How Lee & Kirby's "Fantastic Four" Birthed the Marvel Universe, Part 1
[Editor’s note: Each Sunday, Robot 6 contributors discuss the best in comics from the last seven days — from news and announcements to a great comic that came out to something cool creators or fans have done.]
Two sure signs the year is drawing to an end: It’s snowing in Massachusetts and the Best of the Year lists are starting to appear. Publishers Weekly released theirs yesterday, and there’s something interesting about it: Although there is a separate category for comics, several graphic novels are nominated in other categories as well.
This is by no means unprecedented—after all, Maus, one of the first graphic novels, won a Pulitzer Prize—but we seem to be seeing more of it. Roz Chast’s Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? won the inaugural Kirkus Prize for Nonfiction. This is a prize with only three categories, yet two graphic novels made the final round (the other was Cece Bell’s El Deafo, which was a finalist in the Young Readers category). Gene Yang was a speaker at the National Book Festival gala in September, giving him a prominent platform to speak to general readers who might pick up a graphic novel, as opposed to die-hard fans of the medium, and it’s become more and more common for graphic novels to make the shortlists for general book awards.
As readers of this site are no doubt aware (to say the least!), Jaime Hernandez’s contribution to the recently released Love and Rockets: New Stories #4, “The Love Bunglers,” magisterially ties together some 30 years of history for its leading players, Maggie Chascarillo and Ray Dominguez. Now, the Hooded Utilitarian’s Ng Suat Tong has shown us exactly how.
His annotations for “The Love Bunglers” take the story’s many flashback panels, including all the scenes from the story’s centerpiece two-page spread, and place them side by side with the original scenes to which they’re flashing back, some of which were first published literally decades ago. It’s stunning to see how Jaime reinterpreted and re-interpolated his previous work– hifting our POV from one angle to another, showing moments that took place between the moments he depicted in the past, and of course re-drawing classic characters and scenes in his current style. Besides being a really useful post from a story perspective–surely everyone who read “The Love Bunglers” was hoping someone would do exactly this–as a demonstration of Jaime’s artistic intelligence and prowess, it’s tough to top. But then, so is “The Love Bunglers.”
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.
I read [“The Love Bunglers”] one evening while sitting at my drawing table. When I finished it, I turned off the lights in my studio (spare bedroom), and decided to spend the evening hanging out with my wife. I knew I was done drawing for the day. It reaches emotional heights I rarely encounter when reading comics and was not prepared for.
—Afrodisiac and Street Angel cartoonist Jim Rugg, himself no slouch in the comics department, on encountering Jaime Hernandez’s astonishing work in Love and Rockets: New Stories #4. Hmmm, Rugg left his drawing table, Adrian Tomine left a signing party…I really hope no cartoonists read this book while behind the controls of an airplane or something.
In all seriousness, times when a comic emotionally incapacitates you for however long are times to be treasured. Last night, in prepping for this post, I flipped through the book one more time, and came across pages that made me gasp and swoon. Hey, kids! Comics!
I’ll freely confess that at the end of the new issue when I saw how Jaime had tied together the fates of Hopey, Maggie, and Ray I started crying like a baby. When I started burbling to Jaime about all this, he said that in working on his recent comics he was thinking that if he were hit by a bus tomorrow and killed he wanted to leave behind a story that would complete his life’s work. Having achieved that goal, the question now is what will Jaime do next.
–The Comics Journal‘s Jeet Heer on his recent conversation with Love and Rockets: New Stories #4 co-author Jaime Hernandez concerning the thought process behind his magisterial story “The Love Bunglers.” The only thing more striking than the fact that Jaime set this career-defining hurdle for himself is that he freaking cleared it.
…Hernandez’s comics are in many ways an antidote to all the things that drive comics fans nuts despite their seeming appetite for wallowing in such things for weeks, months, years on end. Sexism in comics is always worth fighting because sexism is pernicious and harmful and thus worth calling into question every time it’s encountered, but for many adult fans part of the solution really is to put down the terrible comic that enrages you and buy something like Love & Rockets: New Stories #4 for its fragile, sympathetic portraits of a wide range of human experiences.
There’s a sense one gets when issues involving lousy or ugly or offensive comics are discussed on the comics Internet that the superhero genre is the extent of the comics experience. This can be both a good thing and a bad thing. It’s good in the sense that for most of the North American comics market, superheroes are if not the only game in town then at least the Super Bowl compared to the Pee-Wee League games being played by other kinds of comics, so the numbers necessitate a serious engagement with the genre’s problems and the problems of its publishers. And if you treat superhero comics as paramount, then your critiques of its practices gain in urgency, an urgency that’s probably required if those critiques are to be heard and responded to.
Paying off thirty years of continuity and character development. Delivering shocks, gasps, cheers, and tears in equal measure, seemingly at the author’s whim. Offering a master class in everything from laying out a double-page spread to drawing clothes. Telling a story about beloved characters so emotionally engaging that even their most ardent fans wouldn’t mind if this were the last one ever told. Any way you slice it, Jaime Hernandez’s “The Love Bunglers” — his contribution to the recently released Love and Rockets: New Stories #4 and the conclusion to the already wildly acclaimed “The Love Bunglers”/”Browntown” suite from last year’s issue — is a hell of a comic. But you don’t have to take my word for it.
Dan Nadel, editor of The Comics Journal, has posted his own appreciation, and invited cartoonists Frank Santoro (Storeyville) and Adrian Tomine (Optic Nerve) to do the same. (SPOILER WARNINGS in effect at those links, folks.) Nadel (like Jordan Crane on the first part of Jaime’s tale in issue #3 before him) minces no words: “This is not just Jaime’s finest work, but one of the best (at this moment I’d rank it in my top five of all time) works ever created in the medium.” Santoro calls Jaime “the greatest cartoonist of all time,” saying “No art moves me the way the work of Jaime Hernandez moves me.” Tomine talks of picking the issue up at a signing event for Jaime and being so moved by a two-page spread he encountered while randomly flipping through that he actually had to leave.
I posted my review at the beginning of August, after the book had started circulating at cons but long before it hit stores, but weeks and even months later people would still post comments on the review, like they’d been hungrily seeking out anything anyone had written about this remarkable comic. I’ve got a feeling that as more and more critics read this comic, they’ll never go hungry again.