Jaime Hernandez reflects on 38 years of his influential ‘Love & Rockets’ comics series

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Hopey, Daffy and Maggie from Los Bros Hernandez’s Love & Rockets

Los Bros Hernandez — Jaime, Gilbert and Mario — self-published the first issue of Love and Rockets in 1981. Since then, they (primarily Jaime and Gilbert) have created a substantial body of work. So substantial, in fact, that it can be intimidating to new readers.

But don’t ask Jaime Hernandez where to start.

“I throw up my hands and shrug,” he said in a phone interview. “Hopefully, if you start any place, it will grab you and you’ll want to go back. That’s all I can hope for. Of course, that doesn’t always work, but I’ve given up trying to think of where they should start. You know, you could say, ‘Yeah, start from the beginning,’ and I would say, ‘Well, I was pretty young then and still learning.’ Some of that stuff I’m a little shy of because it’s not fully formed yet. But, you know, I don’t know, if they want to, that’s fine because some readers have that thing where they need to start from the beginning. Well, good. I just hope you stay with it.”

Hernadez will speak as part of the 20th annual International Comic Arts Forum (ICAF), being held this year at St. Ambrose University in Davenport, April 4-6. The forum is free and open to the public.

In its 38 years, Love and Rockets has come to be considered one of the most influential works in the medium. As ICAF Academic Director Brittany Tullis puts it, the book “allowed readers who had previously been swimming in seas of straight, white, male characters to finally see themselves (and their families, neighbors and friends) reflected in the pages and panels of comic books.”

Maggie and Hopey are the central characters of the Hoppers 13 (or Locas) storyline Hernandez has been crafting throughout the run of Love and Rockets. His characters age in real time, growing and changing as their lives and relationships unfurl. That’s a lot of continuity to keep in mind, and Hernandez is up front about the challenges that can present.

“Sometimes I have to avoid certain things because I can’t remember. Like when was the last time this character did that particular thing? Hmm, I don’t know, so maybe I’ll just leave that out until I figure it out,” he says. “For the most part, I kind of do it as life is moving forward, so I try to look at it that way more than the million things that have happened before. So I just think, well, I know this character really well, so I know they haven’t had a major dramatic experience, or traumatic experience, lately, so they’re kind of safe, you know? And I can move them forward innocently, without a bad past. You can kind of forgive their mistakes more, so you don’t have to think so much about what mistakes they’ve made. Some characters made big mistakes, and you can’t forget that. So you have to write that sort of underlying trauma or drama.”

Los Bros Hernandez’s work is often thought of as falling into some combination of categories—Latinx, feminist and more. But Hernandez doesn’t think of his art that way.

“I like to think that I’m just part of the comics world,” he says. “That my comic is just as legitimate as the next comic. I don’t try to put myself in a category, other than the basic: I’m more independent comics than mainstream comics. That’s a given. But other than that, I try to look at it as, this is just a comic for everyone to read; it just happens to have [more] Latinas than the other one.”

Hernandez says his ICAF presentation will be a conversation with the audience.

“I’m better with questions than just me mouthing off because I could go in a direction that [the audience gets] pretty bored with. I kind of like to hear a question, and I’ll know exactly where they want me to go. Because I can just go on different tangents and not even realize that half the audience is asleep,” he says with a laugh.

As for what he’s working on next, Hernandez gives an unsurprising answer.

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“Just the next Love and Rockets. I ended a major story recently and I’m trying to figure which characters to take on next and what kind of stories are coming up.”

Hernandez surprised me when he admitted to being “a little shy” of his early work on Love and Rockets. I asked him if he could go back to the beginning now and talk to his younger self as the series was just getting started, would he have any advice for that young artist and writer.

“Nah,” he says. “I would just say, ‘It’s fine. You did fine. We all grew up together. It worked out.’ I have no regrets, really.”

ICAF in Detail

International Comic Arts Forum: Artist Talk — Jaime Hernadez

St. Ambrose University Rogalski Center, Davenport — Friday, April 5 at 7 p.m.

I.C.E. C.R.E.A.M. at ICAF

St. Ambrose University Rogalski Center Ballroom, Davenport — Friday, April 5 at 3 p.m.

Dr. Brittany Tullis, an assistant professor of Spanish and women and gender studies at St. Ambrose as well as academic director on the board of the International Comics Arts Forum, is bringing her two worlds together.

“We are delighted to bring ICAF to St. Ambrose University this year,” Tullis said, “not only because it offers the opportunity for Ambrosians and local community members to come together on campus to further celebrate and explore comics under the larger framework of Visual Narratives (this year’s annual theme at St. Ambrose), but also because it has allowed for an exciting collaboration with the Iowa City Expo for Comics & Real Eclectic Alternative Media.”

ICAF, which began in 1995 at Georgetown University, is held in a different location each year, so many of those who attend the free forum are likely experiencing it for the first time. Tullis, whose scholarly focus is Latinx American comics, is excited to welcome new patrons into the fold.

“First-time attendees can expect an engaging blend of academic presentations by over 40 comics scholars from the U.S. and abroad; artist talks by celebrated creators including Marnie Galloway, Rob Guillory, Jaime Hernandez, Fernando Iglesias (“Kohell”) and Alberto Ledesma; and a keynote by University of Iowa Professor of Hispanic Studies and author Ana Merino,” said Tullis (a three-time UI grad herself). “They can also expect the kind of welcoming and inclusive environment that I am proud to say characterizes both the field and this forum.”

I.C.E. C.R.E.A.M. in Detail

I.C.E. C.R.E.A.M.: The Fourth Annual Iowa City Expo for Comics & Real Eclectic Alt Media

Public Space One — Saturday, April 6 at 11 a.m.

The fourth annual I.C.E. C.R.E.A.M. — Iowa City Expo for Comics and Real Eclectic Alternative Media — is set for Saturday, April 6 from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. at Public Space One as part of Mission Creek Festival. This year, the expo is expanding its reach by participating in the International Comic Arts Forum on April 5 at St. Ambrose University.

Dave Dugan, an organizer for I.C.E. C.R.E.A.M., says that the goal in bringing expo participants to the ICAF is to help the artists involved find new audiences. “Since ICAF moves their yearly conference around, and they won’t be back in Davenport next year, we are hoping to use this unique opportunity to lure more people beyond the Iowa City area to come to the show in Iowa City.”

More than 20 independent artists from Iowa and surrounding states will participate in a book fair during ICAF. The Iowa City event at PS1 is even bigger.

“We have over 50 artists selling their wares, including self-published comics, zines, buttons, stickers, T-shirts, cassette tapes, chapbooks of poetry, handmade art books and prints,” Dugan said. “Most of the artists are from Iowa, but we have a handful traveling from Chicago, Wisconsin and Minneapolis to participate in the show.”

Born colorblind and therefore convinced he’d never enjoy graphic forms of storytelling, Rob Cline was first bitten by the comics bug in college. The resulting virus lay dormant for many years before it was activated by the inscrutable work of Grant Morrison. Now Cline seeks out the good and bad across the comics landscape as the Colorblind Comics Critic. He thanks the (super)heroic Professor Corey Creekmur, who will also be speaking at ICAF, for providing important background for this story. This article was originally published in Little Village issue 261.

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