• 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)
This week's comic shop shipment is slated to include the following new titles (with one possible exception — see below). Read on to see what comics-blog commentators are saying about our releases this week, and contact your local shop to confirm availability.
120-page monochrome 6.5" x 8.5" hardcover • $19.99 ISBN: 978-1-60699-354-5
"Stephen DeStefano — remember him from ''Mazing Man'? — and George Chieffet's graphic novel is the first of a two-volume project about a young man finding his way in the political and sexual world during World War II. It's a smart, discursive little story, and really nicely drawn, in a kind of grand post-Milt Gross style that one doesn't see very often these days." – Douglas Wolk, Comics Alliance
"You couldn’t ask for a better drawn comic than this original graphic novel by author George Chieffet and artist Stephen DeStefano. Well, you could, but you wouldn’t get it." – J. Caleb Mozzocco, Newsarama
"Nice looking book of the week about which I know little save for its looking nice... #2 – a new hardcover account of a short man’s romantic longings in and out of the WWII era, plotted and drawn by comics and animation veteran Stephen DeStefano, with a script by one George Chieffet." – Joe McCulloch, Comics Comics
"A hardcover memoir set in early 1940s Hoboken and starring the evocative art of natural-born cartoonist Stephen DeStefano working from a script by George Chieffet. I can't wait to see it." – Tom Spurgeon, The Comics Reporter
"It’s been awhile since we’ve seen much from DeStefano — he’s been busy with animation projects and illustration work — but I’m intrigued by his attempt to tell the story (working with writer George L. Chieffet) of WWII soldier Lucky and his various sexual misadventures with a number of women. DeStefano has a nice, thick, rubbery line that I really appreciate, so I look forward to lingering over these pages." – Chris Mautner, Robot 6
116-page black & white 6.5" x 8.5" softcover • $12.99 ISBN: 978-1-60699-383-5
"Not sure I can say anything here that the cover image above doesn’t." – J. Caleb Mozzocco, Newsarama
"Continuing Johnny Ryan’s much-enjoyed fight comic, vol. 1 of which provided maybe the most unexpected bit of successful East-West comics fusion for 2009. Two huge battles dominate these 116 pages, one of them extensive enough to mutilate lead character CF into an entirely new character design, and the second foregrounding the motif of bodily (often sexual) function-as-transformation as a specific means of plot advancement. Parts of this one reminded me a bit of Josh Simmons’ House, which could be taken as a treat or a warning, depending on the reader’s disposition." – Joe McCulloch, Comics Comics
"Johnny Ryan's all-violence-and-scatology-all-the-time tour of some kind of personal videogame/quest-narrative mythology continues. Dude's got a vision. A really gross vision... you can tell that what he's making is, as far as he's concerned, the perfect comic book, and I admire that level of commitment." – Douglas Wolk, Comics Alliance
"As far as trade paperbacks go, we have Prison Pit 2 (Fantagraphics) from Johnny Ryan — we interviewed Ryan recently about this ultra-violent meditation on mutants, blood, and swearing." – Cyriaque Lamar, io9
"If I did have $15, you can bet one of the first things I’d buy is Prison Pit Vol. 2 ($12.99) Johnny Ryan’s sequel to his exquisitely Grand Guginol, no-holds-barred, incredibly violent and scatological action comic. To say this comic is not for the faint of heart is the understatement of the year — it features an insane amount of blood and viscera, an abundance of fecal matter and [Spoiler redacted – Ed.]. It’s also rather brilliant at the same time — a free-flowing, constantly imaginative display of pure cartooning power that is both disgusted and invigorated by the horror of its ideas. The first volume was one of the best books of last year. Will the second match its power? Bet on it." – Chris Mautner, Robot 6
204-page full-color 8.25" x 10.75" hardcover • $29.99 ISBN: 978-1-60699-357-6
"Being a new 204-page Fantagraphics hardcover collection of illustrations by Drew Friedman, who probably didn’t need a link to his website as a means of your realizing who he his, but still!" – Joe McCulloch, Comics Comics
"Since I’m [hypothetically] splurging, I’ll also pick up a copy of Too Soon? by Drew Friedman, because, you know, it’s Drew Friedman." – Chris Mautner, Robot 6
The next one is not officially being released this week; read on for the explanation:
104-page black & white 7.5" x 9.25" softcover • $14.99 ISBN: 978-1-60699-379-8
"Oh God the Hernandez brothers are so good. This isn't even on the Diamond list for this week, but it's on the Midtown list, it's propagating to lots of comics stores, and you need it: Jaime telling the sad story of Maggie's brother who nobody ever talks about, and Gilbert messing with everyone's mind. Plus Fantagraphics is running a special where all three issues so far of 'New Stories' are thirty bucks total." – Douglas Wolk, Comics Alliance
"Finally arriving, the 3rd 'annual' version of Love and Rockets is, by all accounts, the best yet." – Chris Butcher, The Beguiling
• Review: "Anyone coming to this volume [of The Complete Peanuts] looking for the rumored decline that is supposed to have happened in the second half of the 1970s might shut the book after its last page slightly confused. Energized by the Peppermint Patty/Marcie duo's emergence into the prime of their own vitality as characters and as a classic comic-strip team (I'd never thought of it before, but there are obviously elements of Easy and Tubbs there), Schulz's dailies were as strong and funny as ever." – Tom Spurgeon, The Comics Reporter
• Review: "...[N]ot being a big manga reader, I didn’t expect to like the stories nearly as much as I did. But then smartly done genre tales make for some of the best literature, comics, film, etc. What I liked most about the different pieces in A Drunken Dream is the psychological form of sci-fi she employs (strictly speaking, the title story is the only sci-fi one, but I think a looser definition that incorporates the social aspects of the genre also applies here). I thought often of Tarkovsky’s Solaris." – Nicole Rudick, Comics Comics
• Feature: "When historians compile lists of the stuff that helped make America America, they don’t even rank the DeMoulin’s Patent Lung Tester alongside even relatively minor inventions like the cotton gin, the telegraph, and the automobile, much less epic game-changers such as instant coffee and air conditioning. Surely this is an oversight. [...] Along with hundreds of similar devices, the Lung Tester appears in Catalog No. 439: Burlesque Paraphernalia and Side Degree Specialties and Costumes. Originally published in 1930 by DeMoulin Bros. & Co., this strange volume has been newly reprinted by Fantagraphics Books. Like the more iconic Sears, Roebuck and Co. catalog, it illuminates its moment in American history as deftly and instructively as any novelist has ever done." – Greg Beato, The Smart Set
• Plug: "Are you a fan of pop culture-related art? Or possibly just of distorted human features? Well run don't walk... to purchase [Too Soon?,] the new book by Drew Friedman, longtime illustrator for The Observer, Mad Magazine and other publications." – Dan Duray, The New York Observer
• Profile: At Il Sole 24 Ore, Luca Boschi looks at the work of Mort Walker & Jerry Dumas, calling our collection of Sam's Strip "an exceptional volume of comic strips... As always, Fantagraphics' presentation is superb and worth sharing." (Translated from Italian)
• List:Publishers Weekly's Calvin Reid and Heidi MacDonald run down some "Graphic Novels as Gifts" suggestions, including Norman Pettingill: Backwoods Humorist ("A wooden cover introduces the amazing outsider art of Pettingill, who crafted detailed postcards of wildlife and rustic humor") and A Drunken Dream and Other Stories by Moto Hagio ("Haunting stories of longing, memory, and love from the legendary manga-ka who changed the face of Japanese comics").
• Review: "When experienced animators turn to creating comics or illustrating children’s books, I usually find the results successful and quite satisfying. That’s certainly the case with animator Mitch Schauer (Angry Beavers) and his first graphic novel, RIP M.D. (from Fantagraphics). [...] RIP M.D. would make an amazing 2D animated feature — if Hollywood were still making those. For now, graphic novels such as this are a great outlet for ambitious creators with ample imaginations. Check it out." – Jerry Beck, Cartoon Brew
• Review: "Temperance is a fascinating comic. Malkasian gives us an odd, fairy-tale-esque world where we must accept unreal things so that she can make her points. [...] Malkasian does a fine job of grounding the tale of Blessedbowl in a real-world concern while still making sure it’s fantastical enough so a sentient wooden doll doesn’t seem too out of place. Malkasian’s art is tremendous, as well. [...] Temperance is a fascinating book to read, and while it’s not difficult to figure out, it does raise some important questions about society and what people do to live in one. Malkasian has a lot on her mind, and it’s impressive that she manages to get her real-world concerns into this fable without becoming preachy. [...] It’s a very thoughtful comic, and I encourage you to check it out." – Greg Burgas, Comic Book Resources
• Interview:Robot 6's Tim O'Shea talks to Jason about Werewolves of Montpellier and other topics: "I’ve done boy meets girl and one of them dies in the end several times, so yes, I was a bit afraid of starting to repeat myself. But I think Werewolvesis sufficiently different. It’s a platonic relationship between the two characters for one thing, and none of them dies in the end."
• Interview: At About.com: Manga, Deb Aoki presents a transcription of Moto Hagio's panel appearances at Comic-Con (with translator Matt Thorn) and conducts her own Q&A with the creator of A Drunken Dream and Other Stories: "Well, when I was a child, I used to read manga and cry myself. I had similar reactions watching movies and reading comics. Basically, I'm just expressing my own feelings like that. So it was with my own parents, and for a lot of people of that generation, who said that manga is just for small children, it's very simplistic. But from my point of view, manga is just one medium like movies and novels; it can be just as deep and just as moving."
• Interview:io9's Cyriaque Lamar, who brilliantly sums up Prison Pit: Book 2 as "not unlike Masters of the Universe...if Masters of the Universe was a hentai that starred Gwar," talks to its creator Johnny Ryan: "I wanted to do a book about monster-men beating the shit out of each other. That's my main idea, that's all it's about. There's no real subtext to it. It's about the fighting."
• Interview: Thomas Papadimitropoulos of Comicdom catches up with Bill Griffith on the latest Zippy the Pinhead developments (the intro is in Greek but the interview is presented in English): "I keep trying to surprise myself with the daily Zippy strip. Zippy’s 'discovery' of his hometown, 'Dingburg,' where everyone is a pinhead like him, has taken the strip in a new direction for the last few years. It’s still a lot of fun for me to explore all the different pinhead personalities in Dingburg."
• Interview: At Marvel.com, Sean T. Collins talks to Frank Santoro about his match-made-in-heaven Silver Surfer story for Marvel's Strange Tales II: "I thought of this as my try-out for Marvel. I didn't take this as a chance to do a funny mini comic kinda thing. This was my shot! Was I ever gonna get another one? I'm gonna try to knock it out of the park! That was my thinking."
• Interview: At Pikaland, Melanie Maddison has an extensive chat with Lilli Carré: "My book The Lagoon, which is very mood-driven, took me about 3 years to finish, because I had a lot of starts and stops when working on it. This was partially due to still being in school and working at that time, but also because it was hard to always be in the right mindset to work on such a moody piece and figure out the trajectory of the story."
• Plug: "The inimitable Drew Friedman has a new hardcover book out of his incredible celebrity portraits and caricatures drawn over the last 15 years... Our pals at Fantagraphics published the handsome hardcover, titled Too Soon?: Famous/Infamous Faces 1995-2010." – David Pescovitz, Boing Boing
• Plug: "A new Love and Rockets is out. It apparently contains one of the best Jaime Hernandez stories ever, which makes me shiver with excitement. In celebration, I photographed and uploaded my current favorite Jamie Hernandez story ever 'Penny Century.'" – Will Hines [Ed. note: Reproducing so much of the story is a little borderline, but what the hey.]
• Analysis:Love & Maggie continue their series of detailed, annotated rundowns of their Top 10 Issues of The Comics Journal with the third part of their examination of issue #71
• Review: "This is too much of an event to ignore: Fantagraphics, Seattle’s eclectic and prolific comics publisher,... is publishing its first volume of manga — comics that may be Japan’s most popular and influential art form. [...] A Drunken Dream and Other Stories is a four-decade anthology of graphic short stories by Moto Hagio, the 'founding mother' and premiere creator of shojo manga... Does Hagio’s work justify the hype? Her visual storytelling and graphic invention, by turns fluid, crisp, and stately, certainly do. ...Moto’s other later [stories] do indeed raise manga to literature." – Eric Scigliano, Seattle Met
• Review: "...[F]ew comics fans should have difficulty getting into A Drunken Dream and Other Stories... The stories in A Drunken Dream range from weird, powerful allegories... to dreamy tales of love and loss... But the best pieces here focus on memories of childhood, of playmates treated cruelly or parents and children misunderstanding each other. [...] Few stories in the entire history of the medium have been more overwhelming than 'Hanshin: Half-God,' a tale of conjoined twins — one haggard, one gorgeous — and their spiteful, symbiotic relationship. It’s a potent metaphor rendered with the intensity of an EC comic. [Grade] A-" – The A.V. Club
• Review: "Blake Bell’s Strange and Stranger: The World of Steve Ditko set the recent standard for how to put together a coffee-table book about a legendary comics artist, and Bell takes on another innovator of the medium with Fire & Water: Bill Everett, the Sub-Mariner, and the Birth of Marvel Comics... Because Everett didn’t have as long or as consistent a career as Ditko, Bell doesn’t subject Everett’s work to the keen analysis he brought to Strange and Stranger. But he makes up for the diminished insight with page after page of Everett’s vivid, varied work, showing how it all emanated from a man who was a lot like his most famous creation: a destructive antihero, always a little angry at the puny humans around him. [Grade] B" – The A.V. Club
• Review: "...The Complete Peanuts, Vol. 14: 1977 - 1978... shows just how much Schulz was all over the map during that time. [...] This is still a worthwhile volume of Complete Peanuts, though; it has a charming introduction by Alec Baldwin, the usual top-quality production of the whole Fantagraphics reprint library, and some fun story arcs..." – The A.V. Club
• Review: "Only a brain incubated in the warm, nourishing goo of Looney Tunes and vintage Disney cartoons could have produced Sammy the Mouse. [...] As always, Sally’s use of silent panels and dynamic perspectives guide readers’ eyes toward nightmarish horizons and grotesque situations... A grimy, metaphysical malaise drips from every line of Sally’s lush yet unwholesome artwork, especially when he’s plundering the iconography of innocence and youth in the service of disorienting discomfort. [Grade] A-" – The A.V. Club
• Review: At What Things Do, Jordan Crane writes "In the new issue of Love and Rockets (New Stories, no.3), Jaime has a story called Browntown. It just might be the best thing he’s ever done. In fact, I’d go so far as to say, it just might be the best comic I’ve ever read. Its construction is durable yet intricate, a bunch of simple parts working together flawlessly. It’s put together like a watch."
• Review:Guttersnipe's Shawn Conner on the "Counterculture Comix" exhibit at Bumbershoot last weekend, with photos by Robyn Hanson: "Curated by Larry Reid of Fantagraphics Books, it was an eye-popping display, even if you were familiar, as I was, with most of the work..."
104-page black & white 7.5" x 9.25" softcover • $14.99 ISBN: 978-1-60699-379-8
This book is available with a signed bookplate as a FREE premium! The bookplate has been uniquely designed for this book, and each bookplate is printed on acid-free cardstock and hand-signed by the author. (Click here for more books available with signed bookplates.) Please select your preference above before adding the item to your shopping cart. Note: Signature plates are VERY limited in quantity and available only WHILE SUPPLIES LAST.
After Jaime’s two-part super-hero epic from Love and Rockets: New Stories #1 and #2, we return to the enthralling minutiae of the “Locas” cast’s lives for the first time in three years. In the main story "The Love Bunglers" (presented in two parts) Ray finally gets his date with Maggie: The couple goes to an art opening and to dinner, they discuss the crazy world of dreams, and Maggie asks Ray for a huge favor. Also in this volume, “Brown Town, Blue Sun,” a new installment in Jaime’s beloved “little kids” flashback series: A ten-year-old Maggie and her family move away from Hoppers to a desert ghost town…
And on the Gilbert side of the ledger, “Scarlet by Starlight” is a story of humans exploring alien terrain, one of whom gets caught up in the natives' mating season with a furry creature who bears a striking resemblance to Fritz (of High Soft Lisp fame). “Killer/Sad Girl/Star” picks up the “Sad Girl” character from LRNS #2, and how no one in her family takes her budding film career seriously.
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!