Monday, September 27, 2010

EL MUERTO as educational subject in a Jesuit High School Spanish class

About a week and a half ago I received an email from a student in a Jesuit High School that he had seen EL MUERTO in his Spanish 4 class. (Edited for brevity & identification privacy):

"Dear Mr. Hernandez,

I am taking an AP Spanish 4 - Conversation and Culture class at my school. As a part of the class curriculum we not only read your comics but we also watched the El Muerto movie. Personally, I found your works to be fascinating and creative. Through reading and watching your works, I don't think that I have ever had more fun learning Spanish and culture. I just wanted to contact you and Thank You for enlightening my Spanish education. I also wanted to complement you on your amazing publications.
Thank you for everything!"

He asked me if it would be at all possible to send him my autograph or something, as a way to 'Wow' his classmates. Well, I think the signed comic books and sketch I sent him should have done the trick! He wrote back extremely happy.

When I first read his letter, I realized that another student from the same class wrote me last year with the same experience. This time I asked the student if he could give me the email of his teacher. I wanted to thank her for using the film in such an interesting way, and also to ask her how she came to use the comics and film in her class.

"Thank you for the letter. I found El Muerto at a WalMart. I read the description and thought that it would be perfect for my Conversation and Culture Class, a level four senior class. Our school is a Catholic Jesuit College Preparatory all boys High School. The themes in the movie are demonstrative of the history of Catholicism in Mexico and the Southwest of  The United States. Additionally it leads into a great discussion about the Aztecs and the gods, sacrifices and the power of love.
They enjoy the movie immensely and have great conversations about the characters. I play it in the fall semester as it also leads into a discussion about The Day of the Dead."
I'm really glad to hear that many of the story elements that make up the character of El Muerto can often find readers/viewers that relate to the material on a personal basis. That they get such an educational benefit out of it, besides enjoying it for it's escapism, is rewarding to me in so many ways. A Catholic High School using El Muerto in their Spanish class, dovetailing into an appreciation for the Day of the Dead? Perhaps I shouldn't be so surprised, as I gave Diego de La Muerte very specific characteristics that I wanted to see portrayed in a comic book hero (and if you want something done right, do it yourself!) But it's still a pretty neat thing when it happens.
 Ever seen a zombie recite a rosary? No? Didn't think so! (From EL MUERTO:DEAD & CONFUSED Pt. 1)

A few years ago I read a book called 'Stealing fire from the gods', written by filmmaker James Bonnet. The book deals with how the great movie stories, (STAR WARS, JAWS, etc) all feature universal story elements that resonate with mass audiences, and how these films tie to our subconscious need for hero role models. Toward the end of the book, in his closing  he wrote one line in particular that stood out to me. I don't have the book with me at the moment, but he wrote something like: "Give the world good stories, stories they need. And the world will heap upon you treasures beyond your wildest dreams". 
It's unexpected emails like the ones from the students in the Spanish class, and many other instances, that make me clearly understand what Bonnet was talking about. Like the saying goes, none of us are curing cancer or ending human suffering with our works. And Lord only knows that lots of us aren't cashing huge checks on a constant basis from the creative work we do. But it's hard to beat an uplifting letter like the ones I shared here.

Although I'm still waiting for someone to write a treatise on El Muerto's advocating for Ash Wednesday!

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Latino Book Festival press conference with Edward James Olmos

On Thursday, I participated in the press conference for the upcoming 13th Annual Latino Book & Family Festival.The press conference was held at the Pan American Bank in East Los Angeles. (About 2 months ago, I attended the fundraiser held there).

There were about a dozen authors there, and they asked us to bring copies of our books to have on display for the press. Reyna Grande, a local author, had invited the authors, as she's also on the organizing committee for the Festival. Obviously, as readers of this blog know, I spend a lot of time with other comic creators at our various conventions and events. But I always like meeting other creatives from different fields. So many of the things that we all do to get our work in the public's eye really overlaps with how each of one approaches the day-to-day networking/marketing part of our chosen crafts.

Among those participating in the news conference was Edward James Olmos, whose been a key driving force of the Festival since it's founding. His talk during the press conference was very inspiring to me personally. Knowing that he's got his acting career, but still takes time to work with the Festival every year, in service to the community, that really makes me realize that the efforts I put into my own 'community service' are worthwhile uses of my time and talents. 

Edward talked about growing up right outside the bank in those very neighborhoods, and how much it meant to him to be able to bring this literary festival back to the surrounding communities, making sure that books and reading become an important part of a child's life (not just their education). 

Jesse Torres, the bank CEO, also spoke, and talked about using his bank as an anchor for the community:

Not just as a place to do banking, but one where he could provide various events to promote literacy and reading to parents and their kids. The bank has a slate of author readings every Saturday for the next several months). There's a YouTube video with footage of the press conference here.

I carpooled with a friend of mine to the event, author & illustrator Joe Cepeda. Joe will be in conducting a workshop at the Festival, and also an author reading at the bank in October. (I'm scheduled for December 4th). Joe and I always have great discussions on being working artists, and actually learn quite a bit from one another precisely because we come from different mediums. 

Me, Joe Cepeda and Edward James Olmos.

Edward talked about East LA being the 'Ellis Island of the West Coast', and gave examples of how many Mexican-American and Latino creators have come from this area. I was actually born several blocks West of the bank, along an intersecting street to First Street, at a Japanese hospital. I grew up in Whittier but my dad had plenty of family in East LA that we would visit on the weekends. I'm proud to be who I am, and acknowledge the influence of my Mexican-American upbringing on how it affected my art and identity. I'm a result of how I grew up, being raised by Mexican parents in an American household. EL MUERTO is certainly proof of that. Being part of the Latino Book & Family Festival allows me to connect personally with many others who grew up in similar experiences.

Please come out to the Latino Book & Family Festival this October 9 & 10 at the Cal State LA campus. The event is free, and there will be plenty of workshops, panels, and even a smattering of comic book creators!

Friday, September 24, 2010

3rd Annual San Gabriel Valley Comic Book Festival PT 2

Continuing my stroll down memory lane....

Bernyce Talley and Grasiela Rodriguez in secret talks about their comic projects:

Rafael Navarro, creator of Sonambulo, next to one of his fantastic cover paintings:

Rafael actually conducted a panel during the festival, and he always holds his audiences' attention with his presentations. Another one of our workshops, this one on animation, was conducted by Raul Aguirre:

One thing that struck me about the panels is that it's a great way to gauge interest in the process of storytelling. I know that some of the folks who attended had their own aspirations in comics or animation. It's nice to be able to provide these workshops, especially since they're free (as is the admittance to the festival itself).

A few months ago, I taught a DIY Comics Crash Course at GEEKS Comics. Several of the people who attended my seminar came by to check out the festival. In fact, one of the them was exhibiting at our show, for the first time. Neil Segura, along with his partner Ray Mendivil, was promoting their upcoming comic book FOREVER FRESHMAN. (Click on the link and see that Neil has learned well: He blogged about attending the festival! That's one of the things we talked about in the class, keep people informed of your activities related to making comics!)

Several of the cartoonists who exhibited at our first SGV Comics Festival returned again this year:

 The always-amicable Jose Cabrera of CRYING MACHO MAN fame. I've known Jose for some years now, and it's always a delight having him, and his gonzo brand of comics, gracing any comic convention.

Here's a couple of artists I had met at previous conventions, but was glad to see them appearing for their first time at SGV:

Karl Altstaetter and Gerimi Burleigh. (I think there was an atomic bomb that went off just outside the door, but it didn't stop these two cartoonists from enjoying the show!).

Exhibiting at his first-ever comics show was Jamie Gambell:

Jamie is the writer of OMNITORIUM, and in fact has several other titles in the development stage. It was nice to meet him in person after knowing him for some time through our 140-character conversations via Twitter.

There were various other creators at the show, but unfortunately I didn't get a chance to actually talk and meet each one. Even a relatively smaller show like ours still means you're meeting new fans and conducting transactions (thankfully!), so I had to spend most of my time at my table. Luckily, while at my table there were brief moments to relax and chill out as well:

Kathryn Renta, besides being nice to chat with, is a letterer and graphic designer, and is in fact preparing to publish her own comic book as well. 

Adding to the enjoyment of the show was the arrival of FRESH FRIES, LA's mobile gourmet french fries:

If you're in the LA area, make sure you track them down and visit their truck. Dang tasty fries with some really knock-out sauces!

The show, for so many reasons, is definitely a favorite of mine. The fact that it's like 20 minutes from home is a big plus! But the whole intimate nature of the festival really gives you a real strong, genuine sense of being part of a local comics community. I'm glad we got to our 3rd show, and I'm really looking forward to next year's entry. I know we'll make it an even bigger experience for everyone involved.

Thanks to the fans who came out to support all the artists. Thanks to all the various artists who came back to the show or attended for their first time. I certainly have to thank the Nuvein Foundation and our partners for putting the whole show together. I've worked with the organization for some years now, and the thing that always inspires me is how tirelessly everyone works on the various projects. This is a non-profit organization, with the aim of connecting the community to the arts, and providing scholarships to young students.

After the festival, a group of us headed over to a local favorite restaurant for dinner and good times:

 Me, Jim Lujan and Grasiela Rodriguez. The three of us were on the Planning Committee for the festival, along with several other members of Nuvein (the more camera-shy members!). We're also members of the Cartoonistas, and have done plenty of other art related projects together. But it's great to first and foremost consider them good friends.

Here's to next year's San Gabriel Valley Comic Book Festival. Hope to see you there!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

3rd Annual San Gabriel Valley Comic Book Festival PT 1

Sunday's event has come and gone, after months of preparing and planning. In the end, things worked out even better than I was hoping for.  I salute my fellow Nuvein Foundation Board of Directors, and especially Comic Festival Chairperson Grasiela Rodriguez, for all the hard work put into bringing this together.

Our banner outside the Cuban Club, where DJ Rex was outside spinning his music, especially tons of 80s New Wave (well, he did ask me on Facebook what type of music is played at comic conventions!)

Our artists and writers, and I'm figuring there were about 30, had a great time, with several creators actually exhibiting at their first convention. And the fans seemed to have really appreciated the event. Most of the ones I talked to hadn't heard of the event before (this was our 3rd) so we're getting new people hip to the Festival.

When I joined the Nuvein Foundation several years ago, one of the things I wanted to get off the ground was comic book festival right here in the San Gabriel Valley. Our first one was held also held at the Cuban Club, then last year we joined up with the Monrovia Public Library for the next one. This year we came back to our original location and we're happy to realize that we definitely need to move to a larger venue if we want to accommodate the rest of the artists we had to turn down due to space limitations.

Raul Aguirre (Man VS Art podcast, animator, cartoonist) and I exchange presents. As a belated birthday gift, I made Raul a custom sketch doll of his character Citizen Sanchez. I scored an awesome El Muerto mask created by his lovely wife Hortencia, which Raul also worked on. Sure is nice to celebrating Christmas in September!

L to R: Shawn Granger, writer and publisher of the 2-part graphic novel series FAMILY BONES, a critically acclaimed crime story and Michael Hamersky. Michael runs the Comic Book Collectors Blog, and he and his wife Tina came to cover the event. Michael's love of the medium and art of comics comes across in his extensive reporting. You can read his report on our show over at his blog

Art Lopez, face-painting for the attendees. Art also held a live-art demonstration, and brought to the show his new beautifully crafted skeleton figures:

Exhibiting in the table next to mine was Cartoonista co-founder and great friend Jim Lujan:
Jim's second collection of his Ghettomation films, BENCH WARRANT, made it's debut at the show. Jim and I actually met at the first SGV Comics Festival a few years back. (Dang, maybe I should have bought him some flowers?)

Mr. Sherm Cohen:
Sherm's a storyboard artist/writer/director, and also proprietor of CARTOON SNAP, a delightfully entertaining and educational website covering tons of classic comics and cartoons. Sherm's new book, CARTOONING:CHARACTER DESIGN, was a big hit with attendees.

Here's a gang of creative individuals flexing their muscles:
On the left, Richard Carradine. Rich was actually exhibiting at his first convention, promoting his book, THE PARK AFTER DARK, a historical account of the many ghosts and spirits that dwell at Disneyland! Rich is the co-founder of GHOULA (Ghost Hunters of Urban Los Angeles), a group of curious adventurers who travel the many haunted places in the big city. Next to Rich is Michael Aushenker, writer, artist, bon vivant. Michael, one of my earliest acquaintences in DIY comics, is the creator of numerous comics, all of which can be found at his joint publishing venture CARTOON FLOPHOUSE. I've probably done more shows with Michael than with any other of my friends, and each time there is nothing but fun to be had. The last guy on the left would be Ted Seko, another long-time friend and self-publisher. Ted's expressively explosive comics and art is always a must-see. THE IDIOT ENGINE, Ted's artist podcast, features one-on-one interview with artists talking about, well... art stuff! Check it out.

I'll have Part 2 of my reminiscing about the show tomorrow!

Friday, September 17, 2010

I'll be at the San Gabriel Valley Comic Book Festival on Sunday

I'll be exhibiting at the 3rd Annual San Gabriel Valley Comic Book Festival this Sunday, Sept 19.

The Festival is put on by the Nuvein Foundation, for which I serve on the Board of Directors. Three years ago I suggested to the Board that we create our own comic book convention here in the San Gabriel Valley (East of Los Angeles). Now here we are holding our third Festival. We're actually back at our original location, the Cuban Club in El Monte, CA.

This year there are over 2 dozen creators attending, from the world of independent comic books, webcomics, animation, filmmaking and podcasting. There's also some book authors and fine artists exhibiting as well.

Myself, I'll have my catalog of comics, as well as the EL MUERTO DVD and buttons. I'm also busting out my new custom EL MUERTO SKETCH DOLLS! This assortment includes:

l to r: El Vivo (the evil Muerto), El Muerto, El Lobo Muerto (a special 2010 HALLOWEEN MUERTO MONSTER)

I previously sold some early prototypes of the EL MUERTO sketch dolls but these are the new colored versions. These dolls are hand drawn & colored by me, so each one is a unique hand-crafted original. It's like getting a 3 dimensional piece of art from me. 

I've also created some additional sketch dolls based on other comic book characters. In this assortment are character's created by comic artist Steve Ditko:
 l to r: "The !?", Spider-Man & The Creeper

And here's a one-of-a-kind collectible: An El Muerto Sketch Doll Double Pack: EL MUERTO vs. REV. JOHN HENRY UNICORN!

Rev. Unicorn is a character created by my friend Jim Lujan, a filmmaker of animated movies. Among Jim's many great cartoons are two starring John Henry Unicorn, the leader of the Church of the Unicorn! It's a totally wacked out idea, handled expertly by the tremendously talented Mr. Lujan, the Founder of Ghettomation. Jim immediately gave his blessing to this double pack. It was fun making the John Henry doll, and I hope a fan of both Jim and myself will find this worth adding to their collection!

The festival runs from 11am - 5pm, and admission is free. There will be panels on animation and comic book storyboarding, as well as an appearance by LA's freshest food van, FRESH FRIES!

Come out and support our local comic book convention!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Weapon Tex Mex Independence Day!

In honor of Mexican Independence Day, when Father Hidalgo led the battle cry for Mexican Independence from Spain, I'm bringing you a free comic here on JAVZILLA!
Click here to read "Destroy all Mexicans!!"
 WEAPON TEX-MEX was the first comic I ever had published, appearing in the anthology HOT MEXICAN LOVE COMICS in 1997. Originally published in b&w, I've since added some gray tones to spruce it up a bit.

Independent comics/DIY publishing offers me the exact type of storytelling I want to create: Complete, unfiltered presentation of my ideas, executed with my own editorial vision, in the style I see fit. Good or bad, the decisions are mine. I learn from the results either way, and continue to craft each new story with what I've learned.

So, I'm liberatating this comic, making it available for you here, free, with the intent to get more of my stories out there, in front of readers looking for fresh, independent visions.

Viva los Comics!

P.S.: You can read two more of my comics online at WebComics Nation: Demolition Dove & Manga Muerto. And you can buy my comics and DVD at the JAVZILLA Web Shop!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Cartoonist Mike Kitchen on JAVILAND podcast!

On Sunday, I recorded a an episode of my DIY COMICS Podcast JAVILAND with Mike Kitchen, a Canadian cartoonist who publishes under his imprint ULTRAIST STUDIOS.
 L to R: Blair Kitchen (THE POSSUM), me and Mike Kitchen at the 2010 WONDERCON.

Check out my JAVILAND Blog here, where you can read about our conversation and follow a link to the podcast. Lots of great talk for folks who self-publish (or plan to) their own comics. Among the many topics we discuss are digital downloads of comics and whether or not we cartoonists should 'give it away free'. A very forward-thinking cartoonist, this Mr. Kitchen. Give it a listen!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

My new column in DITKMANIA #81

The new issue of DITKOMANIA, #81, was released recently, featuring a grab-bag assortment of topics about comic book artist Steve Ditko (co-creator of SPIDER-MAN, DR. STRANGE). 
I've been contributing artwork since issue #74, and now starting with this issue I'm contributing a new column called DITKO BY DESIGN.
Basically what I want to do in each column is take several characters that Steve Ditko has designed and/or co-created and look at how they work both visually and in terms of how well they define their characters. This inaugural entry is called HEAD GAMES, and is divided into two categories dealing with characters in which Ditko either does some interesting artistic choices regarding the character's heads or faces. In Part 1, "OFF WITH THEIR HEADS", I write about three characters that don't have heads but instead some type of prop atop their shoulders: glass helmet, flames or a self-contained universe!
L to R: Mysterio, The Dread Dormammu and Dr. Universe.

In the second part, called "FACE OFF!", I write about The Chameleon, The Question, Mr. A and others, and the various ways in which facial designs, or lack thereof, help define their character's identity.

All of my commentary comes from my own observations, taking as an appreciative look at these characters through my own artistic eyes. The initial reaction I've received to DITKO BY DESIGN has been complimentary, so that's a great feeling. But I'm really glad that I'm taking the time to contribute to the zine, as I get plenty of joy out of reading it as a Ditko fan myself. Under the steady hand of editor and publisher Rob Imes, with the participation of a really strong roster of writers and artists, DITKOMANIA has continued to grow with a steady and rich variety of material over the years.

You can order issue #81 or the previous issues by checking out this link: DITKOMANIA.