Huckleberry Finn on the Los Angeles River

2018 April Editions More News

A writer, a printmaker and a book designer, all in Northeast Los Angeles, have teamed up to produce a well-reviewed book that reimagines “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.”

In “The Ballad of Huck and Miguel,” written by Tim de Roche of Mount Washington, Huck is the young son of an abusive father, as in Mark Twain’s original story. But where Huck fled in the original with Jim, a fugitive slave, he flees in Mr. de Roche’s retelling with Miguel, an undocumented Mexican immigrant. And rather than “a-sliding down” the Mississippi River, the pair raft the length of the Los Angeles River, from its headwaters in Bell Canyon in the Simi Hills to its mouth in Long Beach.

The story is punctuated with over 40 black-and-white, woodcut-style images by Daniel González, a printmaker and graphic designer who grew up near the L.A. River in Boyle Heights and has his print and design studio in Highland Park. The illustrations capture the dark and magical spirit of the L.A. River and convey a striking grasp of L.A. – its skyline and cityscape, its beauty and danger and tension.

The book itself was designed by Amy Inouye of Future Studio in Highland Park. Ms. Inouye, a book designer, is a prominent local artist and the driving force behind many community improvement efforts and public-art projects.

The idea for The Ballad of Huck and Miguel started with a kayaking trip on the L.A. River, said Mr. de Roche. “My wife and I were remarking on how wild it is, but that wildness is juxtaposed with very urban landscapes,” he said. The experience set off his imagination, leading to the collaboration with Mr. González and Ms. Inouye and to what Kirkus Review has called “a smart, highly entertaining update on a classic story.”

Illustrating the L.A. River 

To create the images in The Ballad of Huck and Miguel, David González used a process called linocut, which requires cutting into a block of wood for an overall carved composition like the negative of photographic film.

Linocut is difficult and time consuming and demands painstaking attention to detail along with a deep understanding of negative space. It is the space in between the etched material that creates the printed image. The etched out lines are then inked over.

One reason the illustrations in ‘Huck and Miguel’ are so compelling may have to do with similarities between what the river means to Huck Finn and what it means to Mr. González. For Huck, the river is where he feels free. Mr. González recently told the Boulevard Sentinel that, as a child, whenever he saw the L.A. River at the 6th Street bridge, “I knew we were going somewhere outside our day-to-day routine.” The river, he said, “was an escape from routine.”

Mr. González’s work has been exhibited internationally and is housed in several special collections, including the Mexican Museum of Chicago, Stanford University and the Carnegie Museum. 

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