Posts Tagged ‘LOVE AND ROCKTOBER’

Your Love and Rockets 30th Anniversary thought of the day

July 15, 2012

Gilbert and Jaime are both masters of the form of comics. That’s in addition to their character work, their sheer illustrative chops, and so on; indeed it may be the most exciting thing about them. In the case of both brothers I’ve spent a long time chewing over just a few handfuls of panels, unpacking what went into them. Here’s Gilbert’s silent, six-panel comic “Heroin,” one of three one-page shorts he made with that title. It’s just a man against one of Beto’s soon-to-be-trademark dismal nowherescapes, clutching his arm, doubling over, standing back up, hunching over again. We don’t know who he is or where he is or what he’s doing or what its connection is, specifically, to the titular substance — he could be a junkie on the nod, sure, but then why is he also Richard Nixon (or maybe it’s Bob Hope)? Whether it’s about the drug specifically or addictive, destructive influences generally (as are the other two “Heroin” strips) doesn’t really matter, since the effect stems almost entirely from the building blocks of the comic itself: the man, the background, the grid layout, the lack of any text save the title, the rhythm that builds up as we watch his body contort, the three big blocks of black in each panel (trees, man, buildings), the hands pointing in opposite directions, the diagonal hill line bisecting each panel. Every element combines to convey discomfort and unease, the sense of being at the mercy of something that lets you straighten out just long enough for it to be crushing when it knocks you back down. Long before I’d actually read any comics by Los Bros I saw this page reproduced in an issue of The Comics Journal and it has worked its way into the fabric of my comics brain ever since. It occurred to me just the other day that I’ve even done a homage to it without realizing it. I think it’s a perfect comic.

And here’s two panels from “In the Valley of the Polar Bears” by Jaime. Maggie’s been working as the kayfabe “accountant” for her wrestling-champ aunt Vicki, something of a terror in and out of the ring, but the two are barely speaking. Vicki has just confided in her wrestler boyfriend Cash that the reason she’s been treating Maggie so badly is because she cares about her a lot and is hurt by Maggie’s seeming indifference in return. So here, Cash approaches Maggie to tell her about her aunt’s secret soft spot — and then blam, next panel, it’s already been told. Jaime doesn’t show us the conversation. He doesn’t slap a big “Five minutes later…” caption up there. He doesn’t alter the size of the panels or the gutters to imply the passage of time. He doesn’t cut to another scene in between. He doesn’t show Maggie and Cash in another location so that we’d know time must have passed for them to get from place to place. He zooms in a bit but other than that they’re even in the same basic spatial configuration. He pretty much breaks every rule of how jumps in time are conveyed in comics, and yet it’s still crystal clear what happened. Talk about no-fat storytelling. Why belabor the re-presentation of information we readers already have? And why monkey with shit to explain what you’re not showing us when you can simply not show it to us and assume we’re smart enough to follow? These two panels are so bold, so full of lessons in how to tell a story with comics. I think about them all the time.

Love and Rockets, the great serial comic by Gilbert, Jaime, and sometimes Mario Hernandez, is celebrating its 30th anniversary at the San Diego Comic-Con International this week. Inspired by Tom Spurgeon, this week-long, daily series of posts will highlight some of my favorite things about Los Bros Hernandez and their comics. For more information, click here.

Your Love and Rockets 30th Anniversary thought of the day

July 14, 2012

Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez have each been telling the stories of the same group of characters, continuously, for three decades. They’ve done lots of other stuff, Gilbert especially, but that’s the bulk of what they’ve done. No one else in comics has done it. No one’s even come close. Could someone else do it? Could someone else tell the life story of their characters, over an actual life span, and have a lot of people care passionately about where those lives end up? I won’t say it’s unimaginable, the idea of someone else doing it, because there are enough similar cases out there for you to imagine those other people doing it, and it’s only then that the gulf between Los Bros and everyone else becomes so clear. What if Bryan Lee O’Malley just kept going with Scott Pilgrim until he hit Vol. 30? What if Dave Sim had never lost his mind? What if all the B.P.R.D. spinoffs were written and drawn by Mike Mignola? What if Achewood were a comic book and Chris Onstad never burned out on it? What if Erik Larsen’s main touchstone for Savage Dragon were Márquez rather than Kirby? What if The Walking Dead were filled with Rick-level characters, instead of Rick and a bunch of other people for Rick to react to? What if Alison Bechdel made a series of Dykes to Watch Out For graphic novels instead of memoirs? What if Harvey Pekar had made stories up instead of writing them down? What if all of these things lasted for thirty years? And oh yeah, what if all of these people had siblings doing the exact same thing at the same time under the same title? It’s only when you see all the hoops one would have to jump through even to come close to what Beto and Xaime have accomplished that you really appreciate that hey, they’re the ones who built the hoops.

Love and Rockets, the great serial comic by Gilbert, Jaime, and sometimes Mario Hernandez, is celebrating its 30th anniversary at the San Diego Comic-Con International this week. Inspired by Tom Spurgeon, this week-long, daily series of posts will highlight some of my favorite things about Los Bros Hernandez and their comics. For more information, click here.

Your Love and Rockets 30th Anniversary thought of the day

July 13, 2012

Any character in Love and Rockets stands a decent chance of being my favorite on any given day, because they are designed to be contemplated, and I’m the contemplative type. Today I’m thinking a lot about Tonantzin, one of the stars from Gilbert’s Palomar stories. She’s a stunningly hot small-town girl, so her rebelliousness first manifests itself by dressing provocatively and using sex to self-actualize. But her mind, heart, and psyche are all as dangerously overdeveloped as her body and sensuality, she gets swept up in a series of increasingly destructive obsessions, first with America and Hollywood, then with native culture and political protest, then with the danger of militarism and the possibility of nuclear annihilation. We can see that they all provide her with an emotional and intellectual way out of the confines of Palomar and her own body — indeed things start getting really bad when she’s taught to read — but because he never really describes it as such, we never realize how far she’s willing to go until it’s too late. Ultimately she comes to believe the only truly free intellectual and political act is to destroy the body she came in. It’s an unforgettable and utterly unique portrait of how good ideas and good people can nevertheless combine into something very bad. It’s a lesson that life entails losing vibrant, lovely people you neither want nor expect to lose. It’s a tragedy for a young woman and the people who love her. It’s a commentary on the hopelessness of the political climate of the day. Today I find myself wondering whether if she’d grown up in Hoppers instead of Palomar, and had punk and the Locas as a release valve instead of abnegative protest, would she still be alive today? On the flip side, would Speedy Ortiz still be alive if he’d grown up in Palomar instead of Hoppers, in a place where it was easier to form romantic relationships and harder to form ones based on a shared propensity for collective macho violence? This is the kind of thing you could do all day long with character after character after character from both Gilbert and Jaime. They’re drawn to be viewed from all angles.

Love and Rockets, the great serial comic by Gilbert, Jaime, and sometimes Mario Hernandez, is celebrating its 30th anniversary at the San Diego Comic-Con International this week. Inspired by Tom Spurgeon, this week-long, daily series of posts will highlight some of my favorite things about Los Bros Hernandez and their comics. For more information, click here.

Your Love and Rockets 30th Anniversary thought of the day

July 12, 2012

Mario Hernandez is the great lost alternative cartoonist, the Lost Bro Hernandez. His interest in cosmopolitanism, leftist politics, the conflation of activism and terrorism by the authorities, the pas de deux between terrorism and authoritarianism, the revolutionary and counterrevolutionary power of art and pop culture, the Third World as a petri dish for first-world government’s reimportation of radicalism, all within the framework of vaguely science-fictional thrillers — he is in many ways the perfect comics-maker for our present moment. With its heavy use of blacks his style sits comfortably alongside those of his brothers, but its density and its bold slashing brushstrokes set it completely apart. If he’d had the time or inclination to produce the same volume of work, published with the same regularity, as his brothers, we’d likely have a third pantheon-level creator from the same generation of the same family, an astonishing thing to contemplate. As it stands we have a hidden treasure, a single gem in a stack of gems, and that’s not so bad either.

Love and Rockets, the great serial comic by Gilbert, Jaime, and sometimes Mario Hernandez, is celebrating its 30th anniversary at the San Diego Comic-Con International this week. Inspired by Tom Spurgeon, this week-long, daily series of posts will highlight some of my favorite things about Los Bros Hernandez and their comics. For more information, click here.

Your Love and Rockets 30th Anniversary thought of the day

July 11, 2012

Jaime Hernandez is comics’ greatest maker of standalone images. His blacks, his typography, his sense of style, the drama of his line, the sense of balance and momentum even within a single image, his use of powerful moments to convey character, the whole nine. Out of all his peers in the ’80s and ’90s alternative comics movement — the stuff I think of as High Alt, the solo anthology series cartoonists who eventually coalesced around Fantagraphics and Drawn & Quarterly, Xaime and Beto and Ware and Burns and Clowes and Brown and Doucet and Bagge and Tomine and Sacco and Woodring and French — his makes him uniquely suited for the Tumblr era, when the rebloggable, context-free image is king. As such he stands the best chance of elbowing his way into the new canon currently being established as a reaction against High Alt and its forebears, consisting mainly of high-impact, visually dazzling genre comics whose work thrives in a one-at-a-time context — Kirby and Moebius and Otomo and Miller and Chaykin and Manara and pre-alt Mazzucchelli and McCarthy and Graham. But his best images often come within the flow of a story in addition to pin-ups, posters, covers, and title pages, and his interests broaden the canon-of-spectacle beyond solving problems through violence and/or sexy stylishness. They work equally well as vehicles for devastating emotional reveals, or as t-shirts.

Love and Rockets, the great serial comic by Gilbert, Jaime, and sometimes Mario Hernandez, is celebrating its 30th anniversary at the San Diego Comic-Con International this week. Inspired by Tom Spurgeon, this week-long, daily series of posts will highlight some of my favorite things about Los Bros Hernandez and their comics. For more information, click here.

Your Love and Rockets 30th Anniversary thought of the day

July 10, 2012

Outside of erotica and autobiography, no cartoonist has ever woven sex so indissolubly into the fabric of his comics as Gilbert Hernandez, in a fashion reflective of lived experience. In all of fiction comics, only writer Alan Moore comes close. This goes beyond simply drawing hot people, although before unfortunate circumstances intervene, Tonantzin and Khamo are probably the hottest woman and man in all of comics. Gilbert’s ability to describe and depict physical attraction between his couples frequently makes for the sweetest and most romantic aspects of those relationships—whether male or female, characters’ appreciation for their partners’ hips, tits, dicks, thighs, stomachs, faces and what-have-you, and for the pleasure those parts bring them, is often just plain adorable, however freaky or kinky or dirty things might get. But Beto’s larger argument appears to be that we can no more separate our physical desires from our lives than we can detach from our physical bodies in the course of living them. This of course has a dark side: Life is frequently terrible, and thus so is sex in Gilbert’s comics. And so his greatest creation, Fritz, is the em-body-ment of all these aspects of Beto’s work: She is the sweetest, sexiest, kinkiest, dirtiest, most tragic character of them all. There are no sex scenes in Beto’s comics—life is a sex scene, for better and for worse.

Love and Rockets, the great serial comic by Gilbert, Jaime, and sometimes Mario Hernandez, is celebrating its 30th anniversary at the San Diego Comic-Con International this week. Inspired by Tom Spurgeon, this week-long, daily series of posts will highlight some of my favorite things about Los Bros Hernandez and their comics. For more information, click here.

Your Love and Rockets 30th Anniversary thought of the day

July 9, 2012

No cartoonist has ever captured the spirit of rock and roll — listening to it, watching it, performing it, defining your life with it — like Jaime Hernandez. Vanishingly few have even come close; most attempts are cringeworthy. Jaime not only nailed the style, and the intensity, and the specific idiom of his punk milieu (the graffito “NO CLASH, SEX PISTOLS OR THE RAMONES IN 1987!” in the panels below is worth more than entire critics’ bodies of work), and the nuts-and-bolts stuff like the body language of people playing music on stage, he also chronicled the lives of the characters involved long enough to be basically the only cartoonist ever to explicitly examine what it’s like when you grow up and grow older and discover that you no longer look and act and think like someone in the pit at your favorite band’s show.

Love and Rockets, the great serial comic by Gilbert, Jaime, and sometimes Mario Hernandez, is celebrating its 30th anniversary at the San Diego Comic-Con International this week. Inspired by Tom Spurgeon, this week-long, daily series of posts will highlight some of my favorite things about Los Bros Hernandez and their comics. For more information, click here.

Comics Time: Love and Rockets: New Stories #4

August 1, 2011

Love and Rockets: New Stories #4
Gilbert Hernandez, Jaime Hernandez, writers/artists
Fantagraphics, August 2011
104 pages
$14.99
Buy it from Fantagraphics
Buy it from Amazon.com

Love and Rockets: New Stories #4 will turn any fan of Los Bros Hernandez into the host of The Chris Farley Show. “Remember? That time? When you drew Calvin’s plaid shirt? So that the plaid was always facing in the same direction? No matter how much Calvin moved?…That was awesome.” I am seriously finding it difficult, if not impossible, to review this comic without simply hitting the bullets-and-numbering button and whipping up a list of everything in it that amazed me. It would be a long list, too. But I’m abstaining as much as I can — to challenge myself for starters, and to avoid spoiling the comic for those of you who haven’t yet read it (which is probably most of you since it’s not out yet) for the most part. But I’m also holding off on that listicle because I think it’s a cheat. The fact of the matter is that while reading this book I discovered that I’m at least as attached to Ray Dominguez and Fritz Martinez, the protagonists of Jaime and Gilbert’s contributions respectively, as I am to a decent number of real people in my life. So sure, I could rattle off the ways in which Xaime and Beto continually prove themselves to be among the most graphically inventive and entertaining cartoonists alive some three decades into their careers — the crosshatching on Ray’s shirt and Maggie’s sofa; Gilbert’s use of wavy, puddle-shaped, impenetrable fields of black in his vampire story; the impact of the just-this-side-of-parallel lines of Angel’s body as she bends her leg to put on a high heel; the upside-down lava-lamp shape of Fritz’s legs in a skirt, used as an anchor for panel after panel of her simply walking around town with her agent ex; dredging up a long-ago, possibly long-forgotten character, drawing him as a late-middle-aged man in a way that makes him unrecognizable until you realize just how recognizable he is; the smashed-skull-as-cubist-masterpiece in Gilbert’s customary burst of horrifying ultraviolence; the holy shit moment when you realize the visual structure to that montage spread from Jaime’s story; Gilbert storming the ramparts of the vampire story and launching sex and violence back into it like payloads from a trebuchet; Jaime serving up a story whose snapshot style echoes comparable material from “Wigwam Bam” in significant and story-relevant ways; tracing the similarities and differences between Killer and Fritz via the characters they play, the use of their amazing bodies fraught with story information. And hey, look at that, I did rattle them off! But in the end, how it looks pales in insignificance next to what happens, because making it look that good is a means to the end of imparting just how much what happens matters. Ray’s shirt and Fritz’s legs, the shadow of the vampire and the structure of the montage — they’re just landmarks to remind you where you were when you found out if Ray and Fritz and Maggie were going to get happy endings, or not. It’s the easiest thing in the world to understand, and it’s the hardest thing in the world to do, and it’s magic, pure magic, to do it this well.

LOVE AND ROCKTOBER | Comics Time: Heartbreak Soup

October 28, 2010

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Heartbreak Soup

(Love and Rockets Library: Palomar, Book One)

Gilbert Hernandez, writer/artist

Fantagraphics, 2007

292 pages

$14.95

Buy it from Fantagraphics

Buy it from Amazon.com

(Programming Note: Due to technical difficulties, I was unable to post this review during the regularly scheduled Comics Time slot on Wednesday of this week. This is the first time I’ve missed a Comics Time deadline, scheduled time off aside, in probably two years, and I’m pretty bummed. My hope is to resume the regular MWF schedule beginning tomorrow, but delays or erratic scheduling may continue until the issue is resolved. I apologize for the interruption in service. Anyway…)

The great temptation when discussing Los Bros Hernandez, and it’s a temptation I’ve succumbed to, is to operate under the assumption that they’re both trying to do basically the same thing, only one of them is better than the other at it. Now, obviously, they are doing many of the same things. They’re brothers who co-founded a series they share in which they tell the sprawling saga of groups of (mostly) Latin American (mostly) young adults that unfold over (mostly) real time, dealing frankly with issues of sex, community, and mortality, starring women who are the closest alternative comics have come to generating sex symbols, and utilizing striking black and white art and inventive, challenging pacing. If that’s all you’re going by (and granted, it’s a lot!), then it’s almost irresistible to point to an element you feel one brother has over the other–Jaime’s incorporation of poster-ready design into his visual storytelling, say, or Gilbert’s magical-realist literary panache–and call him the victor.

But a) much as we comics folks love looking at absolutely everything otherwise, it’s really not a “who’d win in a fight” situation, and b) my re-read of Heartbreak Soup has me more convinced than other that the differences between Beto and Xaime are not differences of degree, but differences of kind.

Let’s talk about the art first. This is the arena where Jaime is most frequently said to have it over Gilbert. And indeed, I can happily imagine a day spent doing nothing but looking at drawings of Terry Downe or Doyle Blackburn. That smooth line, those sumptuous, propulsive blacks, those enormously appealing and endearing character designs–it really is eye candy, in the best sense of that term. But a key goal of Jaime’s art, besides being pleasant to look at, is pop. Not in the sense of “pop art,” although I think that’s a major element and not just due to the occasional overt Lichtenstein homage, but in the sense that they pop off the page. Those blacks fill in space in a way designed to sharply foreground the figures and objects Jaime wants you to focus on or remember, something his sharp, slick line abets. When I picture Jaime panels, I tend to picture the characters are arrayed in a line from left to right against some sort of horizontally oriented background like a car or a wall, like actors (or punk rockers) on a stage. Moreover, he tends to draw his characters in poses and facial expressions that come across as, well, poses–the precise moment at which whatever they’re feeling or thinking or saying or doing is communicated most clearly, so that that thing pops off the page. The overall effect is that there’s them in the spotlight, and then there’s the other stuff against which that spotlight is defined.

By contrast, when I picture Beto panels, I picture someone more or less standing around, usually with one or more other characters milling around as well, with the house-lined streets and intersections of Palomar extending out to the back left and back right. The very setting of his stories is one through which his characters are constantly walking to get from one place to another; I couldn’t draw you a map of Palomar or anything like that, but I feel like I’ve been walked through its streets much more than I can say that of Hoppers. Moreover there’s a casual element to Gilbert’s imagery that Jaime’s more compositionally calibrated panels don’t have. Beto’s line is rubbery, and complimented not by masterful fields of smooth, clean black but by shading and stippling that feels almost dusty. His character designs famously overemphasize flaws and virtues alike, and have a uniformly heavy-lidded weight to them; my wife simply describes his characters as “hard.” It’s tough to imagine spending a pleasant few hours staring even at Tonantzin or Israel the way you might at Maggie or Rand Race. And when characters are depicted for maximum impact, it feels like it’s being done through great force of effort on Gilbert’s part rather than with the effortless, effervescent precision with which Jaime does it. It’s also almost always either something the characters in question are doing on purpose to impress someone else, or a shot of them as seen by someone who they’ve impressed unwittingly. The overall effect feels calculated more for immersion than impact.

Then there are the stories and subject matter. One difference is obvious from the start: Jaime had a couple-issue jump on his brother in terms of beginning his magnum opus, but the delay gave Gilbert the opportunity to draw a bright line between his science-fiction work and his (occasionally magical) realist material. But beyond that, Gilbert very rapidly jumps his action forward about ten years or so from the first major story to the next, while Jaime’s almost resolutely marches forward in sync with our own real-world timeline. Jaime presents material from the past largely in the context of memory and how it intrudes upon and influences us; arguably the past’s on-again off-again love affair with the present is even more central to the Locas strips than Maggie and Hopey’s. Gilbert, however, doesn’t usually view stories from back in the day through that psychological lens. They tend to be presented as discreet tales, filling in backstory, spotlighting a character or a relationship, illuminating a part of Palomar we haven’t seen, depicting someone or something lost to time. Jaime’s interest in the past is primarily internal in its effect; Gilbert’s is primarily epic.

Particularly in light of their recent work, there’s another difference between Gilbert and Jaime worth pointing out. Jaime’s work is studded with sit-up-and-take-notice stories, and his most harrowing stuff–“The Death of Speedy Ortiz,” “Flies on the Ceiling,” and now “Browntown/The Love Bunglers”–tends to be among them. But when you hit “The Death of Speedy,” it’s not as though it establishes the tone for the rest of the series. It’s an exception, not a rule. “Locas” tends to be lighthearted even though what it’s really about–friendship, sexuality, identity, adulthood–is actually quite serious.

By contrast, the harshness, seediness, and bleakness of the world of Palomar and of Gilbert’s work generally–the love many of his characters feel for one another notwithstanding–tends to be what first comes to mind when I think of his comics. Yet Heatbreak Soup struck me for how good-natured it feels, up until the very end. Yes, sex is presented from the very first strip as a magnetic force with the potential for incalculable damage, and the book often does feel like “horniness punctuated by the occasional physical assault.” But centering the material on good-hearted Heraclio, unpredictable Luba, and packs of sweetly belligerent little kids and teenagers goes a long way to making everything feel funny, even when you’re not laughing. It’s almost Pueblo Home Companion, you know what I mean?

It’s only when you hit the final story in this collection, “Bullnecks and Bracelets,” that things truly take a turn for the dark: Try as he might to bury himself in bodybuilding, drugs, love affairs, and hustling, Israel’s whole life is defined by the disappearance of his twin sister during a solar eclipse when they were very young. No matter where he goes or what he does, he cannot escape that black sun. And this is where “Palomar” becomes what it is–where Gilbert becomes what he is–as surely as The Sopranos became what it was with “University” in Season Three. Whether in terms of family, sexuality, physicality, or deformity, biology is destiny for the people of Palomar, in a way that is almost never true for the Locas (Penny and H.R. excepted, perhaps–and a certain character in “Browntown”). And although biology is obviously among Beto’s primary concerns, destiny is the operative word. I don’t think the Palomarians have the ability to escape the way the Locas do. Not all of them need to escape, mind you–there’s a lot of really warm and adorable and hilarious and awesome stuff going down in Palomar–but whatever walks alongside them in their lives is gonna walk alongside them till the very end.

LOVE AND ROCKTOBER | Comics Time: Love and Rockets: New Stories #3

October 25, 2010

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Love and Rockets: New Stories #3

featuring “The Love Bunglers Part One,” “Browntown,” and “The Love Bunglers Part Two”

Jaime Hernandez, writer/artist

Fantagraphics, 2010

104 pages

$14.99

Buy it from Fantagraphics

Buy it from Amazon.com

If I had to sum up all of the post “Wigwam Bam/Chester Square/Bob Richardson” Locas stories in a phrase, it would be “coming to terms.” With adulthood, with the death of punk, with a career, with the past, with reaching middle age, with falling in and out of love, with family and friends and heroes, with your limitations, even with really good things like your talents. (Heck, even this story reveals that Maggie’s planning to open up her own garage, finally utilizing her long-dormant skills as a mechanic.) For the most part this has gone, if not smoothly, then at least pretty well in the end. Maggie and Hopey both seem less prone to disaster than ever before, as does Ray. Yes, Izzy had a fairly spectacular flame-out–literally!–but Ghost of Hoppers nonetheless ended on an optimistic note for her future. Put it this way: No, I wouldn’t be surprised if that was the last we saw of her, if she were lost to mental illness and to us forever, but nor would I be surprised if she came back reunited with her man in Mexico, content and writing again. Penny sort of exploded her way out of the series too, depending on how much credence you give “Ti-Girls Adventures Number 34,” but her story also ended on a note of hope for future reconciliation with her children and repentance for her life of fecklessness. A few years ago, Jaime ended Love and Rockets Mark II with two dueling stories of people making other people feel whole again by virtue of their very presence. What a kindly pair of comics,” I said.

So much for kindness.

The suite of strips that Jaime contributed to this year’s Love and Rockets: New Stories volume, which revolve around the long centerpiece “Browntown,” comprise the cruelest and story he’s ever told. Sadder than “The Death of Speedy,” scarier than “Flies on the Ceiling,” crueler than “Wigwam Bam.” Jaime’s line, which has been loosening somewhat over the course of the last few books (I first noticed it in “La Maggie La Loca”–a de-tightened approach to better accommodate Steve Weissman’s colors), is as limber here as I’ve ever seen it, the closest perhaps he is capable to looking like he drew something in a white heat. In filling in one of the biggest remaining gaps in Maggie’s backstory, the two years she spent living with her family away from Hoppers, Jaime reveals what seems like the key piece of the puzzle of Maggie’s bad luck in love and her punk-era rebelliousness, and a sealed-off well of pain caused by her estrangement from her family. But worse–and I don’t want to spoil anything here, so I’m not even going to say who I’m talking about–it introduces a character who, at long last, can’t come to terms. What happened in this person’s life, through no fault of anyone but the perpetrator but as a result of unwittingly malign neglect by everyone else, broke them, never to recover.

It’s easy enough to tell that sort of story, I suppose, but difficult to make the reader feel an impact of discovery of this tragedy commensurate to what the characters themselves might feel. Jaime’s genius is that he pulls it off, with an out-of-nowhere punch-to-the-gut revelation that literally made me gasp out loud. It’s his “I did it thirty-five minutes ago.” And ever since I read it, when I think of it, I just keep thinking to myself, “Poor [name]. Poor, poor [name].” It makes me want to cry! Cry for an imaginary person I’d never read about until a few pages earlier. (It’s the flipside of feeling proud of the entirely imaginary Hopey Glass for becoming a teacher’s assistant, I guess.) Such power! Between this and the not at all dissimilar ACME Novelty Library #20, this year has featured two of the most devastating–and I mean so sad it impacted me physically–comics I’ve ever read. I will never forget reading this book. Finally, I was there.

LOVE AND ROCKTOBER | Comics Time: Love and Rockets: New Stories #1-2

October 22, 2010

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Love and Rockets: New Stories #1-2

featuring “Ti-Girls Adventures Number 34”

Jaime Hernandez, writer/artist

Fantagraphics, 2008-2009

104 pages each

$14.99 each

Buy #1 from Fantagraphics

Buy #2 from Fantagraphics

Buy #1 from Amazon.com

Buy #2 from Amazon.com

This is going to sound a little weird, but one of my favorite things about the superhero flight of fancy with which Jaime inaugurated this third Love and Rockets series, now in bookstore-friendly post-altcomic squarebound format, is the fact that I was pronouncing the titular super-team’s name wrong nearly the whole time. I was thinking “Tee-Girls”–maybe you can blame the aging super-version of Xochtil’s resemblance to Maggie’s Tia Vicki for putting that pronunciation in my head–when as it turns out its a play on “Tigers.” And whaddayaknow, just like that, Jaime’s imaginary team of misfit superheroines fits right into the very real and very long legacy of superhero characters and creators I’ve heard people completely mispronounce: Namor the Sub-Mariner, Magneto, Sienkiewicz, Quesada, Byrne–not to mention “Jamie” Hernandez himself. Probably just a fluke, I know, but somehow it feels more like attention to detail.

It’s easy to dismiss “Ti-Girls Adventures Number 34” as precisely that sort of pleasant superhero-nostalgia diversion, a chance for Jaime to work directly in the idiom of one of his greatest but least frequently expressed influences. It’s certainly difficult to square it with the Locas-verse as we know it. The wildest left-turn back into the fantastic that the “Locas” strips have taken in probably 20 years, it transforms Penny Century into the mad superhero she’s always dreamed of becoming, reveals that Maggie’s apartment-complex neighbors Alarma and Angel are secretly superheroes themselves (we’d already caught some glimpses of Alarma in costume, but that was in the storyline where we also saw the devil take the form of a levitating black dog, so, y’know, grain of salt), brings sundry superheroes mentioned in the imaginary comics Maggie reads to life (e.g. Cheetah Torpeda, herself the namesake of a strip club Ray D. frequents), features inexplicably aged versions of previously existing characters like Maggie’s wrestler cousing Xochtil, posits the existence of a mutant-like female-only “gift” of superpowers, and ultimately reveals that Penny was never really real to begin with. “I’ve known Penny for quite a few years now,” Maggie says, “and in all that time she never aged. Like, she was not regular flesh and blood, but like, this drawing that was clipped from a comic book and pasted down here on Earth.” And here I’d thought she’d just used H.R. Costigan’s billions to have a lot of work done!

And indeed, Jaime’s art here is so zesty that maybe a chance to have fun with super-powered women in skimpy costumes really is the main point. (And frankly it’d be worth it if only for the debut of Alarma’s glam-rock cut-off-tank-top villain look. Yowza.) The effect he achieves with his black-and-white-uniformed Amazons flying around or smacking each other around against the night sky or in the void of outer space is frequently breathtaking–my dream comic con panel is a “spot-black-off” between him and Mike Mignola. Meanwhile his action choreography is to die for. Witness the knockout wordless nine-panel-grid page in Part Two of the story, featuring a series of images in which Angel attempts to join the fight against an off-the-right-hand-side-of-each-panel Penny Century, only to be rebuffed at each stage by one of the uber-powerful popular girls of the superhero scene, the Fenomenons. In each panel there’s a palpable drive from the left to the right, thanks to motion lines and those blacks, but there’s always something stopping Angel from getting to that elusive border. I know I lecture superhero writers and artists all the time about how they should be doing their job, but, well, this is how they should be doing their job.

But there is more to “Ti-Girls” than meets the eye. Super-Penny turns heel not just because she’s gone mad with power, but because those powers have caused her to lose two of her children; in order to thwart Penny, one of the Ti-Girls uses a ray-gun to zap another with a sample of Penny’s “maternal instinct,” which can be used as a homing device. I think this may be one of the most explicit explorations of motherhood ever for “Locas”; certainly Penny and Hopey’s dueling pregnancies way back when weren’t explored in terms of how the pair felt about the kids they had and/or didn’t have. There’s Tia Vicki’s misery over her belief that Maggie resents her for how she raised her, too, but that didn’t involve birth and babies and very young children like this storyline does. I wonder what it says about Maggie that this is all being processed in something very like a dream?

There’s also an explicit feminist angle. Women are the only people capable of becoming super-powered naturally; they’re born with “the gift,” while men have to try to recreate it with lab accidents or magic meteors or what have you. Meanwhile, the entire history of female superheroes in this world is one of their management and exploitation by one Dr. Zolar–his crowning superheroine-team creation is an all-teen unit, the Runaways to his Kim Fowley. But perhaps most strikingly, certainly if you read regular superhero comics, is what a non-presence male superheroes are. None are drafted into the fight against Penny, and the few we meet are basically non-entities who exist to get thrashed by one of Penny’s super-kids or to help out the Ti-Girls in locating them. The problems in the story–Penny’s rampage, a breakout at a female supervillain penitentiary, a supervillainness out for vengeance, a Bizarro Ti-Girl–are all caused by women, addressed by women, solved by women, and have consequences felt by women. I actually think you might have a hard time getting this comic to pass a reverse Bechdel Rule, in fact. And that’s enormously, enormously refreshing. If “Locas” has taught us anything, isn’t it that women should be the stars and driving forces behind their own damn comic, even if they’re dressing up in one-piece swimsuits and punching each other in the process?

LOVE AND ROCKTOBER | Comics Time: Love and Rockets Vol. 2 #20

October 20, 2010

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Love and Rockets Vol. 2 #20

featuring “La Maggie La Loca” and “Gold Diggers of 1969”

Jaime Hernandez, writer/artist

Fantagraphics, 2007

56 pages

$4.50

Out of print at Fantagraphics

(First, a quick reader’s note: At this point I’ve read all of the all-Jaime/Locas L&R collections. For this, the final issue of Love and Rockets as a comic-book-format periodical, and for the three currently available volumes of its new squarebound incarnation, Love and Rockets: New Stories, I’m going to be reading and reviewing Jaime’s stuff on its own before starting over at the beginning with Beto. There are other ways I could play this, but I’m enamored by the idea of being all caught up with Maggie and company. And yes, this means LOVEMBER AND ROCKETS is on its way…)

The triumph of the continuity! Leave it to Jaime to use “La Maggie La Loca,” the inaugural strip for The New York Times‘ “Funny Pages” lit-comics section, to address one of the oldest, wildest, most sci-fi strips in his series’ history. Though the more outlandish details are largely (but not entirely–I spy a glowing robot head in one of those flashback panels) elided, Maggie the Mechanic’s adventures in the jungle alongside Rena Titanon and Rand Race are officially not retconned. I’m happy about this because I’m the sort of person who pulls for that early sci-fi stuff, encouraging folks who want to start reading the series to start there even though it’s so different in vibe and visuals from what it ends up being. I’m also happy because it means that Maggie’s translator for that time, Tse Tse, returns for the strip, revealing herself to have become maybe the smartest and most successful of the characters. (I’d always considered her the “lost Loca” and hoped she’d somehow find her way to Hoppers or the Valley.)

The strip’s story involves Maggie receiving an invite to come visit Rena on the private island where she hides from the admirers and enemies she made during her dual careers as a wrestling champion and a revolutionary icon. Maggie, of course, is just a humble apartment manager, and she spends most of the visit alternating between awe, jealousy, and contempt for her hostess, whose glamour and strength appears to have slowly edged into isolation and paranoia. But what makes the strip really worthwhile in terms of how it relates to the Locas strips of the here and now can be summed up by one panel: A nude, 40-year-old Maggie, standing with her back to us in all her craggy, doughy, Rubenesque magnificence, looking out the window at Rena, her back also to us, arms akimbo, her 70-plus-year-old back and arms still seeming hewn out of wood despite her age, staring down at gifts left by her devoted fans. But as that mirrored pose indicates, both women have essentially the same plight: To what extent are they comfortable with their achievements? To what extent can they let the people they love into their lives? To what extent are they just standing there alone–or is the important thing that they’re looking at people who care about them? Maggie may just be an apartment manager anymore, she may now get in way over her head (literally) when she attempts to have a fun island adventure like she used to, but the way Rena sneaks into her room at night just to watch her sleep reveals that the aging heroine could use a dose of the community and camaraderie that’s part and parcel of Maggie’s dayjob. A life spent fighting people in the ring and the streets has left her admired but alone; Maggie’s misadventure teaches her it’s okay to focus on the former to ameliorate the latter.

Accompanying the main strip is “Gold Diggers of 1969,” a flashback strip drawn in Jaime’s Sunday-funnies kiddie-comic style and concerning li’l Maggie as she bounces between her three other mother figures–her actual mom, her Tia Vicki, and her babysitter/mentor Izzy from back in her wannabe-gangsta teenage years–on a particularly dramatic day. Again we see the ways in which these strong women are weak (I was particularly tickled by the revelation that Izzy’s not a founding member of the Widows at all; sorry, Speedy), and the ways in which they draw strength by helping to protect people weaker than they. Little Perla’s way too young to really notice any of this, but I think that’s the point–flash forward about 15 years when she’s off gallivanting with Rena in the jungle, and she’s still mostly too besotted with hero worship to notice the toll Rena’s glamourous, dangerous life has taken on her. In much the same way that connecting with her new baby brother and her mom and dad makes young Maggie feel like part of a whole, so too does her semi-disastrous visit to Rena at age 40 help give a hero her strength back. What a kindly pair of comics.

LOVE AND ROCKTOBER | Comics Time: The Education of Hopey Glass

October 18, 2010

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The Education of Hopey Glass

(Love and Rockets, Book 24)

Jaime Hernandez, writer/artist

Fantagraphics, 2008

144 pages, hardcover

$19.99

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The “all growns up” phase for the Locas continues. Looking back, the material collected in Penny Century was sort of the calm before the storm for our heroes and heroines–the point at which they’d matured, but the point before they realized they’d matured and started struggling with it. If Ghost of Hoppers was Maggie’s confrontation with adulthood, The Education of Hopey Glass serves up the equivalent for Hopey and Ray. It’s fascinating to me to see where their lives have taken them versus where they were–and more importantly, what they represented to Maggie–when they were first juxtaposed. For starters, this is a really weird and kind of silly thing to say about a comic book character, but I am straight-up proud of Hopey for becoming a teacher’s assistant. (Waiting for Superman can go pound sand.) It reveals a strength of character she’d always kept carefully hidden, an indication that beneath the hellion exterior, she’s actually, well, a good person, a person capable of caring about someone other than the Maggot. What’s refreshing about what Jaime is showing us here is that this in no way “fixes” Hopey, nor makes her suddenly respectable. She’s still a loudmouth bartender and an incorrigible womanizer with a wandering eye, and she still can’t seem to help but hurt the people who care about her. And on the more positive side, she’s still sexy and funny and badass and all the other things that have made her fun for her friends to be around. Her new job in a position of responsibility isn’t something she sacrificed the person she’d always been to achieve. Like the glasses she spends the storyline shopping for, it’s just a new accessory on the same old face, a new way of looking at things with the same old eyes.

Good ol’ Ray Dominguez, on the other hand, is more ol’ than good at this point. The rumpled, cigarette-smoking noir narration we encountered from him last time around is back with a vengeance, and the succession of endless nights of booze, broads, and loneliness it suggests tells us that much has changed over the nearly two decades since he first emerged as the safer, more caring alternative to Hopey in the quest for Maggie’s heart. This is not to say that he’s the full-fledged devil-may-care degenerate of the sort comprised by the circles his old friend Doyle and his would-be flame Vivian “The Frogmouth” Solis move in–on the contrary, his relentless narration is a litany of worrying that he’s too old, a given situation too hairy, a given woman too much trouble, a given dude too dangerous even to know. And yet through some innate inability to really stick up for himself and go for what he wants, Ray is constantly buffeted from predicament to predicament by the still more fucked-up people with whom he surrounds himself–a classic noir patsy protagonist, played mostly for Lebowski-style black laughs. Ray wonders aloud why he’s so fixated on the two years he spent with Maggie all those years ago, especially in light of what he eventually gets going with Viv, but it feels like less of a secret to us: He saw what he wanted and hung onto it. My fear is that the Frogmouth is too much of a (hilarious!) human disaster area to give him the gumption to do so this time around, but anything’s possible, and he seems to realize that it’s now or never.

What makes these two stories compelling and connects them to one another beyond the basic idea of the characters coming to terms with their age is how much the stories rely on the kinds of things only an artist of Jaime’s caliber can pull off for their telling. Hopey’s many loves and crushes–Maggie, Rosie, Grace, Guy Goforth, Angel, the woman at the eyeglasses store–are woven into an intricate web of eye contact and body language, glances and looks away, the clothes they choose to wear and what they look like naked. Half the story emerges from characters looking at how other characters look at still other characters. Ray’s story, meanwhile, takes place about 30 feet in front of a murder mystery, if you will, one that he and his friends remain half-aware of and half-willfully oblivious to as it approaches, takes place, and ripples out into its aftermath. As Ray does his thing, we’ll see people behind him start arguing and fighting, whisper to one another, disappear and reappear, shoot daggers at one another or look sheepish and sick. Ray putting it all together is one of the catalysts for him trying to get his own act together by the end of the story–and it wouldn’t have been possible if Jaime hadn’t been such a poet of bar fights and parking-lot conspiracies in the rear of the panels. Maybe adulthood isn’t just choosing a new way to see with your same old eyes, but also choosing not to look sometimes, too.

LOVE AND ROCKTOBER | Comics Time: Ghost of Hoppers

October 15, 2010

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Ghost of Hoppers

(Love and Rockets Book 22)

Jaime Hernandez, writer/artist

Fantagraphics, 2006

120 pages, hardcover

$18.95

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Jaime Hernandez has long displayed an infrequently utilized but alarming alacrity for horror. The Locas comics’ outbursts of genuine violence have been scary–I’ll never forget Hopey getting stomped on in the bathtub and staggering out, leaning naked against the door frame, or Speedy half-lit by the streetlight, a portrait of a young man at the very moment he hits rock bottom that chills me to my very soul. But in general the real terror, the real exercises in creating and sustaining horror imagery, emanate from Izzy Ruebens. Maggie and Hopey’s long-suffering, eccentric mentor has slowly withered, almost, over the years, from the semi-comical parasol-wielding goth of the strip’s early, punky days to the stoic, emaciated, frequently naked presence we’ve seen in Penny Century and now Ghost of Hoppers. Whether she’s simply mentally ill or genuinely haunted (and the two aren’t mutually exclusive possibilities, to be sure) is almost immaterial. In either case, the danger comes simply from seeing what she sees. The shadows, the stains, the shattered and inverted crucifixes, the black dog, the flies on the ceiling–these are monumental horror-images, frightening not because of some physical threat they present but the violation of reality they represent. They’re frightening by virtue of their very existence. Something is wrong with them. All of the damage they’ve caused–and based on what we know of Izzy’s guilt over her abortions and suicide attempts, the damage that caused them–has been self-inflicted.

At first I struggled with why Jaime would choose this particular storyline–Maggie Realizes She’s All Grown Up, basically–to delve deeper than ever into this aspect of the Locas world. I mean, this thing becomes a horror comic toward the end, easily the most sustained such work in the whole Locas oeuvre. What does any of it have to do with the misadventures of Maggie, the story’s protagonist? But then it clicked: She, too, is threatened here by the violation of her conception of reality. Is she the badass punker she always thought she was, or has she grown up to be a square like everyone else? Is she basically just a fun-loving straight girl with one exception that proves the rule, or might she be physically and emotionally attracted to other women after all? Is she okay with the friends-with-benefits relationship she’s had with Hopey since time immemorial, or does she want something more? Were she and Hopey really the center of the universe, or were there equally vibrant and vital relationships that continued on without them? Can she maintain her self-image as a troublemaker when she’s at a place where she really kind of hates trouble? Does Hoppers–her neighborhood, her hometown, her group of friends and fellow travelers–still exist in her mind as a screwed-up but happy place to visit, or has the passage of time rendered that all a lie? No wonder the black dog chooses now to pay her a visit. She had so much to be frightened of already. Thank goodness that life sometimes grants even hapless Locas an exorcism or two on the house.

LOVE AND ROCKTOBER | Comics Time: Penny Century

October 13, 2010

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Penny Century

Love and Rockets Library: Locas, Book Four

Jaime Hernandez, writer/artist

Fantagraphics, 2010

240 pages

$18.99

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Grown-ups! More or less. This volume collects stories that follow the conclusion of Love and Rockets Volume One, the initial years-long run of the series’ comic-book format–first in spinoffs and standalones, then in L&R Volume 2–and it’s clear Jaime took the dividing line seriously. From the largely wordless wrestling action of “Whoa, Nellie!” to the less spotted-black-driven line art of the “Maggie & Hopey Color Fun” (here presented in glorious black and white), the comics in Penny Century look less dense and read that way, too. Maggie and Hopey seem to have settled down, somewhat–no longer careening from adventure to adventure or disaster to disaster, still involved in the lives and schemes of their eccentric friends but no longer completely swept up by them, still romantically (or at least sexually) entangled with one another but not to the all-or-nothing extremes of the past. The most frantic strips in the collection, “Chiller!” and “The Race,” are a late-night driving-alone mind-playing-tricks-on-Mag freakout and an out-and-out dream sequence respectively. The horns on H.R. Costigan’s noggin, heretofore the Locas strips’ only remaining visual link with their sci-fi roots, are explained away. The most outlandish thing that happens here, Izzy’s magic-realist transformation into a giant, is tied to her very adult concern about an upcoming reading from her recently published memoir, and the comic’s last remaining great free spirit, Penny Century, spends most of the book hiding from attention and is then widowed. Even the “who’s who” portrait page at the back of the book has been cut. The wild-oats-sowing crises of the sort that drove “Wigwam Bam” and “Chester Square” are over. The Locas have matured.

Ironically, perhaps, Jaime takes this opportunity to indulge himself, if not his characters. He transforms Ray D. into a sort of hard-boiled hard-luck case, whose first-person narration captions speak of falling in with femme fatale Penny and cruising for action like the least violent installment of Sin City ever. He tells his longest li’ Locas story yet in “Home School,” which reveals the origin of Izzy’s undying affection for Maggie in a fashion that’s adorable–and carefully observed–as young Maggie’s plight is revealed to be heartbreaking. He has Penny avoid the impending circus her life is about to become by also avoiding clothing. He draws page after page after glorious, please-study-this,-Avengers-artists page of women’s wrestling action, an absolute master class in conveying the physical consequences of bodies in motion and collision.

And in the collection’s gutsiest, flashiest move, he turns one of his long-running storytelling innovations into ostentation by completely eliding Maggie’s entire marriage until we learn of her divorce. Obviously, the Locas stories are full of events we only find out about after the fact–from Esther’s forced haircut to Ray and Penny’s affair–but usually the characters involved were off-screen at the time. Maggie, on the other hand, remains our main character for the bulk of this book, so finding out she married a dude during that time comes as a shock. It’s kind of gratuitous, even–it’s Jaime doing the Jaime-est thing he could possibly do with his signature character. Why? Why not? That ends up being a sufficient answer. Sure, we go along with it in the end in large part because the flashback history we discover between Maggie and Top Cat Tony is convincing, and because Locas has always been about the past’s bizarre on-again off-again romance with the present. But mostly we go along with it because it’s fun, because Jaime has earned the right to even the most spectacular stylistic flourishes–sort of how Tony’s okay with Maggie’s dalliances with Hopey, since, well, that’s Maggie. Settling down often just means owning your weirdness.

LOVE AND ROCKTOBER | Comics Time: Perla La Loca

October 11, 2010

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Perla La Loca

(Love and Rockets Library: Locas, Book Three)

Jaime Hernandez, writer/artist

Fantagraphics, 2007

288 pages

$16.95

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Things take a turn for the unpleasant in this volume. I don’t mean sad or heartwrenching–they’ve already done that; I mean unpleasant. Taking a look that old negative review of Locas I wrote, I’m pretty sure this is where Jaime lost me completely the first time around. Ray can’t get it together enough to hang on to Danita, and she skips town. Doyle can’t get it together enough to hang onto himself, and he skips town. Penny’s pretty much settled into the unfulfilling life of being Mrs. H.R. Costigan, theoretically banging out kids with her manservants as a way of passing the time. Maggie brings disaster everywhere she goes (though she means well, at least). And Hopey! With the image of her smoking on the toilet while pregnant still fresh in our minds from the last volume, she she falls in with a bunch of people just as glib and nasty as she is–only as it turns out they’re even worse, and several people are beaten nearly to death for her to learn that lesson. Love and sex were never quite “carefree” in the Locas stories–people pined and got hurt at least as often as they had a great time or did really romantic and loving things–but in this volume the sex gets downright seedy, transactional at best and joylessly fetishistic at worst. It’s a book about creeps.

Fortunately I’m now able to accept that. I don’t know what the hell came over me when I wrote that old review, to be honest. In what world does making art about creeps necessarily constitute and endorsement of being a creep? Upon this re-read it’s quite clear that Jaime is in no way rah-rah’ing Hopey’s behavior, which he consistently depicts as show-offy, designed for audience consumption. I mean, she elbows a crowd of prostitutes out of the way to go down on someone, and out-hipsters everyone by declaring an aging TV star’s pedo-fetish lifestyle: “I think it’s super-cool.” No one must ever accuse Hopey Glass of being in any way square! As we see from flashbacks to her as a squirmy little girl refusing to sit still for a photographer, and as a teenage asshole subjecting her loyal friend Daffy to a humiliating encounter with an S&M whackjob, she thrives on other people’s disapproval. She lives to be a magnificent bastard. Only this time around, the bastardry comes back to bite her.

Maggie is a much nicer person and therefore her story is a lot nicer, but she’s now getting less out of her basket-case love life than ever. Far away from anyone with whom she ever had a good thing going–Hopey, Ray, Casey, even Speedy or Race–she falls into a pattern of breaking the hearts of the people who are interested in her and screwing up the lives of the friends who aren’t. Her chaos has become contagious. And her now-rare moments of sexual intimacy use cash as a buffer. “The real secret is that I really didn’t feel bad about doing it,” she confides, “Like it was no big deal.” What a relief that must be to her, since “everything is a BIG DEAL” is basically her life story!

So what conclusions are we to draw from all this? It’s taken me a while, but I’ve come to the conclusion that drawing a conclusion is the wrong thing to do. There’s not some message being sent here about, I dunno, punk or fluid sexuality or sex work, which are sort of the common threads of the two big stories here–the Hopey-centric “Wigwam Bam” and the Maggie-centric “Chester Square”-to-“Bob Richardson” suite. The message, I think, is simply to be found in the fact that there are two big, separate Maggie and Hopey stories here. They’re not symbols, they’re people. Here you have two people who were once so inseparable and similar that their friends and enemies called them The Incest Twins, and now they’re finally, really living apart. When two people have formed their identities in such an inextricable way–in Maggie’s case it’s so profound that it’s the exception that proves the rule of her sexual orientation itself–what happens when you extricate them? Well, they make some really shitty life choices, they have a hard time figuring out who they are, they hurt some friends, they get some other friends hurt, they make still other friends wonder if they were really such great friends to begin with, they hurt themselves, and they start–barely–to move on. All in the hands of the kind of artist who can draw characters to have family resemblances or to look enough alike that other characters can’t tell them apart, but we the readers can even while seeing those resemblances. Story made possible by sheer chops. Damn.

LOVE AND ROCKTOBER | Comics Time: The Girl from H.O.P.P.E.R.S.

October 8, 2010

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The Girl from H.O.P.P.E.R.S.

(Love and Rockets Library: Locas, Book Two)

Jaime Hernandez, writer/artist

Fantagraphics, 2007

272 pages

$14.95

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Do you ever stop to think that David Lynch’s work doesn’t make sense? No, not in that way–I don’t mean in terms of story logic, I mean in terms of his aesthetic/generic approach. In that case, your answer is probably “No, I haven’t.” But seriously: Pre-Beatles rock and roll nostalgia, soap-operatic melodrama, supernatural beings, naked ladies, small towns, Los Angeles, non-linear narratives, hideous violence, Angelo Badalamenti…there’s really no reason why all of that should get lumped together, or why all of it should work together, but somehow it does and so you almost never pay attention to what a hodgepodge it is. Something about what Lynch does, the confidence with which he does it, makes it feel seamless, like “of course” rather than “what the?”.

Looking at the cover for The Girl from H.O.P.P.E.R.S., I realized the same is true of Jaime Hernandez’s comics. There isn’t any particular reason for a sprawling slice-of-life saga to concern itself with punk rock, Mexican-American teenagers and twentysomethings, a pair of on-again off-again girlfriends/best friends, barrio life, and professional women wrestlers, with a soupcon of comic-book sci-fi thrown in now and then–no reason beyond that’s what Jaime was interested in making comics about. But you read a story about Hopey ditching Maggie to tour with the shitty punk band she’s in with her ex-girlfriend, and Maggie getting over that and the murder of the dude she’d been into for years/her Goth friend’s cholo kid brother by becoming the sidekick for her aunt/the women’s heavyweight champion, without batting an eyelash. That’s what a Jaime comic is, the same as a David Lynch movie is doppelgangers, broad comedy, hot sex scenes, early ’60s pop classics, a cameo by some impossibly cool rock star, and someone getting their brains blown out. He created his own kind of story.

So that’s thing #1 that struck me about this collection, wherein the sci-fi stuff is largely dropped once you get past the opening section (and is outright rejected in a cheeky self-parodying strip that ends with present-day Maggie tossing aside a “Maggie the Mechanic” comic book with a “yeah, right”) and wherein the Locas material goes from being a really good comic to a really great comic. Thing #2 is that Tom Spurgeon is right to list “memory” as one of Jaime’s hallmarks, above and beyond “spotting blacks” or “portraying rock and roll in a way that actually captures what’s awesome about it” or “drawing cute girls in bathing suits.” I think it’s the introduction of extensive flashbacks that makes this material so strong, so fascinating, and so epic in scope. For starters, it’s fantastic in a fannish way to learn the “origin stories” of Maggie & Hopey (“The Secrets of Life and Death Vol. 5,” “The Return of Ray D.”), Hopey & Terry (“Tear It Up, Terry Downe”), and Izzy (“Flies on the Ceiling”). A student of superhero comics like Jaime was obviously gonna cotton to the appeal of that sort of thing.

And of course, flashbacks serve to flesh out Jaime’s ever-expanding cast of characters. In that interview I ran the other day, Jaime mentions how he’d pick out characters he’d drawn in the background and use them whenever one of his main characters needed a new boyfriend, say–fleshing out the Locas world with stuff that’s already present. Flashbacks do the same on a narrative level: You don’t need some big character-revealing adventure with new character Doyle, say, with all the implications that might have for where you want to push the present-day story of everyone he interacts with, when instead you can rewind a few years to “Spring 1982” to see what he was like then. The contrast that arises between the genial slacker we met earlier in the volume, with his tousled hair, stubbly chin, drooping cigarette and shit-eating grin, and the scowling ex-con and ex-addict so scared of his potential to do wrong that he literally flees town we see in this flashback story says more than enough about the potential for characters in the Locas-verse to grow and change.

But from a formal perspective, this is where Jaime really starts playing with gaps on comics’ atomic level, that of panel to panel transitions. There’s this one great, totally unnecessary bit where Maggie’s fearsome aunt Vicki’s wrestler boyfriend comes to Maggie to divulge that Vicki really does care about how Maggie feels about her, but rather than stick that in a word balloon or three, Jaime jumps from a panel on the left in which the guy says “Wait, kid. Listen to me a second…” to a panel on the right where Maggie, already storming away, says “She said that, huh? So what am I supposed to do, feel sorry for her when she breaks my arm?” You’re not jumping from place to place or era to era here, you’re not doing anything that might occasion a jump cut in a more traditionally executed comic–you’re just skipping a non-essential part of a conversation, without missing a beat. Time is porous in Jaime’s hands, prone to dropping out from under you or skipping back and forth within a single page, let alone from story to story. The rise to prominence of flashback stories reflects that on an “as above, so below” level.

Most importantly, though, I think, is that this collection is where death becomes a presence and a factor in the characters’ lives. Not the impersonal, absurdist, satirical deaths caused by the depredations of Maggie the Mechanics mad sci-fi robber barons (and wasn’t it funny that the science fiction adventures Maggie had were the opposite of escapist–she was constantly hoping to escape from them?), but the death of family members and friends and babies, murder and the threat of murder, criminality and insanity. It’s the volume where you learn how Speedy, really without even thinking about it, has hurt too many people over the years too badly for them to stay close to him when he needs them the most; how Izzy is so haunted by guilt that, regardless of how literally you want to take what we’re shown here, it’s become a relentless, inescapable presence in her life, quite literally destroying her personality. Awareness of death, of our mortality, is part of what makes us distinctively human; I think the ability to remember is just as integral to us. Certainly that’s the argument Jaime makes when he ends “The Death of Speedy Ortiz” with a one-page flashback to a wedding reception of no particular importance. Memory is how we fill in the gaps death leaves behind.

LOVE AND ROCKTOBER | Comics Time: Maggie the Mechanic

October 6, 2010

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Maggie the Mechanic

(Love and Rockets Libary: Locas, Book One)

Jaime Hernandez, writer/artist

Fantagraphics, 2007

272 pages

$14.95

Buy it from Fantagraphics

Buy it from Amazon.com

If it weren’t for Jacob Covey and Bryan Lee O’Malley, I don’t think you’d be reading this post. Aside from Jaime Hernandez himself, they’re the two men most responsible for persuading me to pick up the digest editions of Love and Rockets that Fantagraphics began releasing a few years back, and for how hard those digests clicked with me when I did. Covey’s attractive design of the digests made the most of the power of Jaime’s art, individual panels of which work as stand-alone images as strongly as those of any cartoonist ever to put pen to paper. (I recognized that even as a Jaime skeptic.) Combine that with bright colors and the digest format itself–chunky enough to feel substantial, light enough to fit in a backpack and be read comfortably on the train or the beach, tailor-made to be lined up on a bookshelf–and you’ve got a series of books that are compulsively collectable and readable. O’Malley’s Scott Pilgrim series served a prophetic role in this regard: A format that’s similar (though not identical) and similarly delectable; crisp, stylish black-and-white art incorporating a variety of traditions and influences into the basic alternative-comics tradition; a fast and loose approach to genre fiction that uses it as a spice rather than the main ingredient; compelling portraits of an incestuous social circle of music-interested, kind of feckless young people with disastrous love lives…reading Scott Pilgrim primed me for revisiting Jaime’s “Locas” material, ready to accept it for what it is (“Locas”!) rather than what it isn’t (“Palomar”). No, I could never go back and recreate the experiences of the long-time die-hards who grew up with Maggie and Hopey in every individual issue; but barring that, I’d found the ideal combination of content and format. Putting it all in fun little digests rather than a big portentous hardcover somehow made it all click.

And so, instead of being put off by Maggie’s borderline-bipolar hysterics, Hopey’s surliness and occasional cruelty, and Penny’s bombshell ridiculousness…well, that’s who they are, isn’t it? I feel like it’s somehow an insult to the whole critical project if I say “I used to find them all pretty annoying, but then I learned to accept it and move on”–like, c’mon, was it really that simple? And the answer is yes! Instead of bashing my head against the fact that they weren’t more together, or that they weren’t falling apart in the way my personally preferred alternative-comics protagonists tend to fall apart, I suddenly found myself digging it. For example, it’s funny and endearing watching Maggie fall all over herself around the alpha males she’s attracted to, and to contrast this with the alpha females with whom she surrounds herself as friends. Izzy Ruebens, Penny Century, and Hopey Glass are all a bit whacked-out in their own ways, but the personas they’ve constructed for themselves as a way of dealing with their problems are rock-solid, even overwhelming to newcomers. Maggie Chascarillo, by contrast, is an open book–even her attempts to cloak her true feelings send an equally true message in block letters five feet tall. Her inability to repress herself is her charm, and it’s reflected by the physical business Jaime is constantly involving her in–crashing hoverbikes, breaking machinery, ripping her pants, getting tossed around by wrestlers and thugs and explosions. She’s sort of an explosion herself!

(On a related note, I almost threw Terry Downe on my list of the alpha-Locas, but I can’t get around that one heartbreaking panel in this collection where her glacial hardass facade crumbles and she begs Hopey to tell her what Maggie has that she doesn’t. Hopey’s hold over Terry is that she brings out the Maggie in her.)

Making his protagonist a basketcase (albeit a sexy one–let’s be honest, that’s a big part of the appeal of this material too) is just one part of what impresses me so much any time I revisit this material: I’m struck by just how confident it is in itself. What I really mean by that, of course, is LOOK AT THIS FUCKING COMIC. Can you imagine what the reaction would be if a cartoonist today came out with a debut with the chops Jaime’s displaying in the very first issue? Keep in mind I’m not just talking about the crosshatchy prosolar-mechanic sci-fi stuff: The second story is “How to Kill a…,” a wordless, increasingly abstracted portrait of Izzy as a young writer, hinting not only at the formal mastery Jaime would later display (it’s all jumpcuts and comics-as-design), but at the psychological (and supernatural!) depths Izzy’s gothy exterior would be revealed to contain years later.

And on a narrative level, Jaime spends no time at all explaining his world, why it bounces back and forth between a realistic portrait of young poor Latina punks and a light-hearted science-fiction satire of Reagan-era Latin-American political upheavals. Like magic realism gone Marvel Comics, it just throws you right into the deep end and expects you to swim. This is true even if you’re just talking about the realistic stuff, the person-to-person relationships, and it’s established right in the fourth panel, where Maggie complains about having had too much to drink last night: These comics predicate themselves on things that already happened. Nearly any time a new character is introduced, they’re after money someone owes them, or getting teased for the crush they’ve been nurturing on another character for years. It’s an in medias res world.

Okay, so a lot of it will be filled in with flashbacks eventually. We get a glimpse of this in “A Date with Hopey,” the story that concludes this volume and is its strongest single strip. Our hapless hero Henry’s one and only appearance relates how his sporadic, intense friendship with Hopey evolved into unrequited love, ended in rejection, and now exists as a bittersweet memory; the laserlike precision with which the story pinpoints powerful emotions nearly everyone has experienced serves as a model for the future of the Locas stories. (And, contra what I used to think, it’s proof positive that Jaime is fully aware of the damage Hopey can carelessly inflict, even as its her carelessness itself that makes her so irresistible.) But the way you’re just dropped into Maggie & Hopey, Already In Progress, is pretty much why I continue to recommend this volume, rather than its relatively sci-fi-free successors, as the place to start if you’re interested in Jaime’s work. I understand why that doesn’t work for everyone–and it’s true, the earliest comics are relatively talky and old-fashioned-looking as befits their influences. But if you start late in the game, you’re not just missing dinosaurs and rocketships and robots and superheroes and such–you’re missing what really feels like a couple years in the life. Even by page one, we’ve already missed so much!

LOVE AND ROCKTOBER | Comics Time: An interview with Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez

October 4, 2010

NOTE: Back when I worked for Wizard magazine’s website, WizardUniverse.com, I conducted a series of interviews with alternative-comics creators titled I CAN HAS COMIX? That title was a little problematic with some folks at the company — as were the transcription bills — but whaddayagonnado. I kicked the feature off on June 22, 2007 by speaking with Los Bros Hernandez, and I’m reposting the interview here because I think it’s a pretty solid introduction to/overview of the brothers, Love and Rockets, and what I get out of it all.

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I CAN HAS COMIX?: GILBERT AND JAIME HERNANDEZ

In Wizard Universe’s new alternative comics interview column, Los Bros Hernandez reveal how their shared love of punk rock, sexy girls and Silver Age classics helped their epic series Love and Rockets launch the indie scene as we know it

By Sean T. Collins

I’ll admit that it took me a while to hitch a ride aboard Love and Rockets.

Despite the near-universal acclaim the series and its creators have received over the 25 years since the series’ first issue took the comics world by storm and kick-started a small-press revolution–the fruits of which can be seen at this weekend’s MoCCA Art Festival in New York City–there’s something daunting about it. For starters, it’s not just a straightforward one-man show: It’s an umbrella title for the work of Los Angeles-born brothers named Gilbert and Jaime (and sometimes even older sibling Mario), collectively known as “Los Bros Hernandez.”

What’s more, both Gilbert and Jaime have developed their own mini-mythoi within L&R, featuring enough characters to rival your average superhero universe. In Gilbert’s case, you have the busty, hammer-wielding femme fatale Luba and her friends, lovers, family and enemies, all swirling around the fictional Latin-American town that gives Gilbert’s “Palomar” saga its name. Jaime’s stories center on unlucky-in-love mechanic Maggie and her obnoxious punk-rock best friend/sidekick/sometimes-lover Hopey, wild women who are the stand-out members of a loose-knit group of L.A. ladies dubbed “Locas.” Both casts of characters age in real time, meaning some people who started the series as teenagers now have teenagers of their own, with their own adventures. The warts-and-all presentation of the series’ leads (particularly Jaime’s, in my case) can leave you as pissed of as you’d be at your own obnoxious friends.

And to top it all off, Love and Rockets has spawned two separate ongoing series using that title, a raft of trade paperback collections, two massive hardcovers housing nearly the entire “Locas” and “Palomar” sagas, and countless spinoff miniseries, graphic novels and even adult comix. Put it all together and it’s enough to make the friggin’ Legion of Super-Heroes’ continuity seem easy to follow.

Until now.

To celebrate L&R‘s 25th anniversary, publisher Fantagraphics recently began releasing awesomely affordable, handily portable softcover digest collections, starting at the beginning of both brothers’ epic storylines and giving readers their best chance ever to get in on the ground floor. With the first volumes (Jaime’s Maggie the Mechanic and Gilbert’s Heartbreak Soup) already in stores, the second installments–The Girl from H.O.P.P.E.R.S. by Jaime and Human Diastrophism by Gilbert–launched this week, with some of Los Bros’ best work ever on board.

I could go on about both brothers’ mastery of character development, creating people as flawed, funny, and fascinating as your best friends. I could wax rhapsodic about their sophisticated storytelling, which relies on the readers’ intelligence as it bounces back in forth in time and between dozens of characters. I could point out that at different times, it’s the funniest, raunchiest and scariest comic you’ll ever read. I could talk for ages about the gorgeous art–Jaime’s sharp, sexy, stylish classicism and Gilbert’s earthy, equally sexy surrealism. And I could say that while you hear a lot about “creating a universe” in comics, no one’s ever done it better than Los Bros–when you read an L&R story, you feel like you’re catching just a small glimpse of a world as big, sprawling, messy, funny, horny, heartbreaking and real as our own.

Instead, in this joint interview with Gilbert and Jaime, I’ll let Los Bros themselves explain the inspiration of the series, reveal the dark secrets of the stories in the new digests, and announce their pick for the greatest superhero comic of all time. Through it all, it’s clear that when it comes to creating thrilling uncategorizable comics in Love and Rockets, the brothers are still armed and dangerous.

WIZARD: Take us back to 1981 when you guys started the books. What made you say, “Let’s do this”?

JAIME: Let’s see, 1981…I was being paid to go to junior college, so I didn’t want a job. I was just taking art classes and stuff like that. I wasn’t thinking about what I was going to do with my life–I just liked drawing comics. By that time we were drawing comics for ourselves, but we were starting to draw them with ink on the right paper and everything, not just on a piece of typing paper with a pencil. We wanted to print it somewhere but we didn’t know where, because it wasn’t your normal Marvel or DC fare. There wasn’t really much of a market for this stuff, we thought. We were still punk rockers in bands and we were just doing comics. We wanted to draw comics the way we wanted to see them, and we weren’t really seeing much of them out there.

GILBERT: Comics were our amusement for years, and what we were into was not what the mainstream companies were into at the time. We figured that by printing an underground magazine we would get it out there, mostly to see what the response would be–just something to do, really. It turned out that when we finally got our stuff together and put out a 32-page Love and Rockets comic, a fanzine/underground type thing, we were luckily noticed right away by Fantagraphics. The timing was just right–they were ready to publish their own comics. It took a little climb to get Love and Rockets going, but the response was very good, even in a small way at first, so that encouraged us to continue.

It’s not too often that people in the alternative comics area have that kind of success right out of the gate, but I guess you guys didn’t have a lot to compare it to. Before Love and Rockets there were the undergrounds, but they were sort of a different beast.

GILBERT: Yeah. Cerebus and ElfQuest were actually encouraging in the sense that it could be done, getting a following for a black-and-white comic. It wasn’t necessarily mainstream. Even though they were both geared for that audience, they were successful on their own.

Jaime, you had more “mainstream” elements in your early work, with its sci-fi flavor. Was that an attempt to tap the normal comics-reading audience, or was it just you following your bliss?

JAIME: It was pretty much just me. I liked drawing rockets and robots, as well as girls. [Laughs] It really was no big game plan. It was almost like, “Okay, I’ll give you rockets and robots, but I’ll show you how it’s done. I’m gonna do it, and this is how it’s supposed to be done!” I went in with that kind of attitude.

That’s definitely a punk attitude.

JAIME: Yeah. I’d see something was being done in other comics and I’d say, “Ah, no, no, that is not the way to do it. This is the way to do it.” That gave me encouragement to just do it. In the beginning, I was putting my whole life of drawing comics since I was a kid into this comic. When the characters started to take over, the other stuff started to drop out because it was getting in the way.

And the result was a book that’s been credited with inventing alternative comics as we know them, though that couldn’t have been your intention at the time.

GILBERT: I think that we did create a path, at least, using all our influences and what we saw about comics that we knew of since we were kids. That developed into mainstream comics in the ’60s, and undergrounds in the late ’60s, and then in the ’70s you’d have mainstream companies that would also publish black-and-white magazines–different things bouncing around here and there with a different format. That was encouraging to us as well. I think what happened with Love and Rockets is that since there really weren’t the kind of comics we were doing, that is bringing our mainstream influences into a new kind of comic, a new kind of underground, let’s say. An underground with more going on, hopefully. [Laughs] At least I would like to think so. It basically created a path for everybody to at least get on, not necessarily making it easier, but just [having] something there. It was just a different road to go down, and I think that is what we did somehow.

In each of your main storylines, you’ve both created these big, sprawling, interconnected casts over the years. Is that something that two of you talked over, or did it evolve spontaneously and separately out of what you both were interested in doing?

JAIME: I would say that it just kind of happened as the characters started to write themselves. I think because Gilbert started creating all-out characters, it just seemed like a good idea to me, or something. On my end, I basically just created characters that would fill in the gaps of the story. If I needed someone to say something in the back that was totally unrelated to the characters, I would create a character later on. What started out as a drawing of just somebody, I decided, “Hey, I’ll make that someone’s boyfriend.” While in the beginning they were just there to color up the place, after a while they started to take on lives of their own. That is how the characters started to multiply. What about you, Beto?

GILBERT: It would probably be my mainstream influence, with me. Like in, say, Peanuts: You could follow the strip with Charlie Brown and Linus for a few days, and then it would shift to Lucy and Violet. But you wouldn’t lose what the strip was about; it was because all the characters were so well informed that you are always in the Peanuts world. Even if sometimes it was about Snoopy or Sally Brown or whatever, you were always there. That’s on the high end, but in the middle there would be the Marvel Universe, actually, for me. I always liked what fans complain about now: the fact that they were all interconnected. If you needed something heavy and metallic and electronic, you went to Stark Industries. If you needed power, you went to Reed Richards’ unstable molecules. I always liked the crisscrossing of that. Of course it went into madness eventually [laughs], but at first it was very intriguing to a kid. It was something new for superheroes, that interconnecting. In the Hulk comic you could mention Stark Industries, and Iron Man or Tony Stark was nowhere near it but you knew what they were talking about. That is what I liked about it: that interconnecting, even when stuff is off camera. That is pretty much what inspired me to go ahead and do that with mine. That way, you just have a larger canvas to work from.

That’s a big part of L&R‘s appeal–you get the sense that we are following this handful of characters right now as they do things during the course of their day, but that if we just took that camera and moved over a couple of blocks, you could catch someone else in the middle of what is going on in their lives, too.

GILBERT: Yeah, and another aspect is that is how our family worked as well. That’s something we brought from home. Our family, our cousins, aunts and uncles were all interconnected the same way. That was an influence as well, the family unit.

JAIME: Yeah, it was a big family. Our aunt had six kids and our other aunt had six kids.

Talk a little bit about your main characters. In your case, Jaime, it’s Maggie and Hopey, the stars of The Girl From H.O.P.P.E.R.S., and with Gilbert it’s Luba, the main attraction in Human Diastrophism.

JAIME: Maggie started back in high school, where I wanted to create a character I could put into any type of story I wanted–send her to outer space, back to time, to her grandma’s house. She was just a drawing at first, and I just started to think wherever I go, Maggie goes. It took a while, but I put a lot of my thoughts into her, and that’s why she’s the main character and the stories follow her. I created her friend Hopey out of just wanting a sidekick, and seeing the punk girls in L.A. at the time; that was when I was first going to the punk shows. They just kind of hit off together. My Betty and Veronica, you could look at it that way. Or my Batman and Robin. [Laughs] They just worked. When we did the first issue, that was the first response I got: “I like your girl characters.” I went, “Cool, because I like doing them!” [Laughs] That is basically how that started, and Maggie continues because I know her so well and I can put a lot of stuff into her.

GILBERT: My work around the beginning was similar to Jaime’s: a science fiction, two-girls-hanging-out-type thing. Once Jaime’s came out, the response to it was immediate. I could see how much more defined it was [than mine] and how much potential it had. Jaime had already grabbed it and was working that side of it just fine, so I abandoned my stuff and thought, “What is it I really want to say that’s different?” I just kept going back to the idea of this imaginary Latin-American village [called Palomar]. The more I thought about it and the more I felt it out, the more it seemed right. It was completely different from what Jaime was doing. Even from the beginning I thought that Love and Rockets should be a bigger thing. It shouldn’t be just all the same thing, and since Jaime was taking care of that part of it, then doing something completely different but still on the same page would make Love and Rockets a bigger thing, a bigger work of art. So that’s where the encouragement came from, bouncing off the fact that Jaime’s was done and already the response was good, so all I had to do was fill in the rest. I was a little freer, actually, to do something that might not have been commercially viable. I think that Palomar was a little chancier than doing the girl/rocket stuff at the time.

JAIME: I could tell you that Gilbert’s approach helped me a lot in taking the girls out of the science fiction, to handle stuff more at home. Gilbert was the older brother, anyway, so he really did everything before me, ever since we were little. [Laughs]

GILBERT: What’s very interesting about the science fiction stuff is that the question we get asked the most, at least out loud, is “Where is the rocket? That’s the real Love and Rockets.” Oddly, that’s the smaller segment of the audience–they’re just more vocal. The real audience is the one who followed Maggie and Hopey’s adventures as real girls, so to speak, and the Palomar stories. That is the real Love and Rockets reader. But for some reason we have the most outspoken ones saying, “When are you going to do the rockets? It’s called Love and Rockets!” That’s fine, we love doing rocket stuff, but the real Love and Rockets is what we are famous for.

You mentioned that the audience has changed, and now the less genre-y things are actually more commercially viable. Jaime’s had his work published in The New York Times, your recent collections have gotten major mainstream-publication review acreage–could you ever have seen this coming?

JAIME: I think that for me, it was more a case of, “One of these days, sure, I’d like my character standing next to Charlie Brown and Betty and Veronica and Superman.” But I was just hoping we would be able to continue doing it and hopefully make a major living off of it because I didn’t want to do anything else with my life. It was like, “Oh boy, I can continue!” But “How long is this going to go?” I wasn’t even thinking about it. Twenty-five years later, I’m going, “Wow, a quarter of a century and I’m still allowed to do this?” It’s amazing. I just think back to all the talented people I knew in the past who had to stop because they just couldn’t live off of doing their comics.

GILBERT: The one time I got thrown was when we were getting a lot more attention doing Love and Rockets and people were really accepting what we wanted to do in it. What really threw me was when I got to a point where readers would tell us, “I used to read Batman, but now I read your stuff.” I thought that was really creepy. I’d go, “You mean you’d rather read us than Batman?” Batman, Superman, all that stuff–they were icons when we were growing up. Nobody ever thought somebody would rather read stuff that wasn’t that. It just threw me and was something I never really thought about, that someone might like a different kind of comic outside of the Big Two. For us it was always a note of encouragement: “We just better step up to the plate then. If this is what they are saying about us, if this is what they like about us, then we better be good!” And we’ve done our best to stick to our guns about giving the most honest comic we can–coming from our point of view, of course. But it threw me for a bit. It seemed like we were being scrutinized for a while, like, “Okay, this stuff is getting more attention than The Incredible Hulk, so let’s see what they’re gonna do next.” We were like, “Oops!” The only thing you can do is try to get better. Otherwise you’d crumble if you tried to compromise or change things.

What do you think of the new digest versions of your work?

GILBERT: For me, I just trust our publisher. I don’t have the say of how it is going to be packaged, because I couldn’t tell you how, so I have to trust them a lot. I think it’s great if it’ll just give us shelf space. Don’t colorize it or something like that. [Laughs] But as long as it’s presentable and someone will put it on their shelf, that’s all I can ask for.

Jaime, your latest digest includes “The Death of Speedy” and “Flies on the Ceiling,” two of your best-known–and darkest–stories. How did each of them come about?

JAIME: Back before “The Death of Speedy” and “Flies on the Ceiling,” I did this story about Speedy talking to his friend about his sister Izzy. He mentioned how she was all normal and then she went to Mexico and came back weird. When I wrote that, I didn’t know exactly what happened to her. I got that question every time: “What happened to Izzy in Mexico?” I’d say, “Oh, I’ll tell you one of these days.” But to myself I was saying, “Yeah, when I find out!” [Laughs] It took almost 10 years to write. It all came from that, and it took on many forms and shapes and sizes till I finally did “Flies on the Ceiling.” With “The Death of Speedy,” certain continuity was building up in the drama, and all of this was building up to where I wanted to kill somebody. I wanted someone to die. But it was another one of those things where I thought, “I’ll show you how to have someone die.” I was going to challenge myself and everybody else. Speedy became the guy just because of the way things were going: I wanted to kill a main character, and he was a victim of my plans. [Laughs] It didn’t have to be him, but it ended up being him. Years after that I asked myself, “Should I have ever killed him?” It was just one of those things that he fell victim to.

Do you ever wish you could bring him back to life, Superman-style?

JAIME: That’s the cool thing with Love and Rockets: You can always have flashbacks. It doesn’t mean they come back to life; you just tell a story that happened not to screw with history. Which I get really close to, sometimes, just because it’s tempting. I can always bring Speedy back–just in the past. I don’t want it to become formula. I have to do it right.

Gilbert, in your case, again, it’s fairly dark material, since “Human Diastrophism” is about a serial killer preying upon Palomar. What made you let loose this violence on these characters in this town you created?

GILBERT: There was no direct line, no conscious effort to be that dark. It just sort of came out as the stories were developing. Whatever darkness there was is from my unconscious. I don’t really know what the source, but I just wanted darker stories. I was also tired of the cramped format, doing a few pages an issue; I wanted to do a longer story, and the longer the story is, I feel I have to give more. I was basically doing stories unchecked, throwing everything in that I could. In those days I would write stories thinking, “When I finish this story, if I get hit by a truck the next day, then I’ll be satisfied that this is my last story.” I don’t do that anymore. Now I think, “Oh, that was my first story,” and that works just as well when I work. “This is my first story, I’m just getting started, I’m just learning.” In the old days it was the other way around: “Okay, if I’m done with the story then I’m done, but I better get down to business.” I wanted to do the world in a microcosm that had death and rebirth. Everything that you can imagine in an epic story, I tried to stick it in one big story. Like Jaime’s story, I chose a character because whenever you are dealing with a story that big and that universal, the characters that you hurt the most have to be ones you care about, unfortunately. You can’t just make up a character and kill them, because it doesn’t matter. If it’s a character that the readers cared for to a degree, that’s what gives the story more resonance, especially in a large story like that. We don’t really do it to shock or anything, but it’s just part of life.

That is what I was going for with that. And once I was done with it and it did get very good response, then what do you do after that? You just start all over and do your damnedest not to cheapen the story. You try not to refer too much to that story, unless it’s little things you need that you left out or something. Jaime and I are clever enough to bring back those characters in a legitimate way, without cheapening it. In Jaime’s “The Death of Speedy,” you never really see what happened–it could have been somebody else and not Speedy who was killed. There’s that little twist that you can do and make it convincing. The same with Tonantzin setting herself on fire in my story. I could very well say it wasn’t her, it was a set-up. I’m just saying that we’re able to do stories where we can make it work–we’re just not going to. It’s too easy, it’s too pat, and it just cheapens the earlier story.

The characters in both the “Locas” and “Palomar” stories aren’t like the ones in Peanuts or in Riverdale High or in the Marvel Universe–they age in real time. Why’d you make that choice, and do you ever regret it?

JAIME: First of all, it was Gilbert’s idea to actually age them. I’ll let him explain.

GILBERT: I was thinking of a sprawling epic that took years to complete. I think I aged them too quickly for my taste now. I definitely regret that it was a little too quick compared to how long we have been doing it. We’ve been doing it for 25 years and that is not really too quick, but it is in terms of comics because I’m still doing them. I’m not done with the characters that are getting older. What happens is you get the “Tiny Yokum syndrome”: The old strip Li’l Abner was about a bachelor who was being chased by a lovely woman, [and eventually] they married and had a kid. Well, now Li’l Abner is responsible. He can no longer have wacky, nutty adventures because he’s married and has a kid. He has to stay home and take care of the family. What they did was create a character, his little brother, named Tiny. Basically, Tiny had the adventures that Li’l Abner could no longer have–but we don’t know Tiny, we know Li’l Abner. The problem that happened with aging my characters too quickly is that I had to come up with characters to replace the older characters, and it’s not as good. I’ve had several characters to replace my main character Luba, but none of them are Luba. That presents itself in that way, even though some readers probably don’t even know who Luba is because they only read the new ones. That’s fine, but it’s something I regret a little bit, and I keep pushing the main characters back.

Jaime, earlier you compared Maggie and Hopey to Betty and Veronica, but in this case there’s no Archie. Both of you focus on female characters. Was that a conscious choice? Did you just like drawing girls or did you really think you had something to say about women?

JAIME: I think it all started when I was a budding teenager and Gilbert was a teenager, and he said, “Jaime, you should start drawing girls.” And I went, “No, I can’t do that–Mom will kill me!” And he just goes, ‘No, it’s cool,” because he was drawing girls left and right. I started and I thought, “Oh God, I can’t draw girls–[mine] are so terrible!” Then after a while you couldn’t stop me. It all started from wanting and liking to draw women. They are much more fun than drawing men. I thought, you can have your cake and eat it too if you do your comic starring the women instead of the men. You can have men, but you get a lot more done if you are drawing a character you like. At the same time, it’s something Gilbert talked about earlier: When I was young, I always felt that if I was going to put something in my comics, I had to back it up. I had to step to the plate and be responsible. So there was always talk about T&A–“You just like women as objects” and stuff. I was like, “No I don’t–look!” So I started making them characters. I thought, “That’s easy! Just do it! I don’t have to feel responsible to create 10-hundred male superheroes to 10 female superheroes–I can just concentrate on the female superheroes!” That’s how it started for me. Gilbert was well on his way before me, being the older guy. I just followed along.

GILBERT: A lot of Love and Rockets is just simply what we wanted to do, even superficially–if we feel like drawing a person wearing these clothes, doing this thing, just because we feel like drawing that. Most of the time it’s a woman doing it. Then we started giving the characters personalities, like Jaime said, having our cake and eating it too. There was a weird little rub there because we kept getting asked, “Why are you doing women?” Just the fact we were asked that all the time, it was like, “Something is wrong here if you have to ask us why. Why do anything? Do people ask Frank Miller why his stories are so violent?” People are fine with violence but they’re nervous about women for some reason. So we are always up to the challenge. We stick our elbows up and go, “Look, we’re gonna do this and we’re gonna do it as best we can.” We kept getting encouraged–the more we did it, the more good response we got. Then every once in a while, “Why do you do women?” and I thought, “It is really a boys’ club out there, isn’t it?”

JAIME: It was almost like the more they told us not to, the more we did it. It was like, “I don’t see anything I’m doing wrong here. What am I afraid of?”

Who do you consider your peers? What other comics out there interest you?

JAIME: It’s harder for me to say now, because I’ve gotten so locked in this Love and Rockets world of mine, creating my stories and not looking at anyone around me, so I don’t know. I guess it’s competition on the shelves: “Who’s taking up my shelf space?” That’s how it is [now]. When Gilbert and I started out, it was like we were welcomed by the mainstream when the comic first came out, but we didn’t have the heart to tell most of the mainstream, “We don’t want to do what you guys are doing.” I didn’t want to be an assh— about it or anything–we were getting all this support–but we thought, “Oh, so you’re gonna do Secret Wars? After we talked about how there’s a new comics world, you’re gonna go back and do that? Well, fine, you do that, but don’t ask me why I’m not.” It wasn’t till more alternatives and people with their own goofy comics like ours started popping out that we started to get these peers coming out of the woodwork. I would say when the Peter Bagges and the Dan Clowes started coming out too, we kind of formed this little… I don’t want to say club, because everyone lived in a different state. [Laughs] But we liked seeing each other at conventions and events like that.

GILBERT: Were you talking about peers now?

That would be the follow-up. Are you also “head-down,” like Jaime?

GILBERT: I am, pretty much. I’m just so focused on getting work out that I look for influences and for other things to inspire me, [and] rarely is that another comic book these days. One reason is that alternative comics, as far as series go, are barely there anymore. Love and Rockets is one of the few that comes out on a relatively regular basis that continues this old tradition that is pretty much gone now. It’s mostly graphic novels and online comics. It’s just different, and a different way to get ahold of comics. The alternative comics they call pamphlets now are simply not around like they were. I don’t look at comics on the Internet. I don’t really look at the Internet too much. I’m focused on writing the best comics I can, and that takes up most of our lives, really. I don’t want to dis anybody or ignore anyone–I’m just not really focused on things outside at this time.

JAIME: I find that when I go to a comic store I leave with an old Marvel or DC archive 99 percent of the time.

It is kind of a golden age for that stuff. The sheer volume of old stuff that is coming into print in really nice books is amazing.

JAIME: Gilbert told me recently that they did the complete [Steve] Ditko Amazing Spider-Man, and I’m just achin’ to go and get that.

GILBERT: Actually, that just came out, and here is a plug for Marvel. I think that now that that’s collected, the Ditko-[Stan] Lee Spider-Man, I think we finally have a book to show and put down and say, “This, for me, is the best superhero comic ever right here.” There has been stuff that has been pretty close, like [Will Eisner’s] The Spirit and [C.C. Beck’s] Captain Marvel and other things, but this, to me, is the grail of superheroes. It’s great to have it in a package like that. Which means I have to rebuy it. [Laughs] I’ve bought that stuff so many times now in different formats.

JAIME: So this is what we’re influenced by, see? [Laughs] We have nothing to show about the new stuff–this is all stuff we liked when we were kids.

What does Love and Rockets have that would appeal to the kinds of readers who haven’t said yet, “I used to read Batman, but now I read you guys?”

JAIME: It’s more difficult these days, because there are more ways of getting ahold of comics with the Internet and different things now. I think what hooked people, the mainstream readers, from reading Batman or Superman and went to Love and Rockets is that [we] were serialized at the time. New stories about Maggie and Hopey were continued from issue to issue, new stories about Palomar continued from issue to issue. The reader could identify with that, reading a serialized adventure that was similar, superficially, to reading a Batman comic. Now Love and Rockets is different, a little more fragmented, a little more experimental, a little more idiosyncratic, I think. It’s different from how mainstream comics are read now. I get a bunch of free [mainstream] comics every month, and I look at them, and you got to be really into them to know what’s going on. You have to be a fan of that particular book to know what is going on. It’s a different day now, a different way to look at comics now, so it’s probably not as easy to grab that audience these days.

I know when I started getting into you guys it was difficult because of the array of formats and editions that were out there: You had the ongoing series, the trades, the spinoffs…But I feel like now, with the digests, it’s nice and easy. In the same way that now a lot of the superhero comic book companies are collecting the complete Lee-Ditko Spider-Man and all these big giant historical runs of series in these easy-to-follow collections, it’s now a better time than ever to get in on the ground floor of Love and Rockets and start from the beginning pretty easily and affordably. I’ve seen it happen around the office–those digests spread like wildfire.

JAIME: I imagine that is what is going to happen with reprinting this old stuff. It’s sort of like seeing 11-year-old kids with Ramones shirts now–three of the main Ramones are dead. [Laughs] Their music is over 30 years old now, and 11-year-olds are into the Ramones! So you never know. There could be a Lee-Ditko Spider-Man comeback with kids. Who knows?

GILBERT: I met an 8-year-old kid a couple of years ago whose mom kept badgering him: “This guy draws comics! Tell him who your favorite Spider-Man artist is!” And the kid, under his breath, goes, “Ditko.” I was like, yes! [Laughs]

JAIME: Ditko quit in ’67, so it was a long time ago. It’s kind of cool, things being in perpetual print.

Any closing words of wisdom?

GILBERT [in mock-pretentious voice]: We’re not only mainstream geeks here– we’re actually progressive artists. [Laughs] I’m kidding. I don’t know about the progressive part and I don’t know about the artist part. [Laughs] We’re going to continue doing Love and Rockets projects that strike our fancy. And I have a couple of other books coming out. One will be a Dark Horse miniseries which will eventually become a graphic novel called Speak of the Devil–that’s in stores this July. I have another graphic novel coming out in June called Chance in Hell, and that’s my first actual graphic novel with Fantagraphics. It’s in the digest size–not quite as small as manga, but around that size. Hopefully, the casual reader will be like, “Hey, there’s a small book–it must be manga!” [Laughs] That could help!