A man in civilian clothes looks at another man wearing an army uniform and resting a rifle in his arm. | "When Lambs Become Lions"

Link Voices

Start watching
HRzkkPW-show-poster2x3-pWmERoT.jpg

Foreign Correspondent

Start watching
A man looks out to a vast landscape of mountains and water. | From "Embrace of the Serpent" / Kino Lorber

Cinemondo

Start watching
RYQ2PZQ-show-poster2x3-OGargou.jpg

Earth Focus

Start watching
Rahaf Al Qunun | "Four Corners" episode "Escape from Saudi"
New episodes Sundays, 9 p.m. ET/PT

Four Corners

Start watching
jElHzF3-show-poster2x3-ilk2bxh.jpg

America ReFramed

Start watching
xKxYSKH-show-poster2x3-TLSXWK0.jpg

Tending Nature

Start watching
Heart Donate Icon
Support the world of Link TV with a donation today.
Sustaining Gifts Icon Card
Consider giving on a monthly basis to help continue to support us in our mission.
Planned Giving Icon
There are many ways to include Link TV in your plans for the future.

New Book Sets Mark Twain Classic on the L.A. River

Fireworks over Glendale Narrows from the "Ballad of Huck and Miguel." | Daniel Gonzalez

A majority of Angelenos often pack themselves into a car to go out and explore the city, unknowingly zooming past many points of interest just a stone’s throw away from their residences. One of those overlooked gems is probably the Los Angeles River. Though recent news and major developments along the waterway have renewed interest in this historic L.A. feature, many still don’t take the time to explore the river in their backyards. A new book set along the waterway retells a classic story with a contemporary twist, perhaps opening readers’ eyes to a different Los Angeles.

Writer Tim DeRoche and artist Daniel Gonzalez collaborated on “The Ballad of Huck and Miguel,” a reinterpretation of the classic Mark Twain novel “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.” Amidst the novel’s pages, Angelenos will find familiar narratives about the city’s neighborhoods along with illustrations that accompany these colorful descriptions.

“The Ballad of Huck and Miguel” follows Huck as he escapes from an abusive father and traverses the city by way of the L.A. River. He meets Miguel, an undocumented immigrant that serves as the re-imagined stand-in for Jim. The novel pays tribute to the original story, but also bridges past with present by taking a modern-day approach to the idea of an open-ended adventure of a kid out in the world alone (in this case, exploring areas like Compton).

Huck and Miguel break into an abandoned building, from the "Ballad of Huck and Miguel." | Daniel Gonzalez
Huck and Miguel break into an abandoned building, from the "Ballad of Huck and Miguel." | Daniel Gonzalez

Although DeRoche wrote the manuscript before meeting Gonzalez, he remained open to the artist’s input on the story — specifically when it came to the character of Miguel. Many of Gonzalez’s family members worked with horses, as Miguel does. DeRoche doesn’t speak Spanish, so Gonzalez helped him with some of the dialogue. While the novel prominently features an undocumented immigrant as a main character, DeRoche maintains that the work is not meant as a political statement. It instead aims to recreate the journey of a young boy who leaves home.

“I think the reason people respond so much to the original Huck Finn is that Huck’s just this incredibly endearing kid,” said DeRoche. “He’s abused, but he's resilient. He's incredibly observant … as a kid he's seeing things that adults don't see.”

DeRoche consulted with a Mark Twain scholar and considered the influence of the novel amidst American literature. The writer felt that to properly pay homage to the story, he needed to create a unique and carefully thought out piece.

“We could not do a cheap, bad looking book,” said DeRoche. “We needed a beautiful book that depicted the story in a beautiful way, and that was the only way I was going to feel comfortable putting something like this out into the world.”

The first edition of “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” included illustrations by E.W. Kemble. For “The Ballad of Huck and Miguel,” Gonzalez created 45 original linocut prints. The resulting illustrations became an integral part of the story, not just a supplement to it. Gonzalez runs a printmaking and letterpress studio in Highland Park.

“I can't see the book without Daniel’s prints,” said DeRoche. “They helped me envision the story that I wrote.”

The linocut dates back to the 19th century and was popularized by artists like Albrecht Dürer. It requires careful attention to detail and a deep understanding of negative space; the process involves cutting into a block of material (usually wood) to create an overall composition. But the lines etched into this material then get inked over, and the space in between them ultimately creates the final printed image.

In Gonzalez’s capable hands, this classic technique becomes a means to capture the energy of Los Angeles. Thin lines and small squares come together to replicate the distinct architecture of Downtown skyscrapers. All-black shapes with just a few hints of white capture the massiveness of the mountains that often loom over the city’s landscape. Gonzalez gives his own twist to each scene, often coloring in the sky with thin lines that allude to the roiling tufts of cloud that break up L.A.’s blue sky (or, perhaps, the creeping smog that always thickens the air).

Fireworks over Glendale Narrows from the "Ballad of Huck and Miguel." | Daniel Gonzalez
Fireworks over Glendale Narrows from the "Ballad of Huck and Miguel." | Daniel Gonzalez

Gonzalez modeled the inside title page after the plaques along the bridge on the river. Researching the typeface of those plaques, he created something similar as a way to introduce the narrative and the fact that the river would play a large part in the story. He also reflected on the ecosystem of the river and how he could capture it.

“I just sat down and made a list and tried to choose not too many mammals and not too many reptiles,” said Gonzalez. “And just try to have a really well-balanced representation of the kind of wildlife that I’ve seen on the river on my walks and from my experience.”

During the process of working together on the novel, DeRoche and Gonzalez became consumed by the L.A. river — how it showcased the diversity of the city, the fact that so much wildlife lived along it in a sort of hidden ecosystem. For nine months, Gonzalez created original linocuts for the novel while a sense of nostalgia colored his process. Gonzalez grew up in Boyle Heights and remembers that when his parents needed to run errands Downtown, that meant a trip across the river.

“It's always like oh you're going to get to go outside of your bubble and experience something else,” said Gonzalez. “You're crossing the river — that means you're going someplace.”

If readers look closely enough, the novel also serves as a primer on the L.A. River and its history. Gonzalez, for example, references the origin of the Frogtown moniker. It alludes to the Western toads that often migrated into the river. Gonzalez also includes a nod to the L.A. river cats, popularized by artist Leo Limon starting in the 1960s.

DeRoche and Gonzalez continue to find inspiration in the L.A. River; Gonzalez hopes that his linocut prints will soon travel and be exhibited in various spaces. He currently offers box sets through his shop. In this modern retelling of a classic ballad, DeRoche gives Angelenos a chance to look more closely at the river and how L.A. intersects across its span.

Related Content
Carla Jay Harris "Sphinx," 2019. Archival pigment print. Two panels, 40 x 30 in. each. The work features a beautiful Black woman wearing a dark blue dress kneeling down in a golden meadow under a starry sky and bright orange sun. | Courtesy the artist

Now More Than Ever: The Need for Alternative Cultural Spaces

Learn more about the spaces filling the holes left behind by the historically white-centric L.A. art world.
Aerial view of Watts Towers Arts Center | Still from "Watts Towers Arts Center" ab s11

Stretching Out into the Community: Five Key Watts Artists Who Helped Shape American Art

Meet the core artists who were the vanguards of the West Coast edition of the Black Arts Movement: Betye Saar, Noah Purifoy, John Outterbridge and Jayne Cortez.
Mural at Mafundi Institute | Still from "Broken Bread" Watts

As If I was Carrying a Gun: Art and Surveillance in 1960s Watts

An arts movement emerged in ‘60s Watts. In response, federal and local law enforcement enacted counterinsurgency programs that infiltrated and co-opted Black arts and culture institutions and surveilled and targeted activists, artists and community member