The Middle Ground #111 | Talking your way out of your own boxes
I’m both amused by, and entirely supportive of, Tom Spurgeon’s promotion of the 30th Anniversary of Love & Rockets as the news story to come from Comic-Con International. Amused because the cynic in me laughs at the idea that Love & Rockets‘ long-running success will manage to make itself heard over the inevitable sturm-und-drang of Marvel NOW! and whatever the new DC promotion is these days (is it still the New 52, even a year later?), and supportive because, really? It should be a massive news story: Three decades of creators continually at the top of their game, when their game is already pretty much better than everyone else’s even at their worst? That’s definitely something people should be talking about, especially when compared with “X-Men franchise gets relaunched 13 months after the last time it got relaunched.”
All of that said, I find it really hard to write about Love & Rockets.
Part of it is that I don’t really have a history with the series; I’ve already admitted, shamefully, that I only really came to it in the last few years, and that definitely plays into my anxiety about writing about it to say anything more than “It’s really very good, and sometimes jaw-droppingly excellent; if you’re not already doing so, you should read it” over and over again. There are countless other people, smarter and with more of a history with the series who can tell you about Jaime, Gilbert and Mario Hernandez’ work in ways far more worthy of your time, and all I’d be adding is noise instead of signal.
Plus, there’s the fact that I’m not a pure L&R fan; I ruin whatever credibility I have when I say that so much of Gilbert’s work leaves me somewhat cold, especially in comparison with Jaime’s. Part of that is definitely that my introduction to Gilbert came through more recent projects, where it feels to me as if he’s as interested in indulging his fetishes for exploitation genre writing and giant boobs as he is for creating easily relatable narratives, sure. But there’s also a sense of, well, almost anyone’s work pales when put next to Jaime Hernandez. There have literally been books written about Jaime’s beautiful work as an artist, with influences from Dan DeCarlo and Toth and a spareness of line that embraces the unreality and history of comics even as it demonstrates an understanding of how real people move that puts ‘most every other comic artist working today to shame. It’s something that’s mirrored in his writing, which veers from the fantastic surreality of the out-tomorrow God and Science: The Return of the Ti-Girls to the so-real-your-heart-will-break The Love Bunglers, all the while filled with the good humor and awkward silences of real life conversation. In an industry filled with people doing outstanding work, Jaime is still in a league of his own, setting standards for others to aspire to.
There’s another reason why I find it hard to write about Love & Rockets; Jaime Hernandez makes me feel like a smitten teenager, all tongue-tied and unable to talk about why it’s so great without ending up rambling on, embarrassingly.
And then there’s the fact that Love & Rockets contains (at least) two story cycles that, if someone were to sit down and write up a list of The Comics You Should Read To Understand What Comics Are Capable Of, would be up there in the top ten (Locas and Palomar, of course; even if you’re somewhat immune to much of Gilbert’s work like me, Palomar is still just undeniable). How can you not be daunted by a library like that, looming down on you?
(It’s struck me, more than once since actually sitting down to read Love & Rockets, that the book’s legacy as this highpoint of the medium can be as much of a detriment as a bonus; you get people afraid of what they’ll be stepping into, as if they’ll be “expected” to love it, and you get those contrarians who’ll stay away because they just “know” that it’s overrated. I find myself wanting to talk them down from their mental ledges, to say to them, you’re not, and it’s not. It’s just a comic, just like any other except this one is exceptionally good.)
So, yeah. Love & Rockets. It’s scary to write about, so I invent conceits to get around my own fear of doing so. What else can I say? It’s really very good, and sometimes jaw-droppingly excellent. If you’re not already doing so, you should read it.