Q&A with Tim and Daniel

Where did you get the idea for the book?

Tim: I was re-reading Huck Finn after many years. And I thought, ohmigosh, it’s hilarious. It’s totally modern. It was written 130 years ago, but it feels like it could have been written yesterday in so many ways. And around that same time, my wife Simone and I signed up for one of these kayak trips down the LA River. Somehow those two things got mashed up in my head. Huck Finn and the LA River.

How did the two of you connect?

Tim: I was looking for local artists here on the east side of LA. I wanted to find someone who might have familiarity with the river, someone who understands the City of Los Angeles. I stumbled on Daniel’s work, and immediately I knew that he was the right person. His work is stylized in a way that really resonated with me and that I thought would work well with the story of the book.

Daniel: What excited me about the project was the chance to create a series of work that focused on the Los Angeles River and used the City of LA as a backdrop for a great story. It’s space that I know really well, and it’s a city that I love. It was an opportunity to show these classic characters within these settings that have meaning to me.

Why an illustrated novel?

Tim: I think the illustrations help us see the world through the eyes of Huck. What I love about Daniel’s work is that he brings some of the old and some of the new. He works within this tradition of printmaking that goes back hundreds and hundreds of years. But his images also feel really new and vibrant.

Daniel: I was excited about the opportunity to illustrate a novel, like they did in the past. Huckleberry Finn was an illustrated book when it was first published, and I think they used zinc etchings to illustrate it. I was excited about the opportunity to re-tell the story using this linocut technique, which has a certain look and feel. I wanted to take that look and apply it to a contemporary setting.

How did your collaboration work?

Tim: I was looking for a true collaborator. I wanted to work with someone who understands the city of Los Angeles and someone who would bring their own creativity and their own vision of LA to the book. Daniel has done that and more. He brought so much of himself to this project.

Daniel: Tim really put a lot of faith and a lot of trust in me. I was looking at it as if I was telling the story with the illustrations. I did pencil sketches for Tim, and then we would have a conversation to make sure that the image captured exactly what was happening in the book. I was able to come up with some really great stuff through that process. Tim was very trusting in my skills.

Tim: We were very aligned on the vision of what this was going to look like. We had a great working relationship, and the work was gorgeous, so we both just wanted to keep going. It’s been an incredibly rewarding creative experience for me.

Why the Los Angeles River?

Tim: The Los Angeles River is very different than the Mississippi River. The Mississippi is a huge thoroughfare down the middle of the country, so that dictates how Mark Twain tells that story. The LA River cuts underneath the city. In a way, it’s the Underworld of Los Angeles where anything can happen, where there are all sorts of creatures, both human and otherwise. It’s a natural place for an urban adventure.

Daniel: In a way, drawing the parallel between the Mississippi River and the LA River is absurd. But – if you live in LA and you see a really good downpour – that river will rage just like a real river.

Tim: It’s a wilder place than you would imagine. There are herons hiding in the bushes, swallows flying overhead, coyotes and bobcats roaming the banks. And yet it feels very urban in places. It’s a fascinating place.

What would Mark Twain think?

Daniel: I think he’d be intrigued. I think he’d find it interesting to see his character live out a similar storyline in a different setting, an urban setting.

Tim: We’ve tried to stay true to the spirit of his book. I guess I really hope that he would recognize Huck, that he would recognize this wonderful character as the same kid but transported to a new place and time.

Who is Huck Finn in this book?

Tim: Huck is coming out to LA from the Midwest, like I did. He’s at the mercy of his father, who is not a man who’s at peace with himself. He’s a dangerous man. All of us can relate to the idea of being a kid who is at the mercy of an adult who doesn’t necessarily have your best interests at heart or isn’t at peace with himself. Huck’s resilience in the face of that is really something that drew me to him as a character. Also, like many people in LA including myself, Huck ends up creating his own family out of the crazy, wonderful people he meets in the city.

Daniel: It’s easy to identify with some of the things he is going through as a kid. That sense of adventure, of being able to pick up and go places and meet all these people and have an adventure. When I read Twain’s book when I was younger, it was really exciting for me as a young person. It reminded me a lot of what I experienced visiting my family in the countryside of Mexico. It always captured my imagination. And Tim’s story has those same feelings.

What’s special about Huck’s voice?

Tim: Huck’s voice is why we all love Twain’s book. It’s so iconic. He mangles the English language, but he mangles it in a very endearing way. For me, it was just an incredibly fun experience to try to inhabit that voice and try to get in Huck’s head and see Los Angeles from the point-of-view of this naïve kid from backwoods Missouri.

Who is Miguel?

Daniel: Huck is coming out to LA from the Midwest, like I did. He’s at the mercy of his father, who is not a man who’s at peace with himself. He’s a dangerous man. All of us can relate to the idea of being a kid who is at the mercy of an adult who doesn’t necessarily have your best interests at heart or isn’t at peace with himself. Huck’s resilience in the face of that is really something that drew me to him as a character. Also, like many people in LA including myself, Huck ends up creating his own family out of the crazy, wonderful people he meets in the city.

Tim: Miguel is the hero of the story. He’s a father figure to Huck. He teaches Huck about what it means to be a true friend. Their friendship is really the core of the emotional story. When we meet him at the beginning of the story, Miguel is trying to make a better life for himself. And he’s got a wonderful life in Los Angeles. But hanging over him, all the time, is this thought, “Oh, they may come for me.” So the moment in this story when they have to go on the run – it’s a horrible moment for Miguel, but it’s a moment he’s been preparing for his whole life. I think it’s something we can all relate to – when we have something good, but we know it could be taken away from us.

What are you trying to say about immigration?

Tim: For me, as a storyteller, I wasn’t interested in telling a political story about immigration. What I’m interested in as a storyteller is – Where is there drama? Where can we learn something about the human experience? You can be a completely good man and end up on the wrong side of the law because you were born somewhere else.

Daniel: Given his circumstances, most people would make the choices that Miguel makes, if it means helping your family out of poverty.

What are your favorite scenes from the book?

Daniel: I like the opening scenes of Huck coming to Los Angeles. I grew up next to the river in the community of Boyle Heights. And, when I was a kid, it was always special when we went across the bridge, across the river to Downtown LA. That meant we would go to Olvera Street or someplace else special that was outside of my neighborhood. So when Huck starts describing coming to California and coming to Los Angeles, I can tap into that really easily.

Tim: I love the scene where Huck and Miguel come tumbling out of the drainage pipe into the river. They’re splashing down into the river. It’s the beginning of their adventure, and it’s a turning point in the story. Daniel has captured it really well. The other scene I love is when Huck meets Tom Sawyer. Tom takes him first down to the river in Compton, and then he takes Huck to an abandoned building. Daniel’s got them breaking in through the broken window. It’s a really cool scene, and it’s one of my favorites of Daniel’s illustrations.

Daniel: Yeah, I like that one too. There’s something about Tom’s face.

Tim: He looks like a kid on an adventure! He’s breaking into a building with his buddy. It’s awesome.

Daniel: Which I used to do. The abandoned Linda Vista Hospital in Boyle Heights!

Tim: I was too well behaved as a kid. I wasn’t breaking into many buildings. I’ve since become less well-behaved.

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