Cleveland artist Derek Hess is never going to be mistaken for a spokesman for the Religious Right.
So don’t be confused by the title of his latest book, Please God, Save Us, which will be released this month through his own company, Strhesspress. Working with writer Kent Smith, who is a member of a Cleveland area school board, Hess has created a book that eviscerates the Bush Administration and the Religious Right with narratives about religion, Iraq, religion, the economy, racism, big business and did I mention religion? Each of Smith’s essays is illustrated by one or two of Hess’ unique drawings.
The artwork is chaotic, edgy and a little scary, scary because it rings true.
Hess is best known for his screaming posters of rock and punk bands, 30 of which are on permanent display at both the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Louvre. Yep, that Louvre, as in Paris, which leads to an interesting story we’ll talk about later.
Comic readers will recognize him for the three issues he did for Marvel in 2002 for the Captain America: Dead Man Running mini-series.
Ironically, someone liked the original Captain America paintings so much they broke into Hess’ gallery and stole them in 2003.
“What could they do with them?“ Hess lamented. “They can’t sell them.”
Cleveland Police investigated, a reward was offered, but the paintings were never recovered, something that still angers Hess.
"No, they never found them," he said. "The police and the insurance company couldn’t find a trace."
Please God, features about 50 original posters which collects 40 posters Hess did for a one-night show on Dec. 16, 2006 in Cleveland called “Please God, Save Us From Your Followers.’
There is something disturbing, yet compelling, about Hess’ artwork with the bold, scratchy lines and seemingly unfinished bodies. His villains, including the monstrous Republican red elephants, are the stuff of nightmares, which cannot be remembered clearly in the light of day.
In one painting, a herd of red elephants is knocking over a wind turbine. In another, the twin nozzles of a gasoline pump are replaced by the bloody heads of two red elephants, the tips of their trunks transformed into gas nozzles.
Smith and Hess have a good time lampooning the speeches of Dr. James Dobson, founder of the Christian organization, Focus of the Family. Dobson accused Sponge Bob of being gay and compared Santa Claus to Satan. And yes, he pointed out that it‘s just the letter N that separates the two.
“Please God is pretty heady, thought-provoking material. But I would buy the book anyway just for Hess’ art.
Now, about that Louvre story.
“In March, 1996, I got a letter in the mail that was all in French,” Hess said. “I had no idea what it said, so I just laid it aside planning to have someone translate it. And that’s where it stayed for a while.”
About a month later, Hess gave the letter to a Cleveland gallery owner and asked if he knew anyone who could translate it.
“He later came to me with this huge grin on his face and said he had it translated and that it might be something I was interested in,” Hess said. “He said it was from the Louvre, they had seen my work in a European magazine and they wanted 20 of my posters for their permanent collection. I couldn‘t believe it.”
Hess sent the posters he did for bands like Pearl Jan, Peter Wolf, Jesus Lizard and the Supersuckers to the Louvre the next day.
“So, my work has been on exhibit ever since,” he said. “I’d love to go there and see them someday. Imagine, a poster for Jesus Lizard at the Euclid Tavern in the Louvre.”
Check out some of Derek‘s art at www.derekhess.com/