Friday, November 06, 2015

The 12 DAYS OF MUERTO: Day 5...Manga, Man-Swamp and More

Day 5: 2008, the 10th Anniversary of El Muerto, brought me an opportunity to take him into a new venue for the both of us... Newspaper comic strips!

My friends Carlos Castellanos and Hector Cantu created the comic strip BALDO, launched nationally in 2000. The strip revolves around the daily adventures of a teenage boy and his family. It's a Latino family so that's one of the unique traits of the comic. Well, Hector and Carlos had begun to reach out periodically to comic book creators to collaborate with them on a Baldo story. In 2009, they asked me if I wanted to bring El Muerto into a storyline. Well, some things you don't have to sit and ponder about too much! I wanted to make sure I presented an idea to them that would maintain the integrity of their strip, as their loyal readers were very much invested in the Baldo family. I wasn't worried so much about El Muerto 'continuity' so much as I was in creating a worthwhile story.

Instead of an action story, I thought something speaking to the family nature of the strip would be ideal. So I asked them if I could tie into the fact that Baldo's mother had passed away (I don't think she was ever in the strip to begin with). My idea was that El Muerto was bringing a message from her in the afterlife...

Hector and Carlos signed off on the idea so then we worked out the plot. Hector wrote the script and Carlos drew the story as usual, but this time he left blank spaces where El Muerto was to appear. So I got the chance to draw El Muerto into each panel he was in. That was a dream, to be honest. It's not a big percentage of cartoonists whose work actually makes it into a newspaper strip. And the kicker was that they asked me to write the final for the color Sunday section! I'll always be grateful to Carlos and Hector for that great opportunity. You can read the Baldo/Muerto story here on the GoComics website. For the online version, the entire story line was colored. 

It's interesting in that the week that our story line appeared it ran into the weekend I was at the Alternative Press Expo in San Francisco. So not only was I buying copies of the newspaper that week, but I made sure to find copies for the weekend final while on the road. I remember placing the Sunday comics section on my exhibitor table and people would walk by and comment that they had just read it that morning! Talk about a great marketing tie-in. And what a kicker to see El Muerto on the same page as Garfield...

El Muerto's next comic book appearance (although in a radically different version) was MANGA MUERTO Vol 1!

Published in 2009, this comic book collected the first two stories of Manga Muerto, plus a brand-new. So the question some may have it "What is Manga Muerto?!". Fair enough. As I mentioned in Day 3 of THE 12 DAYS OF EL MUERTO, in 1999 I created a version of El Muerto that was a direct homage to that staple of Japanese comics (manga), the boy-controlling-a-giant-robot shtick! If you remember the animated film THE IRON GIANT, well, that was also a direct homage to that genre. I first became aware of these type of stories as a kid, when I watched the b&w GIGANTOR cartoon on American television, as well as the live-action show, JOHNNY SOKKO AND HIS GIANT ROBOT.

I had the idea to create this story of a giant robot called Skeletron being controlled by El Muerto. So for the purpose of that particular story, I made El Muerto a Mexican foreign-exchange student in Japan who is given control over this giant robot. That first story was a 4-pager that I included in one of my newsletters, THE BORDER. I wrote and penciled it, and it was inked by my friend Rafael Navarro (himself a huge fan of those same tv shows). 

In 2001, I revisited the character, this time collaborating with another friend, Ted Seko. For this story, we decided to team up Ted's own Japanese robot hero, Skyman (and supporting cast) with my Manga Muerto characters. The result was a mini-comic called SUPER COMICS BLAST!

 And there was the new 10 page story I created for this collection. A little tale called "A Day at The Beach"...

Definitely want to do more stories in this universe as they're fun and it really let's my love for the original Japanese source material have full creative reign. One last side note to Manga Muerto. In 2013, Professor Frederick Aldama, an instructor at Ohio State University and a noted author/lecturer, edited a book called LATINOS AND NARRATIVE MEDIA. One of the contributors wrote a chapter on my El Muerto series, and I was asked to write the foreward to the book as well. Pushing my luck, I asked if the publisher had designed a cover for the book. It turns out they hadn't, so after some improvisational thinking, I suggested some artwork of mine. So now Manga Muerto sits on the cover of a scholarly work on Latino media!

Just a few months before I published MANGA MUERTO collection, I also published my first non-Muerto comic, MAN-SWAMP. And it's exactly what you think, a story about a swamp monster (another genre I've always wanted to explore).

So, 2008 marked 10 years since I published that first Muerto comic. The production of the series to that point has proceeded at a glacial pace, no two ways about it. Admittedly, I preoccupied a lot of my time with the El Muerto movie as well, from about 2001-2007. Also, if you recall from an earlier post in this series, I was working as a production artist at a local screenprinting shop. Well, when the national economy tanked in 2009, I was actually laid off from work! And to be honest, it turned out to be the best thing that could have happened.

What I did was step up my teaching opportunities, working as a freelance instructor at schools, libraries and community centers teaching comic book classes. The freelance schedule allowed me to devote much more time to comics, and beginning with 2009's MAN-SWAMP, I've since been releasing a wave of new titles featuring new and different characters. By leaving the full-time day job commitment, all the backlog of ideas I've had over the years have found a release. Here's an image from January of this year with just about all the books I've done since '98, with the bulk of them released within the last 7 years:

One of the recent wave of books includes WEAPON TEX-MEX Vs EL MUERTO (2011), a clash between the first two comic characters I created professionally:

The drawback to this outburst of creative activity has been a large gap between EL MUERTO: DEAD & CONFUSED Pt 1 and it's follow-up book! While I've been slowly working on that in the interim, it's justifiably been a cause of consternation for fans and friends. One of the problems I keep bringing back into my life is I get an idea in my head for a new concept (or one that's been sitting around for years) and then get fixated on getting it produced and published. As it stands right now, I've recently published a new comic, LES VODOUISANTS, and I'm currently mid-way through the production of a new collection for MANIAC PRIEST!

Creativity can be a blessing as well as one's worse enemy, when not tempered with discipline. But I can only tell you, fans and friends and anyone still waiting: I'll finally be wrapping up DEAD & CONFUSED Pt 2, then print it with the earlier El Muerto issues in one trade paperback collection. This way the inaugural storyline will be available together for anyone who wishes to read it. Look for that in 2016, and I'll sharing behind-the-scenes previews of the art in a later post of this 12 DAYS OF MUERTO series.

Tomorrow, something a little different here. Stay tuned!

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

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