Amor y Cohetes
(Love and Rockets Library: Short Stories)
Gilbert Hernandez, Jaime Hernandez, Mario Hernandez, writers/artists
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One of the things I’ve missed out on in reading through Love and Rockets one Bro at a time is seeing where they stood in relation to each other. I’m told by at least one trusted reader who was there at the time that “it’s the way they played off each other!” is an overrated element to the original serial-anthology format, but that’s fine, because my interest in this topic was more historical than critical. Isn’t it fascinating to know, for example, that “The Death of Speedy Ortiz” was in the same issues as “Poison River”? And I’ve heard straight from the Bros’ mouths that seeing what the other one was doing in the early issues helped shape the storylines that would define each of them: Gilbert was so impressed by Jaime’s obvious mastery of the “cute girls hanging out in a science-fiction setting” set-up in his Locas strips that he abandoned his similar material to create Palomar; then Jaime was so impressed with the extensive, realistic character work Gilbert was doing in Palomar that he beefed up that aspect of the Locas stories. It wasn’t so much “I’ll see you and raise” (although surely that’s a part of it, as it is whenever any talented people work in proximity) as it was each brother seeing what areas in their shared ideaspace gave them the room to bust loose.
In collecting all the (mostly) non-Locas, non-Palomar odds’n'ends from the initial run of Love and Rockets from both Gilbert and Jaime–and Mario too, the “sometimes Y” to Beto and Xaime’s AEIOU–Amor y Cohetes reinforces that conception of the brothers’ working relationship. It’s not one-upsmanship, it’s not trading eights, it’s more a matter of pulling from a collective pool of ideas about comics. For example, it’s striking how similar the two brothers’ science-fiction work looks. In “BEM,” the SF adventure that I believe was Beto’s very first L&R material, he hatches and spots blacks and draws romance-comic female faces in the way you expect from Jaime’s genre work. I mean, it’s still recognizably Gilbert, but it’s quite clear that both brothers conceived of these kinds of stories as ones that are by default painted with the same visual palette. As time passes, Gilbert’s sci-fi stuff dwindles down to the single storyline of Errata Stigmata, the asymmetrically coiffed character whose omnipresence in L&R promo material over the years always left me wondering who the hell she was since I’d seen neither hide nor hair of her in Palomar or Locas; even then, his layouts are wide open, using far fewer panels per page, and are driven by vast fields of stylishly designed black–Jaime-esque, in other words. Meanwhile, a pair of punk-based Beto stories–one the fictional history of a shoulda-woulda-coulda been the next big thing bad as told by one of their fans, the other an autobio vignette about the night his 17-year-old future wife puked her way through his would-be panty-dropping tour of punk hotspots–show the same easy familiarity and casual mastery of that milieu that Jaime’s does. How’d he do it without all the practice Jaime had? My conclusion is that, like how sci-fi should look a certain way, knowing how to write punk comics is just part of their shared gestalt. Hell, Beto even contributes an awesome little wrestling story, about the real-life night he saw (pre-Adorable) Adrian Adonis basically go nuts, that further proves the point.
The road goes both ways, of course. Jaime’s light-hearted sci-fi-comedy romps with pretty teenager Rocky Rhodes and her absolutely adorable robot sidekick Fumble eventually veer off into the sort of sad, you-can-never-go-back cul de sac of regret that’s normally Beto’s territory. There’s also a barely-veiled autobio story about the day a KKK event in his neighborhood provoked a riot that feels more Love and Rockets X than Locas. When the Bros swap characters for a special issue, Jaime hews much closer to the spirit of Palomar in his Luba/Maricela/Riri story than Beto does in his proto-Birdland gender-bending sci-fi sex romp with the Locas (whom he eventually transmogrifies into Locos!). To put even more of a point on it, Jaime takes a zany old Looney Tunes-style comic Beto did as a kid and redraws it with Maggie and Hopey in the lead roles, and damn if it doesn’t feel like the kind of kinetic, wordless romps Beto throws in as short stories from time to time as an adult.
Thrown into this mix for the first time in the L&R books I’ve read is Mario. Dude’s an accomplished cartoonist too, and in a style that I think anticipated a lot more comics I’ve seen than Jaime’s or Gilbert’s, believe it or not–his blobby, dynamically dashed-down inks feel alt-Euro to me, poised halfway between expressionism and naturalism. His main storyline, about the fallout from a coup d’état in a slightly sci-fi-tinged Latin American country, unfolded over the course of short stories spaced out over years, and offers more proof that the Bros were all building off the same foundation–it’s quite easy to place his “Somewhere in California”/”Somewhere in the Tropics” political thriller somewhere between Maggie and Rena’s Mechanix-era revolutionary misadventures and Gilbert’s serious-as-a-heart-attack Cold War/Drug War shocker Poison River. Which makes sense, I suppose, given that he and Beto collaborated on several of the strips.
Ultimately it’s Gilbert who emerges as the star of Amor y Cohetes. While Mario’s stuff feels like a cameo and Jaime’s like a detour, Gilbert’s non-Palomar work comes across like a second main throughline for his career. Whether incorporating Frida Kahlo’s style and a dizzying array of cultural and political eyeball kicks into his biographical strip about her, placing autobiographical stories and dialogue in the caption boxes and word balloons of totally incongruous superhero and sci-fi artwork, crafting harsh and mostly wordless short stories about violence, or developing Errata Stigmata into a damage case every bit the equal of a Palomar resident, he comes across as restless and relentless in his desire to do whatever he can think of doing with comics. All three Bros shine on this shared stage, but Beto’s the one pushing through the audience and taking it out to the street. It’s exciting to watch that shared ideaspace expand.