by Jaime Hernandez
Fantagraphics / Titan Books
Jaime’s art balances big white and black spaces to create a world of nuance in between, just as his writing balances our big human feelings and our small human trivias to generate its incredible emotional power. Quite simply, this is one of the twentieth centuries most significant comic creators at the peak of his form, with every line a wedding of classicism and cool. Alan Moore.
Well, who am I to argue with Mr Moore? Coming back to re-read the early Love & Rockets is really rather like coming back to an old friend. It marks at least the third time I’ve had these stories, having initially had the magazines and then the early Titan collected editions. But this is perhaps the best way of getting the entire Love and Rockets series onto your shelves in these beautifully designed new editions from Fantagraphics/Titan Books (depending on which side of the Atlantic you’re reading this).
Love & Rockets started back in 1983 when Mario Hernandez convinced his younger brothers to put together a comic based on their experiences with the punk and underground scene in L.A. Luckily for them, one of the people they sent review copies to was Gary Groth, publisher of the Comics Journal. In wonderful synchronicity, Love & Rockets landed in the right place at exactly the right time and became the ground zero of the alternative comics movement of the 80s. This was something new, fresh and original, a black and white comic magazine dealing with everyday life from two wonderfully talented cartoonists. Love and Rockets was absolutely nothing like anything else out at the time. The fact that I can still say that in Love & Rockets’ 25th anniversary year is testament to just how good, how original, how influential that initial series was.
Love & Rockets started out with the brothers trying to play the comic industry at it’s own game, fearful of veering too far from the genre fiction that had underpinned everything they read as children. That’s why the initial tales feature Rocket Ships, Jetcycles, exotic travel, dinosaurs and all the usual trappings of your average fantasy comic. But soon, between these sci-fi tales, we had more introspective and complicated work about the lives of the characters away from the rocket ships. Within a few issues Jamie and Gilbert had enough confidence to almost drop the sci-fi altogether and really started doing the interesting stuff. But even when it still held onto the trappings of genre fiction the stories were unusual, concentrating less on high adventure sci-fi and more on the lives what would usually be minor characters.
At this point I should mention that I’ve always preferred Jaime to Gilbert. Not that I think Gilbert’s work is bad, far from it, but I just prefer Jaime’s art and stories to Gilbert’s. They were always the ones I’d look for first and enjoyed the most. I’d read and enjoy Gilbert’s Palomar strips, but I adored Jaime’s Locas.
(Love & Rockets issue 1, Page 1, introducing Maggie & Hopey. From Maggie The Mechanic by Jaime Hernadez. Published Fantagraphics)
Locas was the tale of a group of mainly Latina characters, starting out in the first book as teens and growing (but not necessarily maturing) as the books carried on. Of these, Maggie and Hopey are the stars. Maggie’s the mechanic and Hopey is, well no-one really finds out what Hopey does, mostly she just hangs about being fiercely sharp tongued, plays in a series of rather crap punker bands and has an off/on relationship with Maggie. The storylines switch from the early sci-fi Mechanic tales featuring Maggie to far more emotionally complex and fascinating episodes that look at the lives and loves of these characters in Jaime’s fictional, yet vividly realistic neighbourhood of Hoppers. The thing that made Jaime’s stories so wonderful for me was not just his wonderfully believable and complicated, all too human characters but his willingness to shift focus throughout his stories, playing with genre, mood, style and tone seemingly at will. And even though it’s primarily Maggie and Hopey’s show, he’s certainly willing and able to develop a gloriously rich and varied cast of supporting characters.
(More Locas. A more stylised and cleaner line just a few stories on from his start.)
Jaime’s art started out impressive; detailed, full of meaningful black space and packed with crosshatching. But as the pages rolled on, the lines got clearer, the black space more important and the detail reduced. Over the course of Maggie The Mechanic you can see it all getting simpler, more refined and it ends with Jaime’s art as a perfect condensate of his style, no line wasted, everything perfect on the page. He captures every emotion of his characters with just a line and does it effortlessly. He’s also supremely good at portraying his female characters realistically, as you can see from these three pictures of Maggie:
(Jaime’s art get’s cleaner and simpler as his book goes on, whilst Maggie puts on weight and in doing so becomes not only more real to us, but also more important and interesting to Jaime himself)
The stories here collect Jaime’s earliest Love & Rockets tales with the punk ethos on show and the sci-fi elements still present throughout. It was to get more refined and introspective later, but it started here. A stunning and important work, as relevant now as it was when first published.
(More Locas, and another facet of Jaime’s storytelling; he does great slapstick.)
The other books in this series reprinting Jaime’s Locas work are The Girl From H.O.P.P.E.R.S. and Perla La Loca, again they’re all available in this new trade dress and at a ridiculously low price. Or, if you want a book so heavy you may need help lifting it, there’s always the hardback collection of (pretty much) everything in the three books: the incredible 710 page LOCAS. Even then, you’ll find a lot more Jaime Love & Rockets / Locas stories to try, including the work in the new Annual Love & Rockets. And after seeing your way through Jaime’s work, it’s then time for Gilbert (but another time to talk about that).
The problem with Love and Rockets used to be trying to work out exactly what you needed to read and in what order due to the multiple formats and various re-issues we’ve had over the years. But these books are pretty much definitive now, printing the stories in strict chronological order (which is preferable, although the occasional artistic jumps forward and back can be momentarily jarring). In addition to these, once you want to explore the work of both Hernandez Brothers more, there’s a very handy “How to Read Love & Rockets Guide” at the Fantagraphics website.
And of course, you should all be very happy that we have new Love & Rockets stories coming from Los Bros with the annual Graphic Novel; Love & Rockets: New Stories that’s just been published.