Love and Rockets: New Stories volume 4

By The Hernandez Brothers (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-490-0

A year goes by like twelve long months when you’re waiting for a really special treat, but if that deferred object of desire is the next annual instalment of Love and Rockets: New Stories then the wait is always worth it.

One of the transcendent, formative forces of the 1980s comics revolution, Love and Rockets was an anthology magazine featuring the slick, intriguing, sci-fi tinged hi-jinx of punky young things Maggie and Hopey – las Locas – and heart-warming, gut-wrenching soap-opera epics set in a rural Central American paradise called Palomar.

The Hernandez Boys (three guys from Oxnard, California: Jaime, Gilberto and Mario), gifted synthesists all, enthralled and enchanted with incredible stories sampling and referencing a thousand influences – 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 last please also include alternative music, hip hop and punk.

The result was dynamite. Mario only officially contributed on rare occasions, but Jaime’s slick, enticing visual forays explored friendship and modern love by destroying stereotypes of feminine attraction through his fetching coterie of Gals Gone Wild, whilst Gilberto created a hyper-real landscape and playground of wit and passion created for his extended generational saga Heartbreak Soup: a quicksilver chimera of breadline Latin-American village life with a vibrant, funny and fantastically quotidian cast.

The denizens of Palomar still inform and shape his latest tales both directly and as imaginative spurs for ostensibly unaffiliated 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 via a devastatingly effective primitivist style which blended the highly personal mythologies of comics, music, drugs, powerful women, gangs, sex and family using a narrative format which is the graphic equivalent of Magical Realism.

Winning critical acclaim but scant financial reward the brothers eventually 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 fourth volume commences with the third chapter of Jaime’s compelling “those were the days” graphic revival of las Locas, aptly designated ‘The Love Bunglers’; further following the tribulations of middle-aged Maggie Chascarrillo, still looking for her life’s path and true love; still an uncomprehending, unsuspecting object of desire to the men – and some of the women – who flock around her.

Here the repercussions of the shocking return of her disturbed and long missing brother has shaken her world and looks likely to escalate into inescapable tragedy…

Gilbert again plunders the movie career of captivating, complex aging B-movie queen Fritz (See High Soft Lisp, The Troublemakers and Love from the Shadows) and her teen-tyro niece Dora “Killer” Rivera – granddaughter of Palomar’s formidable Matriarch Luba and another pneumatic, no-nonsense, take-charge character determined to do everything her way and own all her own mistakes – for the trendy, torrid and trashy ‘King Vampire’: a beguiling contemporary fang-banger romance wherein a troubled teen and her geeky boy-pal are spurned by the local Goth gang but not the two true bloodsuckers who have just flapped into town…

‘The Love Bunglers part 4’ cleanses the pictorial palate nicely as Maggie continues to stumble from misapprehension to miscue, after which Jaime offers another glimpse into her formative years with ‘Return To Me’, a stunning prequel to the previous volume’s astonishing, revelatory ‘Browntown’…

Gilbert then steps away from filmic conceit to examine the actress Fritz in the seductively mesmeric and innocuously shocking ‘And Then Reality Kicks In’ as the dowager starlet frankly discusses her drinking problem and stalled career with a friend before Jaime memorably closes out this year’s model with the poignant, trenchant and amazingly upbeat conclusion to ‘The Love Bunglers’

Warm-hearted, deceptively heart-wrenching, challenging, charming and irresistibly addictive, 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 diamond point of the cutting edge of American graphic narrative.

© 2011 Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez. This edition © 2011 Fantagraphics Books. All Rights Reserved.