Imagine a Mexican-American TV soap opera written with Federico Garcia Lorca's dramatic intensity and passion for female characters but produced with the randy exuberance of a soft-core-porn video. Then spread it all across the gritty black-and-white panels of a comic book. What you would get is Love and Rockets, the comics series created by Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez, known to the comixcenti as Los Bros. Hernandez.
In 1996 the brothers took a sabbatical from the series, which first appeared in 1981, but this month they--now joined by older brother Mario--are back with all new installments. When the series started out, most underground comics were political satires and science-fiction fantasies, but Love and Rockets told complex stories about real people, bringing a literary narrative form to the comic-book frame. "I couldn't just write a novel, because my work doesn't work well without the pictures," says Jaime, 41. "And I couldn't just do portraits or illustrations, because I need the words to go with it."
What still sets Love and Rockets apart from other books on the comics racks is how the brothers, who grew up in the ethnically mixed strawberry-farming community of Oxnard, Calif., infuse their tales with multicultural images and references. "We were basing all our stuff on our own lives," says Jaime. "Just kind of bringing real life to it."
Although they usually work side by side, the brothers write and draw the individual stories that make up Love and Rockets separately. Each book typically contains at least two tales. In Gilbert's, the main characters all have some connection to the fictional border town of Palomar; his drawings display a warm voluptuousness clearly influenced by the superhero comics of the '60s that the brothers read as boys. Jaime's plots center on Maggie Chascarrillo, a dreamy woman who drifts in and out of relationships among Los Angeles' grownup punk rockers; his lines and compositions are slim and elegant, though he doesn't shy away from crude cartoonishness when a character's emotional state requires it.
The brothers are excited about the adventures to come. "The type of work we do still isn't done or hasn't been imitated in comics," says Gilbert, 44, "particularly, in our case, using Latinos as a main ingredient." Love and Rockets, Volume II, "is our second wind."
--By Andrew D. Arnold