TCJ 300 Conversations: Jaime Hernandez & Zak Sally

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

 

Sally:
[Laughs.] Did I ever tell you my — ehn. There’s this band in the mid-to-late ’90s era. They were great, they were from Washington, they were called Unwound. I was friends with some of them, and still friends with their drummer. They would keep putting out records, and with every record it would be great, but they’d sort of get less press and all that. And I just remember I was sitting down and having a beer and she was saying, “I don’t know what’s going on! We just busted our asses on this new record and we put it out, and I’m not hearing anything!” And I was like, “Ah, it’s the Love and Rockets syndrome!” [Hernandez laughs.] And she was like, “I hate that band!” And I said, “No!” After a while, if you keep being good, there’s nothing interesting about that. [Hernandez laughs.] You know what I mean? People are just like, “Oh, another Love and Rockets! It’s great! The last one was great and it’s been that way for 20 YEARS, ho hum.” Am I making sense here? Just in terms of what people get excited about; like, they would get excited if you started drawing stick figures.

Hernandez:
Yeah. I know what you mean. People have asked me in the past. They go, “so, have you ever thought of doing something different?” And I would say, “Well, what do you want me to do?” They’d go, “I don’t know, you’re the artist,” [laughs] “you should reinvent yourself.” “You should reinvent yourself.” I go, “What, but, I don’t wanna be somebody else.” [Laughs.] I imagine that’s what that means. Just like all of a sudden putting yourself in a different body or a different art class. And you gotta use different materials, kind of thing. I don’t know. That’s just not my style.


From “Bob Richardson” in Perla la Loca, ©2007 Jaime Hernandez.


Sally:
I think it’s hard enough to figure out what you want to do in the first place, never mind trying to switch it up.

Here’s another question that I thought of, maybe just ’cause it’s weighing on me a little bit. [Laughter.] Maybe it’s a two-part question. First part: was there ever a point, like an actual point — when you started off, you were 21 and you were a punk rocker, and you were just doing what you do and doing what you loved — was there ever a point where you thought, “OK, things have changed, and now I’m a cartoonist. This is what I do.”

And the second part of that question being: do you ever wake up in a cold sweat, thinking “what am I DOING?” — there’s just times when I’m driving or something, and I know that I’m so devoted to comics and I love them so much that this is all I want to do And there’s OTHER times when I’m driving around and I’m just thinking, “that is the most ridiculous thing…” You know what I mean? Like “you are a grown man now.”

Hernandez:
[Laughs.] And you’re drawing funny books.

Sally:
Yeah! And I don’t even mean it that specifically. Saying to yourself, “I know you love doing that and you’re devoted to it, but like if you’re responsible, you” — I don’t know. I can’t believe this is going on tape. I guess what I’m saying is sometimes I feel irresponsible in some way for keeping going after this thing, you know? When you KNOW the payoff isn’t — quantifiable in the same way as… there we go: It’s not as reliable as if I got — it’s not as responsible as if I went and got a job as a friggin’ janitor. You know?

Hernandez:
So put that into a question. ‘Cause I almost had you, and then —

Sally:
Shit. I don’t know.


From “Tuesday is Whose Day?” in The Education of Hopey Glass, ©2008 Jaime Hernandez.


Hernandez:
OK, let’s put it this way. Here’s one thing, and I don’t know if it answers the question. But there have been times where I get kind of depressed because I could see myself waking up not doing this, and it’s OK. That’s not how I should be. I should have to do this. Like say Robert Crumb. The guy had to do it, or he would’ve gone crazy. I don’t know if this is gonna get me a lawsuit by those words, but, you know.

Sometimes I think like, “Oh my God, if I woke up tomorrow and didn’t have to do this, it would be OK? Oh, my God. I could just be anybody else, I could just quit and then be happy, you know?” And that’s kind of a frightening thought sometimes. I kinda search for the madman part of it, which I don’t have a big chunk of. I like the madmen of comics. My brother Gilbert’s a madman. Crumb’s a madman. Their shit just spills out of their comics, because they have to do it or they will die. And I wish I had that, and I have the feeling I have very little of it. I just draw comics because I can, because I know how, or something, you know? [Laughs.] Sometimes I feel that way. So that’s a scary thought.

But one time I mentioned that to Gilbert, I said, “I wish I was a madman! A madman cartoonist!” And he goes, “Don’t forget — a lot of pain comes with those madmen.” [Laughs.] “A lot of those guys are unhappy people.” And I said “OK, OK. I’ll just continue to do it the way I do it.” Anyway, your question again?

Sally:
No, I think you just kind of answered my poorly framed question. I mean I think the question might’ve been from me coming from — I think, for me, it’s because I don’t make any money at comics. So I think that for me might feel — and I’m not in any way saying, “Well, you make a million dollars! Comics is such well-paying gig [for you]!” But — yeah. I’m sorry. I’m kind of losing my train there. But I think I might never make any money.

Hernandez:
I can kinda live off comics, if that’s part of the question. Kinda. For the most part. But if I didn’t have so many damn reprints out there, I don’t know if I could. I don’t know if I could just put out the regular title and live off that. [Laughs.] I don’t think I could do that. Even if I worked for the big companies, I don’t think it would help support a family.

Sally:
Yeah. That might’ve been what I was asking, or what I was worrying about. In my, again, poorly phrased way, like “am I gonna keep going down this road that…” [Hernandez laughs] “… is never gonna be — ” I could do other things, but I’m probably not going to be anywhere near as good at it. It just feels like this road that like you might get to the end of it, you might sorta have that — I don’t know. Just every once in a while it feels like there’s more stable roads you could take.

Hernandez:
What would you wanna do that for? Go for the one you love, right? I mean, earlier in our conversation, you said, “God I love comics.” And that’s what it’s all about!

Sally:
And there’s really no question. Actually, one of my students said that to me. She, actually, is completely amazing, and we were having his conversation. I swear, man, she’s going to do some stuff that both you and me are going to read and think is great. She was asking me about some of this stuff, and I was telling her, “Well, you know, you don’t have any choice in this, because you got really good comics in you. You got it in your bloodstream, because look at what you’re doing here.” I was just saying, “I don’t think you have any choice in the matter.” And she said, “Yeah, I figured that out a couple years ago.” It’s like she knew that. I was able to say to her, “What else are you gonna do? Are you kidding me? Look at your comics! Come on! What are you gonna do, what other job are you gonna get? Your comics are awesome!” You could starve —

Hernandez:
Does she carry that confidence, or is she worried about her future?

Sally:
I think she’s got totally the right attitude. Just like “This is what I got, and I’m gonna keep doing it, whatever happens with it.” She’s great.

Hernandez:
That’s cool.

Lemme see if I have any questions for you. So you… you draw comics. [Laughter.]


A piece Sally created for The Drama.


Sally:
Sometimes.

Hernandez:
So you spend a lot of your time teaching?

Sally:
I did this last year, and then I got the job again next year.

Hernandez:
That’s cool! So you’re off for the summer?

Sally:
Yeah. Paid. And that makes me realize why people fight so hard for those jobs. Get your summer off, and a month for Christmas, and you get paid, and you get health care and stuff.

Hernandez:
Do you find less time for comics?

Sally:
Yeah. That’s the other thing. I figured out why so many art teachers can get bitter and angry. They’re teaching so much that they can’t —

Hernandez:
Do their own thing?

Sally:
Yeah: which seems to be a crucial element of staying a good teacher. But again, I got the summer, so I’m able to get myself back into it.

Hernandez:
Lemme ask you this. Do you draw with your boy? [Laughs.]

Sally:
I do.

Hernandez:
[Laughs.] Do you draw a lot with him?

Sally:
I — [Sighs.] Yeah. I try to. I keep everything that we draw together. And he’s got me drawing Spider-Man.

Hernandez:
Well, he should! [Laughs.]

Sally:
[Laughs.] I must say, they’re pretty awesome Spider-Man drawings. I had no idea I had it in me. But God-damn it. I can draw Spider-Man from memory. Yeah!

Hernandez:
Yeah! I was so proud of myself when I realized I could do the Superman sign from memory. Oh man, I had it made.

Sally:
[Laughs.] When was that?

Hernandez:
[Laughs.] Oh, teenager. But as a kid, I didn’t know that was an “S.” I just thought it was some thing on his chest.

Sally:
It is pretty weird. It’s a weird thing to draw. It’s kinda that negative —

Hernandez:
If you don’t draw it right, it doesn’t look right.

Sally:
No.

Hernandez:
It’s like drawing Charlie Brown. You go, “Oh, that looks so easy.” And then you try, and yeah, right.


From Sally’s “The Man Who Killed Wally Wood.”


Sally:
Hey, why don’t more cartoonists talk about the fact that Charles Schulz died the day before his last strip was published?

Hernandez:
I don’t know. I think about it, and my conclusion is I’m thinking he had a lot of stuff prepared for the end because he couldn’t do it any more, I’m guessing. Because, you know, I had this dream that the last strip would be Charlie Brown was gonna kick that football and of course at the very end he doesn’t. And that ends the strip right there. But we got this letter that said, “Thank you for all your support, I had wonderful years,” and stuff like that. I was thinking the guy couldn’t do it. He couldn’t draw any more, because of his sickness. That’s my guess.

Sally:
You don’t think — I took a real — It was almost as close as I get to proof of God. [Hernandez laughs.] I mean, it’s like when somebody’s wife dies that they’ve been with for —

Hernandez:
That’s right, and they follow them shortly. Yes, I believe that too. I was thinking that too, that when he killed his baby, it killed him. He had nothing carrying him any more, nothing keeping him going. Yeah, I believe that.

Sally:
Yeah, it was weird that — I think about two or three months before the actual end of the strip. I can’t remember where I was, but I was at my mother’s or something and there was this thing on TV about him, and they had announced that it was going to end or something. I saw him — it was a short documentary about him, and I’m not a crying guy or anything. But for some reason I looked over and saw this documentary and I thought, “Oh, Charles Schulz!” And I just started bawling. I don’t know. Maybe it’s ’cause that’s how I learned to read.

Hernandez:
Yeah, it could be also that guy has been in your life, your whole life. It’s something you thought was gonna be there forever. I think that about — here, we have the L.A. Dodgers, and we got Vin Scully, the famous announcer. I’ve heard his voice my whole life. The guy is 81 now and he’s still doing the games, and he’s still bright and everything, but I’m thinking, “God, one day I’m not going to hear his voice.” That’s gonna be it. And it’s kinda that thing that they’ve been with you your whole life, and it’s something that you thought would always be there. I’m guessing that’s the Schulz thing, too.

Sally:
Did you read that Schulz book that came out?

Hernandez:
No, I didn’t. I saw the documentary. I’m sure it’s not the same thing, but I do remember in the documentary people saying, “It shows the dark side of him, and everything wasn’t so bright and everything like that.”

Sally:
No shit! I think I said “Have they ever read a Peanuts strip!?!” but maybe not.

Hernandez:
I watched that thing and I go, “Aside from his millions of dollars, I think every cartoonist goes through what he went through!” He had his ups and downs, he did his work and then he got paranoid about what people thought — all those ups and downs that I think every cartoonist goes through. I thought that was funny.

Sally:
It was a weird book. I read the whole book and the writer had all these weird things he chose to focus on. His relationship with his mom and dad, and how they didn’t talk very much, and he went into these huge psychological dissections of Schulz. I was reading and I was like, “Man, you’re just describing every Minnesotan I’ve ever met.” [Hernandez laughs.] Like it’s some weird psychological anomaly. “Are you kidding me, man? This is like everyone I know!”

 

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