If you’ve had even the slightest interest in indie comics, or comics in general for the past 30 years, then you’ve heard about Love and Rockets and its creators the Hernandez Bros., Jaime, and Gilbert. As two of the leaders of the alternative comics movement of the early 80s, the brothers have been a constant presence, having various volumes and reprints of Love and Rockets always available. Gilbert has also done work for publishers like DC/Vertigo (Sloth) and Dark Horse Comics (Speak Of The Devil) and they both have drawn many covers and pin-ups for other titles. However it’s been years since the two joined forces on a regular Love and Rockets, and thankfully Fantagraphics (L&R’s publisher since 1982, the Hernandez Bros. self-published the book before that) have changed that by introducing a new “floppy” on-going, Love and Rockets Volume IV.
Right off the bat, the book caught my eye at the comic shop. With its oversized magazine-style format, it stood out from the other books surrounding it. Picking it up, L&R just feels good. The paper stock is nice and thick, the printing is detailed, and the cover is made of thin cardboard, holding it all together nicely. But I don’t buy comics for the paper stock, I buy them for the story and art. And this comic is absolutely great in those aspects as well. As per usual in L&R, the book is divided pretty evenly by the Bros. Jaime comes first with a fun story involving his “Locas” characters, Maggie and Hopey, two best friends (and occasional lovers) who met in the punk rock scene as youths, and have developed into quirky and identifiable young Latino adults. Jaime’s “Locas” stories are always a treat, and this one is no different. The bulk of the plot is set at a show, where the girls all gossip and banter like friends do, wondering if they have moved beyond being so “punk”, only to get caught up in a mosh pit to pretty hilarious results. It’s fairly light weight, yet you can’t help but feel like a part of this group. And the art is fantastic. Clean-lined and in stark black and white, Jaime’s drawings are simple yet leap off the crisp white pages. His facial expressions are nuanced, with a slight classic Archie Comics influence that is charming and appropriately funny. It’s also great to see art in a comic this is 100% handcrafted, without the aid of a single computer or tablet.
Gilbert takes up the second half of the comic, with a more surreal and serious story about his usual cast of characters; Luba, her half-sisters Fritz and Petra, and the various denizens of the fictional town of Palomar. Gilbert’s stories have always fallen into the realm of “magical realism” and owe a debt to Gabriel García Márquez. This segment focuses heavily on Fritz, an actress whose life has slightly telenovela-like dramatics to it, but with an almost Bergmanesque surrealism in execution. Here the story revolves around Fritz discovering she may have a grandchild she didn’t know about, and the fallout that ensues. It’s a nice contrast to his Jaime’s story. Gilbert’s art (again crafted solely by hand) is also equally gorgeous, especially his skill at drawing beautiful, voluptuous women without objectifying or stereotyping them. In fact, women have always been the central characters and focus for both the Hernandez Bros. The male characters, when present, are usually secondary players, aloof, or at times even downright silly. The ladies are always the stars.
There are also two shorter stories tossed in, both done by Jaime. One is a funny scene at a comic book convention, and the other a surreal and sexual tale that’s as weird as it is humorous. They are well done short pieces that do not feel like filler and they add to the overall package. Of course, they also look great.
If Fantagraphics and the Hernandez Bros. can continue to pump put this kind of quality every month or even every two months, there is no doubt in my mind that a new generation of readers will discover these two important creators. And with so much back catalog available, there’s always the chance new fans will go backward as well.
*With so much rich history, Love and Rockets can seem a tad bit impenetrable for new readers. Fantagraphics has a great primer on how to read the books. It’s worth a look even if you are a die-hard fan.
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