Sunday, 12 October 2014

The Incredible Romancing of Los Bros Hernandez - Love and Rockets



Firstly, I am not going to be writing about Mario. I know he contributed to the early Love and Rockets also the occasional later issue but he wasn't and isn't in my book such a huge contributor to the comic book scene as his two brothers. Not that I think the guy was unimportant because he patently was but only important in that he was the motivating force behind Jaime and Gilberto becoming comic book writers and artists in the first place.

Los Bros Hernandez began publishing their ground-breaking comic Love and Rockets via Fantagraphics Publishing in 1982. Ground-breaking is possibly an overused expression but it is one that fits this comic perfectly well. Fuelled by the punk rock explosion of the mid 70's these two fellows went on to produce what many suggest as being the best of all the anthology comics of the 80's.
The comic throbbed with life. It had a buzz that showed comic book art in its purest form. Not a superhero in sight although there were tongue-in-cheek appearances. Incredible moments where reality meets with para-reality, magical surrealism, incandescent passages that do not so much defy convention as bend it a little and by doing so make the story all the more real. There is a love of wrestling, rocket ships straight out of Tintin, people who hunt massive snails to cook and eat, bath houses were the delightful Luba washes those in need of a clean.  Such invention and so beautifully drawn.
It was this allusion to contemporary music, the clothes worn by the characters, the sense of the sub-culture given credence by possibly its greatest ally, apart from the music itself, to be found. Comics and pop culture go hand-in-hand. They share the same politics, the same sense of being outside the mainstream yet paradoxically the engine room which drives it. Not only was there a clearly definable link to bands such as Camper Van Beethoven, Joy Division, The Smiths and other such eighties acts, but also the thread that tied, and still does, fifties Rock and Roll through the sixties underground on to punk and beyond.

The fiction contained within its pages was often complex human dramas that were brought to life by the pencils and creativity of the brothers. The setting for the comic strips was Central America and was so believable that you could taste the dust along with the Tacos. Love stories crept into the story arcs but often concentrated on a far more diverse set of passions. Not only did we have boys and girls but also girls and girls. These devices were never employed for the sake of cheap thrills but rather as a reflection of a society, still condemned by the likes of Thatcher and Reagan (Thatcher despised Gays and introduced section 28 in 1988) that was changing and much for the better in my opinion. Both brothers investigated these issues sensitively and with a degree of insight.

Broadly speaking Gilberto wrote and drew the 'Palomar' story line, whilst Jaime did the same with his 'Hoppers 13'/ Mechanics stories. There were also a bunch of one-offs and some short stories that went into the mix.

Gilberto's 'Palomar' is a story that is set in the fictional Central American village of ....Palomar funny enough, and is filled with a host of characters that breathe and live as though they were real. My favourite being Luba, the unmarried mother of a small family, who seems to get all the unwanted attention from every male who either lives in Palomar or who she encounters during her lifetime in the series.

Jaime's 'Hoppers 13' is based on the lives of a group of characters who meet up during their punk days and whose adventures we follow from then until the present day. Virtually all of the characters are from a Chicano background which makes a pleasant change from all the Marvel characters who by and large were either white Americans or whose adventures were set in New York or a fictional facsimile of the big apple. I have two characters that I fell in love with, figuratively and actually, Margarita "Maggie" Luisa Chascarrillo and Esperanza "Hopey" Leticia Glass, two friends whose lesbian love affair was core to many of the stories.
Virtually all of the stories and characters feature females all of whom are portrayed in a sensitive but never sentimental fashion. This too was a feature new to comics as was the way reality, for this, was very much that, sat easily inside what to all intents and purposes was a parallel world, almost sci-fi in fact although they never made such claims.
It was this that brought to  my mind works such as Gabriel Garcia Marquez's "One Thousand Years of Solitude." The same drift of magical realism inflating the narrative like hydrogen in a zeppelin. It was a heady but explosive concoction.

Another interesting aspect of the brothers writing ability and one at odds with nearly all of the mainstream confectionery comics producers is that the characters are featured in Love and Rockets age at the same rate as the storylines with Maggie, for instance, going from a tight arsed sexpot to a girl of, how can I put it... Rubenesque proportions?

Love and Rockets finished its fourteen years run with issue 50 in 1996. It is well worth popping down to your local comic shop and having a browse at the collected volumes now being printed. Another good bit of news is that Los Bros have recently started to produce new stories that are again being published by Fantagraphics Publishing. I have a couple of the graphic novels sitting on my shelf.

There is now talk of a film. Apparently Gilberto has agreed to write the script for a 'Palomar' story. Not sure what I think of that but we shall have to wait and see.

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Russell Cuts the Corn From The Brewers Whiskers.

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