Gilbert Hernandez, The Book of Ofelia (Raincoast/Fantagraphics Books, 2005)
Jaime Hernandez, Ghost of Hoppers (Raincoast/Fantagraphics Books, 2005)
"[Love & Rockets] is the most eloquent statement that's ever been done about growing up in [Latin American] culture. I';ve never seen anything else in comics -- I guess there might be something in literature -- but in comics there's never been anybody that's touched what they have." -- Robert Crumb
If you are a fan of graphic novels, illustrated story-telling, or comic book art at all, two names you need to know are those of Jaime and Gilbert (called Beto) Hernandez. These two Californian brothers virtually defined the best of "underground comix" during the '80s and are doing it again with the new series of their classic Love and Rockets series. Each brother has his own take on Latino culture, each has his own distinctive drawing and writing style, each has his own sense of humour, and yet there are many similarities in their work. These two new books are collections of stories which first appeared in L&R during the late '90s and into the current century.
Gilbert is the slightly more traditional writer, dealing with family life in the barrio. His main character is Luba, a beautiful, large-breasted woman who has moved herself and her family to the city from the Mexican village of Palomar. His tales are like your own famly history. You never quite remember it correctly, but somehow in the remembrance you hint at more of the truth. That's what Beto's stories are like. In The Book of Ofelia, as one might imagine, Ofelia is writing a book, and recording the history of the family. Her memory is . . . selective. The rest of the family is concerned about what will be written, what will be left out.
Gilbert's drawings are a bit more "cartoony" than Jaime's, which adds a touch of surrealism to the whole package. There is such truth, such realism in the tales, that the exaggerated forms of the women (and the men) take on super-realistic qualities. These are the people you run into every day. They are the people we see when we look in the mirror.
These same qualities of reality are in every line drawn, and word written by Jaime too. Jaime writes about Maggie and Hopey, two lifelong friends who have been through everything together. Their love for each other, (both sexual and non-sexual over the years) is as vibrant and touching as any relationship in literature. Through punk rock, while Maggie was a mechanic away in the jungle, and now with Hopey tending bar and Maggie managing a motel, they are best of friends, with all the resident feelings that relationship entails.
Jaime's drawings are a bit less cartoony than Gilbert's, and yet he never hesitates to add the bulging eyes or the shrieking mouth of a Tex Avery character. This juxtaposition of the real and the unreal makes all of Los Bros' oeuvre special. It sets their work apart from all contenders. There is simply nothing like a Love and Rockets book. In Ghost of Hoppers, a tired and stressed Maggie is dealing with Izzy, another friend with some serious problems of her own, and with relationships both good and bad. Well, mostly bad. And with all the ordinary troubles a motel super might face. Air conditioners don't work, the pool is a mess, somebody has a dog, or a wolf, or. . . .
Jaime's use of black and white is strong and weighty, almost equivalent amounts of dark to light, while Gilbert's drawings are lighter and his panels are filled with more detail. But both brothers in their own way create an intimacy and a brightness on the page. You can see the influence of Jack Kirby in Jaime's work, and the great Steve Ditko (who created Spiderman) in the drawings of Gilbert. But they have used these influences to create their own, highly individual styles.
I should warn you...if it happens in your world, it happens in these pages. People go to the bathroom, they stop for lunch, they throw up, they have sex, they argue, they fight, they work, and they play. If you haven't read Love and Rockets before, you are missing something. If you're already a fan of Los Bros Hernandez these two new collections will make a fine addition to your library.