In the original graphic novel HENNI, Manhattan-based writer/artist Miss Lasko Gross presents the adventures and trials of Henni, a rebellious and curious young woman who questions authority, challenges the ways of her strict religion and strikes out on her own in search of a better life. The boutique graphic novel publisher Z2 will publish HENNI (on January 6, 2015 in comic stores and in bookstores on January 20) introducing readers to a unique and distinctive character--and a creative vision that channels Maurice Sendak and Lynda Barry. Henni embarks on what Lakso-Gross calls "a rare adventure story where violence isn't the method to resolution and success. This is a fable about faith where faith--or a new system of spirituality--doesn't solve the world's problems." HENNI is a coming of age tale that, like the main character, refuses easy answers. I spoke to Miss Lasko Gross about HENNI.
Is Henni an argument for atheism?
Henni questions (and therefore threatens) the religious order of her village, however she herself exists only because of an unfortunate temple-arranged marriage. Her father was an atheist and her mother a fanatical follower of the Templemen. While Henni (and by extension the reader) entertains doubt about the faith she was born into, she still cries out to her god in a moment of crisis.
Many of the book's misfortunes do occur in the name of religious/social purity, however the real motives of the perpetrators are much more complex. Religion (as represented in Henni) can be a benign personal belief system but it can also be a mask of injustice held aloft by docile followers and the complicit fearfulness of otherwise good people. I would hope Henni would never be confused for a didactic work, in her world the divisions which matter most aren't theological or geographic, rather they are about peoples personal moral codes.
The story has a Talmudic flare (in terms of the dialectic), was this intentional?
Yes. But, of course Henni's attempts at logical arguments are largely unreciprocated, mocked or ignored. She would give anything to be engaged in legitimate investigative dialog, but (as a female and an exile) that opportunity is denied her. She is left questioning an intractable wall of dogma, or running from those who cannot abide curiosity. Sorting truths from opinions and rejecting "because I/god say(s) so" answers is a dangerous business.
It's evocative both artistically and language wise of a number of familiar tales. What are some direct influences?
I've always loved Myths And Folklore, Grimm's fairy tales and Aesops fables. Though their biggest influence on my work is probably my conscious divergence from their underlying themes. For example in Aesop the moral message is often "aim low" and "know your place". Common to many Greek Myths is that pride, skill and ambition draw the attention of the petty murderous gods. Being lucky enough to live a life without needing to make sense of the cruel indifference of nature or (as in Aesop's case) slavery, leads me in a very different artistic direction. My biggest visual influences are Jaime Hernandez and Katsuhiro Otomo though I'm not certain it shows in the end result.
Miss Lasko Gross
Do you think women's voices are silenced for the most part by the major comic publishers?
Not intentionally. The Indie art/comic world i've inhabited for most of my career is very woman friendly. Mainstream comics have a reputation for being a boys club and I've heard plenty of anocdotal evidence to support that. But even when the historically most lucrative opportunities are beyond your grasp there are outlets for every talented voice. Persepolis, Smile and Fun Home attest to that. If the corporate comic world isn't interested, readers are and therefore other publishers are as well.