INT: Javier Hernandez

JoBlo here. I'm not sure if this might be a reoccurring thing on our site, but along with Jeb Whitlock's COMIX-TO-FLIX review of the El Muerto comic book this week, he also had the opportunity to speak directly with its creator, Javier Hernandez, for a one-on-one, exclusive for JoBlo.com. Take it away, guys!


-- creator/artist Javier Hernandez --

To start, where'd you find the inspiration for the El Muerto character?

I'd say it started years ago with a stack of classic Marvel and DC Comics my older brother gave me as a kid. Kirby and Ditko comics, Romita's Spider-Man, Neal Adam's DC stuff.  Also Speed Racer would be an influential, believe it or not.

But it was about 8-9 years ago that I was getting the bug to really publish my own comics. Friends of mine were publishing their own books (Pablo's Inferno, Sonambulo, el Gato Crime Mangler) and I did the old, "Well, they're doing it, so I should be able to also" thing!  I was also really inspired by Mike Allred's Madman, as well as a couple of guys, Carlos Saldana and Richard Dominguez, self-publishing their own Latino-flavored comics.

I knew I wanted to create a character that would draw from Aztec mythology as well as the Day of the Dead, that uniquely Mexican celebration of life after death. Thus, Diego de la Muerte a.k.a. el Muerto, was born. Or, died.  Returned from the dead?

Were you approached about having the book adapted as a film?

Boy, here's a story that rivals that of a guy getting snatched out existence by a pair of Aztec gods!

I was interviewed by NPR at San Diego Comic Con. A week or so later, they aired the segment. Turns out my future director, Brian Cox, heard it and was intrigued by the concept of el Muerto. He contacted me and we met, had a lengthy discussion about the character and the direction of the story. At the time, I had only
printed el Muerto's origin story in a very limited black &

white ‘zine, but Brian had seen the potential in the character as a film property.

So, this meeting led to Brian contacting an associate of his, independent producer Larry Rattner, about approaching me with an offer to make an el Muerto film. As it turns out, Larry had just met a group of investors who were interested in financing a film. So Larry convinced the Leones , Bruno and his sons Dan and Rich, to enter into a partnership with him and finance an el Muerto film. Mind you, there was no script written at the time, just his origin story!

How much were you involved with the film on a creative level?

Well, here's another example of luck and good fortune being on my side!  Plus it's something I expressed to Brian in our first meeting.  My biggest fear was always that once I signed the contract, I would not want el Muerto to slip away from me as things started moving along. Brian and Larry assured me that this would not be the case, and it turns out my involvement in the entire production has been collaborative every step of the way. As the Associate Producer of the picture, as well as the creator of the source material, I was definitely kept in the mix!

I actually showed up to the filming every single day, from first call to the last shot of the day (often evening or morning!). Our key department heads, (make-up, art production, wardrobe) were all wonderful artists to work with. And the catering was absolute top notch!

Would you call the film a translation of the comic book, ala Sin City , or more an adaptation, representative of the book's ideas?

Sin City , like American Splendor, has certainly been the high water mark in terms of bringing a comic artist's vision to film.

The El Muerto film I would call an adaptation to the screen. Brian, who also wrote the screenplay, had to take my 32 page origin story and create a feature length screenplay. We talked over several ideas I had for future Muerto stories, and bounced around some ideas for the script, but he definitely brought his own ideas and themes into his script.

I would get a copy of each draft and weigh in with my comments. My primary, initial concern was the character of Diego/El Muerto. How the character was presented, outside of my hands so to speak, was something I kept my eye on closely. Of course I wanted the whole story, and the other characters, to be written as best as possible.  But I remember getting the first draft and thinking to myself, "Wow, let's see what Diego's like!"

Of course, while I was fully involved with the film, I also realized that these people are filmmakers, and you have to let them do their jobs. An artist does his best work when creating from inside his/her own head. The best way I can put it would be that we all collaborated together, I expressed my views as the creator, and everyone contributed to the film.

Do you expect this to help broaden the fan base of the book?

I read Doug Tennapel (Tommysaurus Rex, Creature Tech) write something like "you draw something that 1000's read, and it turns into something that millions see." Now, I'm not even talking here about the film being next summer's Spider-Man (not against it, mind you!), but just as a film project starring a well-known star like Wilmer Valderrama, of course lots more people will be made aware of the character.

With this film, we've adapted a character from a comic book, yes. But we've also created a new screen character, that's a thrill! I hope el Muerto becomes a popular film hero, and a more popular comic book character.

It's been great telling my readers about the film's development. Their enthusiastic response and the well wishes they give are wonderful. I just love the fact that this film came from a small press, independent book, that's been very inspiring to people. And I'm especially grateful it was mine!

What do you think of Wilmer Valderrama as Diego? Was/Would he have been your first choice?

The guy's great. He loves the character and the script, and he's really invested himself in the role el Muerto. It's obviously a different character from the popular Fez, and it's allowed him to do different things as an actor. I remember the first time I saw him in the full costume and make-up. It was the second day of filming, I think. We were in the church at the San Fernando Mission, and he walked into that darkened set and I thought, 'Ohmigod. There he is, el Muerto.'
Very ironic being in that church at that moment.

We only had a few choices on our list, which says a lot about the media in general. But I always thought he would be a good choice because it would be so unpredictable to pick 'Fez' as el Muerto. And he just has the perfect look for the character, as well as bringing a great personality to Muerto.

One of my favorite moments occurred while filming in East L.A. During a break in filming, Wilmer, in full costume, was talking to some of the neighborhood kids, signing their Muerto comics I had given them (that was a first, his and my autographs on my comics!). One of the kids asked him why was he playing this role. Wilmer, signing away, told him matter-of-factly, "Well, they won't offer me Spider-Man or Batman, but they'll offer me el Muerto." Standing next to him in East Los Angeles, talking to those Mexican kids on the set of the Muerto movie, his words were illuminating.

Stylistically, what can we expect from this film?

A sharp little indie film, featuring a new, comic book screen hero. A film populated with rich characters played by an eclectic cast of actors. We incorporate Aztec mythology in a medium that rarely uses it. A story that balances thrills with it's romantic epicenter, and it's questions of faith, life and death. And hey, the lead character is
basically a zombie superhero with miraculous supernatural powers, decked out in a sharp little Mariachi outfit!

Concerning the Aztec gods (which are visually very impressive in the comic), are they portrayed with CGI or practical effects (or a combination of both)?

A combination of practical effects and CGI. Also, the gods took a little bit of adapting from what is seen in the comic, to what we could do on screen. Or I could say what would look good on screen. Part of the adaptation process is knowing what works on a printed comic page, and what fits in with the style/tone of the live-action elements on film. Our director Brian Cox found a creative solution. And the scene where Diego finds himself before the god of death, and the
whole sacrificial ceremony, was my favorite scene to see filmed. That was always the scene I looked forward to most, as it literally gets to the whole heart of what turns Diego into el Muerto.

The comic book's pretty graphic in parts; are we expecting a decisive R rating here?

Graphic? Gee, I must be a barbarian. I didn't think it was graphic. Well, you must mean the whole 'primitive heart surgery' thing! We definitely wanted to keep the film PG-13. Family friendly, but still edgy and thrilling.

Anything cool we should look out for in particular?

Glad you asked! Course, I probably would have told you anyway...

I've got my obligatory creator cameo. This is something I asked my director for way back before the script was written. So, as I was reading the first draft, the part I wanted to play leapt out at me. And
yes, it's a speaking part, and more importantly, it's with Wilmer in full Muerto make-up and costume. Filming my debut acting role was quite the tale. (Hmm. Could make a good DVD extra, huh?) But, the short story is I pulled it off, my director said I did good, and it's made the first cut of the film!

I didn't necessarily seek out a speaking role, but it was in the perfect spot in the film. I remembered Todd McFarlane climbing out of a pile of garbage in Spawn and thought I should have a more dignified cameo!

Are you worried that people will write this off as an updated version of The Crow?

Well, I've heard initial Crow comparisons online, and I can understand that based on a visual basis. But our story, drawing from Mexican folklore and Aztec mythology, is about a guy getting abducted by the gods of death and destiny, and fighting against their will. And his look is inspired directly from the Dia de los Muertos celebrations.

Are you hoping to see a sequel or franchise develop out of this project?

We've certainly discussed the desirability of that. A comic book movie franchise is one of  Hollywood's trademarks nowadays. "The El Muerto Trilogy DVD Boxed Set" kind of has a nice ring to it!  And of course, "El Muerto, the Re-Animated Series" works for me, too.

Any other projects that you're working on we can expect to/you would like to see adapted as film?

Can't show you just yet, but next year, I promise!

You can check out Javier Hernandez's website RIGHT HERE.

Source: JoBlo.com



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