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illustration (c) José Villarrubia 2000
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Interview: Lea Hernandez
Interview conducted by Arni Gunnarsson, 12/99.

Few people have entered the industry with as stunning a debut as Lea Hernandez who in the first year as a writer/artist was nominated for an Eisner as Best New Talent for Cathedral Child. The Diva as she is called is now unstoppable and the next thing from her will be in Transmetropolitan #31 drawing the dreams of Spider Jerusalem.

How would you describe CATHEDRAL CHILD and CLOCKWORK ANGELS?

Dry factual: The first two of a series of books and stories set in a mythical Texas.

High Concept:
CC: The Difference Engine meets TITANIC
CA: a Victorian MEN IN BLACK.

Personally: I've written two books of the sort that I wanted to read when I began seriously (as in braving comics speciality shops circa 1983) reading comics. In 1983, there was just about nothing that wasn't superheroes to be found in comics stores. The few finds I did make, like the original run of Matt Wagner's MAGE, CLOAK AND DAGGER with Rick Leonardi art, the early issues of AMETHYST, PRINCESS OF GEMWORLD, AMERICAN FLAGG, Hempel and Wheatley's MARS, and Robert Loren Fleming's THRILLER, I wanted more more more of, and there just wasn't more.

Things are far, far better now, and the market will support works like mine: quirky, personal, dense and romantic.

Considering your background, was the next step doing manga?

If you mean did the manga lettering lead to my drawing manga-influenced work, the answer is no, you have it backwards. I wanted to draw manga-styled books long before manga was being brought to the US. I couldn't get paying work doing that, but I was so madly in love with manga that I thought working on the lettering and retouch of them was the next best thing. Boy, was I wrong about that shit.
I wanted to draw manga-styled books long before manga was being brought to the US.

I can say that the pages (somewhere around 5,000 now) of manga retouch that have crossed my table have taught me something about drawing though, as I could study them and see what worked and what didn't, and see how many different artists solved the same problems in storytelling, and what succeeded and what didn't.

5,000 pages also taught me a lot about sound effects and lettering, and how to do both very, very fast and good in my own work. But, drawing comics wasn't an extension of lettering and retouch. Lettering and retouch is what I did to support my comics drawing habit. It didn't help me get my novels published.

You have some very strong views about women in comics, how they tend to be ignored by the market in general, do you think their status in the industry will grow in the new millenium?

All I can do is hope that it will, so there will be some shining day ten years from now, when the level of coverage of women creators has gotten the whole way to the 1970's.

Okay, joking aside, I really don't know. A lot of this depends entirely on the women themselves. They aren't going to get covered unless they seek it out, then pursue it. Every time a woman sees a man being praised for something she's done first or better, she needs to write the person who wrote the article and point this out.

And I don't mean, "Hey, micro-dick, if you weren't such a myopic fucking knuckle-dragger and could see past the length of your own cock, you'd notice I'd done this already."

I mean: "I noticed you covered Pete Madras' use of anime idioms and magic realism in his forthcoming series WARSTALKERS. Did you know my own books also use these idioms and settings and were published last year and this one as well, and have enjoyed critical acclaim and brisk sales? I'd love to send you copies." (And have copies you CAN send out!) This doesn't always work. But it does nineteen times out of twenty. Women cannot be afraid to promote themselves.

The other part of this question is about where women get recognition. In some venues, they will only be recognized for their proximity to an already-famous man or a tit job. That's pathetic, but they're not the only venues. Forget them already, and focus on ones where the energy won't be wasted.

CATHEDRAL CHILD is a stunning debut for a newcomer into the field, where did it all come from?

The very, very farthest back starting point was an idea I had for a science-fiction re-telling of Hans Christian Andersen's "THE LITTLE MERMAID".
What crystallized the idea was an article I saw in 1986 or so, about the completion of the Washington Cathedral. Even with modern technology, the Washington Cathedral took sixty years to complete. Three generations.
Older ones could take up to ten generations. I was moved by what an act of devotion and faith this was. I also saw another side to it: how places that old begin to take on a life of their own, haunted by the comings and goings of generations of people, and what kind of "psyche" that could imbue a "lifeless" thing with. In the actual writing, it became a story about growing up in love and staying strong in this setting, where everyone is pulling at the hero and heroine, and a story about sins revisiting the sinners three times over, and what makes life.

Did you consider doing it in color or would that have cost too much?

Never. Color would add another six months of work, and a huge amount of cost. CC and CA were meant to be black and white. Maybe someday, it'd be nice to do like Shirow Masamun did in GHOST IN THE SHELL, which was to start chapters in color, then gradually move to monochrome.

What will we see from Lea Hernandez, come the third millenium?

Bear in mind this list is mutable, but here you go:
2000: RUMBLE GIRLS: Silky Warrior Tansie.
Late 2000 or very very early 2001: RUMBLE GIRLS: The Miss Pink Project.
Summer/Fall 2001: INVINCIBLE SUMMER, the third CATHEDRAL CHILD book. (It was to be UNDER GRACE, but I decided this one needed telling first.)
Somewhere in all that, EMILY CROWE with Warren Ellis, and the beginnings of a series of shorter graphic novels with Ann Busiek writing, SNAPDRAGONS.
2002: A cycle of interrelated stories about a character, Pink Akiyama, who is the lead in "The Miss Pink Project": "Walk the Dinosaur", "Little Runaway", "To My Heart", "Angel Face".
After that...who knows? Maybe a trip to the Emmys to see/collect my statue for writing the animated series version of RUMBLE GIRLS...or to the Oscars to watch a CLOCKWORK ANGELS movie get awards for costuming and special effects.

What do you think of the idea of comics libraries?

Is this a trick question? I love the idea.

What would you say if I told you that I found 2 copies of CATHEDRAL CHILD in a comics library here in Copenhagen?

SQUEAL! Are they dog-eared and look much-loved?

They will be soon enough.

How long did it take you to break into the industry?

It took me a couple years to get a job lettering something that wasn't my own work--that was working as an assistant to Wayne Truman on XENON from ECLIPSE/VIZ. I got the job because someone let slip where Wayne lived, and I found out he was 20 minutes from my home, so I got his number from directory information and called him up.
As for -drawing- comics, I had a few small press jobs after 5 years or so in the field, but nothing long-term or very good. I started pitching CATHEDRAL CHILD 7 years ago, it was picked up by Jim Valentino for IMAGE in 1997. Ten years+ to make an overnight success. Like usual.

That does demand that you really want to be in the industry, doesn´t it?

I simply could not do anything else to make my soul happy. Writing and drawing feeds my psyche, the way prayer or painting or gardening feeds others'.

Would you have selfpublished CATHEDRAL CHILD if IMAGE had not picked it up?

Not just no, but fuck no. At least not as a paper comic. In 1997, I made up my mind that was the last year I was pitching CATHEDRAL. I think I was going to start an online version, to make an end run around the hellishness that is self-publishing a comic in the U.S. market. Besides, I had no money to print, and starting a comic company isn't as easy as walking into a bank and getting a loan, no matter what you've read. For one thing, banks don't make loans to publish books and magazines, they're a poor risk. They don't make them without this thing called collateral, which is something you own, like a car (a good one), a house, property, or a business.
I have self published in print, and it's a metric fuckload (that's three times as much work as a fuckload, which is three times as much work as a metric shitload, which is three times as much work as a shitload...) of work. It's not just one job, doing the comic, but also being a printing broker, and a secretary, and a bookkeeper, and marketing manager. Bleagh. Just the thought of it makes me want to paint my doorway and hang the crosses and garlic.

Arni Gunnarsson is a founding member of PopImage. He now currently runs - Lea Hernandez's Homepage - Online comics, coming soon.
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