By Dean Haspiel
CUBA: LA MIA RIVOLUZIONE, the Italian version of my Harvey Award winning graphic novel, CUBA: MY REVOLUTION, written by Inverna Lockpez, colored by Jose Villarrubia, lettered by Patrick Brosseau, edited by Joan Hilty for Vertigo Comics and adapted by Valerio Stive for Bao Publishing, is currently available.
Here is what I wrote about the graphic novel and cover process at the Vertigo blog a few years ago:
Revolution. Romance. Ideology. Betrayal. Torture. Art. Escape. Freedom.
These were the things I heard about over a period of 25-years by a woman, an artist who came from another place, another time. Some of what Inverna Lockpez said to me was alien. I never knew what a revolution was. I will never know what it’s like to come to America for the very first time. Sometimes I asked Inverna for more details of her dramatic struggles and escape from Cuba but she didn’t want to revisit the past too closely. As I got older, I came to understand that some of the things we experience in life are put in a box for a reason. Instead, Inverna would express herself on canvases and decorate walls and celebrate Spanish artists and dance on restaurant tables, responding to the here and now rather than mourn the past.
You can’t change the past.
During my young adult years, Inverna, who was a minimalist painter and art gallery director/curator, became my mother’s best friend, and soon became like a second mother to me. Inverna saw that I wanted to draw stories and encouraged me to follow my dreams of becoming a professional cartoonist and observed as I illustrated other people’s real life stories, including my own. Over the years, I kept a mental checklist of the various and mysterious anecdotes Inverna shared about her experience in Cuba and started to knit together a narrative tapestry. However, there were giant plot holes and I didn’t understand some of things that happened to her. I needed to know how, what, and why.
It was during my time drawing THE ALCOHOLIC that I asked Inverna if she would write her story. She saw that I took great care with the truth in my collaborations with Harvey Pekar and Jonathan Ames and how candid I was in my own semi-autobiographical comics, and she decided it was finally time to purge and tell her tale, in a fictional form. Weeks later, I found out the rest of her story and knew I had to share it with the world.
After we sold Inverna’s story to Vertigo, I knew it would be the most challenging project of my career, thus far. Inverna is strong-willed and used to having final say when it comes to her work and to collaborate is an entirely different dance. I wanted this book to look like an artifact you could excavate from the sands of 1960’s Cuba while alluding to the universal films of Preston Sturges. So, I elected to abandon my ink brush and only pencil the story while limiting the color palette. After much deliberation, we arrived at gray and red tones with the colorful mastery of Jose Villarrubia, and the seasoned guidance and editorial confidence of Joan Hilty. With these key players in place, I knew we had a good chance at realizing Inverna’s heartbreaking story, CUBA: MY REVOLUTION.
Sometimes you never get to know why some things happen. Sometimes you have to express yourself freely and in public to let go of what chokes you at night. Maybe we never come to fully understand what happened but we can talk about it, write about it, and draw it in hopes of healing the pain, knowing that you can’t change the past but you can certainly steer the future.
We worked very hard on the cover to CUBA: MY REVOLUTION with art director, Louis Prandi, and I came up with a bunch of preliminary concepts, some of which are presented here.
My initial cover designs ranged from presenting the revolution of a country coupled with the revolution of an emerging artist but it felt too linear. I wanted to capture the glamour of Cuban poster art but I’m not a painter and my ink line proved to be too stark. We discussed the qualities of Mondrian, an artist whose abstract work influenced Inverna’s while evoking the page design of a comic book. I created some ideas that would marry the two worlds of fine art and comics while featuring a picture of the author as a young woman in Cuba, one of the only candid photos remaining in Inverna’s archives. Marketing vetoed the clash of reality and fiction, citing conflict, and we dispensed with that portion of the cover. Still, we needed something compelling to compliment the cover narrative.
Frustrated, I asked Inverna what comics she read as a kid and she mentioned Chic Young’s BLONDIE and William Moulton Marston’s WONDER WOMAN. I looked for comics from her childhood era and discovered classic covers and strips that represented heroines and gods and domestic housewives, including the cover to Wonder Woman #108, illustrated by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito. But I didn’t feel comfortable featuring Inverna’s avatar, Sonya, in that way. I became distraught with the cover process.
Inverna encouraged me to throw caution to the wind to see what would happen. I am a fan of German expressionism and New Objectivity. One of my favorite painters is Max Beckmann, and I studied the way he paints people like they were anthropomorphized bruises. My girlfriend, Jen Ferguson, is a fine arts painter and she recommended I look at Austrian artist, Oskar Kokoschka, for which I discovered some chilling portraits of human conflict and pain. I wanted to present Sonya at odds with her own ideologies and what emerged was something horrific, not unlike an angel freeing her tortured soul. All parties involved were struck by the image but agreed that the general public would mistaken our graphic novel for a zombie apocalypse nightmare.
Finally, we settled on marrying an artifact from Castro’s Cuban revolution —the original flag of the 26 July Movement, reworked as the title — with the classic comic book trope of multiple images. We staged it within the frame of fine art minimalism while highlighting a painted portrait of the protagonist. I think it was on the twentieth attempt at doing a watercolor painting of Sonya that I got it right.
Rachel Aydt conducted an interview with me at Publishing Perspectives; “Cuba: My Revolution Brings the Harsh Reality of Castro’s Revolution to comics,” and I drew an original comic for the article.
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