Online Commentary & Diversions, back from a short vacation:
• Review: "In the first volume of Tyler's planned trilogy of graphic memoirs [You'll Never Know], she dug into the eruptive, violent memories of her father's WWII experiences while simultaneously dealing with a husband who decided to go find himself and leave her with a daughter to raise. This second volume is no less rich and overwhelming. [...] While the language of Chicago-raised and Cincinnati-based Tyler has a winningly self-deprecating Midwestern spareness to it, her art is a lavishly prepared kaleidoscope of watercolors and finely etched drawings, all composed to look like the greatest family photo album of all time. The story's honest self-revelations and humane evocations of family dramas are tremendously moving." – Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)
• Review: "Friedman's hyper-realistic pen-and-ink and water-color portraits of show business and political luminaries have made their way into the likes of Entertainment Weekly, The New Yorker and Rolling Stone over the years, and a stunning new collection has just been published by Fantagraphics Books — Too Soon?: Famous/Infamous Faces 1995-2010. [...] To say that Friedman's drawings are unsentimental or unsparing is just to scratch the surface. Known for depicting every last liver spot, burst capillary and wrinkle, his work is truly a Warts and All procedure. [...] You might say the super-realistic portraits are loving ones, but only in the sense that you love your own family members, whose soft spots and selfishness one is forced to forgive. Drew Friedman's heart is as big as his capacious eye for the telling detail. Seek him out or forever hold your peace." – David Weiss, Life Goes Strong
• Review: "...Four Color Fear offers some of the finest pre-code comic book horror tales ever produced. Extensively researched, complete with story notes, editor Sadowski compiled a superior collection of non-EC tales, many of which rarely reprinted in color. A 30-page cover art section and a fascinating article by historian John Benson, who also supplied the book's intro, about the little remembered, but prolific Ruth Roche, round out this sensational historical tour of the Golden Age of Horror Comics. Highly recommended!" – Rick Klaw, The SF Site: Nexus Graphica
• Review: "The wait [for Love and Rockets: New Stories #3] has been long, no doubt, but I dare say that it was not only worthwhile, but it has proved an inspiration to continue to have faith in mankind, because with artists like these, it is worth living. For the third annual issue..., Beto gets really wild and Xaime creates a stunning tapestry of memories and narrative levels." – Mauricio Matamoros, Iconoctlán (translated from Spanish)
• Interview: As part of his ongoing "Love and Rocktoberfest," Sean T. Collins posts his 2007 Wizard interview with Gilbert & Jaime Hernandez at Attentiondeficitdisorderly: "I liked drawing rockets and robots, as well as girls. [Laughs] It really was no big game plan. It was almost like, 'Okay, I'll give you rockets and robots, but I'll show you how it's done. I'm gonna do it, and this is how it's supposed to be done!' I went in with that kind of attitude." (Jaime)
• Review: "Like much of Hernandez’s work, there’s light amongst all this darkness, particularly later in this section of Fritz’s story. But [High Soft Lisp] remains a bleak book, with Fritz’s own cheerful optimism one of the few beacons of hope amongst a cast of incidental characters whose main purpose seems only to exploit her. Hernandez rarely performs below his best and this is no exception..." – Andy Shaw, Grovel
• Review: "Vast swaths of Wally Gropius appear — at least to my eye — to be visual homages to images that Hensley particularly loves. (The alternative is that he lays his panels out in his static, staccato rhythm just for that feeling, which is close to the same impulse.) It's all very loud and manic and bright and bizarre, veering towards and away from coherence often within the same panel. [...] The end result has that go-go energy and restless heat of the authentic products of the era Hensley sets his story in..." – Andrew Wheeler, The Antick Musings of G.B.H. Hornswoggler, Gent.
• Interview:Illustration Friday talks to Jim Woodring: "Names and labels don’t matter much. Besides, there are things that cannot be said in words. So if you say them in pictures, are they not things being said? If I draw a hill that looks like a woman, it works differently that if i write 'there’s a hill that looks like a woman.' Also there are clues that one doesn’t want discovered too quickly, or not at all. Because one wants the emanations to proceed from an unknown source."
• Plug: "Nate Neal's first graphic novel [The Sanctuary] is dumbfoundingly ambitious: it takes as its subject nothing less than the invention of comics, in the sense of narrative-in-pictures, meaning that its cast is a bunch of cave-people. Cave-people who speak a cave-person language that Neal has invented himself (he offers the translation of a few key words on its jacket copy, but that's it). The working title of the book was a drawing of a bison. A man's reach should exceed his grasp, or what's a heaven for?" – Douglas Wolk, Comics Alliance
Remember a month ago today when we were touting the availability of the 1987 first hardcover edition of Love and Rockets Book 3 (Las Mujeres Perdidas, as it was known for subsequent editions)? Turns out, these copies have an original signature plate signed by Gilbert & Jaime Hernandez! They're still offered at a deeply discounted price — just try and resist!
Today's Online Commentary & Diversions (with one carried over from yesterday's post-less day):
• Review: "Normally I wouldn’t put in a spoiler warning for a few blog notes, but this is a special case. I’m going to be talking about Love and Rockets: New Stories #3, which contains what is arguably one of the best comics stories ever... It’s so easy to take the Hernandez Bros. for granted: they’ve been around so long, put out work regularly, and often use the same characters. So the temptation is to just think that they’re a stable public resource, like the library or a museum: they’ll always be there and we can ignore them for years, checking in on them only when we need to. But really, these guys are among the best cartoonists who have ever lived. Like Seth, Chris Ware, Dan Clowes, and Kim Deitch, they are constantly pushing themselves to do better work, and are now at a career peak. We need to give thanks for this, loudly and publicly." – Jeet Heer, Comics Comics
• Review: "Really, it’s hard to know what to make of [Norman Pettingill:] Backwoods Humorist, the first time you flip through its lovingly-curated pages. [...] I fell in love with it almost immediately, first caught completely off guard by the amateurish art in a book compiled by Fantagraphics. Why, precisely had the publisher chosen to compile these works in such a beautiful volume? There is, however, something disarmingly bewitching amongst Pettingill’s grotesque caricatures of country life. [...] In the great scheme of 20th century art, it’s difficult to imagine that Pettingill’s work will ever be regarded as much more than a somewhat high profile curiosity. For those seeking to discover an utterly fascinating body of work, however, that curiosity is certainly worth the price of admission." – Brian Heater, The Daily Cross Hatch
• Review: "Greg Sadowski and John Benson did a superb job on this collection of early 1950s horror stories [Four Color Fear]... In addition to Greg's attractive design throughout, he delivers meticulous, pixel-perfect restorations... There are 25 pages of fascinating, informative notes by both Greg and John. [...] This book is like time-traveling, a document of an era. [...] This will stand as an important reference work that should be shelved alongside David Hajdu's The Ten-Cent Plague." – Bhob Stewart, Potrzebie
• Review: "...Mome 19... is the best volume of the series so far. [...] Josh Simmons' 'White Rhinocerous Part 1'... is short, makes sense, is funny: great comic. The rest of Mome 19 doesn't fall apart on the job either... But the real prize here is DJ Bryant... Alongside a group of contemporaries who possess some of comic's most innovative talents, he chose refinement. It fucking worked." – Tucker Stone, The Factual Opinion
• Plugs: "Fire & Water... is a look at the life and body of work created by Bill Everett, the man who created the Sub-Mariner - the character upon which Marvel Comics would be built. [... In] The Sanctuary [Nate] Neal uses a cave-dwelling tribe to explore themes of communication and language and reveals himself to be a master storyteller. [...] Ding Dong Daddy from Dingburg... is the newest collection of comics legend Bill Griffith's Zippy the Pinhead comic strip. In this volume — Joan Rivers, Charles Bukowski, God, riboflavin, and more! Surreal and absurd yuks abound." – Benn Ray (Atomic Books), Largehearted Boy
• Plug: "...[I]f you’re in the mood for some dazzling, filthy violence then perhaps Johnny Ryan’s Prison Pit Volume 2 is... up your alley. It’s got CF the barbarian from outer space on the cover, dripping in blood and wearing nowt but pants." – The Gosh! Comics Blog
• Plug: At Comix 411, Tom Mason, profiling Leslie Turner, Roy Crane's successor on Captain Easy, notes "For those interested in the origins of Captain Easy, you can’t do better than Fantagraphics Books which is reprinting Roy Crane’s classic strip, starting at the beginning."
• Almost Plug: The 1930s "Human Centipede" image that Mark Frauenfelder Boing Boinged today happens to be found in our book Catalog No. 439: Burlesque Paraphernalia and Side Degree Specialties and Costumes
• Review: "We are witness to a man's life unfolding, unraveling, before us in a series of postcards that leave nothing — or is it everything? — to the imagination. I don't know Drew Weing, or whether he's lucky or good, but in Set to Sea , he has reminded me once again just how much story you can share in a brief flurry of comic panels, so long as you know how to trim the sails and catch the wind." – Steve Duin, The Oregonian
• Review: "...Set to Sea... is so much more than a hauntingly inspiring story about a poet who ends up on a sea vessel. It is so much more than page after page of highly-detailed illustrations. It feels like a small precious art book full of engravings or paintings on each page or an old illustrated maritime novel. [...] Weing’s art is mesmerizing. You could stare at one page for hours. Each page is carefully planned and crafted to maximize its storytelling ability and it is easy to see the love and effort that went into each line and crosshatch." – Shawn Daughhetee, The HeroesOnline Blog
• Review: "The pages [of Set to Sea] are incredibly expressive, able to convey longing, panic, rage, camaraderie, mourning, and ultimately peace. Weing manipulates whole compositions to achieve these effects, not merely the expressions on characters’ faces." – Joshua Malbin
• Review: "Drew [Weing] uses the possibilities of the medium to perfection [in Set to Sea], telling the life story of the guy page by page, somehow pulling the impression of a richly lived life through scattered moments." – Kevin Bramer, Optical Sloth
• Review: "Imagine Sad Sack stepping out of his cartoon world and into ours — warts and all — and that’s what Lucky in Love almost feels like. [...] The real star of the show here is artist DeStefano, who mixes up this 1940s world as one-part humor strip outrageousness, and one-part gorgeous Will Eisner-style dramatic noir — a real visual tour de force." – John Seven, Worcester Magazine
• Review: "Revealed in these pages [of A Drunken Dream and Other Stories] are gentle but dark stories that are preoccupied with the loss and alienation that their intended audiences no doubt feel, often without any tangible reasons beyond the purely psychological. Several stories stand out for cherry pickers, but you’ll be rewarded by each entry." – John Mitchell, North Adams Transcript
• Review: "...The Artist Himself... present[s] a compellingly fresh... approach to the history of the medium... What makes The Artist Himself unique is in the title itself — Rosenkranz has constructed a sprawling portrait of Rand Holmes as a man in conflict with the 'the artist himself' — a man trying to carve out a way to live that allowed for art (never an easy feat) and an art that somehow made sense in his life. ...[A]side from the obvious benefits of learning about Holmes, I found myself selfishly drawing tremendous inspiration from Rosenkranz as he demonstrated the richness possible in writing the history of comics. He draws the curtain back as if to say, 'see, here’s someone you hardly think of, who lived an extraordinary life, and it’s a life that must be reckoned within the history.' It radically broadens what we think of as a cartoonist’s life, and in that Rosenkranz has given us a great gift." – Dan Nadel, Comics Comics
• Review: "If Love and Rockets: New Stories #3 only contained Gilbert Hernandez’s 36-page 'Scarlet By Starlight,' it would still be one of the most significant new comics of the year. [...Jaime's] 'The Love Bunglers' and 'Browntown' offer the kind of rich, intricate stories — packed with sharp observations about human desire and self-justification — that only an author with 30 years of experience with these characters could write. But readers don’t need to have read all the previous Maggie tales to follow them. Everything a newcomer needs to know is woven neatly into the stories themselves... There are acclaimed filmmakers and novelists who can’t do what Jaime Hernandez does — or Gilbert, for that matter. When the two of them are at their most inspired, as they are here, they make almost every other comics creator today look like a fumbling hack. [Grade] A" – The A.V. Club
• Review: "I won't pretend to have a clue as to what Beto's trying to do with this stuff; sometimes he seems to be paying tribute of sorts to junk cinema and/or comment on the current state of the movies, and sometimes it seems like he just wants to draw to naked dudes beating a cop to death with a rock. ...Jaime is note-perfect throughout, using every nuance and trick at his command to engage and move the reader. It's a masterwork, and I'll be damned if I can tell what he'll do for an encore. ...[T]his one brings the goods. If you care at all about this series and those characters, you'll want to get this [issue of Love and Rockets: New Stories]..." – Johnny Bacardi, Popdose
• Review: "...[T]his one is really damn good, with a typically surreal and horrifying story from Gilbert and an excellent bit of character work from Jaime. Isn't it awesome that stuff on this level is what we've come to expect? [...] Yes, it's another great issue of one of the best comics series of all time; what else is new? Jaime and Gilbert are rightfully revered as all-time great creators, but the fact that they are still pumping out incredible work and bettering themselves, sure to keep doing it for as long as possible, should make readers celebrate their wealth and fortune. Even if everybody else quit, we would still be pretty lucky. Long live Love and Rockets!" – Matthew J. Brady, Warren Peace Sings the Blues
• Review: "You open a Xaime story, you know what you’re gonna get. He’s a known quantity/quality on the richest level... With Xaime, you’re going to get a perfectly-told Locas story: clean... and humanistic and relatable, funny, sad, the whole package. Beto, on the other hand …. His shit is scary creative, and sometimes just scary. Gilbert is the higher mathematics, you know what I’m saying? Ever since 'Human Diastrophism' I haven’t felt safe in his company, haven’t trusted that crazy bastard. Because he will do some fucked-up shit when you least expect it. [...] So, boom, right on Jump Street of Love and Rockets: New Stories #3 there’s a Gilbert story. Deep breath. Okay. In we go with gun and flashlight." – Rob Gonsalves, Rob's Comics Zone
• Review: "The colors are garish, the stories grotesque, and the art much freakier than the norm. Where EC’s comics are more akin to the drive-in fodder of American International Pictures, the comics in Four Color Fear are the equivalent of a David F. Friedman grindhouse roughie: lurid, exploitative, and just plain wrong. In short, this book is awesome. Making it even more awesome is Sadowski’s annotation: ...the layer of scholarship is enough to make reading about decaying zombies and devil-worshippers seem almost ennobling. [Grade] A-" – The A.V. Club
• Review: "Caricature is a bit of a dying art, but there’s still a place for it, especially in a celebrity-obsessed culture like ours that goes out of its way to make its idols look even better than they already do. That’s why we need Drew Friedman, whose precise, pointillist style has been putting the rich and famous to the sword for decades. His new collection, Too Soon?: Famous/Infamous Faces 1995-2010, features another round of his inimitable caricatures, which manage to make everyone from venal creeps to well-meaning politicians look alternately hideous and noble. Friedman is still at the top of his game... [Grade] B+" – The A.V. Club
• Review: "One of the lesser-known lights of the Golden Age, illustrator Mort Meskin was a prolific workhorse whose angular, action-packed style and use of deep shadow effects would prove a huge influence on Steve Ditko. From Shadow to Light: The Life and Art of Mort Meskin, a new biography of Meskin compiling exhaustive interviews with his peers and extensive cooperation from his sons, doesn’t lack for material. It also has plenty of great anecdotes, and through quality reproductions, it skillfully makes its case that its subject was a very talented artist. [Grade] B-" – The A.V. Club
• Review: "The 1930 DeMoulin Bros. catalog, or Catalog No. 439: Burlesque Paraphernalia and Side Degree Specialties and Costumes, ...reached the jester of a more or less pronounced sadistic orientation, and offered them the tools and effects that made it possible to fool friends (?) to put their heart in their throat and give them pain here and there. Fantagraphics Books has recently reprinted the directory again (along with several essays that comment on product selection in a cultural perspective)... Although one might prefer to avoid being exposed to the tricks that comprise the DeMoulin catalog, I must admit that I laughed both three and five times when I looked through the offerings. Most of us probably have a little sadist in us, I guess." – Kjetil Johansen, Nekropolis – Den Historiske Bloggen (translated from Norwegian)
• Plugs: "Well, in our rambunctious endeavour to keep up with the literary radness of the Northwest, we... want to point you toward [Jim] Woodring’s newest graphic novel, Weathercraft, which is out now from Seattle-based publisher Fantagraphic Books. In addition to Weathercraft, we personally recommend their series Love and Rockets, from Los Bros Hernandez. If you’re looking for some reading that really is graphic, like super sexy female bodies comin at ya with homoerotic undertones that are never unleashed but still drive you crazy, you’ll want to pick up Love and Rockets. This series is an endlessly delicious ride through the relationships of men and women in crappy southern California neighborhoods." – Lori Huskey, Dark Sky Magazine
• Profile:Robot 6 presents a "Comics College" introductory guide to the work of Kim Deitch, written by Deitch Universe expert Bill Kartalopoulos: "Kim Deitch is an enormously vital and prolific cartoonist who was also one of the charter members of the underground comix scene that changed comics in the 1960s and 70s. [...] More than forty years later, Deitch stands as one of the few underground cartoonists who has steadily and consistently produced a large body of important work, spanning every available format from the alternative weekly comic strip to the graphic novel."
• Interview:Al Jaffee touches briefly on his Humbug days in this extensive Q&A with Mother Jones's Michael Mechanic: "I loved Harvey [Kurtzman] and I miss him to this day. He was a very, very inspiring guy. He was inventive and inspiring and he also was just a scrupulous editor. He could catch things that most people would just say, 'Let it go through, it really doesn't matter; who's going to know?' But once Harvey pointed it out, I would change it even if it took me the whole day. Harvey knew how to make things work because he wasn't greedy, he wasn't successful." (Via ¡Journalista!)
• Profile:The Stranger's Paul Constant profiles the newsweekly's 2010 Literature Genius, Jim Woodring: "There are only a small number of medium-changing geniuses in the history of cartooning who have managed to develop a singular visual language, and Jim Woodring is one of them."
• Review: "...[D]amned if [Prison Pit: Book 2] isn’t one of the most entertaining, hilarious, and addictively fun comics I’ve read all year. [...] The violence itself is both brutish and ugly, but is direct and unapologetic, and drawn with such passion and beauty by Ryan. [...] It’s over-the-top, extreme, uncompromising, and very, very funny. It’s the sort of book you can’t put down even after you’re done; you just keep jumping around and admiring the stark viciousness that jumps off the page." – Chad Nevett, Comic Book Resources
• Review: "...[Mort] Meskin was and is one of the unsung greats of the Golden and Silver Ages, was influential on many of the later legends such as Joe Kubert and (especially) Steve Ditko (Ditko's style, especially early on, is VERY reminiscent of Meskin), and is definitely someone any right-thinking comics and/or illustration fan should get better acquainted with. [From Shadow to Light] is a very good place to start. It also works wonderfully as a snapshot of a time and a way of life in the comics industry that is gone, never to return." – Johnny Bacardi, Popdose
• Roundtable:Techland's panel of critics (Douglas Wolk, Evan Narcisse, Mike Williams, Lev Grossman and Graeme McMillan) has an opinionated (and spoiler-filled) discussion about Love and Rockets: New Stories #3
• Coming Attractions:Library Journal's Martha Cornog spotlights Stigmata by Lorenzo Mattotti & Claudio Piersanti in the latest Graphic Novel Prepub Alert: "A hand-to-mouth lowlife makes do day to day, and then his palms begin to bleed. This apparent gift of sainthood brings certain benefits, but tragedy as well. The original Italian comic inspired a 2009 Spanish live-action film and was one of British comics guru Paul Gravett's 2004 picks for the 'twenty best untranslated European graphic novels you haven't read' and only the fifth to be translated since. Intense, swirly black-and-white linework."
• Interview: The San Francisco Chronicle's Peter Hartlaub talks to Jean Schulz about the Peanuts legacy and other topics: "I don't want to say the last 10 years have been an awakening, because I always felt that he was a genius. But the last 10 years have been a really wonderful experience for me. And without me realizing it, this museum has been the forum for me to explore all these things." (Via The Daily Cartoonist)
I've never seen The Guild, but Gilbert Hernandez did a cover (above) for an upcoming comics one-shot from Dark Horse focused on the character named Vork, reports Robot 6, and hey, any excuse to post some Beto on Flog!
Snuggle up, 'cause here comes part two in our new column Under the Covers, where we chat with the great Gilbert Hernandez of Love & Rockets about his experience working with musician Kristin Hersh on the cover to the 1996 Throwing Muses album Limbo, and most recently, the cover to Kristin's memoir Rat Girl, out now from Penguin.
[Ed. note: part one of this interview can be found here.]
Inside folded-out CD art for Limbo
Janice: Can you remember all the way back to the first time Kristin approached you to do the album cover for Throwing Muses' Limbo?
Gilbert: I don't remember who contacted me first, or how it actually began. I just go as far back as me in her rented apartment with her husband and her son Ryder, who was just a toddler. And we had Thai food. And I just remember it was a really pleasant experience. I thought she was really down-to-earth, and fun to talk to. It was a really nice, laid-back time.
Janice: Kristin says she was completely prepared to talk you into it, and you were game from the get-go?
Gilbert: Oh, sure. I try to do work like that with people who already have a good reputation, and she already had a strong reputation as a serious artist. I just kinda thought it might be fun. I was also flattered that someone asked me to do an album cover.
Janice: I'm sure it wasn't the first time, right?
Gilbert: It may have been. I'm just not a designer. People always think of me as a writer. Of course, it was grueling. Once I start doing something for somebody else, no matter how simple it is, self-doubt mounts. It turned out fine.
Janice: What was the process like? Did you have any input from the band or the label? Were you just given free reign?
Gilbert: It was pretty much free reign. Kristin just said she liked my Palomar work, so, she wanted something Palomar-esque. I thought, this is great since this is something that I already do! So, I worked something out on that. Of course, once I sent it, I thought, “Oh, this is something they're not going to like,” but she seemed to be okay with it.
CD single from Limbo
Janice: She mentioned you sent a couple of different sketches. The one of the tour bus, which is on the inside of the CD booklet, the girl jumping rope, which was used for the “Ruthie's Knocking” single... [ Ed. note: as I mentioned yesterday, I was wrong -- it was used for the "Freeloader" single. ] Were you surprised that they chose the portrait of the man's face for the cover?
Gilbert: I think that was meant to be the cover. I think she said, the record company wants a bold image. I thought, “Yeah, they're really gonna want this old farmer guy on the cover.” Sure enough, they did!
Janice: So, who is that man? He's an old farmer to you?
Gilbert: He's one of the old folks from the town. Where I grew up, and what I've done in my Palomar stories, is I've always involved older people. They still have a presence in the town and in the characters' lives, because that's how it was for me growing up. It was very integrated. I just decided, y'know, people might be expecting cheesecake from me, so I'll go the opposite.
Janice: So, the expression on his face... How would you describe his emotional state?
Gilbert: Oh jeez, boy. Y'know, I never considered that. I just drew a guy who's seen a lot of life. That's pretty much it.
Janice: When I first bought the album, I was just a teenager, and so I thought he was kinda scary and creepy-looking. And now that I'm older and I look at the album, it's like he actually looks more sad.
Gilbert: What happens to a lot of young people, especially in this country, is they dismiss or goof on old people, because there's only two alternatives to getting old: you get old, just like them, or you die before that. And a lot of people don't want to have to deal with that, so they just kinda categorize old people as frightening or foolish, because they're afraid that's what they're going to become. The alternative is death. I think it's in the back of young people's minds. It's not a daily concern.
Janice: That's interesting. It kind-of lends itself to alternative music or alternative comics. People don't give it the respect that it deserves.
Gilbert: There's so much freedom in it. That's why I've always kind-of stuck to it, and defended doing comics, from a point-of-view of self-expression, 'cause there's so much freedom in that. If you really want to be honest, you have a place for it. If you really want to tell something that has deeper meaning, you can do it.
Janice: That's part of what makes you and Kristin such a perfect fit!
Gilbert: Yeah, I thought it was!
Janice: So, later down the road, when she came to you to do the cover for Rat Girl, there was probably no hesitation.
Gilbert: At first I was a little hesitant, because she was going through a publisher, and... you gotta deal with Art Directors. Let's put it this way, Art Directors at Fantagraphics are a breeze. It's tough, even at small publishing companies, you tend to jump through hoops a lot. And I'm not a very good hoop jumper. I don't take direction very easily. So, I was hesitant at first because of that reason. But for the fact Kristin asked me, and it was her story, I thought, I can't pass that up. Like I said, it's something with meaning. I was happy to jump aboard.
Janice: So, sort of similar, were you given direction, or were you given free-reign?
Gilbert: I think I asked both the Art Director and Kristin what they want on the cover. They said, basically her face on the cover, but as a cartoon. We went through a few stages. A lot of the ones I did were of her smiling, looking at the reader smiling, but it doesn't reflect how she's feeling in a lot parts of the book. So, I did a slapdash of her looking to the side, with a wary look in her eyes. And both the Art Director and Kristin said that's the one, that's the one. And I refined it over and over until it finally came out.
Janice: Kristin mentioned there's a version where she had great luscious lips...
Gilbert: Oh, that's right! I tend to do that when I draw somebody for real. I tend to idealize them a little bit. It's just a habit. A little bit more pert to the nose, a little bit more fullness to the lips, large eyes, y'know. It's just cartooning. And it tends to please people, so I just automatically went that way. And she thought, “Oh, nice drawing, but it's not me!”
Janice: Were you allowed to read the book before you began the art?
Gilbert: I read parts of it. I don't like to read a book, or listen to the music, when I'm working on the thing I'm doing. I just like to have free reign, and have the person describe to me what they like, and come up with something that way. 'Cause I tend to get clogged. If I read the book, then I'm like, “Well, now there's too many ideas.” I can't have too many ideas. If you read the book ahead of time, if you listen to the music ahead of time, then you're like, now I have a bounty of ideas. I have an overactive imagination, so when it's tapped... [ laughing ]. So, I try to close the faucet with that kind-of job, because I tend to complicate things.
Janice: Kristin mentioned one the reasons she wanted a “comic book”-style cover is because the book has lots of imagery in it. So, maybe it's a good thing you didn't read it first. She would've filled your head with all these images!
Gilbert: Exactly. I would've walked away and been like, “Ohh boy...”
Janice: What about the color choices? Was it your idea to have the blue halo effect around her?
Gilbert: No, I think the Art Director came up with that to make it pop. I would've done that anyway, but I didn't know they were doing a black cover.
Janice: It's interesting knowing that the period in her life that she was writing about was such a dark time, so I was wondering, is that reflected in the art?
Gilbert: I think so. You want to grab your audience, and people who might not have looked at it before. They see the words “Rat Girl” and they see this cover and they think, “Oh, what's this?”
Janice: “This is something I could relate to.”
Gilbert: So, that's a good thing. I know from an artist's point-of-view, it's a little awkward, but really it's very important.
Janice: It's so tricky, isn't it, because on one hand, you gotta think about marketing, but on the other hand, you have to take into consideration the artistic integrity of the product. Did you experience that with Limbo?
Gilbert: How so?
Janice: Well, I don't mean this to sound disparaging at all, but did the record label say, “You can't have an elderly person on the cover! That'll never sell!”
Gilbert: I didn't get that, but Kristin might have. You know, I'm trying to think back to it, and I can't remember why I did an old farmer guy. I guess I was just so deeply emerged in Palomar, and I think Kristin really wanted that. Let's make Palomar what it is, and that was one of the things, and she was pleased with that.
Janice: I like the idea of maybe Limbo being a place, like Palomar, where all these characters are residing.
Gilbert: That could work. Another thing is, as much as we want to define what's on the cover, we also wanted to leave it up to projection. For the readers to project. That's so important, especially for young readers. They love to read about themselves. So, if you can grab them with a cover, they see this young woman and think, “That's me!” And then they read it, and say, “Yeah, that's me alright.” So, it's all good.
Janice: Do you feel that's true for your books as well?
Gilbert: I think, yeah, in the early days. Especially with Jaime's work because it's a direct bullet to young people living this lifestyle, and we grabbed on to it right away. It was still relatively new back then in the 80's, starting in the late 70's. We thought it was already over. We were old men doing this. Jaime was all of 21 years old. I was 25 when Palomar came out, whoa. [ laughing ] “I'm gettin' too old for this!” But luckily, we found an audience. Somehow, people wanted to read it.
Slip into something more comfortable as we present a new column at Fantagraphics: Under the Covers, a sexy* look at album covers drawn by our artists, and the musicians who hook up with them. [ *Ed. note: Sorry, not really sexy. ]
Janice: So, all the way back to the very beginning, how did you first discover Gilbert Hernandez?
Kristin: When we moved to Boston as teenagers, underground comics seemed more... We could relate more to underground comics better than we could relate to underground music, which at the time hadn't grasped the indie-aesthetic yet. It was still a boys club, and, I don't mean to be insulting, because I really admire a lot of those people, but we couldn't relate. And underground comics were so fragile and gutsy, and they used light and shadow the way we used light and shadow. We just fell into that world, and sympathized with these artists who we really couldn't find analogs for in music.
And, my favorite was Gilbert. When we lived in and made records in L.A., I remember reading Heartbreak Soup over and over again, and having that get me through the terrible recording of The Real Ramona, which was a nightmare to record, personally and professionally. It was sort-of an interesting nightmare, but still. L.A. plus nightmare does not equal a happy girl. Heartbreak Soup somehow embraced the hell and the heat, and yet spun it in this beautiful, gutsy fashion that I think allowed my record The Real Ramona to not suffer the affects of the horrible recording process that it was. And I was always grateful to Beto for that.
Throwing Muses actually broke up when we made that record, and when we re-formed, we decided that the music business had no business destroying us. So, we would be a band that didn't give a shit because we were a band that didn't give a shit. And all we were gonna do was play music until we ran out of money, and that was our version of heroism. That was as heroic as we can get. So, when we made our final real studio album, I called Beto and said, “You have to do the cover, because it would mean everything to me if you did.” And he did!
He and his wife Carol came over to our apartment, and hung out with us and our little boy, and talked about what we wanted, listened to the music, and it was... I can't tell you how moving it was to have the cover of Limbo be in Beto's hand. All the detail, and the pain, and the... energy, I guess? He can somehow draw energy in a static impression, like a photograph that he gives you. These moments that he can capture are somehow living and breathing. I was so honored to have him do that for Limbo, because it was a very sad time for us. We knew we had run out of money to be on the road or in the studio, and so we were technically no longer a band. And I think it was our best record. It was bittersweet and very touching to have Beto commemorize it that way. And I've now seen pieces from that record cover tattooed all over people's bodies, on so many people. Which is great! It's permanent, and living and breathing.
Janice: Did you meet when you were in L.A. recording The Real Ramona?
Kristin: Oh no, I was still just a fan. It was during Limbo that I reached out to him.
Janice: What was his response?
Kristin: I think he said, “Sure,” which was not the response I expected! I was ready to talk him into it. He was like, “Okay,” and I'd go, “Now wait a minute, that's too easy!”
My book — it's called a memoir, but it's really just one year, 1985-86, from one spring to the next. So, really, it reads more like a non-fiction novel. And the title itself is very comic-book-y, and I wanted it to be read more as a graphic novel. It's very image-centric. I think graphic novels are far more beautiful than memoirs, because, you can't escape the world in a graphic novel, and a memoir, you can let your brain kind-of runaway and leave the story for a while. But in a graphic novel, you don't have that option. So, I wanted people to read from image to image to image, and one way to spin the book that way was to have Beto do the cover. The first few pictures he drew... I didn't know he was going to draw me, that was not what was —
Janice: I was wondering if that was the original plan!
Kristin: I didn't know what he was going to do! I just wanted him to do what he wanted. [ laughing ] And he drew me with these beautiful luscious lips and y'know, I look like someone from Palomar. You've met me, I don't!
So, he sent his first sketches in to my publisher Penguin to begin the dialogue, and they just said, “Okay” and picked one. And he was like, “No, no, no! Wait a minute! This is the first draft!” So, of his own accord, he redrew the cover and it looks so much like me. I mean, he made me a little prettier than I am, which was kind of him. But he captured the spooky, worried look that I always have in my eyes.
Janice: That's exactly what I thought when I saw the cover! I was like, she looks worried.
Kristin: [ laughing ] Yeah! I always look worried!
Janice: Was it a similar situation with Limbo where you just said, “Do whatever you want”?
Kristin: I believe so. I think that the only input we had in Limbo was to choose which piece was going to be on the cover.
A page from the CD booklet for Limbo
CD single from Limbo
CD single from Limbo
Janice: So, he submitted several pieces?
Kristin: And it could've been any of them. One was our tour bus driving away...
Janice: Which is in the booklet!
Kristin: Right, right... It was a very difficult decision. So, I left it up to my drummer, who's a graphic designer and smarter about those things. But the most popular tattoo is the little girl jumping rope.
Janice: The “Ruthie's Knocking” girl! [ Ed. note: I was wrong about the title, as you can see above! ] So, that was just another of the drawings that was in the batch he gave you to choose from?
Kristin: Yeah! Can you believe it? I mean, how could you choose? They were all incredible. And he's so easy to be with and to talk to, and Carol is so great. It was a very comfortable working relationship, if you can call it that. I just always felt such a kinship with him because he seems to be on his own planet as we are.
Janice: I couldn't agree more. Would you say that perhaps the guy on the cover is maybe “Mr. Bones?”
Kristin: Yeah, exactly! That's what we always called him. I never named that song. I was in my studio, which was next door to my house, and I had been working for too long and lost track of time. And, I'd worked through the dinner hour and written the song, that seemed to be about someone who had died and therefore had no weight anymore. You know that frustration when someone dies where they're not tangible to you? You know that your energies can still meet, you know that your memories will never leave you, but to lose someone's weight and pressure and earthliness is the real loss. And there was just this song that was a little confusing, and I couldn't quite finish it. And I just kept going for hours and hours. And my little son walked in, knocked on the door, and said, “Um, it was dinnertime about an hour ago, and you're still my Mom. Kids need to eat.” I said, “Okay, all I have left to do is name the song. What's a good name for the song?” And my son Ryder, having never heard the song, said, “Mr. Bones.” It's like, holy crap! That is a good name! And so that man on the cover became Mr. Bones.
Janice: Sometimes when I look at the cover, I think the guy looks scary. And then sometimes I think he looks sad. I think that says so much to what Beto brought out of what was going on behind-the-scenes with the album in his art.
Kristin: Aw man, that's an incredible thing to say. And so true. When you're sad, you get tough. And you know you're not going to function unless you can be scary to some people. And that is sort-of what happened to us. We were almost destroyed. But instead, we got tough. And, we did have to scare some people, but like my son Wyatt said, “When you do something, you make a mess.” And it's my favorite thing that he's ever said. He's said a lot things that I really love, but I thought, “Ah, that's it. If I never did anything, I wouldn't have made all these messes.” It's gotta be worth it. And that's where the scary expression comes in. 'Cause we made a lot of messes, and yet, we had to. It was important to do what we did.
And, we're now in the studio again, something I never thought would happen, making another Throwing Muses album. And it's bewitching. It's in these little pieces, and the pieces come and go, and then, come back and reappear in other songs, and it's sort-of like a “Throwing Muses Jackson Pollock” or something. We're just so enchanted by it! We're kinda lost and in love at the same time. And we wouldn't have gotten here and be able to do this if we didn't make a big mess and get a little tough because we got sad. It all comes down to Mr. Bones. [ laughing ]
Janice: What about with the cover of Rat Girl? I thought it was interesting that it's a very stark black cover, and of course, it goes with your eyes, but you kind-of have this halo of blue around you. Maybe I'm reading too much into it, and while I haven't read the book yet, from what I understand, that period was sort-of difficult for you. I wondered if he was interpreting the hope against that black...
Kristin: Oh, that's nice! Yeah, it is a difficult period in the book. It's actually my diary from when I was eighteen, and eighteen-year-olds are generally pretty resilient and hopeful and almost simple. So the book is kind-of hopeful and simple. It ends up being sweet more than anything else, which I don't think anybody would expect. It was a year where lots of things began, but nothing really kicked in yet: the band was signed, I was diagnosed bipolar, I was pregnant with my first son... that sounds like things happening, but really, it was just things starting. And while you can't call a disease “hopeful,” to start anything means, “Okay, I'm gonna say that I'm on a journey,” and that in itself is hopeful.
Stay tuned for part two of Under the Covers, where we talk with Gilbert Hernandez about working with Kristin Hersh...
For quite some time we've had the 1987 first hardcover edition of Love and Rockets Book 3 (Las Mujeres Perdidas, as it was known for subsequent editions), available to order from our warehouse. Apparently all this time we've been displaying the wrong cover art, which is a shame — that's the actual cover above (and back cover below) and holy cow, look at that gorgeous coloring by Eric Vincent. This edition also features a spiffy endpaper pattern featuring your favorite L&R characters, plus a color section reproducing the covers of the original issues! This really is a handsome package thanks to then-Art Director Doug Erb, and a true vintage L&R collectible — and it can be yours for the insane discounted price of just $12.50! Order today!
• Review: "Early reviews of The Artist Himself: A Rand Holmes Retrospective are heralding it as a much-deserved tribute to a forgotten genius... Around these parts, Holmes, who passed away in 2002, has been a revered figure for decades. [...] Through excerpts from the artist’s own journals and interviews with those who knew him, Patrick Rosenkranz presents his subject as a man of contradictions, both prodigiously gifted and painfully insecure. [...] Holmes’s art was always marked by sharp visual wit and a sometimes astonishing attention to detail. He was indeed a genius, and thanks to Fantagraphics, he won’t be a forgotten one." – John Lucas, The Georgia Straight
• Review: "...High Soft Lisp remains another Gilbert Hernandez winner. Frank and trippy, sexy and creepy, nobody working in comics creates worlds as deep or intriguing as Gilbert Hernandez’s." – Michael C. Lorah, Newsarama
• Interview: At the KEXP blog, Chris Estey talks to Peter Bagge about his band Can You Imagine?: " The main reason I took up the guitar and abandoned the drums was so I could have more control over what type of music my band plays and how. Pop rock from the 60s is obviously my favorite kind of music, but I also loved punk and new wave from the late 70s, since those bands broke free from the self important and self indulgent style of music that was ruining rock. I also loved that the self deprecating humor they all exhibited (or that the best bands did, anyway)."