One of the very few negatives in the work of Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez, two of the finest artists and writers in comics, is that the pair’s worlds are so complex and large that new readers may be intimidated to engage them. Hell, even frequent and well-seasoned readers may find themselves opening Google for some additional context or reminders.
The brothers’ oeuvre is simply labyrinthine; the creators have been telling consistently-entertaining stories, Scheherazade-like, for 34 years, embroidering and carving out detours, plus adding new characters as they need to. Yet, those not yet familiar with the Hernandez’s work shouldn’t let their overwhelming history stop them.
Both brothers have plenty of self-contained side work, but Love and Rockets, whose seventh volume of its “New Stories” line hits shelves this month, remains their masterpiece. A soap opera spun over decades, the drama seesaws back and forth between Jaime’s “Hoppers” stories and Gilbert’s “Palomar” narrative, with occasional bits that belong to neither. Think of the series as a mirror of reality, despite its frequent flights of fancy: do you let the fact that someone new you’ve just met had a whole life before you encountered each another stop you from engaging him or her in conversation? Of course not. If the person is genuinely interesting in the short term, you take it on faith that s/he has a history to match, and you work on filling in the pieces as your relationship progresses. Such is Love and Rockets.
Both Jaime and Gilbert were nice enough to take a break from their extremely busy schedules to answer some questions from Paste.
Paste: I feel like if I had to draw a graph of your careers, it would start out as two almost parallel lines that move farther and farther away from one another. Do you think that’s accurate? And, if so, what do you think accounts for it? Different life experiences?
Gilbert Hernandez: Jaime and I grew up enjoying some the same comics, movies and such, and there’s where the similarities in our early work comes from. Our personalities are different, of course, he being more of a Dr. Jekyll to my Mr. Hyde. As we get older, we’re more about what influences us in our present lives.
Jaime Hernandez: Even though our lives have gone separate ways in the last 30-some years (moving apart, raising families, etc.), we try to keep Love and Rockets the same.
Paste: You don’t really collaborate, but do you discuss the order of stories in Love and Rockets? Does it come together organically? Do you bounce ideas off one another, or do you work pretty much in isolation, apart from some kind of psychic brother link?
Gilbert Hernandez: Sometimes Jaime and I will have similar stories appearing together in Love and Rockets without us knowing it until it’s time to put the finished stories in order. In Love and Rockets #7, we both have a long adventure/fantasy story. Since mine was conceived first, mine goes first in the issue, but it’s usually a matter of what flows best and which stories complement the other. More than ever, these days we usually don’t know what the other is doing until we see the book put together.
Jaime Hernandez: Sometimes two of my stories that sit next to each other will need a large gap in between to help the flow of the drama, so I’ll need a longer Gilbert story to stick in there and vice versa. We work in isolation, but I like to know what Gilbert is up to both as a fan of his work and a person I share the book with.
Paste: When your work is colored (covers, illustrations for other sources like The New Yorker), do you do the coloring?
Gilbert Hernandez: I indicate a color guide for the covers and FB [Fantagraphics Books] does the finished coloring.
Jaime Hernandez: No, I have a couple of colorists I rely on for that kind of work. I’ve been planning to learn Photoshop for decades but I never get to it. Maybe it was meant to be this way.
Paste: If I had to sum up the direction of both of your work these days (and that’s not easy), I might say it’s about aging, and both the pros and cons of getting older. That doesn’t mean you don’t have adolescent characters, but they’re written from a different perspective than it seems like they were in the early days of Love and Rockets. What’s it like, getting older and turning into elder statesmen of comics?
Jaime Hernandez: I’m just glad I’m still here and still have a following to support this stuff.
Paste: Jaime, can you tell me a little about the illustration work you’ve been doing for The New Yorker? Do they let you read the story it’ll run with and you get to come up with the idea for the visuals? Or do they approach you with an idea?
Jaime Hernandez: Sometimes they would give me the article to read and then I would send them a couple of roughs, and they would pick the one they like or have me do something totally different. And then sometimes they would give me an idea when they sent the article. We traded off driving each other crazy, I think.
The Love Bunglers
almost could have been an end for the Maggie/Hopey stories, but, as Love and Rockets: New Stories #7 proves, it obviously wasn’t. Do you think you’ll ever decide to conclude those stories? Do you have an ending in mind?
Jaime Hernandez: My only plan is that some will die off and others will live to be very old and still others will simply disappear. I just don’t know who yet. I suppose it would be easier to end the stories if I didn’t like the characters so much.
Paste: Music seems less important in your work now than it was once upon a time. True? Not true? What do you listen to these days?
Jaime Hernandez: I listen to a lot less than I used to, partly because the evolution of how I work now gives me less time to listen to anything.
Gilbert Hernandez: We came up with stories according to our age at the time. Music was a driving force for us when growing up, so it was normal to put it in our comics. Young people identify with their favorite music a lot more than average adults do. Strange that there isn’t so much of a generation gap with music today as there was in the earlier days of rock music. My 14-year-old daughter fancies high-energy rock and, except for modern production values, it isn’t any louder or nastier than music I listened to. These days I’m into the music of P!nk, as she has a lot more musical chops than supposed more ‘real’ indy artists. Put her up against indy darlings like Dum Dum Girls or Haim and she makes mincemeat out of them. This excludes me from the indy party line, of course. The Hives are cool too. The most fun I ever had at a gig was protecting my daughter from the wild audience when we went to see The Hives. They also opened up for P!nk last year, oddly enough.
Paste: And what do you do in your free time, which I assume you have even though you’re both incredibly productive? Do you still read new comics? Do you make your kids read them?
Jaime Hernandez: I try to pick up new comics but I find there are less that I’m able to absorb. Kinda like my brain has only so much room to maintain anything after years and years of absorbing so much. The same with music.
Gilbert Hernandez: In my free time, I hang out with my family. I don’t see a lot of new comics. I’m more into old comics collections like horror comics from the 1950s or Dick Tracy reprints. Indy comics are like reading someone’s diary these days.
Paste: Does your family read comics?
Gilbert Hernandez: My wife and daughter read comics infrequently these days, but they both enjoy them when they get around to it.
Paste: What did you think about the whole Milo Manara Spider-Woman flap, as dudes who spend a lot of time focusing on female beauty, whether realistic or with certain (ahem) exaggerated characteristics?
Gilbert Hernandez: The Milo Manara cover just reminded me of how out of touch some cartoonists are. Superheroes are for children, and covers like that might send a bad message. Most of my comics are for adults, so the supposed over-the-top sexiness is something the reader can take or leave. Again, superheroes are for children and adults that take them personal aren’t my target audience.
Paste: Gilbert, do you work at such a frenetic pace to pay the bills, or is it just how you like to pace yourself (some people like to have a million projects going at once)?
Gilbert Hernandez: Unfortunately, I work fast to pay them bills, but I never hack out the work whatever the job is. I do have several projects going at once just because I like it that way, but bills come fast and art comes real ssssssslowwwwwwww….
Paste: What’s the best horror movie you’ve seen lately?
Gilbert Hernandez: I watched the last 40 minutes of The Birds last night and it’s still great.