I was obviously a Love and Rockets reader—otherwise I wouldn’t have chosen to write about it—but my entry into the already long-running series wasn’t until Gilbert Hernandez‘s Blood of Palomar graphic novel (collecting his “Human Diastrophism” story) in late 1989. My first issue of the regular series was number 31, which was released around the same time, so I had a lot of catching up to do.
But doing so was a daunting task back in the early ’90s. Publisher Fantagraphics Books did a decent job of reprinting the comic in a series of graphic novels, but keeping almost ten books (at the time) in print was a little tricky: you didn’t want to print too many copies for fear of losing your shirt, but if your book sells out too fast you’re stuck with a hole in the series until you can go back to press. Plus, the L&R graphic novels were all priced between $13 and $16. It was cheaper than hunting down expensive back issues, but still a lot of dough for a cash-starved college student like myself. If Fantagraphics’ new, affordable, Love and Rockets Library trade paperback series was around twenty-five years ago, my job would have been a lot easier!
Since Gilbert’s work was my first Love and Rockets experience, he’s always been my favorite of Los Bros Hernandez. You really can’t go wrong when your first exposure to a cartoonist is a masterpiece like “Human Diastrophism,” combined with the one-two punch of the “Poison River” and “Love and Rockets” stories that were both being serialized when I started reading the regular series. I think I was a little intimidated by the complexity of Jaime‘s “world” when I first picked up Love and Rockets. It was kind of like being dropped into the middle of a long-running soap opera with no idea of what’s going on. It’s only in recent years—with his tour de force contributions to the Love and Rockets: New Stories series—that Jaime’s stuff has really clicked with me and I now get it. But the book that really drove the point home was the astounding Fantagraphics Studio Edition: Jaime Hernandez that showcases his art at original size so you can appreciate his mastery of gesture and cartooning. And really, the body of work that both Gilbert and Jaime have both put together over the last almost 37 (!) years is truly amazing.
Keeping to the format of the last few “Palmer’s Picks,” I rounded out this column with a short write-up of Jeff Smith‘s Bone. After dropping plugs for the comic over a handful of previous issues, this was my longest recommendation until I wrote a full-length “Picks” about it in issue #27.
Aside from an atrocious pull-quote, there’s nothing to note about how “Palmer’s Picks” was presented this issue. Things were starting to fall into a regular groove, and my writing sort of hit a plateau until the format of the column changed when I started conducting interviews with creators. Stay tuned!
Love and Rockets’ success in black and white
by Tom Palmer Jr.
One of the original and most respected “alternative” comic books is Love and Rockets. Originally started as a self-published comic, Love and Rockets was quickly grabbed by Fantagraphics Books almost 11 years ago to become the company’s flagship title. Created by Jaime, Gilbert and Mario Hernandez, the black and white comic magazine included stories from each of the brothers that combined elements from ’60s comic books, monster movies, and punk rock music.
The comic quickly evolved, as Mario left and Gilbert and Jaime began to eliminate the science fiction elements of the book in favor of more character-driven stories. Jaime dropped the genre qualities from his “Mechanics” stories, and began to focus more on the life of a cast of characters in a barrio in California, including Maggie and Hopey. Similarly, Gilbert turned his eye toward stories about a fictional town in Central America called Palomar in a series titled “Heartbreak Soup.”
Critical acclaim soon followed, with Los Bros Hernandez and Love and Rockets gaining multiple nominations for just about every major industry award. This attention for both the stories, and the art of the comic, continues to this day. The brothers write stories that deal openly and frankly with death, sex, and more specifically, interracial relationships and alternative lifestyles. They are able to achieve a great deal of depth and characterization through their short stories, as well as the extended narratives they develop over several issues.
The art of the Hernandez brothers is as engrossing and deep as their writing. The brothers draw from a wide range of influences in their art, from realistic artists like Reed Crandall, Frank Frazetta, and Wally Wood to looser cartoonists like Carl Barks, Hank Ketchum, and Harvey Kurtzman. Jaime’s art tends to be the more realistic of the pair, as he pays close attention to anatomy and the placement of black areas on the page to draw the reader into his characters and their lives. Gilbert, on the other hand, draws his stories in a more impressionistic and cartoony style, yet he is still able to bring the reader deep into his stories. He creates layered and multi-dimensional panels through careful application of shading, and by regulating the heaviness of his lines.
Most people, when discussing Love and Rockets or Los Bros Hernandez, say that Jaime’s a better artist or that Gilbert’s stories are better, but both brothers are equally adept in creating comics. Gilbert does not draw his characters as realistically as Jaime does, yet he pays close attention to panel composition and shading. Jaime writes his stories with consideration to characterization, yet he does not usually concern himself with writing dramatic, tightly woven stories with their own definite beginnings, middles, and ends as Gilbert does. While each of the brothers is known for a particular discipline (Jaime for his art, Gilbert for his writing), they are both able to seamlessly integrate words and pictures to make for a satisfying comic-reading experience.
Love and Rockets recently celebrated its 10th year of publication, which is quite a feat for a black and white alternative comic that only comes out a few times a year. The Hernandez brothers celebrated the anniversary with a tour that kicked off at last year’s San Diego Comicon and wrapped up three months later in November. They have also finished their continuing stories in the comic (Jaime’s “Wig Warn Barn” and Gilbert’s “Love and Rockets” and “Poison River”) to start new stories. Jaime will write more stories of Maggie and Hopey, while Gilbert claims he will do more experimental and avant-garde stories as a break from the continued narrative he has been doing for the past few years.
The 42nd issue of Love and Rockets is out now, but there is also another book that deserves a little attention here, although it is completely unrelated to the Hernandez brothers. The comic is called Bone, and it is entirely self-published by Jeff Smith’s Cartoon Books. Smith, a former animator, has created a fantasy world populated by a unique and original cast of characters, most notably the Bone cousins. Fone Bone, Phoney Bone, and Smiley Bone find themselves kicked out of their home, Boneville, and are separated from each other in an unfamiliar land. The first six issues of this delightful comic are now available in a trade paperback collection. The collection is printed on better paper than the regular comic, and costs less than if you were to buy the original comics at cover price. It includes four new pages that fit into the story, as well as an introduction by the legendary Will Eisner. Needless to say, this book is a must-buy for any fan of good comics. If your local store won’t carry Bone, write to Cartoon Books at
P.O. Box 1583, Los Gatos, Calif. 95031-1583.
In the next few months, I’m going to veer away from focusing on the bigger names to concentrate on some of the smaller books on the market. I hope to get around to writing about such stories as James Owen’s Starchild, the comic book line from Tragedy Strikes! Press, and Colleen Doran’s A Distant Soil. As usual, if you have any comments, or just want to get something off your mind, just drop me a note at Palmer’s Picks, C/O Wizard Press,
100 Red Schoolhouse Rd., Bldg. B-1, Chestnut Ridge, N.Y. 10977.
Tom Palmer, Jr. has just finished his first year of college, and hopes to be able to survive until graduation.
Tom’s Recommended Reading
All of the Love and Rockets books, and the most recent issues of the series, are available from Fantagraphics Books. Write to 7563 Lake City Way NE,
Seattle, Wash. 98115 for a free catalog with information on the reprint series and other merchandise (ranging from t-shirts and coffee mugs to postcards and limited-edition prints). Here’s a complete listing of the reprint volumes, and some other Love and Rockets items that are available:
Vol. 1 – “Music For Mechanics” – reprints the first two issues.
Vol. 2 – “Chelo’s Burden” – Gilbert’s first stories of Palomar.
Vol. 3 – “Las Mujeres Perdidas” – features wrestling stories by Jaime, and other shorts by Gilbert.
Vol. 4 – “Tears From Heaven” – stories of Gilbert’s Errata Stigmata, and others.
Vol. 5 – “House Of Raging Women” – more wrestling stories by Jaime, with Maggie and Rena Titanon.
Vol. 6 – “Duck Feet” – more stories of Palomar from Gilbert.
Vol. 7 – “The Death Of Speedy” – the first solo book by Jaime.
Vol. 8 – “Blood of Palomar” – Gilbert ‘s excellent “Human Diastrophism.”
Vol. 9 – “Flies On The Ceiling” – stories from both Gilbert and Jaime.
Vol. 10 – “Love and Rockets X” – Gilbert’s “Love and Rockets” printed in a 10-inch square format.
Vol. 11 – “Wig Wam Bam” – Jaime’s most recent stories with Maggie and Hopey.
There are also two Love and Rockets sketchbooks available, printing behind-the-scenes work by both Gilbert and Jaime.
A trading card set was recently printed, featuring all-new artwork and detailed character descriptions that help readers keep track of all of the characters in the comic.
The ultimate reference work, for both new and old readers, is Ten Years of Love and Rockets, which was printed to coincide with the recent tour. It includes five complete strips (two of which are new), an illustrated character index, and in-depth interviews with both Gilbert and Jaime about their unique illustrating habits and tricks.
Most recent back issues are kept in stock by Fantagraphics (Issues #29-#40 are still available). There are also facsimile reprints of the first 12 issues, which reproduce the original comics along with the original cover, editorials, and letters pages.