25 February 2010

The Art of Jaime Hernandez

Tim Hodler's got a great post about the upcoming Art of Jaime Hernandez book by Todd Hignite coming later this year from Abrams ComicArts. I can honestly say there is no book, not even Dan Clowes' Wilson, that I'm more looking forward to this year, so I was happy to see Tim gave it a mostly positive review.

But I wanted to respond to some of the points Hodler made in his post, and since I wanted to use images, I decided to post it here, rather than in the comments.

First, Hodler writes:

"I imagine most people first experience (Love & Rockets) in the collected volumes, in which the stories are mostly separated by artist. How many of their fans have never actually read an individual issue of Love and Rockets? The currently produced book-like issues still collect Gilbert and Jaime (and Mario) together, of course, and they still preserve the old brothers-putting-on-a-show feel to a remarkable degree. But for future readers, the original comic-book context—not just the intermingled stories, which often seemed to be commenting upon each other sub-textually (whether or not that was literally the case), but the letters pages, ads, short gags, lists, et cetera—may be as unimaginable, and unimportant seeming, as the context that surrounded serialized Victorian fiction (not to speak of that surrounding ancient Greek poetry!) is to readers of Dickens or Thackeray (or Homer) today."

Having spent years analyzing Love & Rockets, I completely agree with Hodler on this point. The first volume of Love & Rockets was originally conceived as a serialized comic book, and it loses some of its character in the current collections. Here are five things I came up with off the top of my head:

1. Oversized artwork - The original issues were larger than the new collections, and given how dense some of the middle issues get, the larger size opens the stories up and lets them breathe a little bit.

2. Front and back covers - The original issues featured stunning full color front and back cover illustrations, which are absent from the collections. The wraparound decade covers were particularly awesome, featuring scenes with all the major characters drawn by both brothers.

3. Letters pages - Hodler mentions this in passing, and he's absolutely right. The series included some pretty spirited and intelligent letters pages over the years. They also served as a who's who among later alternative cartoonists, showing the tremendous influence Los Bros had on the current generation of artists. Off the top of my head, Ho Che Anderson, Andi Watson, Evan Dorkin and Steve Rude wrote fan letters, and I'm sure I've forgotten some others. The first few issues also included some impassioned essays by Gary Groth that are worth reading for the die hard fans. None of this material has been reprinted.

4. Graphic design - It's an overlooked aspect of most comics, but Love & Rockets, particularly the latter half of the first series, included some amazing design work. The movie poster-style interior cover from issue #43 above, designed by Dale Yarger and Monster X, is something I would gladly frame and hang on my wall.

5. The interplay between stories - From the crossover cameos, like Maria in "Flies on the Ceiling" and Izzy in "Poison River," to the stray panels drawn by the other brother, these little hooks and inside jokes are completely lost when read out of context of the single issues.

Also lost is the subtle influence the Brothers had on each other. For example, Gilbert's storytelling style in "Bullnecks and Bracelets" (in issue #19), which jumps from one character to another in small chapters, was very likely influenced by Jaime's similarly organized "8:01 am to 11:15 pm" from issue #18. Similarly, the narrative style of Jaime's "Angelitas" in issue #45 is clearly inspired by Gilbert's "Pipo" in #43.

A case could certainly be made that the longer, multi-part stories hold up better in collected form than they did in individual issues. Certainly "Poison River," with its additional 50 pages and chapter structure reads better as a single book, yet still, little things are lost. For example, in issue #35, which featured the seventh chapter of "Poison River" and the fifth chapter of "Love & Rockets X." In "Poison River," Luba celebrated her 17th birthday, while in "Love & Rockets X," her daughter Maricela also celebrated her 17th birthday. By presenting the two stories in the same issue, Gilbert offered readers a fascinating contrast of mother and daughter at the same points in their lives. Admittedly, this is not critical to enjoying Gilbert's stories, but it's just one of those things that's lost in translation.

I don't mean to trash the new collections at all. I own them and they're certainly nice, and an incredible price point for new readers. And the sheer quality of Los Bros work is transcendent in any format. In the comments section of Hodler's post, Jeet Heer argues that "it's better to just focus on the stories and forgot about any attempt to re-create the original reading experience." That's probably true for the vast majority of readers, but I share Hodler's sentiment that this is a book that rewards those willing to track down the single issues.

Finally, one last point I wanted to comment on. Hodler writes:

"I keep wanting to see Gilbert’s art. I mean, Gilbert is certainly a near-constant presence in the book; Jaime and Gilbert’s careers are too intertwined to separate entirely in the text and photos. But I couldn’t help wishing to see some of his drawings included as well."

I whole-heartedly agree! I've never understood the people who don't like Gilbert's art. The man is one of the great character designers in comics history, and has proven he's among the greatest writers ever to work in the medium. I know it probably won't happen, but I would personally pay good money for a follow-up Art of Gilbert Hernandez book, and I'm sure I'm not the only one.

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Blogger Diana Tamblyn said...

Really liked your post and couldn't agree more about reading the original issues vs. the collected editions. I still have most of the magazine-sized issues. I will never part with them!

Totally looking forward to the Art of Jaime book as well!

February 27, 2010 9:00 PM  
Blogger West said...

I am a generation behind and I've only had the joy of the collections. I do feel lucky to have them in that form, but it sounds like I'm missing a few things.

I want to BE Gilbert Hernandez. I'll probably avoid the erotica, but who knows.

March 1, 2010 12:13 AM  
Blogger FandEsther said...


March 1, 2010 1:46 PM  
Blogger Marc Sobel said...

Love and Rockets Archives, along the lines of the EC Archives, would be nice, but...the challenge is the material Los Bros added to some of their stories (Poison River, 100 Rooms L&R X, etc.) after the issues were published. I respect what Fantagraphics is going for with the collected editions, and definitely would recommend them for anyone who just wants to read Love & Rockets. But if you get addicted like I did, the original issues have a lot of cool extras worth collecting, too.

March 1, 2010 8:35 PM  

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