 15 years or so!
As this was the post-9/11 world, I had to get up to speed on travel arrangements and such. Yes, you do have to take off your shoes, and get your luggage zapped with x-rays. But, all that was fine, compared to the Economy Class seat I had to stuff myself into! At least it was only an hour flight!
So, I'm fine til the plane pulls onto the runway...then all of a sudden I'm like "Holy *****! This plane is going FAST!!" Then whoosh, we're up in the air!! I'm sure this sounds silly to most folks, regardless if they themselves have been on a plane or not. But I have to tell you, as we ascended up into the sky, I felt a tiny clump of terror deep inside of me. I tried very hard to
make sure it didn't get any worse. Last thing I wanted to do was be the panic-filled passanger begging for the plane to land! That seat near the window was probably getting me a little too close to reality than I wanted...
But, once the plane leveled off high above the clouds, I slowly adapted to flying above the world. Probably helped having James Bond theme songs playing in my iPod.... So I'm gazing out the window (with some thought as to how strong that wing really was!) and I realize something. Over the past 10 years or so, I've driven up to the Bay Area mainly for comic book conventions or store signings and such. Pretty much always coming up here to promote El Muerto. Now almost 10 years since I debuted EL Muerto in San Jose, I'm flying up to the Bay Area again..only this time to promote the movie based on my comic creation. Things certainly are moving faster and higher for me. Sure glad my girlfriend booked me a seat near the window after all!
Not surprisingly, I arrive in San Francisco Airport safe and sound. My friend Rhode Montijo arrives right on time and soon we're off to a nearby taco stand. Things are proceeding right on schedule! I met Rhode 10 years ago while we both attended the APE in San Jose in 1997, a year before I debuted Muerto and I believe he debuted his comic, Pablo's Inferno in March of '97 in Oakland at WonderCon. I was actually sitting at my friend Rafael Navarro's table as he was debuting his comic book, Sonambulo. The Bay Area has been the birthplace of some pretty cool ideas, in my self-centered opinion!
So, anyways, I was staying at Rhode's place in Oakland for the weekend. I was really looking forward to him seeing the film as we've talked about it since I first got contacted by the filmmakers several years ago. He's been looking forward to seeing it. Rhode's always been an extremely supportive fan to the comic and one of those treasured friends I've been lucky enough to meet in life. Plus as amazing artist and storyteller himself, it's always an honor and pleasure to here his opinions and ideas about my work and also to be inspired and awed by his own tremendous talent. Here's a pic of a sculpture he made of his comic creation, PABLO'S INFERNO. This is simply beautiful, ain't it?
So by now you're wondering "Hey, what about the freakin' screening?!" Okay, so the following day, on sunday, we drive over to the Roxie Cinema in the Mission District of San Francisco. It's a great little old fashioned theatre that looks like it dates back to the late 60s/early 70s. After dinner we walk over to the theatre with some friends and there in the front window display we see the Muerto poster. Obvious photo op, of course!
I meet Jeff, the director of the festival and we talk about the Q&A following the film. I notice two guys standing around, one of them on a cell phone. I hear something like "Yeah, we're at the Another Hole in the Head festival....it's a movie called El Muerto...looks like Dia de Los Muertos....it's him and the girlfriend on the poster...." He's probably talking to some friend about what's going on tonight. I approach the guy standing next to him (figuring this is what I came for!). "You guys should see this movie, it looks pretty good" I tell him. This guy responds "Oh yeah, we were thinking of checking it out. Looks interesting". Then I told him. "Yeah, it's based on my comic book. I'm Javier Hernandez, the creator of the comic. How ya doing?". We shake hands then the other guy gets off the phone and I tell him the same thing. They both tell me they'll see me inside the theatre. Nice!
A friend of mine, Rico, who I first met about 6 years ago when he shopped my table at an APE con, shows up as well. He lives in the Bay Area and in fact drove down to San Diego in March to attend our premiere at the Latino Film Festival! Now he had brought his lovely wife and their son and daughter to see the film. This is the perfect family, one united in their love of EL Muerto! Seriously, they're a wonderful group of people and it's a pleasure knowing such folks.
So we all make it to our seats in the theatre. I'm actually a little nervous for some reason, even with some friends in the audience. But, I make a quick introduction to the film and let everyone know I'll be around afterwards for a Q&A. This is about the 6th time I've seen the film (not counting two or three rough cuts) and the freshenss of experiencing it hasn't worn off. Sitting with an audience of people who aren't really aware of the comic or know much about the movie is a real neat experience, because I like to compare their reactions to the other audiences I've seen it with. Most of the funny lines pretty get the same reactions, but I like how different people will react to other subtle aspects differently. There's always one line that gets the biggest laugh, and I'm glad to say it was lifted directly from the first issue. And each time I see my cameo I can just feel my friend's amusement when they see me. Least I assume it's a positive reaction!
The film ends with a strong round of applause and after the lights go up I'm called up to the front. Gulp... But, I'm introduced and then get right down to it. One thing I learned awhile ago, and it helps me get through any stage fright, is that people who stick around for these Q&A's want to be there. They want to hear from the creator and how this came about. Even though the overwhelming majority probably never heard of me or El Muerto before the festival. So, it's not exactly a hostile audience. Well, that's always the hope!
One of the questions I got was "What do you say about the the Christ-like parallels that are drawn to El Muerto in the film?" I told the guy who asked "Well, those are intentional,if you read the comic. And certainly our director played with that in the film." Then I added, "I think El Muerto is the first superhero since Jesus Christ to come back from the dead and have the power to raise the dead!" That got a good laugh. Another gal said that she wanted the god of death to win, because she was rooting for the Aztec culture. Wow, another heavy question! I dodged that by saying that we would have had an entirely different movie if that was the outcome. "Maybe if we make a sequel we can have Round 2" I assured her.
So I see Rhode raise his hand, and I figure this should be cool. I was right! "Who do you think would win in a fight between El Muerto and the Hulk?", he asks. I immediately turn to Jeff, the festival director, and ask him, "Jeff, can we get security over here?". But I answered the question. "Well, El Muerto would win. Because everytime the Hulk would pulverize El Muerto, the Aztec Zombie would regenerate himself and Hulk would eventually tire and turn back into Bruce Banner. Then Muerto would kick his butt!". That brought a pretty good round of applause. So of course, to seize on the moment I said, "Hey listen, I love the classic corporate superheroes too, but it's nice that we support the creator-owned independent heroes as well!" I'm a shameless promoter of my own indie cred, what can I say?
Another friend from the Bay Area, Jaime Baker asked two questions which helped keep things moving. "What's the name of the actress who played Maria...and can I have her phone number?" Good one. His other question was "How did this whole deal come about?", which allowed me to go into the whole Cinderella/one-in-a-million story behind the Muerto movie deal. I think the story behind the movie is one that really captures people's imagination, because really, the circumstances that lead to the film are filled with good luck and chances of fate. Really it comes down to an imaginative idea, my trust in the integrity of Brian Cox (the screenwriter/director), the entrepeneurial instincts of our investors the Leones and the ability of our producers to put together an excellent cast and can-do film crew. I remind people that I created EL Muerto 10 years ago in a very modest little black & white photocopied comic book, with about a print run of 500 or less. Don't even remember the exact number to be honest. And this was done solely to create my own character in my own book. No dreams of movies in my head. And now here we are with EL Muerto considered a brand with potential to be exploited in various other media. I told the audience that other than the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and American Splendor and now El Muerto, offhand I couldn't think of another self-published, black & white, creator-owned comic book to be made into a film. There probably is, and I wouldn't mind being told about it. But as it stands I think El Muerto has earned itself a special little place in the annals of comics-to-film.
Other questions concerned the potential for a sequel :"That would be up to the marketplace and you folks." And the standard: "How's it feel to see your comic up on the screen?" Well, the standard, honest answer is that "It feels great. It's like everytime I see the film it reminds me of the best Christmas I ever had, over and over again." I realized the other day that in regards to this answer I could add that selling someone a comic and showing people the movie provide unique experiences. When someone buys the comics from me at a convention, or through my website, it's great to meet them and thank them in person. But unless they write me and email or see me at another show, I won't know how, or if, they enjoyed the comic. When you're watching the film with the audience you are literally experiencing their reaction to the film. Once the DVD is out of course, it'll be back to either hearing people's response via email or hearing from them in person. Then of course there's the cheers or jeers that can be posted all over the web....
All said and done, I had a great time at the screening.
Hey Javier, I am very proud to see someone from Whittier create something so fantastic! I am also from Whittier and I love the comics. It really describes a cultural side of LA and life in SoCal that we rarely see. Keep up the good work!
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