Robot 6

Comics College: Los Bros Hernandez

Love and Rockets New Stories #1

Love and Rockets New Stories #1

Welcome to a new feature we’re starting here at Robot 6 titled “Comics College.” Once a month (or more if time permits) we’ll be examining the body of work of a particular cartoonist or cartoonists of note in the hopes of giving newcomers and the generally uninitiated an entry point. Because let’s face it, there are a number of notable creators who have had lengthy careers in comics and figuring out where to start when reading their ouevre can be tricky, especially if not all of their material is easily available in print.

“Comics College” was inspired largely by the AV Club’s Gateway to Geekery and Primer features. More specifically, it was inspired by their attempt to provide a overview of Gilbert (“Beto”), Jaime and Mario Hernandez’s Love and Rockets series. I found I disagreed with a number of the suggestions and points they made, enough so that I decided I needed to do my own version.

Which is why we’re beginning our debut post with a look at the Hernandez brothers. A lot of readers out there are wary about trying to dip their toe in the Love and Rockets waters and it’s not surprising. The series has been going on for decades now in a variety of series and formats. Their reputation for telling long involved stories, can seem overwhelming and scary for those unsure where to begin.

So, come, take my hand and let me be your guide …


Why they’re important
In the early 1980s, Love and Rockets was one of the seminal titles, along with books like Cerebus and American Flagg, in shaping the sensibilities of the nascent indie scene. Their influence since then has been enormous, both in the indie world and the mainstream (writer Matt Fraction cites Gilbert Hernandez as a strong influence). Their jump-cut style, which forces the reader to connect the narrative dots beetween the panels, their blend of genres (science fiction, realism, romance), their use of magical realism all helped show that not only could comic be serious literature, but how to achieve such a goal.

Beyond that though, both Gilbert and Jaime are incredibly gifted storytellers — giants in the field really — able to create emotionally powerful, complex tales populated with unique but relatable characters. By this point, they’ve easily earned seats in the upper pantheon, next to folks like Carl Barks and Will Eisner.

What’s more, they’re really good at drawing purty girls.

Where to start

Love and Rockets New Stories #2

Love and Rockets New Stories #2

This is actually the best time to try to dive into L&R waters, as they just revamped their flagship series into an annual booklet, entitled Love and Rockets: New Stories, and both have abandoned their usual modis operandi to try their hand at some new stories aimed at drawing in new readers.

Jaime’s Ti-Girls Adventures, for instance, is a bona fide superhero story, done with a verve, intelligence and sensitivity that rarely ever seen in any of the Big Two’s comics.

Gilbert, meanwhile, is using the new format to experiment via a variety of surreal, standalone tales. Papa, for example, is the story of a man attempting a long trip on foot who comes down with a strange disease. The bizarre, violent aspects of some of these stories might put some readers off, but they do a good job of showing his range and complexity. Thus, I tink issue No. 1 of New Tales is a very good way to dip your toe into Los Bros waters.

But some of you will want to start at the very beginning no doubt. In that case I would strongly recommend picking up the Love and Rockets Library series of squarebound, $15 books, which collects the brothers’ initial run into three, distinct volumes each. They’re affordable and a surprising improvement on the previous slim, larger volumes.

The Girl from HOPPERS

The Girl from HOPPERS

But which one to buy first? Let’s start with Jaime, who is best known for his Locas saga, a sprawling series of interconnected stories mainly focusing on two female friends/sometime lovers named Hopey and Maggie, who live in a Hispanic suburb somewhere around Los Angeles and their collection of friends and acquaintances. The stories follow their awkward, earnest relationship amidst the burgeoning punk rock scene, gang troubles and more.

I wouldn’t, however, begin with the first volume, Maggie the Mechanic. These initial Maggie and Hopey stories have a decidedly awkward sci-fi touch, with Maggie working as a rocket ship mechanic and traveling to islands filled with dinosaurs and revolutionaries and whatnot. While it’s entertaining, Jamie abandoned most of that material later on and the stories do not gel well with his later work. What’s more, Jamie’s art feels a lot rougher and sketchier here, as though he’s still trying to find his voice, compared to the graceful elegance he would exhibit later on.

Instead I’d suggest new readers go right to the second volume, The Girl from H.O.P.P.E.R.S. which contains the Death of Speedy story, which was one of the seminal moments in Jaime’s development as an artist and storyteller. From there you can go back to Maggie and then forward to Perla La Loca, which finds the pair trying to recapture their carefree early days with little luck.

Heartbreak Soup

Heartbreak Soup

Gilbert spent most of the ’80s focusing on a small, rural village in Mexico called Palomar, ruled by a no-nonsense but alluring (and large-bosomed) mayor named Luba, who is rarely seen without her large brood of children or the hammer she always carries in her hand. New readers should feel free to start right in on Heartbreak Soup, progressing from there to Human Diastrophism and Beyond Palomar, which covers Luba’s early history in Poison River.

From there you should read
In the 90s the brothers decided to end Love and Rockets and went off to try their ownm, individual series before joining again to start a second L&R series, though this time in the more traditional comic book format. Most of these tales have been collected in trade and that’s the preferable option rather than trying to hunt down back issues.

From here the Locas saga continues in this order: Locas in Love, Dicks and Deedees, Ghost of Hoppers and The Education of Hopey Glass. The last two rank among Jaime’s best work to date, with a now middle-aged Maggie and Hopey having to re-evaluate their lives. You don’t need to read all four in order to enjoy them, but it will help solve any minor narrative confusion.

Amor Y Cohetes

Amor Y Cohetes

Gilbert, meanwhile, moved Luba to America and chronicled her family’s adventures in the following books: Luba in America, The Book of Ofelia and Three Daughters. These I do strongly recommend reading in order, as there’s a specific narrative drive that climaxes in the third volume. Gilbert also went back in time for Fantagraphics’ Ignatz series with the three-issue New Tales of Old Palomar. This hasn’t been collected yet, but the individual issues aren’t tough to find.

Ancillary material
It’s a horrible analogy and I apologize in advance for it, but the Zeppo Marx of the family is Mario Hernandez, who, though he was allegedly the inspiration for them to make their own comics, only occasionally contributes to the L&R books (though he’s currently working with Gilbert on Dark Horse’s Citizen Rex) His stuff is collected in Amor Y Cohetes, a catch-all collection of short pieces that don’t relate to the Locas or Palomar stories. There’s some really good stuff in here, particularly some of Gilbert’s biography of painter Frida Kahlo, but it’s far from an essential purchase.

Apart from the occasional illustration, Jaimie hasn’t branched out too far from his Locas stories, the sole exception being the female wrestling saga Whoa Nellie. It’s a cute little comic but it’s definitely one of his less significant works.

Gilbert, however, is an incredibly prolific and downright restless cartoonist and the list of his non-L&R work is truly staggering. In short, Birdland, Fear of Comics, Girl Crazy, Grip the Strange World of Men, Sloth, Chance in Hell, Speak of the Devil, and the upcoming The Troublemakers. And I haven’t even talked about the collaborative stuff he’s done with folks like Peter Bagge. Birdlands fun if you don’t mind hardcore pornography. Fear of Comics is a good way to sample his more experimental stories. As for the rest, I’d recommend Sloth, Chance and Speak as some of his best non-Palomar work, though really it’s all good.

Avoid
The big coffee-table presentations of their work — Luba, Palomar, Locas I and Locas II. They’re expensive, really, really big, are missing some seminal stuff like Jamie’s Flies on the Ceiling and just in general aren’t the best way to experience the brothers’ work.

Next month: Jack Kirby

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Comments

26 Comments

Hey Chris, this is really great. We’ve given this a permanent link on our own “How to Read Love and Rockets” web page for folks who might want a second opinion:

http://www.fantagaphics.com/loveandrockets

One slight correction: you’ve misidentified “The Girl from H.O.P.P.E.R.S.” as “Ghosts of H.O.P.P.E.R.S.” (which as you know is a later volume).

Thanks!
Mike

i have to beg to differ on the whole “avoid – the big coffee table presentations…” point; these are actually the books that have made me love the series. first, i tried to read volume 2 when it started and was totally lost. then, i picked up “maggie the mechanic” and enjoyed it for what it was, but it didn’t hook me. it was only when i read the massive “palomar” book that made it all click. i just finished the first “locas” hardcover (read it in a weekend), and the second is on its way! i guess i’m mainly interested in the “big stories,” but it’s so great to have it all collected in these huge books.

I also love the coffee table books. The first Locas volume was my intro to Jaime and I’m eating up the second now. Although I read the first two paper backs of the Palomar stuff, I’ve just finished the Luba hardcover. You don’t need to dip your toe into this stuff. It’s just fantastic.

Mike — Fix made, thanks. Man, I gotta stop writing these posts late at night.

Nicholas and Bob — I knew when I was writing the post that there were those who were fans of the oversize books, and while I can see the appeal, I just prefer the smaller books. They seem more digestible to me and fit better in my hands. Still, point taken.

Yeah, I guess format is a pretty personal thing and not something to quibble over. I think this is a great idea and a great first post for it. I look forward to the Kirby column, and am reminded that although I love the recent 4th World hardcovers DC has put out, my first love will always be the crappy back issues I managed to get ahold of in dusty long boxes.

Michael Schmitz

August 21, 2009 at 2:56 am

Great list! One small correction though from my side: I think for the Vol. 2 stuff it would actually be better to buy the coffee table books Locas II and Luba. Contrary to their Vol. 1 counterparts they collect the complete Vol. 2 material. Especially for Gilbert it’s the better choice: In the big Luba big you’ll find the story “Venus and you” (from LRvol.2issue20) that wasn’t collected in the Three daughters tpb. It’s a nice story that finishes the whole Luba saga and if you go for the tpbs you would miss it (or pick up vol.2issue20 as an extra). So for both brothers I would recommend the following:

Jaime: buy the three “pocket books” for Vol. 1 and then the “Who, Nellie” tpb followed by the Locas II book.

Gilbert: buy the three “pocket books” for Vol. 1 and then the “Luba” book (if you care for his experimental work you should add the “Amores y cohetes” pocket book and the “Fear of comics” tpb)

After that buy the two new “New stories” book and you have a complete LR collection! If you like it you can go now and check for Gilberts other work.

Nice column, but don’t you think that Scott Tipton might take exception regarding the name? His site is http://www.comics101.com, and he’s been doing a column named “Comics 101″ there for several years. It’s not as if it’s a totally unknown site; it was mentioned in Entertainment Weekly in the past.

Dave — I actually was completely unaware of Scott’s site until Tom B. pointed it out to me. I emailed Scott to make sure there were no hard feelings, but I will be changing the name of the column to Comics College so as to avoid confusion between the two. In fact, I already have …

Thanks for doing this. It really had to be done.

But I dig the big hardcovers as well. Art is better when it’s bigger. That’s just a thing.

While it’s true that the hardcover vs TPB thing is about personal preference, you should clarify that the Luba hardcover is NOT missing anything from the 3 TPBs, but rather, as an above poster pointed out, contains extra material not in the TPBs. Also it’s not “oversize”, but regular comic-size.

Well i don’t agree with the “Avoid The big coffee-table presentations of their work — Luba, Palomar, Locas I and Locas II. ” I actually have all four, and bought Luba and Locas II at comic-con, just finished reading Luba, and loved every bit of it, I

m sure the future HC collections will have stuff missing, but i was able to get all the current HC at a relatively cheap price. Including the last two at half off cover price (last day of comic-con) and was able to get my locas book signed by the writer himself. In reading these books. Only book i had to pay full price was Palomar :heart break soup since it is now out of print.

I feel the connections between the stories and family stories/drama’s which make the books that much more personal for me. Anybody who enjoys a good read should pick this up, and let it take you on a full spectrum of emotions. Keep the stories coming, i will love (keep) these books forever!

Chris – Thanks for doing this. Any help for new readers to discover Los Bros, regardless of their point of entry, is a great thing for comics IMO.

As someone whose spent way too much time thinking about L&R, I’d still encourage people to check out the original issues (I know, I know…). For one thing, they’re usually pretty cheap online. Also, the issues contain all kinds of great extra stuff that’s not included in any of the books, like the color front and back covers, the controversial letters pages and even some essays by Gary Groth in the early issues.

Also, I think reading L&R in their original pamphlet format gives you a sense of the connections between the various stories (this is especially true in Gilbert’s stories, like L&R X and Poison River, where character moments in one story comment on the other). It’s also interesting to see how Jaime and Gilbert influenced each other, which is more apparent when reading them side by side.

Of course, it’s all personal preference. I’ve read these stories in both formats (I agree, I’m not a fan of the oversized hardcovers) and in both cases, the comics themselves are outstanding!

The hardcovers are not expensive. $40 for 712 pages (Locas 1) is a great deal. Even 412 on Locas II is a great price. DC’s absolutes are $75+ for like 300 pages. Otherwise, great write up.

Back in 1985,I took a handfull of the so-called Hot b&w comics of the day and traded them for a $100 copy of Love & Rockets #1. A wise deal in my eyes.I had fallen in love with Maggie and Luba and picked up all of the early issues to have them all at the time.Jaime is still one of my top 5 artists of the Modern Age and Gilberts storytelling abilities are second to no one.L&R is a masterpiece and I am really glad you started off this new column in a tribute to Los Bros Hernandez.They are modern Masters. But,I really love those early Mechanics stories.Jaime’s facial expressions were and still are priceless, obviously homaged from Archie comics,they still make me smile.Long Live Los Bros.

Typo alert: “the stories [do] not gel well with his later work”

Great stuff!

– MrJM

Great piece and a nice heads-up on the new comic. I was a big fan of these back in the eighties – my girlfriend then got custody of our L&R stuff when we split and I’d not followed it a lot since. I noticed a typo Human Diastrophism (with an r) … also is there a collection of the non Locas / Palomar stuff. I remembered a character called Errata Stigmata that was in some of the earlier ones and there was a one-shot somewhere in there too.. Plus – didn’t Jaime do a three issue colour comic – I remember vaguely – at some point? A sort of superhero-ey thing? Are those in any of the collections? Anyway – thanks for the spur to start reading these again.

You didn’t say much about what bothered you so much about the AVClub article.
Granted it was a little limited, but not so bad as advice on how to start.
I had a few problems with it, but calling it “so faulty and wrongheaded that I decided I needed to do my own” (as though some kind of travesty had been committed, with outright lies told about the work as opposed to just incompleteness) is an overreaction (and a very silly one at that).

Well, I didn’t want to beat them into the ground. Off the top of my head, they seemed to be unaware that L&R was no longer a semi-monthly comic but an annual booklet. What really bugged me though is that they barely mentioned Gilbert’s work and focused mainly on Locas, which is deceptive I think since the brothers’ work is so different in many significant ways.

The first of which I corrected them on, and the second of which I complained about, in the comments there, so as I said I don’t disagree that it had significant weaknesses, I just think “incomplete and limited” is a fairer criticism than “wrongheaded” which seems to imply that it wasn’t even an honest good faith attempt, which I still feel it was whatever its undeniable flaws.

Great column and great start!

I’d love to see Love and Rockets get collected/reprinted without splitting up the issues. Reprint the stories as they were originally published, side-by-side. Maybe I’m too much of a completist, but I’d love to be able to read the series and experience it the same way it was originally released (except in this case, it would be in trade-form instead of single-issue form, but I’m OK with that.)

-Corey

philfromgermany

August 24, 2009 at 4:35 am

Thoguh I own and cherish about 80 – 90% of the Brothers output (Citizen Rex from DH being the latest) the reprint policies on single stories from L&R is the worst ever. There are stories I have seen reprinted in three different instances, and I was miffed to see the comparetively cheap Omnibus works.
But nonetheless, they are just insanely good artists. My favorite story is the one where Roy (the fat guy) fights this alien creature (a Snort?). Pure genius!

This is great and very well-timed for this particular reader. I’ve been avoiding reading L&R for 20 years because I didn’t know where to start! I shall now remedy that immediately.

Thanks!

Hi, Chris! Good article, if oddly familiar. I’m glad my faulty and wrongheaded writing was an inspiration to you. I’ll cop to a few faults, if by that you mean minor factual errors, which you seem familiar with and which are, happily, easily corrected. I’m not sure where the wrongheaded came from, since we appear to have championed the exact same story (“The Death of Speedy Ortiz”) as a perfect entry point. I’m also not sure why you say I barely mentioned Beto’s work — I give most of the third paragraph over to describing it, and explaining why I think Jaime is a better entree, and I go on to advise readers to movie on to Beto after reading “Locas”. You may disagree with that (though you don’t seem to), but calling it “wrongheaded” implies that you think it’s a factual error rather than simply a difference of opinion.

Anyway, thanks for at least linking to my abominably misguided piece.

Hey Leonard,

After reading the comments and thinking about it for some time, I’ve decided you’re right. Calling your piece “wrong-headed” was a real poor choice of words on my part, not to mention a tad rude. So I apologize for my own wrong-headedness. I’m going to take the offending word out of the post for posterity’s sake (as well as finally fix some of those typos).

As for the rest of your points, I dunno. I came away from your piece feeling like it really slanted heavily towards Jaime to Gilbert’s detriment, and I could see a reader walking away thinking that the brothers’ works are similar in style and content when they’re really not (at least not entirely). Plus, I know a lot of readers who have broken into L&R by reading Beto first and then Jaime, myself included. I felt like a more even-handed approach was called for. Iguess I’m just not really sure that Jaime is a better entry point, and if he is, then the Locas book isn’t the place to start.

Still, that doesn’t deserve such a kick in the teeth, so I apologize for that.

Glad you posted this. I’ve always wondered about Love and Rockets but the few issues I’ve looked through either didn’t seem like my thing or had me a lttle confused. This helped a lot and I’ll start paying attention to the future output of comics in this series. Can’t wait to see what you tackle for column #2 of Comics College.

Raúl Hernández

October 23, 2009 at 9:06 am

Hello,

I have just bought LUBA by Gilbert Hernandez.

But I do have a doubt.
In the first pages of the hardcover (where the name LUBA appears in grey and then in black) this name is moved to the right in both pages. i wanted to know if this is normal or is it a misprint.
Can anybody, please, help me?

thank you very much.
Raúl.

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