Beloved cartoonist Jaime Hernandez lets the characters take charge in new Love & Rockets book
|Toronto Star 19 Apr 2019 at 07:01|
As one of the brothers behind the comic Love & Rockets, Hernandez helped to create something so Gen X that if somebody made up a story that The Breakfast Club had a deleted scene where the Violent Femmes were seen reading one of his books, you’d be tempted to believe it.
Hopey (short hair) and Maggie take a trip in Is This How You See Me? by Jaime Hernandez. (courtesy Fantagraphics)
Comics artist Jaime Hernandez. (Jordan Crane photo)
Gen X kids aren’t kids any more, Hernandez among them. But, now 59, he’s still telling the story of his generation, and how its kids grew up. Well, most of them.
“My brother and I have still been doing Love & Rockets as a regular comic book, splitting the comic and I just had an idea to have my old characters revisit old friends,” says Hernandez, whose new book Is This How You See Me? collects his most recent stories of the Gen Xers referred to as the Locas.
“They’re all in their fifties now and I just wanted to see what would happen. I didn’t know what was going to happen. I wanted to see what would happen if they all saw each other after all these years. It started to write itself.”
He’s being unkind to himself there, because this important comic book happens because Hernandez writes — and draws — it. Love & Rockets has been a pillar of the American independent comics scene, and one of the best-regarded comics, period, since its first issue in 1982.Begun by Jaime, Gilbert and Mario Hernandez and still produced today by the former two, it comprises thousands of pages (29 collected editions, at last count) of stories of identity, ethnicity, punk rock, angst, fashion, sex, magic, engines and — yes — love and rockets.
Although their themes are similar and the stories have been published together, the creators known as Los Bros Hernandez tell separate narratives. Jaime’s Locas stories have centred on two women, Maggie and Hopey, sometimes friends and sometimes lovers, and their circle of friends, mostly in their southern Californian hometown.
Now the Locas are heading home for a punk-rock party that reunites them and the bands they loved. It’s a reunion for the readers, too, and the nostalgia and sentiment radiate from every page — as well as the sexual tension between former hellraiser Hopey and self-conscious Maggie.
So why go back? “I’m a pretty sentimental person, especially with my old characters,” Jaime explains, during a recent visit to Toronto at the Beguiling. “It’s kind of fun being able to draw characters I haven’t seen in 20 years.”
When he drew these stories decades ago, the characters were youthful and there was a worthy crush object on every page; the influence of longtime Archie/pin-up artist Dan DeCarlo on Jaime’s style couldn’t be missed. Now, the characters are readers’ old friends, heavier and more burdened — and when Jaime starts talking about them in his soft, polite tones, it’s like they’re real to him, too. This isn’t uncommon among cartoonists, but with this one it’s especially pronounced. This is his story as much as theirs.
“I wanted to do the characters and I thought this was a good story for them because some things change and some things don’t,” he explains, with obvious enthusiasm. “As I was doing this, I was trying to figure out what changed and what didn’t because sometimes people stay the same their whole lives and some people change because their circumstances change. Hopey did the biggest turnaround of all of them. Maggie is still Maggie and the other characters are still basically themselves; a lot mellower.”
“I was pleased that Hopey was the one who changed the most. Usually she’s the one who wanted to change things up but now she was the one acting differently, who was keeping things calm. Maggie will always be Maggie. Daffy hasn’t really changed. She still cares for people. She became a doctor because she cares for people.”
We’re straying into spoilers now. Just know that characters’ arcs are playing out in this book and it’s a must-read for even the most casual Love & Rockets fan.
So, what about real-life reunions? Hernandez sheepishly talks about going to see hometown punk bands made up of men in their 50s.
“I see all these people I know from way back, the survivors anyway. A lot of them have died, from drugs or a hard life.
“I have kind of a love-hate thing with it. I really enjoyed my punk days and my youth but it’s not the same for me. That’s why I put that into Hopey. I was into that and now I’ve got a different life.”
He chuckles. “Some people take that negatively. I enjoy going to see the bands but then I go home and talk to my daughter and wash the dishes.”
It’s his critical reputation that’s spectacular; he has won a dozen Harvey Awards for comic-book excellence for his work, and it’s not every cartoonist who gets interviewed by the New Yorker, . But ask Jaime Hernandez about how he creates stories and he can’t quite express it — his sentences becoming fragmented in a charming way. It’s obvious he prefers talking through the page.
“I’ll go to the grocery store and be thinking about it. I’m asking myself constantly. It’s just those kind of thoughts in the back of my head, a constant flow.”
Then he switches tracks. “I work very organically. My only thought when I’m doing it is ‘Is it going to look good in the end?’ I don’t have many explanations. It’s just a thing I’ve been doing so long that I’ll look at a panel and I’ll have a person … Say someone was talking and the other person takes offence to it. Then I’ve got to do a drawing that shows that person’s expression (but) I kind of wrestle with the panel and redraw things, wrangle things constantly just to get that expression.”
He adds, tellingly: “Sometimes I redraw the panel over and over again, for different angles just to get it right.”
So what kind of person is he?
“Pretty boring,” he laughs. “I’m a pretty boring person. I can be very quiet but only because I’m observing. I try to please others. I’ve got this thing where I try to please the people I’m around yet a lot of times those people around don’t give a s--t and I’m like, well, f--k ’em.”
As Hernandez laughs, he gets a little bit punk again, just politely. And, as usual, he’s speaking for Generation X.
“This book, I’m like, ‘Look folks, we’re all old and some of us change. Let’s hope everything works out.’ ”