It was the cover that started it all.
When I first saw Love and Rockets #1, published in 1982, the image on the magazine-sized cover just knocked me out. Five women stood in what looked to be a police line-up shot, in various types of dress.
One looked to be a princess in a fantasy setting, but the princess was taking a long drag on a cigarette. Next to the princess was a buxom lady in superhero clothing, with the front of her outfit torn away from a recent fight. To the right of the super chick stood a housewife done up in hair curlers and a robe. Two other female figures completed the picture, looking as if they have been dropped into the illustration from a Frank Frazetta painting. This was a comic book that I just had to buy.
By 1986, the Love and Rockets comic magazine, published by Fantagraphics, Inc., had left the early issues of sci-fi stories, goofy heroines and surreal imagery behind to fully explore the characters within the stories. Created, written and drawn by brothers Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez (with early assistance from brother Mario), L & R was like nothing else on the comic racks in ‘86. Gilbert, known as "BEM" at first, and later "‘Berto," created an ever-expanding universe of tragic characters that were distinctly realized through his linear art style.
'Berto's stories centered on a mythical Central American village known as Palomar, which he used to pursue themes of quintessential small town idealism. Palomar was a place where every citizen knew their neighbor, creating a virtual fishbowl of comedic and dramatic moments through its soap-operatic storylines. Gilbert would continue to write stories about Palomar throughout the entire run of L&R, with many of his stories reaching hallmarks that could be seriously compared to good literature.
While ‘Berto explored family relationships and human lust, brother Jaime chose to focus on the youthful stories of Maggie and Hopey, two characters with lives that intersected continuously in their Latino community. The stories were filled with a large cast of oddball characters and featured surprisingly edgy personal situations.
Jaime, a truly a gifted cartoonist (and the artist behind the cover that grabbed me), drew gorgeous females in a breathtakingly slick brush art style that was the yin to brother Gilbert's yang. Jaime's characters interacted like real females, with frustrating life problems and strange quests for personal identity. Jaime's personal style was a derivative of Archie artist Dan DeCarlo, yet very "real" in the emotional content packed within the imagery.
Maggie, the character who was arguably Jaime's female alter-ego, was at once the most loveable yet frustrating character a reader might ever hope to meet. She began her comics life as a punk rocker, migrating in later years to a woman struggling with issues involving weight gain and working in places such as a boring Insurance agency. Her odd friendship with Hopey and others allowed Jaime to explore themes of confused sexuality and unusual relationship concerns. Maggie changed dramatically within these stories through the multiple years that the magazine was published, and a truly human character emerged throughout.
As a testament to the impact of the comic throughout the 80's, former Bauhaus members Daniel Ashe and David J. even named their new band "Love and Rockets" in 1985. You're probably familiar with their song "So Alive."
Although the comic ran for around 50 issues and for many years, the Hernandez brothers decided that they'd had enough in the mid '90s. To the joy of their many fans, however, Love and Rockets recently experienced a new life in a standard comics format, with new issues being published by Fantagraphics today.
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