Interview: Miss Lasko-Gross Discusses Henni

HenniWith Henni, Miss Lasko-Gross has put together a graphic novel that’s both beautiful to read, and timely. In a fantastical world where old traditions and religion dominate every aspect of life, lives a girl named Henni. Unlike most in her village, Henni questions and wonders what the world is like as she comes of age. Striking out on her own, Henni goes out in search of truth, adventure, and more! Henni is a commentary on, religion, coming of age, and being yourself.

The graphic novel struck me as not afraid to dive in to discuss faith and rebellion. Gross has created a thought-provoking graphic novel with a wide appeal acting as a coming of age story, as well as one that’ll challenge your beliefs.

We got a chance to talk to her about the graphic novel, religion, and experiences as a woman in the comic industry.

Graphic Policy: How would you describe Henni?

Miss Laslow-Gross: I would say it’s primarily an adventure story but in a fractured fairy tale like Alice in Wonderland. It’s about a young girl who is too curious for her own good and is cast out of the world in exile. I should have a better elevator pitch.

GP: I have trouble really nailing what type of genre it is. It fits so many.

MLG: Some one described it as Post modern fantasy. I think you invented the genre

GP: What’s the graphic novel’s influences?

MLG: Alice in Wonderland and Maurice Sendak is what I’d compare it to. But the books and movies I read don’t really show in the product I create. Sendak, I read it when I was little, so it had an influence. I like anything that you can come back to, and that’s what I try to create. A graphic novel takes years to create, so I’d liek for that to happen.

For Henni in particular, any kind of adventure story. I grew up on Greek mythology, anything with a person on a journey and how they deal with obstacles. The idea that around a corner could be anything appealed to me. When you have a naive character, the prospect of anything is exciting.

GP: How did the graphic novel come about and get published by Z2?

MLG: It started as a side project. I was working on a dark and serious graphic novel that I was 50 pages in to about a friend that was injured in an explosion. It was heavy. I started doing a story on the side for comixology that was proto-Henni. I was making it up as I went along and amusing myself. I wanted to do something that I’d like to read. Something that wasn’t boring, I wanted ll fun, all adventure. The idea kept expanding until there was enough story for three books. I know the full journey, the full story. Then it became my main project. It became the thing that was enjoyable. Graphic novels take so long to create, so if you’re not enjoying it, it makes no sense to continue

I had been with Fantagraphics, and it was a great relationship, Z2 is a young company and a boutique publisher, and I thought it was a good fit. An exciting new adventure for an exciting new adventure.

GP: How long were you working on the graphic novel?

MLG: Because I started, and it was a different project, I had to redraw earlier parts of the book. I started it about 4 years ago, but in that 4 years, I’m done with nearly two books. So I guess a couple for the first book, and a couple for the second book.

GP: The graphic novel talks about religion and a patriarchal society, what drove you to take on those two subjects?

MLG: I think it wasn’t a conscious choice. I think it’s just, when you’re talking about the world, and making a commentary on reality, that was a natural topic of discussion. When you look at fundamentalist society, Henni is a collection of fundamentalist villages in a religion that’s unforgiving and unreasonable, you think of what that’d be like, to keep control over a group, the laws and rules would be restrictive and that usually affects women. The last thing I want this to be seen as is a didactic work, I’m not trying to teach a lesson.

GP: It also doesn’t have some simple solution or ending, and is pretty open. Was it a Sorpanos ending in you wanted the reader to interpret what happened?

MLG: I didn’t see that, I didn’t want to screw the audience, but I heard. If there is ambiguity and openness about the end, I’m not playing with anyone. She makes her choice, without spoilers, she makes a choice which isn’t the only logical choice. The reader has information she doesn’t. She makes the only correct choice for her, what will keep her alive, though she doesn’t know that. You can interpret if its right or wrong or foolhardy endeavor. I don’t think it’s so open to be aggravating, if you read the first book you won’t be cheated.

There’ll be a second volume, but it’ll be a while, and a third that’s long stretch in the future.

GP: You started making zines as a teenager, what got you into creating comics?

MLG: I think I loved to read them so much, I was always an artist, it was the next step. I wanted to create things, like the things I love. The first works I did were derivative, rip offs of things I loved, but that was part of the process. I started doing strips in elementary school. 1992-93 is when I consider I was doing professional work. I was creating comics in high school and distributing it locally and to zines, and putting work out there that I enjoyed.

GP: Where you a comics fan before hand?

MLG: I think so. I didn’t have a way of getting them regularly. I would get them from an older cousin, so I got old Fantastic Four. I’d get them on my own if I was in a shop with comics. I’d load up with a big stack that’d last a long time, and read them to they were shreds.

My local shop became Comicopia, and I’d put everything on hold when it came out, and then save up the allowance and birthday money. I always loved them. But, I don’t remember reading them in Kindergarten or first grade.

GP: What did you read?

MLG: Of superheroes, Fantastic Four, I liked the characters. Most superheroes didn’t speak to me. I had an affinity for Ben Grimm. When I got older, anything counter-culture, subversive. I read a lot of English comics, Tank Girl. There was a British humor magazine called Viz. Anything I felt I wasn’t supposed to have. Akira was a big early book. And then it was over after I read Love & Rockets. That series is perfection, still. That’s what comics are supposed to be like.

GP: When I think of comics in the 90s, I don’t really remember it being the most welcoming to women. How has that changed over the years?

MLG: Well… anecdotally… I’ve never gone into a shop and made to feel like I don’t know what I’m talking about. I found people supportive of what I was doing. I wasn’t doing samples for Marvel or DC, because I had a realistic sense of that not being an outlet, and instead focused on where I’d be receptive.

I personally don’t feel that way, but I’ve heard enough stories, to realize it’s an issue. I was lucky and always found a place that was always accepting to me. I felt very welcomed by the comic world.

Of the shows I went to, I went to SDCC in ’96 and felt it was too commercial, I started going to SPX in the 90s and always found it welcoming. SPX is about the art, not the corporate tie-in. It’s very independent level.

GP: Henni has a female lead, and there seems to be more comics with female leads hitting shelves now. What do you think is driving that?

MLG: I think it depends on the company and the publisher. If you’re talking about corporate comics, they might have just realized half the readership is female and they’re tired about the testosterone tropes. For indie, they’ve been telling the stories they have been, and it’s finally being noticed.

GP: What else do you have on tap that folks can check out?

MLG: I’d recommend folks can go to comiXology with two graphic novels and compilation book. My first two books, Fantagraphics offers digitally. Through Dyclops I put out a collection of short stories from the past 20 years. From 1994-2014. It’s not for kids though, it’s the raw, raunchy, stuff I did earlier. Definitely not all ages.