Sometimes, a little curious clicking on a few links can pay off. I recently discovered that the fairly social media-resistant Jamie Hewlett has a public Instagram account, a fact that can’t be that widely known, considering that he has fewer than two dozen followers. There’s not that much to see there, as he’s posted just 17 images so far, but to follow up on our story about Hewlett’s additional designs for the upcoming New York City production of Monkey: Journey to the West, there are a few photos of some character make-up tests. The Lincoln Center’s YouTube account has some footage of rehearsals, and an interview with Jamie and Damon Albarn on the subject.
Between the Gorillaz’s studio albums Demon Days and Plastic Beach, Jamie Hewlett and Damon Albarn created Monkey: Journey to the West with Chinese opera director Chen Shi-zheng, which premiered in 2007. Their collaboration was somewhat written in the stars: Chen had been trying to get a version in production for a few years; the Gorillaz had been engaged to create something for the first Manchester International Festival; and Albarn and Hewlett had a certain nostalgia for Wu Cheng’en’s Ming dynasty-era epic due to their childhood exposure to the camp classic TV version we were exposed to in the U.K. by the BBC.
The opera has had a few productions around the world now, always well-reviewed, and is now returning stateside, running July 6–28 at the David H. Koch Theater of the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in New York City. Hewlett has returned to the world of Monkey for this production, adding several new character designs. A couple of these designs have now arrived online: Vulture debuted the River Demon, while MTV Buzzworthy was the first to see Pig Monster.
I’ve never managed to catch a production of this myself, but have been sorely wanting to since seeing the documentary Damon and Jamie’s Excellent Adventure around the time of the original premiere. It seemed pretty much like being dropped into a universe designed by Hewlett for a couple of hours, and what could be more blissful than that?
While some creators spend their entire career in comics, others come and go. Some find greater success outside the field, while others just realize comics just aren’t for them. I recently re-read a brief post I wrote in early 2011 about some of the most sorely missed creators while thinking about artist Jamie Hewlett. He met with early success with Tank Girl (with Alan Martin) but dropped out of comics in the mid-1990s following the cancellation of the comics magazine Deadline and the poor performance of Tank Girl as a motion picture and as a Vertigo series. By an odd set of circumstances he ended up being roommates with Damon Albarn, lead singer of the band Blur, and they dreamed up the virtual band Gorillaz.
In a 2005 interview on Jonathan Ross’s talk show, Hewlett was pretty down on the idea of returning to comics, instead focusing on Gorillaz and animated projects. I’ve enjoyed Gorillaz for its music and the frequent use of Hewlett’s art on covers and in music videos and other parts of the promotional machine, but I’m still
patiently waiting for him to reclaim his place in comics. But it got me to thinking: Is there a place for Hewlett in comics today?
Drawing comics is grueling work with long hours, and I could easily see his current career being more alluring than that solitary life. Plus, the comics industry has changed a lot since the early ’90s. The U.K .comics scene is far different, and the “big money” these days seems to lie in either finding success on your own, a la The Walking Dead, or working for the Big Two. Despite my wishful thinking, I don’t imagine we’d ever see Hewlett drawing an issue of Avengers Vs. X-Men. Tank Girl returned with Hewlett’s blessing in 2007, with Martin and other artists, but not seeing even a cover or pin-up by Hewlett really diminishes any hopes he might return.
But I look forward to the artist proving me wrong.
Exclamation point very much merited, if you ask me. That’s Tank Girl and Gorillaz co-mastermind Jamie Hewlett illustrating arguably the greatest song of the 1990s, “Common People” by Pulp — a masterpiece of withering English class-warfare derision and seamy sexuality. (Check out the awesome video if you haven’t heard/seen it.) According to PulpWiki, the comic was available only in the French single for the song and an Australian box set. What better way to celebrate the welcome news that Pulp will be reuniting for a tour in 2011 than by dipping into the glory of ages past?
Seriously, folks, a de facto Jamie Hewlett/Jarvis Cocker collabo? I can think of several entire comics over the past few years that the existence of this strip renders totally redundant.
(via Alexis Ong)