Born March 11, 1964 (Alameda, California)
American author, artist
"With Rumble Girls, Lea Hernandez has once again shown exactly what a creative woman in comics can do."
REVIEWER BARB LIEN-COOPER
Most readers of comic books appreciate the chance to throw themselves into uproarious adventure fantasy. Many imagine themselves as a powerful hero who steps from behind a secret identity to save the day. Lea Hernandez's dreams went beyond imagining that she was the hero in the comics she read. Growing up during the 1960s and early 1970s, when women's job choices were often limited to a mother, a nun, or a checker at the grocery store, Hernandez wanted to tell stories with pictures. More, she wanted to create heroes like herself—female, creative, and strong in the face of difficult experiences. Inspired by the anime (Japanese animation) that she had watched as a child, she began to create her own comics, filled with complex characters and subtle plot development. These stories, with names like Rumble Girls and Killer Princesses (co-created with Gail Simone), are filled with a rich combination of adventure, romance, and social satire. They entertain a wide variety of readers in the best traditional comic style. They also fulfill one of Hernandez's most important goals as an artist: they have spread beyond comic stores and into bookstores, where thousands of female readers have discovered them.
Born in Alameda, California, on March 11, 1964, Lea Hernandez spent her early years living on the U.S. Navy base, N.A.S. Lemore. When she was five years old, her father left the Navy and the family moved to Texas, where young Lea grew up in Garland, a suburb of Dallas. Her mother was an artist who demonstrated her creativity in everything from commercial art jobs to elaborate Christmas decorations for the family home. Her father was an engineer for Texas Instruments who later worked in technology manufacturing. In his leisure time, her father enjoyed riding his motorcycle and in later years became an amateur drag racer. Young Lea was influenced by both her mother's artistic talent and her father's thirst for thrills, she related in an interview with Graphic Novelists (GN).
Cathedral Child (1998, 2002).
Clockwork Angels (1999, 2003).
(With Gail Simone) Killer Princesses (2002).
Rumble Girls: Silky Warrior Tansie (2004).
Manga Secrets (2005).
Hernandez spent her early years in a Catholic elementary school that was taught by nuns. This fairly sheltered beginning left her feeling isolated when she entered a public middle school. Her classmates, who had attended public school for years, seemed more worldly and sophisticated, and they often picked on other students, like Lea, who were different. Determined to make a place for herself, Hernandez made friends with other outcasts, students who, because of race or disability, were snubbed by their classmates. She often found herself spending her school days counting the hours until art class, where she felt comfortable.
Contributing to the difficulty of her school years, Hernandez herself had a hidden disability, a condition that wouldn't be diagnosed until later in her life: attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). People with ADHD often have difficulty concentrating and paying attention. Children with ADHD may have an especially hard time in school, where students are expected to sit still and focus their attention for long periods of time. At the time when Hernandez was in school, however, little was known about ADHD, and it wasn't until the late 1980s that treatments had been developed. Though ADHD made Hernandez's school years tough, it also gave her a bright and active mind; she could invent complex stories and had the energy to put those stories on paper in hundreds of detailed drawings.
Discovers Japanese animation
While still a young child, Hernandez fell in love with the animated cartoon shows she saw on television. Though she loved early Disney creations like 101 Dalmatians and Bambi, her favorite cartoons were those created by Rankin/Bass, an animation studio founded during the early 1960s by Arthur Rankin, Jr. and Jules Bass. Rankin/Bass produced such holiday specials as Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Frosty the Snowman. Many of the Rankin/Bass productions were animated by Top Craft, a Japanese animation studio. Hernandez was immediately drawn to the Japanese cartoon style. She loved the way movement was portrayed and liked the endearing quality of the big-eyed characters.
As Japanese animation, or anime, began to find its way onto American television, Speed Racer became Lea Hernandez's new favorite. Speed Racer had started as a Japanese manga, or comic book, called Mach Go Go Go. Dubbed in English for American television, it enthralled Hernandez with the simplicity of its lines and the depth of its characterizations. Cartoons made in the United States tended to follow a predictable formula. The characters remained basically the same from show to show: each episode, they embarked on an adventure or solved a mystery, then ended up back where they had started. In Speed Racer, the characters changed and grew and experienced difficult emotions like anger. Plots were interesting and surprising and often developed slowly, through several episodes.
Hernandez had drawn pictures from her earliest childhood, often copying her favorite animated characters. She decided she did not want a career in animation, however, because she thought that she would get bored drawing the same picture over and over, changing only tiny things to produce the illusion of movement. Her family's budget had not allowed her to buy many comic books, but she had read and loved them on long car trips. She was especially drawn to girl heroines, like Batgirl, and she determined that she would create comics with the heroines and stories that she wanted to read.
Works in the comics studios
After graduating from high school in 1982, Hernandez attended various Texas colleges. She began her college career close to home at Richland Community College in Dallas, transferred to East Texas State University, and then moved back to her parents' home in Garland and began to commute to North Texas State University (now the University of North Texas). At every school, she studied illustration. However, her still-undiagnosed ADHD and her difficult experiences in school had left her with little confidence in her work. She became so nervous that she was often physically ill at exam time.
In 1982, Hernandez entered a comic book store for the first time. There she discovered alternative comics, such as Elfquest and American Flagg, which revealed exciting new possibilities in the medium of comics. In 1983, she read a book called Manga! Manga! by Fred Schodt. Schodt's book introduced Hernandez to Japanese manga, comic books that echoed the simplicity of design and complexity of character and plot that she had loved in the Japanese anime she had watched on television. Hernandez developed a new ambition—to be a manga artist.
Eventually, she began to feel that attending college classes was only postponing her career. A friend who was an editor told her about a manga letterer named Wayne Truman who lived near her Texas home, and she found the courage to seek a job as an assistant letterer. Truman hired her to work on Xenon, a comic published by Eclipse/Viz. Comics letterers are the artists who put the dialog into word balloons, write in sound effects, draw in panel borders, and often fill in large areas of black in the artwork. As an apprentice letterer, Hernandez pasted in lettering and retouched artwork, a job that required considerable artistic skill.
The Texas steampunks
In 1985, Hernandez had begun work on her own projects, the comics that would become the graphic novels Cathedral Child, Clockwork Angels, and Rumble Girls. Though creating these books quickly became Hernandez's most involving and satisfying work, she was not able to find a publisher for them until the late 1990s. In the meantime, she supported herself working as a manga retouch artist and rewriter, occasionally adding to her income by working as a security guard. In 1989, she moved to California to be closer to a center of comic publishing. She took her work to studio after studio, seeking a job as an artist. She was hired for freelance assignments by several publishers, including Disney, Marvel, Dark Horse, Eclipse, and Viz.
Cathedral Child and Clockwork Angels became the first two "Texas steampunk" novels. Steampunk is a comic art term that refers to science fiction tales set during the 1800s. Originating with such works as the 1954 Walt Disney film of Jules Verne's science fiction novel 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and William Gibson and Bruce Sterling's The Difference Engine (1990), steampunk stories assume an alternate reality in which fantastic inventions exist alongside the simpler technology of the Victorian Era (1837–1901). The term steampunk is a lighthearted take-off of the term cyberpunk, which describes a rebellious computer-centered science fiction. Where modern fantasies revolve around computer technology, the Victorian science fiction is powered by steam.
Hernandez set her steampunk books in an alternate past, that of 1890s Texas, because she loved the rich diversity of Texas history. As she said in an interview with Karin Kross: "The state's history is so rich, so full of characters, so full of both good and bad. We had our own alien invasion (by which I mean spacemen, not immigrants). The Texas Rangers (the lawmen, not the baseball team).…There's a bottomless well to draw from!" Cathedral Child is a romantic adventure dominated by Cathedral, an elaborate thinking machine named for the building it inhabits. Clockwork Angels continues the story, following the adventures of two fairly minor characters from Cathedral Child. Hernandez's Japanese-influenced art style lends itself perfectly to the magical steampunk stories, giving the characters and the enormous ancient computer a dreamy and romantic quality. She moves the story along quickly by the use of many irregularly shaped panels on the page, adding a dynamic sense of action. In some sections she abandons the use of panels to give a more expansive feeling, as in Cathedral Child when the machine Cathedral begins to discover itself as a personality.
In her other graphic novel series, Rumble Girls, Hernandez has created another alternate reality, one that allows her to sharply satirize such aspects of modern society as gender roles, corporate media, and celebrity worship. Unlike the steampunk books, Rumble Girls is clearly futuristic, portraying a high-tech society where a major form of entertainment involves watching competitions between fighters wearing oversized, robotic armor. In the first Rumble Girls graphic novel, Silky Warrior Tansie, the heroine, Raven Tansania Ransom, is an outcast at her exclusive boarding school, much as Hernandez herself had been. Raven's skill at fighting in the robotic "HardSkin" wins her a role in a popular TV action soap opera. This complex setup allows Hernandez to poke fun at many aspects of high school, celebrity, and popular culture.
True to her Japanese manga roots, Hernandez develops the characters in Rumble Girls with complexity and depth. While the artwork has the appealing cuteness associated with manga, the satire has a perceptive bite that comes from the artist's own experiences. Hernandez has filled Rumble Girls with challenging details, from the post-modern technology that serves as background detail, to the use of the Unifon alphabet (a forty-letter alternative alphabet based on phonetic sounds), to characters who change identity and gender from time to time.
Comics on the Web
During the 1990s, as use of the Internet expanded and developed, comic artists began to post their comics on the Web. Improved browsers made web viewing of comic graphics more and more accessible, and comics like Doctor Fun, Where the Buffalo Roam, and Netboy were widely viewed. Web comics had many advantages over print—they were easy and inexpensive to distribute to a large audience and there was no censorship or publisher control of the comic's content.
Comic portals like Keenspot and Modern Tales offer sites where viewers can see the latest installment of their favorite comic adventure. Some comic sites are free and some charge a subscription fee, but even artists on free sites can earn money for their comics, with web "tip jars," where appreciative viewers can leave money with a credit card.
In addition to her work as editor of the female-oriented Girlamatic Web site, Lea Hernandez pioneered another way that comic artists can use the Internet. Hernandez began to promote herself by publishing the first ten pages of her books on the Web, allowing buyers for comic stores and bookstores to see a sample of her work at no charge. Readers could access the pages as well, giving them a chance to begin a story online and then finish it when they bought the book.
While earning her living at various studio jobs, Hernandez tried to sell her own work to publishers during the early and mid-1990s. Two different companies expressed interest, but things did not work out with either of them. Finally, in 1997, just as Hernandez had decided to self-publish her work on the Internet, Image Comics agreed to publish Cathedral Child, followed by Clockwork Angels, which Hernandez had finished after moving back to Texas in 1999. In 2000, Image began to publish Rumble Girls in serial form, followed in 1998 by a graphic novel version of Clockwork Angels.
Hernandez and Image publisher Jim Valentino decided to try an innovative format for her graphic novels. Instead of printing them in the usual American comic book size, they released the Texas steampunk stories in the smaller, paperback-book-sized format most commonly used in Japan for manga. Hernandez liked the smaller size because it made her graphic novels appear more like books and less like thick comics.
Though these Image publications did fairly well, true success of her Texas steampunks came when Hernandez moved them to Cyberosia Publishing. Cyberosia re-released Cathedral Child and Clockwork Angels, greatly improving the reproductions of Hernandez's artwork. Also, Cyberosia made an effort to place Hernandez's works into bookstores, not just comic book stores. "Girls don't go to comic stores, they go to bookstores," she said to Daniel Robert in an interview on the Suicide Girls Web site. Traditionally, comic book stores have been eccentric, male-oriented establishments. Girls often did not feel comfortable in this type of comic store, but they quickly discovered the Texas steampunk novels on the graphic novel shelves of their local bookstores. The first printing of Cathedral Child quickly sold out.
In 2004, Rumble Girls: Silky Warrior Tansie was published by NBM, one of the oldest and largest graphic novel publishers in the United States. NBM felt that Hernandez's book would be an important "American manga" title that would help them sell more comic books to girls.
Hernandez lives in Texas with her husband and two children. She has continued to bring her intricately crafted combinations of humor, romance, and girl power to a wide variety of readers. In addition to illustrating comic books and graphic novels for other writers, she has begun the next installments of the Texas steampunks and Rumble Girls, continuing to tell the stories that she wanted to read as a girl. In March 2003, she became the editor of Girlamatic, a branch of the Web comics site Modern Tales, which highlights comics that appeal to a female audience.
For More Information
School Library Journal (August 2004): p. 148.
Atchison, Lee. "Romancing the Industry: Lea Hernandez." Sequential Tart. http://www.sequentialtart.com/archive/feb99/hernandez.shtml (accessed on May 3, 2006).
Contino, Jennifer M. "Rumble Girlamatic: Lea Hernandez." http://www.sequentialtart.com/archive/mar03/leahernandez.shtml (accessed on May 3, 2006).
Epstein, Daniel Robert. "Lea Hernandez: Creator of Rumble Girls." Suicide Girls. http://suicidegirls.com/words/Lea+Hernandez+-+Rumble+Girls/ (accessed on May 3, 2006).
Girlamatic. http://www.girlamatic.com (accessed on May 3, 2006).
Kross, Karin L. "An Interview with Lea Hernandez." Bookslut. http://www.bookslut.com/features/2003_11_000970.php (accessed on May 3, 2006).
"Lea Hernandez." Web Comics Nation. http://www.webcomicsnation.com/divalea/nlexd/series.php (accessed on May 3, 2006).
Lien-Cooper, Barb. "Rumble Girls: Silky Warrior Tansie." Sequential Tart. http://www.sequentialtart.com/reports.php?ID=2998&issue=2004-03-01 (accessed on May 3, 2006).
Steampunk. http://www.geocities.com/SoHo/9094/STEAM.html (accessed on May 3, 2006).
Additional information for this profile was obtained through an interview with Lea Hernandez on August 13, 2005.