‘Love & Rockets: The Great American Comic Book’ and punk-fueled art

Love and Rockets is the last comic I bought on a regular basis and its creators, Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez, are the only comic artists I’ve ever interviewed. That was 32 years ago when the series was 8 years old, back when its publisher, Fantagraphics, was still based in Agoura Hills, between Woodland Hills where Gilbert lived and Oxnard where Jaime lived and where the brothers grew up. I fell in love with their characters, their lineage – especially Jaime’s art, which even according to his brother was the first to draw attention. My erratic support over the last few decades hasn’t affected their output – “Love and Rockets” is more of a venture than ever – or kept the brothers from becoming even more legendary than they already were. In honor of the 40th anniversary of the series, Fantagraphics is releasing a hardcover box set featuring the first 50 issues; it’s expensive and worth it.

Still, it’s very gratifying when something that feels like one’s cultural heritage is recognized — even if people have always recognized it — and it was exciting to learn that Los Bros, as they’re affectionately known, are on the subject has become a fine, informative documentary homage, Love and Rockets: The Great American Comic Book. Directed by Omar Foglio and Jose Luis Figueroa and produced by Los Angeles-based KCET as part of its excellent “Artbound” series, it premiered Wednesday on KCET, aired Friday (tonight) on PBS (PBS SoCal here) and is available online. Likewise, it was a bit of a thrill to realize (and then confirm) that based on a “Love and Rockets” t-shirt worn by Chris Estrada’s character in his Hulu comedy This Fool, he was his occasional girlfriend Maggie was named Jaime’s comic book heroine. (There are other Hernandez tributes in the series as well.)

“What is ‘Love and Rockets’ about?” asks Carolina Miranda of the Times, one of the many commentators on the film. “How much time do you have?”

The book is split between Jaime and Gilbert (older brother Mario was an early contributor). Their early stories had sci-fi elements (the rockets) that were soon downplayed in favor of stories about interesting ordinary people within a community (the love). Each has created their own world and a growing cast of characters; each working outward from a small town: Jaimes Huerta (nicknamed Hoppers) with his Oxnard overtones and Gilbert’s fully imagined Central American hamlet of Palomar. “I knew this was going to be a little difficult for some American readers,” Gilbert says, “but I figured if I stuck with it, they’d understand.”

The film briefly touches on her family history—a Mexican father and Texas mother who met as farmhands in Oxnard in the 1940s and had six children—but keeps coming back to family for inspiration. “Whenever there was a family gathering, it was always the matriarchs, all the women running things together,” says Gilbert of the brothers’ talent for writing complex, true-to-life women. “There was no machismo, just laughing and cooking and playing with the kids and fighting and drinking… It was like the world.” , aunts and uncles, adults, and they’re so colorful in an enriching, very familial way – and I’m like, ‘Why not show that?’”

A cartoon of a rock band performing on stage

Cover art for the comic book “Love and Rockets” by Jaime Hernandez.

(KMEZ)

They read comics, drew comics – Gilbert shows off his childhood “Rocket Comics” with some embarrassment – and then drew them better. Superheroes influenced the brothers less than children’s books and the human stories they told. Jaime walks you through some pages of Owen Fitzgerald’s Dennis the Menace. (“As a kid, I just knew this was real, these comics are home, I can just feel my mom in there, I can feel there. And I remember saying, ‘I don’t see that in one Marvel Comics’ “); Gilbert does the same for Bob Bolling and “Little Archie”.

Eventually, at Mario’s suggestion, they published a copy of their own, borrowed money from another brother to print it, and folded and stitched the copies themselves. They sent one to Fantagraphics, whose Comics Journal they admired, in hopes of picking it up a review. They got the review—along with an offer to publish the book with extra pages, and then a request for a second edition. From there it went on.

There are many cultural appeals and homages to the books, and Love and Rockets can also be read as the story of the artists’ own personal growth, self-education and blossoming interests. When I asked for non-funny, non-punk inspirations in 1990, Gilbert quoted Fellini films, Sophia Loren, ‘the kids in the film ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’, Victor Hugo, ‘the look and the setting of the Brazilian film’ Black Orpheus’” and Elvis; Jaime brought up Paul Klee, Toshiro Mifune, Robert De Niro in Raging Bull, Rembrandt, baseball, Johnny Cash, the young Bardot, and professional wrestling. They fell in love with punk rock at an early age – in one scene here they visit Chinatown and reminisce about the bands they saw play at the Hong Kong Cafe – which influenced the independent ethic that still governs their work, as well as the way how Jaime dressed his characters and the milieu he created for them. That has changed over time as their characters have aged along with the artists. Maggie is approaching 60 now.

“You can see how the characters have evolved physically over time,” says Miranda. “One of the things that makes her comic book so compelling is that these are never static people, these are people who age, gain weight, lose weight, change their hair. It’s just great to feel that they are developing like real people.”

Best of all, Love and Rockets: The Great American Comic Book delivers the sheer pleasure of seeing their art—the stripes in brilliantly composed black and white, the covers in color—enlarged on screen. The film features close-ups of the brothers at work, taking characters from pencil sketch to finished ink drawing with magical control. (I was going to write “ease” but I’m sure that’s wrong.) Jaime and Gilbert have very different styles – Jaime tends toward a classically balanced, straight-forward realism, Gilbert is wilder and more cartoonish. But they sync up well enough that they split a panel between them from time to time.

It’s a brother thing. It’s a life’s work.

‘Artbound: Love & Rockets’

Where: PBS SoCal (KOCE); also streaming on KCET.org

When: 8 p.m. Friday

https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/tv/story/2022-10-07/love-and-rockets-great-american-comic-book-jaime-gilbert-hernandez ‘Love & Rockets: The Great American Comic Book’ and punk-fueled art

Sarah Ridley

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