By The Hernandez Brothers (Fantagraphics Books)
A year goes by like 365 days when you’re waiting for something really special and very often the anticipation is far headier than the eventual pay-off. Mercifully in the case of Love and Rockets: New Stories such in not the case, as the third annual volume proves to be the best yet, combining eccentric drama, bright fantasy, captivating whimsy and appalling human frailty into a package of stunning graphic intensity.
In the 1980s a qualitative revolution forever destroyed the clichéd, stereotypical ways different genres of comic strips were produced and marketed. Most prominent in destroying the comfy pigeonholes we’d built for ourselves were three guys from Oxnard, California; Jaime, Mario (occasionally) and Gilberto Hernandez.
Love and Rockets was an anthology magazine featuring slick, intriguing, sci-fi tinted hi-jinx of punky young things Maggie and Hopey – las Locas – and heart-warming, terrifying, gut-wrenching soap-opera fantasies from the rural Central American paradise of Palomar. The Hernandez Boys, gifted synthesists all, enthralled and enchanted with incredible stories that sampled a thousand influences conceptual and actual – everything from Comics, TV cartoons, masked wrestlers and the exotica of American Hispanic pop culture to German Expressionism. There was also a perpetual backdrop displaying the holy trinity of youth: Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll – for which please hear alternative music and punk rock.
The result was dynamite. Mario only officially contributed on rare occasions but the slick and enticing visual forays by Jaime explored friendship and modern love whilst destroying stereotypes of feminine attraction through his fetching coterie of Gals Gone Wild and Gilberto created the hyper-real landscape of Palomar: a playground of wit and passion created for the extended serial Heartbreak Soup, in the quicksilver form of a poor Latin-American village with a vibrant, funny and fantastically quotidian cast. The denizens of Palomar still inform and shape the latest tales from Beto both directly and as imaginative spurs for unassociated stories.
Everything from life death, adultery, magic, serial killing and especially gossip could happen in Palomar’s meta-fictional environs, as the artist mined his own post-punk influences in a deceptively effective primitivist art style which blended the highly personal mythologies of comics, music, drugs, strong women, gangs, sex and family using a narrative format that was the graphic equivalent to the literary discipline of Magical Realism.
Winning critical acclaim but little financial success the brothers temporarily went their own ways but a few years ago creatively reunited to produce these annual collections of new material in their particularly peculiar shared or rather, intermittently adjacent pen-and-ink universes.
This third volume commences with Gilbert’s ‘Scarlet by Starlight’ a multi-perspective narrative that appears at first to be a science fictional fable before evolving into something far more disturbing. On a distant world, a team of three earthling explorers are becoming far too intimate with the primitive yet buxom anthropoids that populate the planet and as the human relationships break down, unwise new bonds are formed with unpleasant and even harrowing results…
Savage and sexually explicit, this exploration of drives and desires takes a further step into forbidden territory when the explorers return home…
Maggie Chascarrillo – star of las Locas – takes centre stage in Jaime’s ‘The Love Bunglers Part One’, a lonely middle-aged lady, still looking for her life’s path and still an unsuspecting object of desire to the men who flock around her. But who is that particularly dangerous-looking bum stalking her?
The central portion again features Gilbert’s newest fascination: the young, rebellious and dangerously pneumatic underage Latina spitfire dubbed “Killer” – actually the juvenile character Dora Rivera – granddaughter of Palomar’s formidable Matriarch Luba (see Luba and Love and Rockets: New Stories volume 2) grown to a far more dangerous age.
As seen in the previous volume, Killer, who is slowly making her way into the exotic B-movie arena that fascinated and overwhelmed her Aunt Fritz (See also High Soft Lisp and The Troublemakers) is a highly strung creature on the verge of losing all her remaining innocence and in ‘Killer*Sad Girl*Star’ is considering remaking one of her aunt’s strangest movies whilst becoming involved in a senseless tragic crime… or is she?
Maggie’s turbulent childhood is revealed in Jaime’s startling and truly disturbing ‘Browntown’ as the Chascarrillo family move to a new city where both parents and all four kids undergo differing ordeals which reshape them forever. A note of warning: There are some heart-rending situations of child-abuse here that, although artistically valid and even necessary, are also genuinely upsetting, so please remember that this is a book strictly for mature readers.
The harrowing revelations of ‘Browntown’ lead directly into ‘The Love Bunglers Part Two’ as many of the mysteries set up in the first chapter are thrown into stark relief by the events from Maggie’s past, leading to a surprisingly warm-hearted conclusion to this deceptively hard-hitting book.
Stark, challenging, charming and irresistibly seductive, Love and Rockets: New Stories is a grown up comics fan’s dream come true and remains as valid and groundbreaking as its earlier incarnations – the cutting edge of American graphic narrative.
© 2010 Gilberto, Jaime and Mario Hernandez. This edition © 2010 Fantagraphics Books. All Rights Reserved.