The Next Best Thing To Holding Original Pages: Fantagraphics’ Jaime Hernandez Studio Edition

by Koom Kankesan

The Jaime Hernandez Studio Edition from Fantagraphics, simply titled Xaime, is a coveted object for die-hard Jaime Hernandez fans. Clothbound, saddle stitched, and at almost 200 pages, this 45 x 35 cm book is a weighty testament to the beauty of Hernandez’s craft. Studio Editions and Artist Editions have become a growing presence in the field of luxury objects associated with comic books. They seem to be marketed to collectors of original art and this explains why these editions have only sprung up in the last decade. They’re not meant to be read so much as salivated over.

For afficianados of original art pages who cannot afford many originals, these tomes are supposedly the next best thing. The people who put these together source out original pages from creators and collectors and then photograph and reproduce them at actual size, using high cost materials and processes. The person buying the edition luxuriates in seeing the art, blemishes, corrections and all, in vivid reproduction, and the process of flipping the pages is supposed to be akin to holding the original pages and rifling through them.

[Jaime Hernandez’ original artwork]

When I originally heard about this particular project, I wondered why they’d picked Jaime. He draws his original pages slightly smaller than standard size. The Love and Rockets magazine that Fantagraphics put out, however, is magazine size (larger than a comic book) and thus not that much smaller than the original art. Since the work has mostly been published in black and white anyway, and Jaime is known for producing very clean artwork, with very little (if nothing) in the way of notes on the pages, how different would it be to see the artwork in a studio edition? Well, when the time came around, I bought the book anyway and didn’t regret it.

[Jaime’s artwork as it appears in the Studio Edition]

The artwork really is lovely and showcases a sampling of Jaime’s stories throughout his storied career. You see the art evolve, gain a fluidity and poise, move towards an economy of storytelling and visual shorthand that betrays its classical influences, yet retains Jaime’s singular personality. Once in a while, you might see some evidence of the alteration in the artwork such as the telephone poles that have been erased in the sixth panel on the cover. Sometimes a horizon or sight line is moved. By and large, Jaime seems very comfortable and confident composing his figures and panels on the page and what you end up with is clean, sublime artwork.

This edition is bolstered by a lengthy (is there any other type at Fantagraphics?) interview with Jaime, conducted by Gary Groth, that painstakingly tries to get at Jaime’s artistic process and influences, and sometimes succeeds. Jaime is a laconic, quiet person by nature who thinks very deeply about what he does but is not always comfortable expressing that process in detail. The interview is gilded with amazing photos of Jaime at work and the trays of materials he uses.

What I really liked was the “Outtakes” section at the back that features unused, discarded, unfinished, reworked and other random pages that I wouldn’t have seen otherwise. Each one is like a revelation which speaks to the power of his art. In gestating form, you see just how powerful and striking his art really is. There’s nothing like seeing pages of his that you’ve never seen before, with those immaculately composed pencils of his yet to be (perhaps never to be) inked, presented to you for the first time at life size. He’s added some (albeit brief and laconic) notes to go with them – perhaps my favourite is the page of Isabel in a psychiatric clinic that he discarded because his brother Gilbert said Izzy’s close-up looked too much like a Frank Miller panel.

Jaime ends the book with pages (published pages) from The Death of Speedy which also happens to be my favourite story in terms of his art, and it makes you think about how far his art has come since then–I don’t know if he ended with this because he also feels similarly about the story but I’d like to think so.

The Jaime Hernandez Studio Edition is currently available from Fantagraphics.