TAEM interview with Comic book Creator Elvin Hernandez

Elvin-Hernandez-TeachingTAEM- Recently The Arts and Entertainment Magazine & THE EERIE DIGEST attended the Baltimore Comic-Con and came away with quite a few avenues for us to explore. Comic books are a form of graphic novels, both of which our magazines hold great interest in. These fields have a great following and many artists and writers are flocking to their front lines to demonstrate their abilities.

One attendee to the show was comic book creator Elvin Hernandez whose outstanding concepts in The Solution left us in awe. Elvin, how do you classify your work? Would it be proper to say it is a comic book or a graphic novel?

EH- As of now, it’s a continuing comic book series rather than a full on graphic novel, though the original concept does have a beginning, middle and end; this makes it a bit different than your standard superhero story which tends to be about the continuing adventures of a recurring character.

The-Beat-Down-CoverTAEM- We understand that your work on this is not only as a creator but as a writer and artist as well. Where did you learn your craft and how did you gain interest in this field?

EH- I’ve loved comics my entire life; I learned how to read with comics and eventually learned English with the help of comics (I’m originally from Puerto Rico and, though I did go to an English speaking school, the constant practice applied through comics helped me understand the language better.) I just loved the idea of communication through imagery, and I fell in love with the medium and its colorful characters. As I got older, I knew I wanted to be involved with art in one way or another, so I went to the Interamerican University of Puerto Rico to study fine arts (I also studied marketing as a dual major, which became very useful later on in life when trying to promote and sell my work). I had a great time in college, but missed the storytelling aspect of the comic (something that was shunned a bit in the more traditional artistic environment I found myself in), so I was really happy when I learned that The Savannah College of Art and Design had a Masters program for Sequential Art. After arriving at the school, I suddenly realized that, though I learned quite a lot about anatomy and the human figure, I still had no clue as to how to tell a visually interesting story, so I basically had to start my education again from square one. Still, it was an amazing experience, and it helped me become a stronger draftsman and storyteller.

The-Solution-CoverTAEM- Please tell us the theme behind The Solution and the genre that the story is written in.

EH- The Solution is technically a superhero story, but I honestly thought of it as a horror story; The initial idea behind it being that, if a real life caped figure actually showed up and did crazy things like lifting cars or flying, our natural reaction would probably be less of a “hooray!” type feeling, and rather fall under the category of massive freak out. I just had a notion that the reason we all know and love someone like Superman is because we get to see his story from a personal point of view (we get the story from his perspective, and we understand his intentions.) If viewed from outside, the concept of a Superman is actually really scary, and surrounding a character like this with a shade of mystery adds a heavy sense of uncertainty to his/her actual motivations, creating some fun storytelling opportunities.

TAEM- Describe the protagonists in the story and how you chose the characters.

EH- Though the comic itself is called The Solution, the focal character in the story is Agatha Dunlop, a disgraced police detective whose partner has been presumed missing/dead for quite some time. Through the first issue (and our second issue, yet to be published) we learn that she had more than a professional relationship with her partner, making her loss even more devastating. It’s through her eyes that we see the world’s reaction to the nine beings that suddenly appear floating in different cities around the world (including DC, where she’s located.) However, as (and if) the series progresses, we will be seeing other characters take center stage, providing different viewpoints for the narrative along with different (and diverse) reactions to our story’s events.

TAEM- With many college students, as well as writers and students of the Arts, who follow us, please tell us about your creation and how you published it.

EH- Well, The Solution was an idea I had many years ago (back in college in Puerto Rico, actually) but it only started to gel together within the last ten years. Part of the idea (which I guess gives away one of the major plot points prepared for the first story arc) is that though The Solution are people, they are also a collective of judges, finding different planets that have potential for growth or threat, and giving them a time frame/kill point for them to change or face final judgment (hence the name The Solution). Anyway, though the idea was kind of hazy, I still had enough to try and pitch it, and it just so happened that Platinum Press was having a competition in which applicants could pitch original ideas in order to win a contract for publication (I believe this was at the San Diego Comic Con of 2006, but I might be wrong). Thanks to some financial help from both my family, I was able to travel to the Con and, though I didn’t win, I placed as a finalist which boosted my confidence a bit. Shortly thereafter I got a job at the Art Institute of Washington under my department chair, Bryan Tillman. Bryan and I were friends from college and he knew of my work, so one night we found ourselves talking shop, and the pitch came up. Bryan, who actually runs a comics/games studio (Kaiser Studio Productions) decided that the project was strong enough to publish, so he commissioned a first issue, got me a colorist, and off to the races we went.

Elvin-Hernandez-at-boothTAEM- Will The Solution become part of a series, and where could our readership find it?

EH- To learn more about the Solution, as well as other projects and artists from Kaiser Studio, you can go to kaiserstudio.net. You can also go to my DeviantArt page: elvinhernandez.deviantart.com.

The book does have a second issue completely done, and it should be published in the immediate future. However, the concept right now has been put on hold as it will be part of another project I’m developing with Bryan Tillman called Rise, which will be a self-contained graphic novel that will revisit some of the ideas/concepts presented within The Solution from a different perspective. We will be making an announcement by the end of the year, so please check ours sites for details!

TAEM- We learned that your work also extends to the advertising field as well. Tell us about this aspect of your life, and some of the clients that you worked with.

EH- In terms of Advertising, I’ve worked less in the creation/development of an advertising campaign, and rather more in the promotional side. For example, I worked with Toys R’ Us on an online comic for the T.R.U.E. Heroes line of action figures, which was meant to complement the series (I also did box art/designs for their toy packages.) I’ve also done some logo work for smaller companies and firms back home, but mostly I’ve been keeping busy with collectible card work from Upper Deck, Cryptozoic, and Ritten House, as well as projects with Kaiser Studio, and a high-concept comic proposal called The BeatDown, written by Mike Hansen (details on all of these projects can be viewed at elvinhernandez.deviantart.com.)

See-the-Action-Book-CoverTAEM- You also wrote an instructional book Set the Action. Tell our readers about it and where they can find it.

EH- Set The Action! Is a book on background design meant for the media arts (comics, animation, gaming, and so on) from Focal Press. It provides basic information on design/perspective, going over the basic rules of layout, and then goes further by applying those concepts towards visual storytelling. My basic focus was to treat the development of environments as that of characters in a story (which, in fact, they are.) To this end, I tried to include all the things I try to teach my students, including a little bit of historical context as well as some of the movements in architecture/fine art (such as German Expressionism, Art Deco, and Bauhaus) that have influenced The Media Arts not only in the last century but up to today and beyond. Each chapter also includes a page or two of a continuing comic narrative about a character named Felix Fahrenheit, a wrestling champion who doubles as a secret agent on the lookout for a mysterious artifact. I’m hoping the comic provides a connection with the lessons taught as well as their implementations (and, as I’ve joked with my students, part of my selling point is that you no longer have to sneak a comic book into your textbook for class… because this book already provides one for you!) The book is available at focalpress.com, amazon.com, and barnesandnoble.com as well as most book retail sites, so please check it out (and leave me a comment! I’d love to hear what you think of it.)

ai_wash_logoTAEM- We also understand that you are a faculty member at The Art Institute of Washington. Please tell us about your school and what your work entails there.

EH- I am part of the Media Arts &Animation Department at The Art Institute of Washington, which offers both associate and bachelor degrees in subjects ranging from media arts and design, to fashion and culinary arts. Within my department, I’ve taught classes such as Background and Character Design, Team Production, Storyboarding, and Writing for Animators. Though I tend to teach mostly pre-production elements (a lot of storytelling and design aspects), I also teach courses dealing with professional development (creating a business identity, dealing with contracts, and so on), as well as special topics courses that go further into Background Design, and of course Comics. It’s a pretty fun job actually, and I get to be surrounded by art all day, while at the same time providing me with challenges to keep things interesting! I still get to do my own artwork on my off hours, and some of the projects I take on tend to influence some of the assignments I give my students, so it all stays connected.

Elvin-Hernandez-ClassTAEM- How do you, and the school, promote artists in the field of graphic art, and where can our readership members contact you?

EH- We try to offer as many opportunities as possible for the students to present their work in professional environments, as well as provide activities and in-house clubs that help students to hone their skills, prep their portfolio, and start the ever necessary networking process that’s so vital to the young professional. Clubs like the Animation Club (2D-3D), the Comics 101 Workshop, and the recently announced Manga/Comics Club allow students to work together on projects, watch demos by industry professionals, fellow students and alumni, and prepare work towards animation showcases throughout the school year. We also have a department run convention called GigaCon, which brings in industry professionals from the world of comics, gaming, animation and film, thus offering students the opportunity to watch them work on their craft, get portfolio reviews and participate in panels or discussions (past guests have included David Finch, Sara Richard, Freddy Williams II, and David Silva. Our next one will take place at the campus on November 16th and 17th.) If anyone wishes more info on some of the activities I mentioned, or just want to hear a bit more about the school, our toll free number is (877) 303-3771 (artinstitutes.edu/Arlington) or just contact me at eahernandez@aii.edu, and I’ll try to help you myself or pass you along to someone who can.

TAEM- Elvin, we want to thank you for your time with us in this interview, and I am sure that our readership will be very interested about your field of work. I do hope that your school will participate closely with us in the future so those interested in creating graphic novels may apply with them.

   TAEM