Lea Hernandez: Vampires, Demon Hunters and Otherworldly ThingsA comics interview article by: Jason Sacks
One of the most fun-sounding projects to appear on Kickstarter recently has been Lea Hernandez's Garlicks. As you'll see below, Garlicks is a really wonderful all-ages project that comes directly from Lea's heart. You can see her enthusiasm for this project bubble up from every word she says about it here in this interview, on her twitter feed and Facebook page. She is really excited to share this unique project with fans, so please read this interview and pledge to her project. How can you resist these characters?
Jason Sacks for Comics Bulletin: So why don't you tell me about The Garlicks? What's the book about?
Lea Hernandez: It's about a girl who is a vampire, but in her opinion not particularly a very good one because she defies being a vampire. You know, being able to shapeshift, being able to climb up and down the vines, being able to fly. She's got none of those qualities. You'll see in the next story going up this week that even before she had a little sister that comes along that can do all of that, even when there was still just her, she still defined herself as a failure with well-meaning parents. She finds that she'll draw- she's good at that, and she'll use her wacky family as a "Hoder." So that's what it's about. There are demon hunters and otherworldly things.
CB: This really sounds like something that kids can relate to. A little bit of sibling rivalry, a little bit of family dynamics.
Hernandez: Oh yeah. Also since it's for all ages, which doesn't mean it's just for kids -- it's for all ages, and I'm hoping it will firmly appeal to its intended audience, which is girls, but that it can also put the idea in their mind that making the best of circumstances but also the idea of aspiring to something that may seem impossible, like being the big sibling under a very trying circumstances, or something aspirational like being a cartoonist or graphic novelist.
CB: Supernatural creatures are very big now, too. Even Disney Channel has a show called My Babysitter is a Vampire.
Hernandez: Really? I was not aware of that.
CB: Yeah, my twelve year old had the TV on Disney Channel yesterday, and that's an "upcoming show". Of course they're very cute Disney characters, but still.
Hernandez: Yeah American Dragon: Jake Long had a lot of supernatural elements in it too. You know, the sisters in Jake Long? They were a pair of twin oracles. The one with good predictions was depressed, and the other one with bad predictions was very cheerful.
I really loved that because the cheerful one was like "Oh, things are never going to get better so why should I be happy?" and the one with the depressing fortune was, "Things can always get better so I'm happy!" I thought that was a very clever way to turn the trunk right to the ear.
CB: This is your first official all ages book. You worked on several different graphic novels before. Why did you decide to move into something that was a little more all ages, and how is it different working with an all ages as opposed to a slightly more adult audience?
Hernandez: I'm really honestly not sure when; I didn't go into it consciously. I guess as it developed, I realized "You know what? This is the book for everyone." It's been a book for everyone, the younger readers like Scott McCloud, and I'm not sure which one it was, but they were young at the time. One of his daughters wanted a copy of Rumble Girls and so I really wasn't sure because there's some pretty adult subjects in Rumble Girls. So I said "Has she seen all the Buffy the Vampire Slayer and stuff?" She had, so I said "Nothing new in here!"
I would say that Rumble Girls, and Cathedral Child, and Clockwork Angels are for readers reader young adult and up. Just to be on the safe side, where as Killer Princesses is definitely not for kids. Even though my young kid read it. I'm like well, that's my young kid. When she read it I said "There are things in there that you can never unsee, sweetheart." Proceed with caution.
CB: I have to admit that I haven't read Rumble Girls. I've only read summaries of it. It sounds like a really interesting way to explore the way that people really deal with their sexuality and gender role in the world. We're all very fluid.
Hernandez: Definitely. It came in the place of what a different way of how art was perceived. How reviews were written, in fact. How editors would behave towards me even when I was pregnant as opposed to a guy writer who is expecting a child. It was very different.
I was a model when I was a teenager for one year, and it wasn't just a matter of how I looked, that was being judged, it was how I came across socially and I couldn't play the game for shit. It's not that I didn't want to; I was just hopelessly inept and too honest. I was just thinking this the other day, you know, I was the teenage model who was hanging out in the office with Stoner Santa, while the rest are walking around looking pretty. I didn't really have a choice to hang out with Stoner Santa, because I spent the day dressed as a clown.
All the other girls hung in the modeling group in the department store except for one. One who actually wasn't even on the team. All of the other girls that are in gowns and resort wear, and I'm there dressed as a clown. I'm chillin' with Santa and handing out balloons. I'm hanging out with Stoner Santa, so who wants to see her anyhow?
That was the year of the constant blow to my self-esteem. So anyway, I wrote a little bit about my life as a comic-er, and gender roles, and how my good friend, who will remain nameless, who I talked to about this, he said "Try being an ugly guy!" I was someone that he judged to be pretty, that I had an advantage that he didn't because subjectively I was pretty, and subjectively he was not. So even down to that.
CB: It gets all so complicated. So much is about an internal perception, and external perception, and the way that you present yourself. The whole thing is completely fascinating to me.
Hernandez: Well, thanks! Both from a strictly design level; it gave me more work to do. If I have two gender-flopping characters, I've doubled the work right there of designing and costuming. But it was fun. I enjoyed that part a lot. Often I would go "How do I draw that again, and why did I have to design something with all that stuff on it?" What was I thinking?"
CB: Aren't I supposed to ask you questions? I know you're a big Manga fan obviously. I know that gender is a big thing there. The fluidity of gender there is one of the really interesting parts of Manga culture. Do you think that's part of the influence on your work?
Hernandez: I think that I like that, but I think little by little I got more comfortable with that. Like, okay I went from being worried about what are people going to do to “ehhh nuts to them.” I don't care what they think!
I got more belligerent than ever about when the original Rumble Girls was turned down by an editor because of a kiss between two female characters. One of the normal girls, one of them is Tansie the hero, and one of them was Carmen disguised as a boy. So, alright, none of them were a boy, so was it a lesbian kiss or not? It was turned down specifically for that reason, and my answer to the editor to the New York? At that point I've really got nothing left to lose. So I said "wait a minute, what about the other manga?" which is 100% truth. They were publishing a Manga with a jungle girl with breasts bigger than her head. She had a big head, and she wore tight things. Come on, guys. This isn't a real reason. So giant cartoon boobs, okay. Lesbians, not. This was only twenty years ago, it wasn't like it was the '70s.
CB: It's interesting that this whole brouhaha about Marvel and DC with their new discovery of gay characters, with Alan Scott suddenly being gay, and the pseudo-controversy about that. You finally figured out that this is something that people are concerned about? Nice of you to catch up with the '80s, you know?
Hernandez: You know, it's funny I know some parents who are like "meh", then I know parents who are otherwise really loving, kind, wonderful people and I have a friend on the opposite spectrum and they're unbelievably kind and understanding to him, but there's something about gay. It gets really ugly really fast. It actually makes me cry. But it's like well, gays are predators who love themselves. And disabled kids are not.
CB: It's a very bizarre attitude for people to have in my opinion.
Hernandez: I was very, very surprised and very disappointed. As much as I like people, it made going back to the group a real challenge after that. Honestly I didn't really need it. I would have liked to, but I think that as much as I liked how they were with my son and with me, that I couldn't cope with their bad attitude about gay people. So that's what I have to say about that.
CB: Yeah, I'll never understand that mentality personally.
Hernandez: Yeah, although I think there are no gay characters in The Garlicks because no one's come across to me as gay. So I'm like, all right. I'll ask myself a question, why are there no gay characters? Do I create a gay character for the sake of having one, or just leave all that out. That sounds bad.
CB: But that's interesting how diverse you have to be. I don't know how you navigate as an artist, actually, because you want to be realistic, but at the same time you don't want to pander.
Hernandez: Yeah, I think you have to ask yourself over and over again, literally, if you want to be socially conscious, which I do. You have to be ready to ask yourself over and over again, what am I doing? In the process of being socially conscious you have to constantly ask yourself how you're portraying people, and if you're leaving anyone out. That's how I think anyway.
CB: Yes. Interesting position to be in these days. You want to be inclusive. I want to make sure I ask you about Kickstarter. Why did you end up deciding to do this project through Kickstarter?
Hernandez: There seemed to be a lot of support and a lot of people going "If you Kickstart it, I am SO there!" I predicted that this many people said they would do it, there must be more people putting things up. I had pretty ambitious goals: if I had the money to drop webcomics for a year.
Then I thought "Okay what could I possibly get people for their pledges additionally? I have durable goods for their pledges if I'm doing something that pretty much only exists digitally. How can I fix the pixels? So I decided to create the goal with paying myself for the drawing for a year. I would pay myself a page rate, and then at the end of the year I'll publish it. Do one picture for one thing, do another part for something different.
I wasn't quite sure I was comfortable with going back to the well this year asking for money again. So I weighed all my options, and decided the only sensible option there was to make a modest goal and include the incentives. So I set it up, and Kickstarter seemed like a good thing to go to. The fight is really here to help you succeed, but you have great self-direction. If you have something that you're not sure about, they give you schooling, they talk you through everything, they walk you through it and stuff like that. They talk to you about how to make the video, and the video doesn't even have to be fancy.
CB: Right, I've heard videos are really an important part of it from other friends I've heard through that.
Hernandez: The Order of the Stick did not do a video, but I don't think they really have to. Not with, how much pay rate they made with all their stuff. I don't remember. The Order of the Stick made some mind-blowing amount of money without a video.
I think that the answer to how well you do is that it depends on a lot of factors. I found that nothing seems to work as well as just keeping at it. That works for me, I mean some people have to come in with huge fan bases, and they pass their goals quickly. I am not one of those people I have a good fan base. A lot of respect in the professional community, but I don't have a very big fan base. Some people have very eager fan-bases, but that's just not me. They have larger, ridiculously huge fan bases- and I have a smaller but affordable and wonderful fan base that I love very much.
People have actually been really tremendous in helping promote it. I have no complaints. It seems to me with something smaller like mine just takes a lot of work. Which actually is an art, maintaining the Kickstarter. I was feeling bad because I wasn't getting any of the work done. I was struggling to fit in during the comics, and struggling to paint the pictures for comics.
I was feeling like "Wait a minute, where is all of my time going?" and then I read that Amanda Palmer, who had become a Kickstarter millionaire, I read an interview saying that she hadn't done any recording in the whole month she was running her Kickstarter. I was like well, then I felt better because she works really, really hard, and if it's her corner to have her Kickstarter then I don't feel so bad. I was like, I'm not Amanda Palmer, but okay it's not just me. I found that talking privately to other people who are on Kickstarter about that it's not just me. It's exhausting, it could be exhilarating, but also it can be really, really demoralizing.
CB: Well sure. You sit there just watching your dollar amount just sit still or go up very slowly, and you kind of feel like "Where's the love for me, I do a lot of great work!"
Hernandez: Oh, yes. It is very much like that. You really get whipsawed a lot emotionally. I mean, I have been whipsawed a lot. Emotionally, I was talking to somebody I forget what I was talking about and go "Were you nervous the whole time?". They were successful or actually exceeded their goal a bit. But when I asked if they were nervous, they went "Oh my God, yeah!" and I said "Because I'm pretty miserable." It was a lull in the backing, which had redlined, and I was like "My god, I was absolutely freaking miserable here." They would go "It's not just you." When it's going well you're like, “everybody loves me, my goal is in sight,” and when it's not you're like "Why did I do this?" What was I thinking? Was I was completely off my damn rocker to do this?” So yeah, it's all over the place.
CB: This is very interesting feedback, because I've been debating whether to put a project of my own through Kickstarter or not, I was debating whether to go through a professional publisher, and have them accept it and go to the conventional route, or do I want to go through the stress and the hassle of getting it onto Kickstarter. It sounds like Kickstarter is reliable, but it's a heck of a lot of work and I'm worried it's going to just suck a lot of time away.
Hernandez: It is. It's more work to give it a nice strong start. It's so much more work than people realize. So much more. Anyways, I had to go to the doctor I think back in March, but I had an open house with my boyfriend in the season and we decided to see the open house that was for sale, and we were walking through the house looking at it and saw a scale so we wanted to see how much we weighed. I got weighed and I was like "Holy crap, I lost ten pounds working on this!" It's the Kickstarter diet, and I don't recommend it in the least.
There's a whole lot of preparation I think if you want to get off to a really strong start. You have to spend a lot of time before you launch. It was a lot like a book launch. It was a lot like getting a book ready for the printers, and then publicizing it so people would buy it. It was that same level of nerves and nervous energy and preparation for a book launch. It was like that. You have to make every book as good as possible, you have to be a little flexible if things aren't working out, and you have to keep selling, and selling and selling to sell it, because most things are not going to sell.
CB: That's why I had to contact you, because you were so relentless with your selling that I wanted to give you another chance to have the platform to help you get the word out.
Hernandez: Well thank you. I hope it helps. I hope I didn't sound very pitiful, but I'm like- I'm almost at $7000. It might just need to figure out which is a respectable amount of most starters make, which on the average is $6000. So I'm above average, but I'm like okay, where am I going to get that other $33,000?
I think, like having kids and like writing a book, a certain amount of healthy delusion is good. That you're like "Oh I could totally do this." It's not optimism. It's healthy delusion. Because otherwise you wouldn't ever do shit. You wouldn't ever have kids, because as you know, they take away the instruction book before you ever get out of the hospital. I know there is an instruction book somewhere, something that ensures me that if I leave the kid alone in the crib for five minutes just to go to the bathroom that nobody is going to break into the house and snatch her.
CB: Alright, I gotta wrap this up! I have to ask you this one final comic related question because I found an old interview with you where you listed your five favorite comics and just made me happy to know that someone else still remembers these books. You listed Thriller, Mars, American Flagg!, and Alan Moore's Swamp Thing.
Hernandez: Yes, and recently have listed American Flagg!, Mars, Amethyst, Zot!, and I think- well it was a list of ‘what influenced you the most', and one of them was Watchmen, and while I didn't even really care for it. It was kind of mind bending and eye opening.
CB: Yeah, wasn't it? That's the thing is that people who count to it now don't have any idea where we were at that time. It was a complete revolution. I mean, all of those books, and you could include Frank Miller on Daredevil and Ronin especially, as being these creations that were totally different from anything else you can find anywhere.
Hernandez: If you get into the much older comics- those are pretty dark, but to have a company like DC that would publish something was kind of on the miserable, unpleasant level of an EC horror comic or a crime comic, you know that was a big deal for DC. It's ostensibly mainstream, and incredibly, incredibly dark and incredibly violent. Like I said, if there's something you're accustomed to seeing an underground comic or a horror comic for a company that no longer existed. Yeah! It was a big fucking deal.
CB: Yeah, it really felt like a revolution was happening then, and I guess in an effect it kind of did.
Hernandez: Yeah! It changed a lot. It really, really did, and it was kind of cool and reading this and not really having the picture of how big it would be 25 years later. You just go wow, having no clue thinking "I'm not going to be alive for another 10 years!" let alone 26! Then you have to ask yourself the question "Okay, what's going to be remembered when we're in the '00s?" What comic book will we remember?
CB: Yeah, and there's just no way of predicting because a lot of the good stuff from back in the day is forgotten, I mean you mentioned Amethyst, or Mars. No one talks about those.
Hernandez: Amethyst has a cult following. Nobody remembers Mars, and Mars was incredible! And Thriller was very, very different for DC. It was based on an incident that really happened. It was really experimental, and the art it was great and it was totally outside of DC continuity.
CB: It still stands up now. It's still an amazing piece of work.
Hernandez: Oh God, and I loved it so much. "What did she do? What happened!? She fed me!" That will always be funny. Such a good series. It made me really happy.