A friend and contemporary of industry icons Will Eisner and Alex Toth, living legend Jordi Bernet continues to deliver mesmerizing panels of sequential art as the semi-regular artist on DC’s critically acclaimed “Jonah Hex.” Inspired by the films of Sergio Leone and classic Old West illustrations by Frederic Remington and Charles M. Russell, Bernet’s style – honed over the past 50 years in his homeland of Spain – is a perfect fit for the razor-sharp scripts of Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray. The long-time artist of the classic Spanish series “Torpedo 1936,” Bernet previously worked with DC Comics on “Batman: Black and White” with Howard Chaykin, “100 Bullets” #26 with Brian Azzarello and “Solo” #6. Bernet’s first work with the Confederate cowboy was in 2006 on the three-part origin tale that was featured in “Jonah Hex” #13-15. He also penciled “Jonah Hex” #21, #23, # 27, #30, #32, #37, #38 and #42.
The 65-year old artist has been off the title for the past eight issues, but returns this week for “Jonah Hex” #52. Thanks to a translation by his son, Bernet told CBR News that he has a four-issue run coming up on the series and shares details on how he prepared for the assignment, how you make a scarred face smile and what’s the one appearance of Hex he’d love to get his hands on, as he’s only read the story as a photocopy.
CBR News: After the six-issue "6-Gun War" storyline illustrated by Cristiano Cucina and Darwyn Cooke’s 50th issue guest artist appearance, you must be happy to be back in the saddle again with Jimmy and Justin on “Jonah Hex?”
Jordi Bernet: Yes, I’ve been away from the world of comics for a while, but Jimmy, Justin and DC didn’t give up on me and we used this time to work on four stories that will appear in a row: “Too Mean To Die,” “Snowblind,” “Shooting Stars” and “Tall Tales.”
They’re four really good scripts that capture the pure essence of Jonah Hex and I hope will delight all our fans. Of course, I had a great time drawing them. I knew very few things about the first stint of “Jonah Hex,” since in Spain it was very difficult to find those comics at that time. However, I was aware of the great work by Tony De Zuniga and the rest of artists in the series.
Can you please take us back to when you first worked on “Jonah Hex” for his three-part origin story? How did you prepare for the assignment if you weren’t familiar with the original series?
When DC contacted me to draw the character, of course I asked to receive some references. I got a few photocopied stories from the old comics, by different artists, and I remember one that specially struck me. It was probably the last issue of the original series, where Jonah died and his embalmed corpse was showcased in a circus. I was really amazed by that story. It was magnificently drawn by Russ Heath, and it was really great. I’d like to get one copy of that comic book, because the photocopies were really bad.
Darwyn Cooke told me, “I consider Jordi the definitive ‘Hex’ artist from this run. I think it’s Jordi’s all the way. Whenever I’m doing the character, I’m always thinking, I’ll never do it as well as Jordi.”
I deeply appreciate the words by Darwyn Cooke, especially coming from a professional of his caliber. Actually I try to enjoy as much as possible with the character, and the stories written by Jimmy and Justin seem to be tailor-made for me, so I have absolute freedom to develop them and I try to create my personal view of the character. I really love westerns.
Hex is such a complicated figure but his most distinguishing mark is obviously the flap of skin over the corner of his mouth. Does this disfigurement cause any trouble when trying to show emotion on Hex’s face or does it add to the emotion in some way?
Yes, originally I thought a lot of Tony de Zuniga’s work, since I assume it must have been him who created the piece of meat hanging from Hex’s mouth. I especially recalled them when I had to draw a smile or some specific expression. Fortunately, Jonah doesn’t smile much, but I’ve already gotten over with it, and I really love it.
When drawing a title set in the Wild West, do you seek out old Sergio Leone movies or illustrations depicting that specific time for inspiration?
From a cinematographic point of view, I’m a great fan of the westerns made by John Ford with John Wayne, Howard Hawks and Clint Eastwood like “Unforgiven.” And I love the paintings by [Frederic] Remington, [Charles M.] Russell, etc. I also love American culture in general. However, when I draw about these themes, subconsciously I come up with that Sergio Leone look, probably because of my Mediterranean blood. What can I do?
Will we ever see more “Torpedo”? Do you have more stories to tell with these rich characters?
No, “Torpedo” belongs to another stage, even though I’m very glad it is being finally published in the U.S. in a collection. However, I’m always willing to work again in a noir story. It is, together with westerns, my favorite genre.
Are you working on anything else these days?
I have to part my time. On the one hand I have to make the two comic pages of my character Clara de Noche that is published weekly in a Spanish magazine, and the rest of my time is devoted to DC.
Actually I turned down some works and projects in Spain and France in order to gain the necessary time to draw the stories of this ugly-faced, tough, Southern bastard. I think the job of comic book artist is really great, as long as you can organize your time and you can work on the genres you like.
At the moment, I am drawing an eight-page story for “The Spirit” black and white title. I hope my friend Will [Eisner], wherever he is, can forgive me.
Thanks for this, sir, it’s quite an honor.
Thank you very much for your interest, friends.
“Jonah Hex” #52, written by Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray with art and cover by Jordi Bernet, is on sale now.