Robot 6

You’ve come a long way, Jaime: or how I learned to stop worrying and love Love and Rockets

I just wanted to end Robot 6’s impromptu weeklong celebration of Jaime Hernandez and Love and Rockets by posting this portrait of “The Love Bunglers”‘ lead characters Ray and Maggie during their flaming youth. We knew them when.

But what if you didn’t know them when? What if this is your first real exposure to the worlds created by Jaime and his brother Gilbert? Jaime’s been writing his “Locas” saga — about a loose-knit group of (mostly) Latino/Latina men and women who (mostly) first met as teens in the Los Angeles punk scene — for thirty years now. Gilbert’s been chronicling his own group of characters — first the residents of the fictional Latin-American town of Palomar, then the family and friends of Palomar’s former mayor Luba, and now the on-screen and off-screen misadventures of Luba’s B-movie actress sister Fritz — for nearly as long. What if you’ve got no idea who these people are, or where you could possibly begin to learn?

That’s fine too.

Love and Rockets has a reputation as one of the most intimidating comics to start reading, and that can cause many people never to try. Even if they do, it can skew their reception of the comics themselves. Trust me on this one.

Once upon a time I gave a bad review to Locas, a massive hardcover collection of many of Jaime’s stories. Written after a long period of intimidated delay on my part, I focused too much on the hype I’d heard, reacting to the sense that “you had to be there” by saying that since I wasn’t, these comics were no good. But years later I dropped all that baggage and started re-reading Jaime’s “Locas” saga from its first digest collection, Maggie the Mechanic, right on through to his most recent releases. Instead of worrying about what I’ve missed and whether my reaction lives up to the hype, I treated it the way I’ve treated the prospect of renting Season One, Disc One of various great HBO and AMC dramas from Netflix and plowing on through: as a chance to immerse myself for a while in a smart, serialized fictional world. Once I did that, the pleasures of Jaime’s writing and art really opened themselves up to me — much the same way that Gilbert’s had when I first cracked open his giant Palomar hardcover, and the way they did once again when I grabbed his first digest, Heartbreak Soup, for a marathon re-read/journey into undiscovered territory.

Tom Spurgeon’s fond of saying that comics’ current mania for “jumping-on points” is weird, because back in comics’ glory days, your only jumping-on point was whatever was stuck in the spinner rack that day. The mildly disorienting sense you got that the issue of Fantastic Four in your hands was just the tip of an iceberg of plotlines and character development was a big part of the thrill.

I’d say the same is true of Love and Rockets — or any great comic, really. It’s never a terrible idea to start from the beginning, if you can, and Heartbreak Soup (for Gilbert) and Maggie the Mechanic (for Jaime) make that really easy. But there’s also something to be said for starting with a story that makes sense as a starting point simply because it’s really good. With Gilbert, that could mean discovering the origin of his leading lady Luba in Beyond Palomar, or following her post-Palomar adventures in the massive Luba hardcover, or even discovering the raunchy and disturbing world of her sister Fritz in High Soft Lisp. For Jaime, that could mean skipping his early, sci-fi-influenced stuff and diving right into his soap-operatic slice-of-life material in The Girl from H.O.P.P.E.R.S., or getting to know his leading ladies Maggie and Hopey as (more or less) adults in the giant Locas II hardcover…or, yes, starting with the emotionally climactic story of love and loss “The Love Bunglers” in the issue of Love and Rockets: New Stories that just came out.

The point is that both Jaime and Gilbert have produced massive, high-quality bodies of work, with multiple, affordable collections, each of which contains a story or two fit to knock your block off. If you love reading good comics, and chances are good that you do if you’re reading this blog at all, that’s not intimidating — that’s inviting! Don’t think of it as homework, or as a test to see if you “get it right” — think about it as one of those shopping-spree sweepstakes that TV networks used to do, where you’re standing with an empty shopping cart in front of a vast expanse of awesome stuff ready for you to grab and explore. If you do it that way, there’s nothing “intimidating” about it.



Excellent list of good places to start!

As a late comer to Love and Rockets, my first issue was #17 back in 1986. I was scared it wouldn’t make any sense, but had been intrigued by ads for it for 3 years. I ended up re-reading #17 a dozen times before picking up issues 18-20 on my next trip to the comic shop.

I was never completely lost, and I always wanted to know more. The comics were so perfect that each one just compelled me to go farther into the back issue bins at every piece of crap comic shop in Louisville, Kentucky. It took me about a year to round up every issue or book collection to date. L&R was the first comic that I ever read that was about me and my friends.

I know it’s been 25 years since then, but I feel a newcomer could jump in on any issue and have a similar experience. The worlds create by Gilbert and Jamie are so compelling, that you want to get to know them better.

When you meet someone new, you don’t avoid them because you didn’t know them when they were 6 and you might not immediate understand everything about them. The characters in these stories become friends over time, and it’s always a joy to get to learn more about them.

I don’t know that I’d say #4 is a great jumping-on point — I think it tells you everything you need to know about who Maggie and Ray are, but if you haven’t read #3 you miss out on who Calvin is and half the reason the events of #4 are so tragic.

That said, the first three books were all great jumping-on points.

(I probably wouldn’t recommend Beyond Palomar as a place to start either, because, among other reasons, holy God there is a lot of full frontal preop transgender in that book.)

Definitely agreed on your overall point, though: Los Bros are really good at stories that work without prior knowledge of 3 decades of continuity, and it’s a pity that’s such a lost art.

I started with Gilbert’s “Reticent Heart” collection, which is mid-80’s pre-“Human Diastrophism”…then started buying the current issues (1992-ish at the time), and gave a cursory once-over to Jaime’s stuff, meanwhile buying all the Beto collections. Ultimately, I was hooked by all of it, and acquired all of it.

I suspect, if you’re going to like L&R, you’re going to go back and get it all eventually. Only wish there was anything else as good I could pick up NOW for the first time…

Dear Fantagraphics,

I’m not sure why you haven’t announced a new edition of Palomar yet, but since beat-up copies are disappearing from eBay for $100 the day they’re listed, you might want to think about going back to press with it.

Sean T. Collins

October 21, 2011 at 5:14 pm

Paul, I assume it’s because they’re focusing on the softcover digests now, but I bet if you asked ‘em on the Flog blog they might be able to tell you…

Plowed through the two Locas hardcovers in a week or so, as well as all of the New Stories ones. Getting through the first hardcover took me a while, since I’d had the book laying around for maybe 6 years and didn’t really go beyond Mechanics. And then I decided to finish it one weekend, and that was it.

There’s a greater appreciation to be had for ‘Love Bunglers’ once you’ve seen the long road that Maggie and Ray took starting out, for sure.

Also echoing that sentiment on the Palomar hardcover, since I haven’t started with the Palomar stuff. But if the digests are what they’re focused on right now, then I’ll take what I can get.

Wow, I have that print! Sorry, that’s my only comment.

You’re only going to jizz all over L&R for one week this time? Last year, didn’t you write about nothing but L&R continuously for two or three months?

I gave away three copies of the Death of Speedy book, and everybody I gave one to was hooked for life.

These days, I would give them The Girl From H.O.P.P.E.R.S. If they don’t love Jaime’s stuff by the end of that, they’re never going to love it.

Sean: I asked this very question in response to one of your earlier posts. Great response.

Me, I decided to just pick up the 4 volumes of New Stories at the LCS and start with those. Now I just have to find the time! Mickey Mouse v. 2 just arrived, plus Hark! A Vagrant, The Autobiography of Mark Twain, a couple of Tardi crime boks from the recent Fantagraphics euro sale – argh!!

Why can’t every week be Love & Rockets week?!?

“Why can’t every week be Love & Rockets week?!?”

Because the zombies get sad if a comic doesn’t have an ass shot in it.

Wow. I am incoherently in love with Los Bros Hernandez. And that’s really all I have to say about it.
*drools, carefully avoiding Jaime Hernandez book…*

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