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The Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez Interview

NADEL: Was Ti-girls related to Girl Crazy at all? In terms of response at all?

GILBERT: No, Girl Crazy is not. I only gave the Girl Crazy girls superhero outfits because I hadn’t drawn too many superhero outfits in a series setting before.

HODLER: Ti-Girls was going to be a collaboration. Are you still doing anything with that?

GILBERT: Well, I’m still toying with the idea of a super hero comic book, like a one shot 80 page giant. But it has to be worth my while. I’m not going to do a superhero book even if I get lucky with a few good critical notices or a little fan response and then I don’t make any money and it ends up in a remainder pile. I want it to be something people notice and have a real good time with.

HODLER: It could be a Fritz movie.

GILBERT: Yeah, except Fritz refuses to do a super hero movie because they’re for nerds and she’s more into sci-fi.

HODLER: Oh.

GILBERT: She doesn’t like superheroes. [Laughter.] She’s thinks they’re low trash. So there’s the backstory again. But see, the Fritz books are little black-and-white things. You want a superhero comic that’s in color and besides, being in her 40′s now, her tits are too big. Never say never, though.

NADEL: “Hypnotwist” is a Fritz movie, right?

GILBERT: Yeah, yeah that’s right. It took her — another backstory — took her 10 years to make. That’s why she’s wearing a wig and why her body changes as well as her eyebrows.

SANTORO: You can always double-check the titles because of the inside cover of the book.

GILBERT: Yes, that’s right. Yeah, I was toying with the super hero comic idea but the bottom line is I have absolutely no idea how to write a story that’s interesting, that’s something worth reading. See Jaime’s stuff is connected to the Maggie world. So it flowers from that. It flowers from the certain characters he’s already done and you put them in that world so it starts to builds. If I go in cold like that, I don’t know what to do.

NADEL: I have an off-topic question. I was curious how or what the relationship is like or how it goes with Heritage. Because I think that’s really fascinating, and you guys are as far as I can tell the only people doing that, selling art directly through Heritage. It’s really smart. And Todd’s there, of course. Has that been good? You’re both doing it, right?

GILBERT: I was.

JAIME: It’s going good for me.

NADEL: Oh, you were?

GILBERT: Yeah, because the last Luba page sold for $94. That’s it.

NADEL: Oh, that’s not so hot.

GILBERT: Yeah, that’s why. It’s not anybody’s fault. It’s just what happened.

JAIME: I’m doing Heritage for two reasons: one, because Todd’s taking care of me. And two, because I’m selling art, and I don’t want to sell it myself. I don’t want to do it myself, and he said, “Just send me a stack of art. I’ll take care of the rest.” That was the best news. For me.

GILBERT: It was great. Well for me, while it lasted, it was terrific.

JAIME: One of the higher selling pages recently was the one of a little panel of Penny asking Ray to see if her seams were showing.

NADEL: I saw that, yeah.

JAIME: Because I saw the price and I went, “Whoa! I did pretty good. Oh — it’s that page.” [Laughter.] You never know.

GILBERT: You never know. Yeah, Luba pages used to sell the best. Luba’s on it, boink, sells. Then when I found out a Luba page sold for so low, I just didn’t … And they haven’t asked me to send more artwork. I’m not making money, so they’re not making money.

HODLER: That reminds me of the art book [The Art of Jaime Hernandez]. I heard that you were asked to do one too, and you didn’t want to do it. Is that true?

GILBERT: Oh, Fantagraphics; Gary wanted to do a book.

HODLER: Oh, I didn’t … OK, that’s something.

GILBERT:  I’m not Jaime in the market. I know that. There is a desire for … it’s like a Moebius book or a Frank Cho book or something. People want that. They want a Jaime book. They don’t want a Gilbert book. They might want to read my comics, but a coffee table book? That’s a whole different thing. I could do one. But I’ve done the sketchbook. They’re in the remainder bins. You go to these book sales —

NADEL: But the sketchbooks were 25 years ago or something.

GILBERT: Yeah. But it’s going to be the same stuff. There’s nothing really … I don’t do sketches anymore, I don’t do anything new in that way. I don’t sketch or make a lot of preparations anymore. I usually scribble notes for me now, that’s how I illustrate the page.  I don’t have that backlog like the first two sketchbooks. I had years of backlog unseen.

SANTORO: But can we just segue into a technical thing, because working faster, we were talking this weekend about using a brush, and now you’re using a pen, and how much you’re sketching on the page, how much you’re penciling on the page, how much is directing. Working faster with the pen, I’m just curious about that. Like how much of it is actually inking, and it looks like a lot of it is. You’re doing stuff without necessarily penciling every element in the page.

GILBERT: Yeah. I’m pretty much roughly laying it out now and inking. Apparently that’s what Carl Barks did after a while. He just penciled circles and then he inked them.

NADEL: And just went for it.

GILBERT: Yeah. That’s only in a pinch though. I prefer to put more detail in it. I prefer to slow down, prefer to reimagine angles and scenes and that sort of thing. I like catch myself: “Oops, I have too many headshots, like when you repeat the back of the guy’s head at the same angle on two separate pages facing each other. Because you’ve always got to consider the other side of the page, how it’s going to print. Sometimes I’m knocking out three or four pages per day and I don’t have time to reflect and sip tea.

SANTORO: Yeah, and working smaller. Like I can tell your originals are like a 9” by 12” paper now.

GILBERT: Yeah, they’re pretty small.

SANTORO: Three or four pages a day? That’s amazing.

GILBERT: Well not complete. But just a good amount of it. Like pencils and the principle inks. And then I’m exhausted. And I gotta go back and Wite-Out everything because it’s all fucked up. [Laughter.]

HODLER: How fast are you working, do you think?

JAIME: Uh, fast enough to get Love and Rockets out for San Diego [Laughter.]

GILBERT: Yeah, for Comic-Con.

NADEL: Is that it? That’s the goal every year, get it out for Comic-Con?

GILBERT: Just because it’s a tradition and people expect it. And it’s a good mark for us to shoot for. Because otherwise we just get all over the place.

JAIME: And I hate to go to that convention without something new.

NADEL: You guys go every year?

GILBERT: Yeah. No, that’s not right; I meant, FUCK yeah.

HODLER: So is it every day you work? Or five days a week like normal work week, or?

GILBERT: It depends on how late I am on something, usually. Like a Dark Horse book, I gotta get it out before the end of the month, so I’m doubling up. And sometimes I’m working seven days a week. But that’s because I really gotta get these 12 pages done before the end of the month. I gotta work every day to it. But most of the time I don’t like to. I like to take breaks.

HODLER: Right. And it’s an eight-hour day, or does it just go until way late in the night?

GILBERT: It’s an eight-hour day, but fragmented.

SANTORO: Just out of personal curiosity, what’s that like? Your daily routine, just random, any day. Are you working mostly in the morning, or the afternoon, or the evening?

GILBERT: It used to be like the young man hours, 8, 9 10 until two in the morning. And now I just stop before dinner and then hang around with my family. I get up pretty early. A lot of times I just wake up so ready to go that I’ll just go straight to the board. I don’t wash my face, I don’t do anything. I just get up, walk to the board, and I start. It depends if I got a good night’s sleep. If I got a good night’s sleep I can do that. Start and then I put it away, have breakfast, hang out for a little bit, and then start over again.

SANTORO: And then your daughter goes to school, and then —

GILBERT: Yeah. And while she’s having breakfast and getting ready for school I’m usually at the board. Or reviewing pages to know what I’m going to be doing later. But lately I haven’t been sleeping well so I just get up in the morning and I’m too groggy to get to the board so I watch Highway Patrol and then I get to work.

NADEL: And you, Jaime?

JAIME: Um, if I’m on a roll I get up in the morning, my wife leaves for work, takes my daughter to school, they’re out the door. I get to work. And I work ‘til 3 o’clock. There’s lunch in between, but I work ‘til about 3 o’clock when I go pick up my daughter. And then after hanging out with them and my wife comes home and we have dinner, pretty much after that I get back to work. This is if I’m on a roll with the comic. If I’m not, if I’m writing and struggling and it’s not working, I’m doing a lot of sitting around all day, just kind of like, this ain’t moving, so I go find something else to do to amuse myself or something.

HODLER: How often are you in that situation?

JAIME: Which one?

HODLER: Where it’s not working. Like how many days —

JAIME: I would say most of the time. [Laughter.] Right now the latest issue of Love and Rockets has barely been started because it just won’t come. It’s also the time of the year. Summer, I almost get no work done, because summer —

GILBERT: The kid’s home.

JAIME: Kid’s home, but kid is going to go to camp these two weeks and then come home and then she’s going to do this kind of summer activity and then my wife is off work and then there’s a week where my daughter’s not doing anything, and then she’s going to go to this camp, or do something. I need a schedule. I need to wake up in the morning at this time and then just use my brain for only my comics. I can’t think about plans coming. Like this trip here. I knew was going to take a bit of my time. It was hard for me to actually get in a groove to work. So I’m just not that disciplined. And too many distractions really screw me up. I have to be in the zone when there’s nothing around. But when I get in the groove, like I was saying, and you can’t stop me from working, then everything disappears, even if there’s things around me. But if I’m not completely focused on my work, all that other stuff is louder than the actual concentrating. So I’m just not disciplined that way and I’m becoming less because of I don’t know what.

GILBERT:  I don’t have too many of those blocks. Because if I do have it with Love and Rockets, but then I’ll pull out a Fritz book and I’ll start working on that. And if I can’t do that, I’ll pull out the Dark Horse book. I’m always doing three things at once. I can always find something else equally important to do if something’s not working.

JAIME: I tried that. But I don’t have what he has.

NADEL: How much do you guys talk to other cartoonists or talk to each other as the day goes? Because a lot of cartoonists, like you hear that like —

GILBERT: We talk to each other what, like, twice a year now at the most.

JAIME: Yeah, yeah. Almost never.

GILBERT: It’s really almost never now.

SANTORO: Yeah, they’ve been really kind of nice to see this tour, because it’s like they’re catching up on all their —

NADEL: Oh, so you’re not talking Love and Rockets … I guess what business would there be.

GILBERT: Well, we do have our Love and Rockets talks, but just, I don’t know, it’s just like … oh, I’m at this sticking point in the comic, and then I’ll call up Jaime. And he’ll talk about what he’s doing or not doing. I’ll talk about what I’m doing or not doing. And then we do have the conversations we’ve always had, just kind of, “Oh, I suck. I don’t want to make comics anymore.” And then by the end of it it’s like, “All right. We’re good. We’re doing something here.”

HODLER: Now’s the point where we ask if they’re competitive with each other. But that’s in every interview.

SANTORO: And again, just seeing them on their tour, they’re actually really supportive of each other in a way that I can’t imagine, but to see it in person has been really nice to see. Just for the record.

GILBERT: Well, because it’s two things. He’s knows what he’s doing. We know that. I’ve read the reviews. I read his comics. He knows what he’s doing. Unless he has a question. I have my side of the book, people like my comic, they tell me so. There’s no problem. It works together. It’s my half, his half; it comes together.

SANTORO: Just one more, just for my own personal amusement, just for the record, because we were talking in the car a lot, and Gilbert, you were saying about … who was the one director who put out four movies in one year, who’s that guy? Are you allowed to give out the secret ingredient?

GILBERT: I’m not exactly sure if he directed them all, but I know he’s involved in all of them, maybe producing them or maybe directing them. It’s a guy named Richard Cunha. And all he did was like crappy — crappy meaning brilliant — science-fiction movies of the ’50s. And one year he was on a roll. He did The Brain That Wouldn’t Die [Brain was actually released in 1962 and directed by Joseph Green; She Demons was the fourth movie made by Cunha in 1958], Frankenstein’s Daughter, Missile to the Moon, and Giant from the Unknown. All movies on their own that you watch as a kid like, they really made this?! This really played in the theater? And especially The Brain That Wouldn’t Die and Frankenstein’s Daughter. When we first saw those movies, they put them on the roster on TV, they creeped us out. There was something wrong with these movies. Part of it is the low-budgetness of it, but the sleaze factor of this beautiful woman’s head on the table and the mad scientist is looking for a hot body for her. That was creepy instead of sexy. And then as you get older it’s kind of sexy. She’s beautiful, so she’ll have a hot body. [Laughter.] This is a creepy, low-budget movie, but it affected me in a strange way. It was just weird to see this model — the actress was originally a model. Here’s this beautiful woman’s disembodied living head on a table and she has make-up on. I go, wait a minute. She was in this bloody car crash so they had to wash her head before they put it on the table! [Laughter.] And then put make-up on it?! These days that’s psycho serial killer shit, but back then to a kid?

That stuff messed with my brain, because most people just think, “Oh, that’s dumb. They just … she has make-up on and all this …” I go, no, I think of the process of that. I think, “That’s how it would be done!” I didn’t know there was incompetence in movies. I just thought they were shitty or good. I didn’t know that bad filmmakers didn’t know how to make them, or they made them so fast and didn’t care. I didn’t know that. I thought what was put into that movie was the same as what they put into Casablanca. I didn’t know. So I took it seriously on that level. Even though I knew that something was shabby about it. And then a movie that’s even shabbier than that — is Frankenstein’s Daughter which has to be seen to be believed.

HODLER: I never heard of that one.

GILBERT: Oh, you gotta see it;  basically Dr. Oliver Frankenstein builds a woman that’s half man, half woman: a Frankenstein monster daughter. [Laughter.] It’s a stuntman, and so he’s got half the messed-up monster face, but he has to have half of a women’s face too; he’s got lipstick, eyeliner, a little blush and as I got older, I suspected the filmmaker was HOT over this theme. [Laughs.]As I am now speaking of it.

HODLER: Are you going to do more Naked Cosmos-type filmmaking?

GILBERT: Actually, we’re going to probably start filming in January, the second one. I’ve been saying no for years, and now I’m like, “OOH-K, we’ll do it.” But they want to make it the same, just like, “We’ll go to your house …” I’m like, “I don’t want to go to my house.” They’re like, “Well, you can’t green-screen everything.” I go, “Why not?” [Laughter.] “It’s supposed to look bad!” “Well, no, you gotta use the same locations …” You use the same locations because that’s all you have.  But if you have better stuff, do that. Yeah, I’m going to do that. I’m already tired, thinking about it. I got to do all the characters, except for my wife’s characters.

NADEL: [To Jaime:] What do you have coming up, just Love and Rockets?

GILBERT:  [In a wavering nerd voice]: Just Love and Rockets?

NADEL: Just!? [Laughter.] That’s IT? Why can’t you do something else?

JAIME: I’m doing a short story for DHP, Dark Horse Presents I did one for their online thing.

JAIME: There used to be a MySpace thing, I don’t know if they have MySpace anymore. And Diana [Schutz] asked me, she said, “Well, why don’t you do an 8-pager, and then another 8-pager, and then we’ll print them all as a comic.” And I go, “Just like that?” And she goes, “Yeah!” And I go, “OK, that’s cool.” So, I’m doing a second one. The first one was a superhero comic, so it’ll be a superhero comic. I can’t think of what it’s about. [Laughter.] Wait a minute; wait a minute.

GILBERT: Is it a continuation of your superhero girls?

JAIME: No, no. It’s totally different.

GILBERT: Oh, OK.

JAIME: I’m fucking blank right now, I swear. That’s how long away I’ve been from the work. It’s a story about a magician and his assistant: a super-magician … I’m doing that, and I’ll have a third one. I’m also trying to do side stuff, short stories, and worry about where they’re going to end up afterward. I’ve got a great one coming out that’s going to focus more on playing with the art, meaning that the story’s not so important. I just want to try some styles, different stuff. I haven’t strayed in a long time. But, when it doesn’t have an end to it, like a goal, it’s hard to finish it.

Then there’s the Love and Rockets I’m working on, that hasn’t really gelled. I have all these ideas swimming in my head, but so far they haven’t fallen on the page.

NADEL: It was nice to meet Tonta in the new one. It’s interesting to see you reclaim a youth character, essentially, which you haven’t done since everybody’s been growing up.

GILBERT: Jaime’s got the bigger balls than me as an artist, though, because he’ll do Tonta as his character, and I’ll do Killer, and obviously Killer gets a certain kind of attention from readers, but he’ll do a character — “where the fuck does this come from?” But he’ll go with it, because he can draw the prettiest girls in the world if he wants to, but he wants to draw a different kind of a girl.

JAIME: I’m hoping these characters will make it.

NADEL: When you say, “make it,” the way you guys have been talking about characters, is it like when [Charles] Schulz would introduce a new character, and see if he makes it.

JAIME: Exactly. Is Franklin going to work? [Laughter.] Is Spike going to work?

NADEL: So for storytelling, are the models more like Schulz and Stanley than Kirby and Ditko, in a sense of finding characters that are going to work —

HODLER: — and that are going to continue —

NADEL:  — and continue over decades?

JAIME: Prob-bably. They’re less concepts, but more, just new characters.

NADEL: What do you mean, concepts?

JAIME: Well, concepts like — Kirby always had a new concept, a new title, after a while. After he left Marvel. He always had this new package. Mine is more, create a character, and then find out what her world is going to be along the way.

GILBERT: Jaime’s got his Charlie Brown, which is Maggie. And I’ve got several Charlie Browns. A lot of people asked me, all the time, in the old days — they don’t ask anymore, because I’m cranky — but, why Luba? Why Fritz? Why not Heraclio? And my answer was like, we’ve already had Charlie Brown; you don’t have Luba anywhere else, and that’s why you don’t want her to be there, because we’ve never had her before. People don’t want something new; they want what they grew up with and what they approve of.

NADEL: You’re very conscious of readers.

GILBERT: I still get the questions, and I’m my own mini-psychologist: why did they ask that particular question at that time? And it’s, why not Heraclio? There’s a billion … there’s Charlie Brown, there’s Maggie, what do you need with …

NADEL: It’s funny, because it’s been some 30-odd years dealing with comic fandom, and now fandom’s not really around that much anymore: it’s more just readers. It’s funny that this voice still echoes in both of your heads.  [Laughs.]

GILBERT: They still ask it.

NADEL: It’s also the questions you would ask of Dan DeCarlo.

GILBERT: I never had to ask him, because he knew what he was doing. I know why he’s drawing Betty and Veronica.

HODLER: At SPX, you said that if your stories got too alienating, you would not put them in Love and Rockets. And then, reading Scarlet by Starlight in the new one… it’s sooo dark [laughter].

GILBERT: Like I said, that was the first two issues of the Love and Rockets annual; I was being safe. When I started that story, those gates opened. Now, I’m not worried about it anymore. It was just a period where I was being cautioned about drawing the sexy girls after a while. Our boys are up in Seattle, in Portland, those are like the PC capitals of the United States, and they’re going to get a lot of grief for it. “Oh, we love your comics, except, what’s with this shit?”

HODLER: Right.

GILBERT: After a while, it was like, “Calm this sexy shit down. Let’s not do that so much, because I think you’re hurting the girls’ feelings.”  That’s basically what they were saying. And I took that as, well, I don’t really care what people think, but I care about sales. I do care if Love and Rockets starts to sink because of that. At that time, I took that seriously. Now I don’t listen anymore.

HODLER: But that particular story was pretty rough. I mean, a lot of your stories are rough. But do you ever, just yourself, I don’t want to publish this thing I came up with?

GILBERT: There’s stuff I’ve started that won’t likely see print. But about Scarlet by Starlight, I know it’s pretty ugly in the end, and I count on the readers being able to handle it. I count on them not to wuss out. And if they don’t like it, then they can like Jaime’s stuff. Really, it’s easy.

HODLER: “Browntown” was pretty rough. [Laughter.]

GILBERT: But that’s something the readers can look at as something awful that happens to real people. Scarlet by Starlight is something that is dealing with the fun aspect of comics, and then it gets dark, and then it’s like, oh, man, that’s fucked up. Because yeah, it’s fucked up: People are fucked up. They do shit like that.

My model is Robert Crumb. He’s pushed the envelope to the point where I’d never go, but he’s considered a national treasure. So what am I scared of? He’s gone WAY further than I have. If my books start to sell bad and the cops are after me, OK, that’s different. But until then, it’s a comic book: it’s not going to hurt you.

 

Transcription by Kristen Bisson, Janice Lee, Anna Pederson

 

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6 Responses to The Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez Interview

  1. mateor says:

    Oh man, thanks.

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  4. KenParille says:

    Great [censored] interview!

  5. Michael Grabowski says:

    It’s disappointingly eye-opening to read about the economic reality even these guys face producing their books. These are pantheon-level comics artists (but apparently not Pantheon-worthy?) and Gilbert’s got to work as hard as he describes here to keep publishing new stuff? One would hope having a few thousand pages being regularly reprinted and resold for thirty years would itself by now provide a comfortable supplement as well as a big enough audience for new work to pay better than what he seems to be saying it does here.

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