Love and Rockets: New Stories No. 1

By The Hernandez Brothers (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-56097-951-7

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 comics magazine that featured the slick, intriguing, originally sci-fi tinted larks of punky young things Maggie and Hopey – las Locas – and the heart-warming, terrifying, gut-wrenching soap-opera fantasy of Palomar. The Hernandez Boys, gifted synthesists all, entranced us all with incredible stories that sampled a thousand influences conceptual and actual – everything from Archie Comics, kids TV, the exotica of American Hispanic pop culture to German Expressionism and masked wrestlers. There was also perpetual backdrop displaying the holy trinity of youth: Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll – or at least alternative music and punk.

The result was pictorial and narrative 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 Bright Young Things and Gilberto created the super-hyper-real landscape of Palomar: a playground of wit and passion created for the extended serial Heartbreak Soup. Here was a poor Latin-American village with a vibrant, funny and fantastically quotidian cast.

Everything from life death, adultery, magic, serial killing and especially gossip could happen its meta-fictional environs, and did, as the artist mined his own post-punk influences in a deceptively effective primitivist art style incorporating the mythologies of comics, music, drugs, strong women, gangs, sex and family using a narrative format informed by everything from Magical Realism to Saturday morning cartoons.

Despite gaining huge critical acclaim but little financial success the brothers temporarily went their own ways but a few years ago creatively reunited to produce annual collections of new material. This initial volume of 112 pages finds Jaime once more pastiching female superheroes and the Mexican Masked Wrestler phenomenon in the captivating ‘Ti-Girls Adventures Number 34 Part One: The Search for Penny Century’ – an extended whimsical romp featuring Maggie and clashing dynasties of lady crime-fighters all trying to subdue an old friend crazed by her gifts and the pressures of modern motherhood. The second part ‘Penny is found’ closes the volume but the story is so big that it continues into the 2009 volume…

Brother Beto opted for a selection of shorter tales ranging from the quirky newspaper strip parody ‘The Funny Pages’, the graphic parable of ‘Papa’, whose Job-like faith and determination were singularly tested and ‘The New Adventures of Duke and Sammy’ – a broadly absurdist spoof of the Dean Martin/Jerry Lewis team, whose outer space exploits are as wacky as any of their 1950s DC comics outings.

‘Victory Dance’ is an enigmatic, obscurantist offering on one of life’s Big Questions, after which Mario returns to script ‘Chiro el Indio’, a barbed satire on Catholic/white treatment of native South Americans cunningly disguised as a cartoon sitcom for Gilberto to draw, whilst ‘Never say Never’ is another highly adult cartoon spoof from Beto alone starring a gambling kangaroo, which acts as palette-cleanser for the sheer graphic exuberance of ‘?’; a free-ranging, visual free-association trip.

With the aforementioned ‘Ti-Girls Adventures Number 34 Part Two: ‘Penny is found’

closing out this volume on a cliffhanger, it’s only fair to state that initial response to this new work was mixed and guarded when it first appeared. However with the hindsight of a second edition released and a third on the way it’s safe to assume that Los Bros still know exactly what they are doing and that the magic is unfolding as it should…

Stark, charming and irresistibly seductive, Love and Rockets: New Stories is a grown up comics fan’s dream come true and remains – just as it predecessors have been – the forge of the cutting edge of graphic narrative.

© 2008 Gilberto, Jaime and Mario Hernandez. This edition © 2008 Fantagraphics Books.  All Rights Reserved.