INTERVIEW: Tini Howard & Gilbert Hernandez Take Aim with Assassinistas

Octavia, the lead character of Tini Howard and Gilbert Hernandez's Assassinistas, is kind of an antiheroine: A former hitwoman, she reunites with two former colleagues to retrieve a kidnapped child and make some money to pay for her son's college tuition.

The six-issue miniseries, part of Shelly Bond's creator-owned Black Crown imprint at IDW Publishing, kicks off in December, and Howard said her take on the unique premise is, "We are playfully pitching the book as 'The Expendables meets Fun Home.'"

CBR met up with Howard (Magdalena) and Hernandez (Love and Rockets) at the IDW booth at Comic-Con International in San Diego to talk about kidnapping insurance, cute babies and the challenges of drawing roller disco -- as well as what this new series will be about.

CBR: Gilbert, this seems like a different sort of comic from what you have been doing lately. How did you get involved with it?

Gilbert Hernandez: I have worked with Shelly Bond, our editor, for many, many years, and she always has quirky ideas of what would work for me. [When she got] Tini's script, Shelly just thought, roller disco, awesome female assassins -- "I'll ask Gilbert!" This is what she tells me. I had time to do a project, I wasn’t doing similar material on my own at the time, so I thought it would be fun.

Roller disco seems like it would be difficult to illustrate.

Hernandez: You have to research the skates, because you forget things like the stopper in the front. Now you can Google everything. In the old days it was difficult.

It's almost like I have to step into the real world. [Tini] will come up with stuff that's just basic stuff for everybody else: They are college kids, it's moving-in day, the dorms, and then there's the roller disco from the flashbacks -- those are things I just don't think about. So it stretches me as a storyteller.

Tini Howard: For me, things like guns and roller discos and katanas and all that are really just fun set-building and window dressing. The comics I've always read and responded to, and the comics I've tried to write, are books like Love and Rockets that are super character-based. Gilbert's the perfect artist to work with on something like this, because if you like guns and girls and action, you'll find stuff here that is fun and visually appealing, but our book is about interpersonal relationships. It's about these three women who have grown up and what's become of them, and how some of them have stayed in touch and others haven't, and their lives have all gone very differently.

The page we showed yesterday was two adult women are talking and one of their kids finds a knife in the other's purse. It's a simple thing, but what that scene is really about is feeling inadequate because you and this other friend have grown up differently, and you feel like she's doing life better than you are, and you're a bad influence in her life.

That's interesting, because that's not something that happens a lot in comics. That's something that happens when you're 30.

Howard: Yeah. Women don't age in comics. We don't get to.

They do in Love and Rockets.

Howard: In books like Love and Rockets they do, but in a lot of books and comics, especially modern comics, women don't age. We are either cute 25-year-olds kicking ass or grandmothers.

Let's pretend there was a prequel to this book. Let's pretend we shut the book on them being action heroes, and we are opening it 20 years later. We get to see our assassinistas back in the past, but the moment you get to know them is the moment their lives start to change. So you're watching the book in two eras. I never put dates on them -- I refer to the two eras in the book as "now" and "then" -- so the book takes place in two timelines, "now" and "then," and that's it. It's very ambiguous.

Time doesn't always feel exact. People ask me when I met my husband, 10 years ago. I can tell you what the weather was like on the day he first told me he loved me, but I'd have to look it up to tell you the date. That's why Gilbert is the best! Love and Rockets is the ultimate book about time and relationships and change.

Hernandez: Here's another thing. I don't often illustrate someone else's script. Discipline comes in, which I don't have. So I relearn discipline.

Howard: We have an editor who is very good at teaching us discipline, too.

Hernandez: Shelly's the type that says "It's your book, you just do it how you want, I'm a hands-off editor." She's the opposite of a hands-off editor. She's so passionate about projects. She loves to get in there and, in a good way, push me.

Howard: [Shelly and I] were on the phone about a script rewrite and she said "You know what this one scene needs, this one scene where they are having a discussion?" and I said, "They should be practicing their firearms aim in the back yard while they were talking," and she's like, "That is exactly what I was going to say!" I knew the right answer and I didn’t do it. They are having this conversation standing in the kitchen. They need to be having it while shooting cans in the back yard. For some reason she and I both knew that was what it needed to be, but it took her getting on the phone with me for me to get there on my own.

Hernandez: Shelly likes to be indulged as well, to pretend she's not asking us to do something, but sometimes she just flat out says, "Draw babies." It's OK, it's fine, we can work it in, it's no problem. And I love drawing babies. I love babies.

Howard: It's never out of the spirit of the book. It's never "Put in a robot." My book The Skeptics is a really weird, quiet period drama, and there's exciting supernatural stuff in it but there's no robots in it, there's no punching, there's no spaceships, and a couple of editors that I took it to were, like, "Can you put punching in it? Can you set it in the '80s?" and I was like, "No, no, no!" Shelly is not going to tell you what to put in the story but she is often able, as a master editor, to look and know what it needs.

Hernandez: Her indulgences are never in the way. They are things you can just sprinkle on there.

Howard: Some of my favorite art so far is the art of Tyler, our little chubby toddler. It's like, "Draw babies," and I'm like, "He's the cutest!" And I put another scene in with a different baby because she's right, I do like the way Gilbert draws babies. I love his chubby little babies!

So the art is feeding back into the script?

Howard: Oh, absolutely. I was having a hard time nailing the tone of the book until Shelly [said] "Gilbert," and then I was like, "Oh God, I hope he says yes because now I can only see it in his art style." Knowing that it was going to be a Gilbert Hernandez book, the whole tone of the book came together. Now I can see everything in his style. I know what kind of looks I've seen in his work before, I know he can nail this emotion, and I want to do something like that and hopefully give him the chance to do something fun and new and not just say "I love all your old work. Do that again!"

Assassinistas is scheduled to debut in December from IDW Publishing's Black Crown imprint.

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