Thursday, April 26, 2012

Creators’ Corner: Javier Hernandez

Xochipilli, the Aztec god of art, must have been looking over the shoulder of Javier Hernandez when the comic book artist unveiled his latest work El Muerto: The Aztec Zombie at the 1998 Alternative Press Expo. In 2007, this story of a young man sacrified by an ancient death god and later returned to earth was adapted into the film El Muerto: The Dead One starring Wilmer Valderrama. In addition to cartooning, Hernandez teaches comic book workshops and is the co-founder of the Latino Comics Expo (May 5 and 6 in San Francisco). Check him out at

How did you develop the idea for El Muerto?

It began back in the late ’90s. I had wanted to do my own comic for awhile—one that involved Aztec mythology and the Mexican Dia de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead). I focused on the archetype of a cursed hero and eventually spun out the story of Diego de la Muerte and his abduction and transformation at the hands of Mictlantecuhtli, the god of death.

What brought about the movie?

In 2001, a reporter from NPR interviewed me about the comic while I was exhibiting at San Diego Comic-Con. The segment aired a few weeks later and caught the attention of independent filmmaker Brian Cox, who contacted me about purchasing copies of the book. He invited me to his production office, where we talked at length about the entire backstory of El Muerto. He also let me know that he was interested in developing the comic as a film and put me in contact with producer Larry Rattner, who liked the idea as well. So we had a property, a writer/director, a producer, and one cartoonist definitely willing to see how far it would go.

The cast includes some recognizable names and faces. What was it like to have Wilmer Valderrama on board as well as Joel David Moore and Maria Conchita Alonso?

Once several drafts of the screenplay had been produced, we tossed around Wilmer’s name for the role of Diego. This was when That 70s Show was at the height of its popularity, so when Brian told me that Wilmer was keen on the project, 
I had to pinch myself. During production, I went to his trailer to give him a birthday drawing I had done. As I was leaving, he called out to me, “Hey, Javier, are you happy with the way I’m playing the character?” I assured him that I was. I thought that was a great moment.

I was in the production office when Joel David Moore came in to screen test for the part of Diego’s best friend Zak. Brian introduced me as the creator of the comic. Joel mentioned that he had just finished filming Art School Confidential. When I noted that he was moving up in the comic book film world, he replied “Yeah, and next time I’ll get to play Jimmy Olsen.”

It was pretty exciting meeting the cast. W
hen I told MarĂ­a Conchita Alonso that the film was based on my work, she showed me one of her CDs that her son had created the cover art for. Michael Parks . . . well, that was total highlight. I actually got to pick him up at his home on the first day of filming. Mind you, this was a small budget film. He was the most down-to-Earth fellow you could ever meet—a true gentleman and a great storyteller.

Any thoughts of a sequel?

That’s one of the most frequent questions I’m asked—and it’s nice to be asked. Larry and Brian have both talked to me about it over the years, but there’s nothing on the horizon right now. As with any film, it’s mostly a case of finances.

Besides El Muerto, what are your favorite live-action films based on a comic book or cartoon?

Ha! ‘Besides’. . . nice. Just the other day, I was talking to a friend about Superman. To me, it remains the quintessential superhero movie. I love the timeless opening theme, true life superhero Christopher Reeve, and the 
amazingly brilliant Gene Hackman as Lex Luthor. My second pick has to be Spider-Man. It was so nice to see my favorite character brought to the screen, along with an appearance by the late, great Macho Man Randy Savage. Rounding out the list would be American Splendor. Harvey Pekar’s story really connects with those of us who are passionate about making comics and the way in which the filmmakers chose to tell the story was fresh and innovative.

Who would you like to see cast in your own biopic?

Maybe Oliver Platt? Alfred Molina? I don’t know . . . What about Wilmer Valderrama? Cover him with make-up and give him foam padding like DiCaprio in J. Edgar. Next question, please!

(Images courtesy Javier Hernandez)

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