Marking the 40th anniversary of a groundbreaking literary comics series, Fantagraphics Books is releasing Love and Rockets: The First 50 by the celebrated cartooning brothers Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez, a boxed eight-volume hardcover set collecting the series’ first 50 issues. The new edition is out this month.
Created by two Mexican American brothers (with occasional contributions from another brother, Mario) and first released as periodical comics (now book collections) by Fantagraphics in 1982, Love and Rockets came to define the budding alternative comics scene of the 1980s. Originally focused on comic, sometimes surrealist science-fiction, the stories of Los Bros shifted into the realm of nuanced naturalistic fiction set within a vividly written and illustrated world of working class Latinx characters.
L&R transformed American comics storytelling with complex, endearing characters—in particular, the lively Latinx punk music youth scene first depicted in L&R—presented in inventive non-superhero stories told principally through two ongoing series: Jaime’s Locas series, set in a fictional town near L.A., starring the on and off queer lovers Maggie, charming life-tempered girl-mechanic, and Hopey, hot-tempered, smart-mouth punk-rock bass player; and by Gilbert’s Heartbreak Soup series with deeply humane stories set among a memorable cast of characters in the fictional Central American town of Palomar. Influenced by cartoonists as varied as Dan DeCarlo, Hank Ketcham, Jack Kirby and Charles Shulz, L&R is one of the most beloved and influential indie comics of the last 40 years.
This new facsimile edition collects all the material in the first 50 issues in seven volumes, with an eighth volume collecting profiles, reviews, and additional artwork from the same period. The book is being released in the wake of the recent broadcast of Love and Rockets: The Story Behind the Great American Comic, an hour-long documentary produced by KCET and PBS soCal to honor the anniversary. PW spoke with Los Bros about the series history and about Love and Rockets: New Stories, the latest stories in the L&R series, now in its third volume.
Publishers Weekly: The first Love and Rockets minicomic was self-published. How did you get on Fantagraphics’ publisher Gary Groth’s radar?
Gilbert Hernandez: We sent it to him directly. We thought, “These guys are really mean, but maybe they’ll review this [in The Comics Journal, which is published by Fantagraphics].” I did like, to a degree, their meanness. I thought they were frank. This was in the late ’70s, and at comic companies, the people working on the comics were getting treated worse and worse as the characters were getting more and more popular. Fantagraphics would write about that, try to expose it. We sent our comic to them and Gary Groth said, “Yeah, this looks good, how about if we publish it?”
How did you get into the punk scene, and when did you start working that into your comics?
GH: Growing up, reading and drawing comics, the radio was always on. Later, when we were older, we listened to a lot of glam rock. When punk came along, it was similar, except revved up. It was louder, it was more political. You went to the punk shows in the early days, they were wild, and you had the most stories you could fit into your brain. A lot of those ended up in Love and Rockets.
Jaime Hernandez: It was the first time I was part of a youth culture thing. My characters that I was creating on the side—this was before Love and Rockets—they started to cut their hair. They started to wear punk clothes. It was at the same time that we started thinking about our own culture and putting that in our comics. I think back now and go, “Why didn’t we do that the whole time?” Stories happening in our neighborhood, or at punk shows, were way more interesting than the latest X-Men comic.
What do you find most challenging about making comics?
GH: Finishing them. There was a period where I could start a comic really fast, but it took me a long time to finish it. All my energy was in the beginning and the rest was grunt work. Whereas there was a period when Jaime had a hard time starting a story, but once he got started he could finish it.
JH: Yeah, I love to see how it turns out as I put the inks on and fill the blacks in. I love to see it become something, because I don’t expect it to. Forty years later, I still don’t expect it to be anything until it ends up on the page, complete.
You’ve both been aging the characters over time. What’s your approach to that?
GH: It’s reality, that’s it. I’m not going to pick on mainstream comics on that angle because they’re selling toys, they’re selling the character. Spider-Man has to be nineteen the rest of his life. If you’re a good creator, you can do something fun with that. But once we’re done with [Love and Rockets], it’s over. Nobody’s taking this over, nobody’s going to make toys of the characters. Unless my daughter decides to make Palomar toys when I’m gone. (laughs)
JH: My characters are growing old next to me. That’s why they’re easy to write. Maggie is five years younger than me; what is she up to? At this point in life, is she tired of drinking coffee? Does she want a new job, does she not want to work anymore, does she want to retire? I kind of like that they’ve grown up with me, and they’re growing old with me.
If someone had told you that you’d be telling these stories for the rest of your lives, would you have approached them differently?
JH: I can’t really have regrets because I’ve got work to do. I’ve written a lot of pretty good stories that came out of mistakes that I made.
Do you have an example?
JH: The story “Browntown” came out of an accident when I introduced Maggie’s siblings. I created this family of five kids. One day I was looking way back in the early issues, and somebody said there were six. So I had one of the brothers say, “There’s Calvin, he was a troublemaker, so he ran away.” I was out of the woods. But I kept thinking about it. Why’d he run away? I owed it to my readers and myself to find the reason.
I created the story “Browntown,” about how he was abused, and it helped write Maggie’s story, too. In the early issues I just said Maggie moved away when she was ten, and then she came back three years later. I thought, for a lot of women I’ve known in my life, age ten to thirteen is a big, big deal. So I tried my best to show Maggie actually grow up. It was one of those stories that fell out of my brain onto the paper. I guess I was waiting 30 years to write it.
GH: I had two—I wouldn’t say mistakes, but decisions that came out of flubs. My main character right now is Fritz. I had her on the cover of a comic, in this sexy outfit, and it didn’t look like her. So I thought I’d make it her sister. I gave Fritz a sister, Petra, and she ended up being one of my favorite characters. More recently, it happened again in the last Love and Rockets annual. I drew all the red-haired characters on the cover. Well, we do the covers in advance, and I drew one character that I no longer need in the story. I made her someone’s twin sister instead. And now she’s my best character. She’s the character who guides the stories because she’s new and learning about the Love and Rockets past.
What’s your favorite story that your brother drew?
JH: I remember when Gilbert did the first “Heartbreak Soup” story, I thought those two chapters were a perfect graphic novel. That was before we used the term “graphic novel,” but he’d done a whole story in these two little chapters. Then, as the continuity started to grow with the comic, he would put a single eight-page story in the middle of all this continuity, and it was amazing.
GH: We don’t do stories; it’s all one story. If I have to choose one piece, it was Jaime’s Spring ’82 chapter about his character Doyle. He was managing two strippers, and all that he cared about, the only thing that made him emotional, was hearing about his old buddy back in town. It took us so far away from the mainstream comic book world, so much further away from Hollywood movies and TV shows. That one elevated comics in general. It was asking other creators to step up. That was how I felt—“You’ve got to step up! This is the stuff!” Fortunately, we had a publisher and readers who felt the same way. But as far as one story, come on. It’s all one story.