TCJ 300 Conversations: Jaime Hernandez & Zak Sally

Posted by on December 22nd, 2009 at 5:47 AM

 

Both veteran comics creator Jaime Hernandez (Love and Rockets, now in its third, annual iteration) and minicomics publisher and cartoonist Zak Sally (Sammy the Mouse, The Recidivist and the forthcoming collection Like a Dog) were inspired by DIY culture and music and ended up being published by Fantagraphics (publisher of TCJ). While Hernandez emerged, along with his brothers Mario and Gilbert, at the forefront of the alternative-comics movement in the ’80s and ’90s, along with contemporaries Pete Bagge, Dan Clowes and Chris Ware, Zak Sally created zines and played music professionally in bands such as the minimalist Low. In the following conversation, not only do they compare and contrast the milieu in which they each emerged, they also talk about on how they survive as artist, aesthetically, psychologically and financially.

Transcribed by Jessica Lona, sound-engineered by Gavin Lees. Special thanks to Jeremy Eaton.

 


All of the following Zak Sally images are from Like a Dog. This one is from “All My Friends are Giants,” ©2009 Zak Sally.


Jaime Hernandez:
What era did you start doing your comic? I mean what age, year, whatever.

Zak Sally:
I think I did my first minis when I was like 13 or 14?

Hernandez:
What years was that?

Sally:
Oh, man. ’86, ’85?

Hernandez:
When did you start believing you were a professional? I mean, back then, or?

Sally:
Nooo.

Hernandez:
Did you do a comic and you went, “Hey, this is the one!” [Laughs.]

Sally:
You know, I think my dirty little secret is that from really early on, I really wanted to be a cartoonist, and I was trying really hard to do it, but for a while that was kind of not cool. I was drawing superhero comics when I was a kid, but by the time I got to a certain age, I wasn’t going to be able to draw superhero comics. And at that time the zine thing was happening and I learned so much from that whole scene, but I really wanted to be published by Fantagraphics. I mean, my idols back then were — and this won’t be the first time I kiss your ass in this interview, but for real — it was you, and you know, Pete Bagge. Clowes. Jim [Woodring]. Chester Brown. And that was what I wanted in the world, to have a solo book of MY stuff published by Fantagraphics — that was the biggest thing I could think of. But at the time, I was kind of in-between that and the zine world, and I wasn’t anywhere near good enough to be published for “real.”


Hernandez photo by Mike Baehr.


Hernandez:
I guess the reason I was asking was ’cause I was just trying to see if there was a difference in the generations why cartoonists do comics. Have they now come from a different place than I did, maybe? Or maybe they didn’t, it just seems that way.

Sally:
For my generation, we had you. We had you and we had Love and Rockets, and there was Crumb, and Clowes is just starting. That trail was still being blazed, so to speak. But I think the one generation past us — that generation, if you think about that, they always had really good comics. You know what I mean? From the time they could read, Art Spiegelman and Maus had already won a Pulitzer.

Hernandez:
Right, right. That was already there for them.

Sally:
But you asking me that question, I mean — who did you have?

Hernandez:
Uhh… Marvel and DC? [Laughs.]

Sally:
Yeah!

Hernandez:
And then there was Heavy Metal Magazine, which was the most alternative you got that wasn’t an underground comic, you know, just ’cause stuff was different than the usual American stuff.

Sally:
Did you read that much?

Hernandez:
Yeah, when I was a kid, Mario bought all the comics, and after a little while he took them all with him. And Gilbert was just collecting small. He wasn’t getting everything like Mario was. And then I decided, “Hey, I used to like The Fantastic Four, I’m gonna buy The Fantastic Four now. That’ll be the title that I collect.” And then I started getting Super Team comics, you know, things like that, when I was in high school. And it was, you know, the Avengers, the Legion of Super-Heroes, the Mike Grell years, you know, the guy who drew Sable?

Sally:
Yeah! I didn’t know he did Legion of Super-Heroes.

Hernandez:
Yeah, at the time I was getting it. And then there was, you know, Heavy Metal Magazine, but after a while it’s just boring as hell. They just printed stuff because it was colorful. That was about the time we said, “Screw this, let’s do our own. I wanna draw the kind of comics I wanna read.” That’s basically where I came from, your standard stuff that was coming out. I didn’t get into undergrounds till Mario and Gilbert started showing them to me. ‘Cause they were mean comics when I was a kid, you know, they were too dirty. They weren’t Archie enough.

Sally:
When do you think you started seeing that underground stuff?


Sally photo by TCJ staff.


Hernandez:
’70s, but later ’70s. Like I said, when I was a kid, I wouldn’t look at them because they were dirty comics. Not because they were nasty or anything, filthy. They were just too gritty for me. I was still liking your standard mainstream: Archie, Dennis the Menace, stuff like that. So it wasn’t till I was a teenager, till later, that I started to get into Crumb, things like that. I took to Crumb right away because he had a classic style. He had a classic, old — what, his style was from like ’20s to the ’70s. [Laughs.] I took to that right away ’cause it looked like comics. I couldn’t get into the more abstract stuff, because it just wasn’t comics to me. I always liked the old standard look: the old-time panel-to-panel kind of thing.

Sally:
Has it been 30 years?

Hernandez:
Almost. We were drawing the comic in ’81.

Sally:
And you were how old?

Hernandez:
And I was 21?

Sally:
Jesus Christ.

Hernandez:
And Gilbert, Gilbert’s story went back to ’80. He started in ’80 but he did it in chunks. He didn’t do it all the way through, his first “BEM” story. It was just in our punk days. We were drawing the stuff when we came home from the clubs. [Laughs.] And the parties. Stuff like that.

 

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