Children’s publisher Toon Books is marking its 10th anniversary with the release of The Dragon Slayer: Folktales from Latin America, a bilingual graphic novel for young readers by Jaime Hernandez, co-creator of the acclaimed Love and Rockets indie comics series.
The book, which launches today, includes a story adapted by co-author Alma Flor Ada and an introduction by co-author F. Isabel Campoy. The Dragon Slayer is being published simultaneously in hardcover and paperback, and in English- and Spanish-language editions.
An Eisner and Harvey Award-winning cartoonist, Jaime Hernandez, along with his brother Gilbert (the two are informally known as Los Bros), was inducted into the Will Eisner Hall of Fame last year for their work on Love and Rockets, the comics series aimed at adults that launched in 1981.
While Jaime’s comics have often included passages designed to resemble kids’ comics, The Dragon Slayer will be his first work conceived and produced specifically for children. During a Skype interview from his studio in California, Hernandez said that Toon Book publisher Françoise Mouly asked him to do a kids’ books years ago. Children’s authors Ada and Campoy, who are also Latin American literary scholars, were brought in to adapt one of the stories for Hernandez, and to provide an introduction and overview of the stories and their place in Latin American culture.
“I held off for years [doing a children’s comic] but I thought now was the time to do it,” Hernandez told PW. “I have kid [characters] in my adult comics, but they play by my rules. Now that I’m writing for children, I’m playing by their rules. I was a little nervous because now I’m speaking directly to kids and to the parents who will let them read [the book].”
The Dragon Slayer is the title story in this collection of classic folk tales from Mexico. The three stories were chosen by Hernandez in consultation with Mouly, who supplied him with a reference book, Latin Folk Tales from Around the World, from which to choose the works. Hernandez says he has always been interested in Latin American folk tales, but the three stories selected were “all new to me. I had never read any of them, but they had that ring of truth that I connected to my own childhood.”
He was attracted to these stories because, he said, they are so “crazy.” But he also explained that the characters in two of the stories reminded him of his own iconic characters, Maggie and Hopey, the female stars of Love and Rockets. Indeed, the women and girls in these folk tales steal the show, and “they do the same thing in my comics,” he said.
In the title story, “The Dragon Slayer,” a resourceful and kind girl is forced out of her home by her three jealous sisters, like a Latina Cinderella. She eventually manages to marry a prince, but only after defeating a dragon and saving the prince, all by herself.
“ ‘The Dragon Slayer’ stood out,” Hernandez said. “It’s a princess story but the princess has to do everything. She was Cinderella but she had to work to get everything she wanted. She reminds me of my character, Maggie. She always wants to fix things.”
In the story “Martina Martinez and Perez the Mouse,” the heroine, Martina, rejects every suitor, eventually marrying a sweet little mouse (hey, it’s a folk tale). But one day, while she’s cooking, her tiny husband falls into a big pot of soup. All the neighbors offer sympathy but no one actually provides any assistance. “Sympathy but no help,” Hernandez noted with a laugh. “That’s life. It’s a funny and old-fashioned kind of story.”
Hernandez said that Archie, Dennis the Menace, Hot Stuff, and Richie Rich were among his favorite kids’ comic books when he was growing up. His adult comics are noted for a drawing style influenced by those series. Sometimes his adult comics feature passages that use what he calls his “Charlie Brown style,” which features a simplified style referencing the work of Peanuts creator Charles M. Schulz. “I went with a more cartoony style for these stories. It just feels right.”
Asked what he expected children to take away from these classic folk stories, Hernandez said, “I just hope they like the imagination of the stories, like I did when I was a kid, for the sheer wackiness about them, without anyone getting hurt.”
The Dragon Slayer: Folktales from Latin America by Jaime Hernandez. Toon, $16.95 Apr. 3 ISBN 978-1-943145-28-7