Sean T. Collins has written about comics and popular culture professionally since 2001 and on this very blog since 2003. He has written for Maxim, The Comics Journal, Stuff, Wizard, A&F Quarterly, Comic Book Resources, Giant, ToyFare, The Onion, The Comics Reporter and more. His comics have been published by Top Shelf, Partyka, and Family Style. He blogs here and at Robot 6.
Comics Time: Locas, or Announcing LOVE AND ROCKTOBER
NOTE: Nearly six years ago, I panned Jaime Hernandez's life's work in The Comics Journal. Though this is probably the Comics Journal-est thing I've ever done, for the Journal or anywhere else, it's not one of my prouder moments as a critic. At the time I was coming down from the high of brother Gilbert's epic Palomar hardcover and his two stand-alone masterpieces Poison River and Love and Rockets X. By comparison, Jaime's stuff, though prettier on the outside, was basically about the female Latina punk versions of Beavis and Butt-Head. Unable to see past the fact that Maggie and Hopey were annoying and did stupid shit a lot of the time, I gave Locas, which collected all their stories from Love and Rockets v1, a bad review.
Here's where I make up for it.
I happy to announce the start of LOVE AND ROCKTOBER here at Attentiondeficitdisorderly. For the next month, I'll be devoting my regularly scheduled Comics Time reviews to as much of Los Bros Hernandez' work as I can get through, starting with the Jaime material I misguidedly maligned. I believe that Love and Rockets is all but unique in comics in the way it has taken advantage of serialization to slowly create a rich and enveloping world peopled with multifaceted characters who seem to be living lives on and off the page. And it did this twice, simultaneously! With this in mind I think it's a book that's best consumed the way great TV shows are best consumed: In huge, weeks-long binges. It may be Fantagraphics' wonderful Love and Rockets digests facilitating this rather than Netflix, but the principle is the same.
So, first up, Jaime and the Locas stories. After that? I might continue forward with Xaime till I'm caught up. I might switch over to Beto's stuff. (And Mario's too!) I might do both (which I imagine would necessitate LOVEMBER AND ROCKETS). I might do neither. But whatever I do, I'm going to enjoy the hell out of it, and I hope you do too.
First, let's start by revisiting sins past: My Comics Journal review of Locas, which I'd avoided re-posting here on the blog for years, waiting for precisely this sort of opportunity to serve as a corrective. Please take everything you are about to read with a grain of salt, as much of what I once saw to be weaknesses I now recognize as strengths. And Jaime, if you're out there: Sorry, man!
The first collection to span one of Los Bros Hernandez' major output during the first 20-year run of their umbrella title Love and Rockets was Palomar, an anthology of brother Gilbert's chronicles of the titular Mexican town. Aside from a few frustrating attempts to muddle through the multi-genre mishmash of Music for Mechanics, L&R's first softcover volume, Palomar was my first real exposure to Los Bros' series. To say "it's a tough act to follow" would be to imply that one of maybe the three or four greatest achievements in comics history could be followed at all, so instead I'll say that I was almost totally unprepared for how thoroughly the book would floor me. Gilbert's uncanny grasp of the totality of each of his characters allowed him to jump back and forth in time with ease, showing us different periods in their lives that for all their temporal disconnect never made anything but perfect sense for each indelible creation. His senses of humor, horror, and eroticism would each be enough to sustain the career of a lesser cartoonist for years at a stretch. The book succeeded as maybe the great long-form narrative in comics, even (as I learned later) despite the fact that it for some reason omitted major related works like Love and Rockets X and especially Poison River, without which much of the book's concluding section was difficult to follow. Perhaps most impressively, Gilbert's mastery of the formal stuff of cartooning -- of line, design, characterization, caricature, panel transitions, the whole shmear -- was so complete that I had to wonder (partially in skepticism, partially in giddy anticipation of fresh discoveries), "The other brother's supposed to be the better artist?"
Locas, Love and Rockets' second definitive hardcover collection, focuses on the work of that other brother, the "better artist," Jaime -- and I'm not sure if I can remember a more awkward comics-reading experience than my recent sojourn through its 700-plus pages. I say this not because of the book's unwieldy length. I say it rather because of the dual irony that this massive collection could consist of material that feels so slight, and that after reading the single longest comic book I've ever come across I should find myself with so little to say.
One thing I will say, since it's unavoidable, is that the book is nowhere near the masterpiece that Palomar is. It could be argued that it's unfair to compare the two works simply because their authors are brothers. Now, I don't think it could be argued persuasively -- when one spends years and years sharing funnybook real estate with one's sibling and indeed adopts a collective moniker, one invites such comparisons -- but that's not even the point. Locas suffers in comparison to Palomar, but so do most comics. The point is that it suffers from much more than that as well.
Things get off to a rough start with the uneasy blend of sci-fi, soap opera and cheeky revolutionary politics found in "Mechanix" and "Las Mujeres Perdidas," the two big storylines that begin the collection. This is not to say that even these unrepresentative, shaky stories do not have much to recommend them. Here Jaime's art most clearly displays his classic influences, imbuing the dinosaur-fighting and rocket-flying action with beauty and dynamism. "Mechanix"' unusual structure -- a series of letters from traveling mechanic Maggie to her best friend and fellow punk Hopey, punctuated with predominantly stand-alone panels which illustrate the text -- serves as an early indication of Jaime's great strength, that of graphic design. The title panels/pages Jaime constructs are inevitably the best looking part of any of his stories, as they allow his gifted use of high contrast and his inventive and iconic lettering and portraiture to shine; since "Mechanix" is essentially a series of such images, it's awfully nice to look at.
Yet already the flippant tone Jaime adopts for writing his characters, one he will be unable to shake off throughout the book, works to his detriment. Maggie essentially has two settings for looking at the world: Everything's either a goof or a tragedy. This gives these early stories, in which the lives of thousands of people, including our heroine and her friends, are often at stake in power struggles between crazed plutocrats, an air of frantic, bipolar absurdity that does not at all suit them. Perhaps the intention was a sort of Duck Soup-style lampooning of love and life in the nuclear age, but the stories come off as inconsistent and unsure of what they want to be and how they want to be it.
Before long the sci-fi trappings are shed entirely, seemingly more out of embarrassment than aesthetic evolution. The high-decibel hijinx, however, remain. Maggie and her sometime-girlfriend, sometime-best friend Hopey spend the bulk of the book fuming, with exclamation points and distorted kabuki-mask faces abounding. Listen, I've certainly known people who've spent years and years dancing around their true feelings for each other, but never so loudly! It's like a soap opera scripted by Fourth World-era Jack Kirby! When quieter characters like Hopey's ex-girlfriend and current bandmate Terry or witchy, death-haunted Izzy appear, I swear I can hear my ears ringing in the relative silence.
If Jaime has a claim to greatness in these pages, it's in his creation of those two comparatively minor characters. Terry Downe looks so much like The Amazing Spider-Man's Mary Jane Watson that she might as well be a fanfic version of her: "What if Gwen Stacy had lived, and M.J. moved to California, got into punk rock, and became a lesbian?" But behind her resolute, John Romita-derived wall of punk cool, there's just oceans of pain, observable both in her relentless quest for musical success (given what we know of her, this may well be possible) and for Hopey (given what we know of Hopey, this isn't). She's easily the book's most compelling character, and the story in which she stars, "Tear It Up, Terry Downe," is easily its most compelling sequence. With alarming proficiency not in evidence elsewhere in the book, Jaime constructs a riveting story out of disjointed panels, each depicting a scene from different stages in Terry's life or a comment from someone who knows or knew her, each offering a vital glimpse of the origins of her reserved persona. Clearly, it's one born out of trauma rather than pretension. (Would that this could be said for the object of her unrequited love: Hopey's early relationship with Terry is undoubtedly tumultuous, but it feels as though this simply brought out obnoxious qualities in the character that were already extant.)
Black-clad psychic Izzy is also a revelation. Her premonition of disaster in "The Death of Speedy Ortiz" is the truly haunting moment in a story I found to be otherwise quite oversold by its admirers (who are many, and vocal); her fascination with the missing-persons ad Hopey eventually finds herself on is equally memorable, as is her quietly built-up battle with cancer, and indeed the simple presence of her stoic countenance in a book that's full to bursting with mugging. But Izzy's great shining moment, "Flies on the Ceiling," isn't even included in the collection. Meanwhile, a zany, Warner Bros.-style Maggie'n'Hopey romp redrawn from a comic made when the brothers were little kids is included, proving that the parameters of the collection -- "The Maggie and Hopey Stories" -- may have been more than a little short-sighted.
Jaime's technical skills as an artist are not to be scoffed at, obviously. This is a beautiful book. Each of his characters is a wonder in design, and even as Jaime's style shifts from the rendered EC-isms of the early stories into a sort of graphic-design shorthand by book's end, you simply have to marvel at his skill in creating recognizable characters who maintain their essence through over a decade of hairstyle and hair-color changes, weight gain and loss, and radically shifting stations in life. (This last, too, is a strength of the book: Locas is one of comics' more interesting explorations of the simultaneous fluidity and rigidity of America's class-and-race caste system, all the more so since the topic seems to get explored almost incidentally.) The art's strongest moments come during several pin-up style panels depicting Hopey and Terry's band on stage during their ill-fated tour. Simply put: If there are better depictions in this medium of the allure of punk rock than the page-spanning panels in "Jerusalem Crickets 1987," I'd like to see 'em. Too bad that so few of the characters seem to have gotten much more out of punk than an excuse to act like jerks and push their loved ones away -- and too bad we're supposed to think that the band's drummer is an idiot for wanting to play like John Bonham. Odd that an artist's love of technical proficiency would be mocked in a Jaime Hernandez comic!
Meanwhile, Jaime's temporal jump-cuts demonstrate a wonderful faith in the intelligence of the reader to follow the increasingly complex lives of the characters. The problem here, though, is that the characters lack the strength of characterization to back these jumps up. As presented within Locas, too many characters suddenly appear from nowhere and are given prominence that their development itself won't bear. The character of Tex, for example, emerges suddenly to become a pivotal player during some of the book's central stories: He helps Hopey escape from her band's rapidly imploding tour, then ends up impregnating both Hopey and her larger-than-life trophy-wife friend Penny Century before just kind of petering out of the storyline. Now, I can already hear people say "but this is how life works," and indeed I've got a roster of ex-friends as long as your arm to prove it, but life also includes two hour visits to the DMV. Trueness to life is a potential means to the end of great art, not a guarantor of it. (At any rate, few people's true-life trajectory involves knocking up two lipstick lesbians in one of said lipstick lesbians' so-big-there-are-whole-wings-no-one-sets-foot-in mansion, owned by said lipstick lesbian's horned husband.) A natural-feeling rapport between familiar and out-of-nowhere characters can be established -- see Ralph Cifaretto's introduction in The Sopranos, Wolverine's conversation with Doop in Milligan and Allred's X-Force (I shit you not), or really any such incident in Palomar -- but in Locas the continuous accrual of sisters, cousins, roommates, co-workers, ex-girlfriends, bandmates, tag-team partners and so on feels forced and arbitrary, and at its worst like a convenient distraction from the voids at the centers of the two main characters.
That, too, is the problem. Yes, I'm sure we all know basket cases like Maggie and angry youth like Hopey, but so what? I also know several people (say) with masters degrees in engineering, and if they weren't also interesting people, no degree of accuracy in the depiction of their lives would save a comic I might make about them from being rather pointless. Near as I can tell, there's simply not much to Maggie and Hopey. The funny thing is they are so very often held up to be the pinnacle of multi-dimensional female characters in the male-dominated world of comics. Now, I'm not sure I see the feminist victory present in the ongoing chronicles of beautiful, bed-hopping, punked-out teenage lesbians; otherwise I guess we could all trade in our P.J. Harvey records for those Tatu girls. (And let's not even get started on Penny Century, a character whose sole purpose seems to be to conveniently deploy her tits, mansions, or both, depending on the needs of a given story.) But even putting all that aside, what is so wonderfully multi-dimensional about a girl who is continuously pining, fuming, or (to steal a line from Tina Fey's Mean Girls) eating her feelings, or a girl whose sole, and I do mean sole, means of interacting with the world is to embrace terrible behavior on the part of herself and those around her toward anyone she might be tempted to care about? The torpedoing of one's own chances at happiness is often a fascinating topic for comics, yet only if the character doing the torpedoing seems to have some inner life worth preserving does that fascination arise. Hopey, a character who among other things bounces back from a miscarriage like it was the common cold, ostentatiously applauds the sexual depravity of a group of wealthy acquaintances until it inevitably erupts into violence, kicks the snot out of her ex-best friend for no good reason, and (during a flashback) delivers her new friend Daffy into a terrifying encounter with an unhinged, nymphomaniacal pro-wrestler just for gits and shiggles, does not have such an inner life. Hopey is at her most interesting in the story "A Date with Hopey." Told from the point of view of a character that we never see before or again, it describes the instant rapport like-minded, alienated youth feel for one another, and the mysterious way in which such instant closeness evaporates. With Hopey, evaporate is all it can do. (Maggie, saddled as she is with years spent in love with this woman, is rendered uninteresting by osmosis.) Like Daffy after that pro-wrestler flashback, we're left wondering: Is the woman we've spent years (or the page-count equivalent thereof) questing after like some combination of Dulcinea and Moby Dick really just kind of a boring asshole? And has punk -- along with Latino culture and professional woman's wrestling, milieus Jaime chronicles with a great deal of self-evident passion and love -- taught her anything aside from how to be professionally unpleasant, to the detriment of herself, her friends, and us readers?
A little over a year ago, before the release of Palomar and Locas rendered such questions irrelevant, I wondered where was the best place for a Love and Rockets neophyte to start reading the series. As a result I posted a thread to this publication's Internet message board, entitled "Help me learn to like Love and Rockets." The gist of the post was this: As a stickler for reading any given series in the chronological order of its release, I'd found myself stymied at the logical starting place, Music for Mechanics, which I'd tried and failed to get through three or four times now. My hope was that an alternate option would be proposed. Little did I expect the combination of bafflement, indignation and fury that would be aimed in the post's direction. Though I did receive a number of considered and considerate recommendations, the general attitude displayed by the board toward those who had not already pledged allegiance to Los Bros could be likened to those T-shirts you sometimes see straightedge hardcore kids wearing, the ones that say "If you're not now, you never were!" If I didn't already love Love and Rockets, if I didn't already see why it deserved its two decades of plaudits, it's probably best if I just shut the fuck up about it. In other words, "If you're not now, you never will be!"
I wanted to like the Maggie and Hopey stories as much as I was supposed to. I wanted to let the strength of "Tear It Up, Terry Downe" and "A Date with Hopey" and parts of "Chester Square," "Wigwam Bam" and "The Death of Speedy Ortiz" convince me of the near-messianic value of the volume's remaining 650 pages. But in the end, maybe Maggie, Hopey, and Jaime's whole half of L&R are like the early gigs of the band Ape Sex that the pair reminisce over, heaping scorn on those who weren't in attendance. Maybe you had to be there.
* Highwater link #1: The oral history of Highwater Books continues. This installment focuses on publisher Tom Devlin's stubbornly idiosyncratic design sense and take on the role of a publisher, as well as his John Locke/Benjamin Linus-style relationship with Jordan Crane.
* Highwater link #3: Cartoonist Jim Rugg explains how Highwater influenced him. He also posts a few pages from a pamphlet he made up out of the email snippets that ran across the bottom of every page in the Comics Journal issue Highwater guest-edited. For the publisher that introduced twee to comics, there was an astonishing amount of shit-talking!
LOVE AND ROCKTOBER | Comics Time: An interview with Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez
NOTE: Back when I worked for Wizard magazine's website, WizardUniverse.com, I conducted a series of interviews with alternative-comics creators titled I CAN HAS COMIX? That title was a little problematic with some folks at the company -- as were the transcription bills -- but whaddayagonnado. I kicked the feature off on June 22, 2007 by speaking with Los Bros Hernandez, and I'm reposting the interview here because I think it's a pretty solid introduction to/overview of the brothers, Love and Rockets, and what I get out of it all.
I CAN HAS COMIX?: GILBERT AND JAIME HERNANDEZ
In Wizard Universe's new alternative comics interview column, Los Bros Hernandez reveal how their shared love of punk rock, sexy girls and Silver Age classics helped their epic series Love and Rockets launch the indie scene as we know it
By Sean T. Collins
I'll admit that it took me a while to hitch a ride aboard Love and Rockets.
Despite the near-universal acclaim the series and its creators have received over the 25 years since the series' first issue took the comics world by storm and kick-started a small-press revolution--the fruits of which can be seen at this weekend's MoCCA Art Festival in New York City--there's something daunting about it. For starters, it's not just a straightforward one-man show: It's an umbrella title for the work of Los Angeles-born brothers named Gilbert and Jaime (and sometimes even older sibling Mario), collectively known as "Los Bros Hernandez."
What's more, both Gilbert and Jaime have developed their own mini-mythoi within L&R, featuring enough characters to rival your average superhero universe. In Gilbert's case, you have the busty, hammer-wielding femme fatale Luba and her friends, lovers, family and enemies, all swirling around the fictional Latin-American town that gives Gilbert's "Palomar" saga its name. Jaime's stories center on unlucky-in-love mechanic Maggie and her obnoxious punk-rock best friend/sidekick/sometimes-lover Hopey, wild women who are the stand-out members of a loose-knit group of L.A. ladies dubbed "Locas." Both casts of characters age in real time, meaning some people who started the series as teenagers now have teenagers of their own, with their own adventures. The warts-and-all presentation of the series' leads (particularly Jaime's, in my case) can leave you as pissed of as you'd be at your own obnoxious friends.
And to top it all off, Love and Rockets has spawned two separate ongoing series using that title, a raft of trade paperback collections, two massive hardcovers housing nearly the entire "Locas" and "Palomar" sagas, and countless spinoff miniseries, graphic novels and even adult comix. Put it all together and it's enough to make the friggin' Legion of Super-Heroes' continuity seem easy to follow.
To celebrate L&R's 25th anniversary, publisher Fantagraphics recently began releasing awesomely affordable, handily portable softcover digest collections, starting at the beginning of both brothers' epic storylines and giving readers their best chance ever to get in on the ground floor. With the first volumes (Jaime's Maggie the Mechanic and Gilbert's Heartbreak Soup) already in stores, the second installments--The Girl from H.O.P.P.E.R.S. by Jaime and Human Diastrophism by Gilbert--launched this week, with some of Los Bros' best work ever on board.
I could go on about both brothers' mastery of character development, creating people as flawed, funny, and fascinating as your best friends. I could wax rhapsodic about their sophisticated storytelling, which relies on the readers' intelligence as it bounces back in forth in time and between dozens of characters. I could point out that at different times, it's the funniest, raunchiest and scariest comic you'll ever read. I could talk for ages about the gorgeous art--Jaime's sharp, sexy, stylish classicism and Gilbert's earthy, equally sexy surrealism. And I could say that while you hear a lot about "creating a universe" in comics, no one's ever done it better than Los Bros--when you read an L&R story, you feel like you're catching just a small glimpse of a world as big, sprawling, messy, funny, horny, heartbreaking and real as our own.
Instead, in this joint interview with Gilbert and Jaime, I'll let Los Bros themselves explain the inspiration of the series, reveal the dark secrets of the stories in the new digests, and announce their pick for the greatest superhero comic of all time. Through it all, it's clear that when it comes to creating thrilling uncategorizable comics in Love and Rockets, the brothers are still armed and dangerous.
WIZARD: Take us back to 1981 when you guys started the books. What made you say, "Let's do this"?
JAIME: Let's see, 1981...I was being paid to go to junior college, so I didn't want a job. I was just taking art classes and stuff like that. I wasn't thinking about what I was going to do with my life--I just liked drawing comics. By that time we were drawing comics for ourselves, but we were starting to draw them with ink on the right paper and everything, not just on a piece of typing paper with a pencil. We wanted to print it somewhere but we didn't know where, because it wasn't your normal Marvel or DC fare. There wasn't really much of a market for this stuff, we thought. We were still punk rockers in bands and we were just doing comics. We wanted to draw comics the way we wanted to see them, and we weren't really seeing much of them out there.
GILBERT: Comics were our amusement for years, and what we were into was not what the mainstream companies were into at the time. We figured that by printing an underground magazine we would get it out there, mostly to see what the response would be--just something to do, really. It turned out that when we finally got our stuff together and put out a 32-page Love and Rockets comic, a fanzine/underground type thing, we were luckily noticed right away by Fantagraphics. The timing was just right--they were ready to publish their own comics. It took a little climb to get Love and Rockets going, but the response was very good, even in a small way at first, so that encouraged us to continue.
It's not too often that people in the alternative comics area have that kind of success right out of the gate, but I guess you guys didn't have a lot to compare it to. Before Love and Rockets there were the undergrounds, but they were sort of a different beast.
GILBERT: Yeah. Cerebus and ElfQuest were actually encouraging in the sense that it could be done, getting a following for a black-and-white comic. It wasn't necessarily mainstream. Even though they were both geared for that audience, they were successful on their own.
Jaime, you had more "mainstream" elements in your early work, with its sci-fi flavor. Was that an attempt to tap the normal comics-reading audience, or was it just you following your bliss?
JAIME: It was pretty much just me. I liked drawing rockets and robots, as well as girls. [Laughs] It really was no big game plan. It was almost like, "Okay, I'll give you rockets and robots, but I'll show you how it's done. I'm gonna do it, and this is how it's supposed to be done!" I went in with that kind of attitude.
That's definitely a punk attitude.
JAIME: Yeah. I'd see something was being done in other comics and I'd say, "Ah, no, no, that is not the way to do it. This is the way to do it." That gave me encouragement to just do it. In the beginning, I was putting my whole life of drawing comics since I was a kid into this comic. When the characters started to take over, the other stuff started to drop out because it was getting in the way.
And the result was a book that's been credited with inventing alternative comics as we know them, though that couldn't have been your intention at the time.
GILBERT: I think that we did create a path, at least, using all our influences and what we saw about comics that we knew of since we were kids. That developed into mainstream comics in the '60s, and undergrounds in the late '60s, and then in the '70s you'd have mainstream companies that would also publish black-and-white magazines--different things bouncing around here and there with a different format. That was encouraging to us as well. I think what happened with Love and Rockets is that since there really weren't the kind of comics we were doing, that is bringing our mainstream influences into a new kind of comic, a new kind of underground, let's say. An underground with more going on, hopefully. [Laughs] At least I would like to think so. It basically created a path for everybody to at least get on, not necessarily making it easier, but just [having] something there. It was just a different road to go down, and I think that is what we did somehow.
In each of your main storylines, you've both created these big, sprawling, interconnected casts over the years. Is that something that two of you talked over, or did it evolve spontaneously and separately out of what you both were interested in doing?
JAIME: I would say that it just kind of happened as the characters started to write themselves. I think because Gilbert started creating all-out characters, it just seemed like a good idea to me, or something. On my end, I basically just created characters that would fill in the gaps of the story. If I needed someone to say something in the back that was totally unrelated to the characters, I would create a character later on. What started out as a drawing of just somebody, I decided, "Hey, I'll make that someone's boyfriend." While in the beginning they were just there to color up the place, after a while they started to take on lives of their own. That is how the characters started to multiply. What about you, Beto?
GILBERT: It would probably be my mainstream influence, with me. Like in, say, Peanuts: You could follow the strip with Charlie Brown and Linus for a few days, and then it would shift to Lucy and Violet. But you wouldn't lose what the strip was about; it was because all the characters were so well informed that you are always in the Peanuts world. Even if sometimes it was about Snoopy or Sally Brown or whatever, you were always there. That's on the high end, but in the middle there would be the Marvel Universe, actually, for me. I always liked what fans complain about now: the fact that they were all interconnected. If you needed something heavy and metallic and electronic, you went to Stark Industries. If you needed power, you went to Reed Richards' unstable molecules. I always liked the crisscrossing of that. Of course it went into madness eventually [laughs], but at first it was very intriguing to a kid. It was something new for superheroes, that interconnecting. In the Hulk comic you could mention Stark Industries, and Iron Man or Tony Stark was nowhere near it but you knew what they were talking about. That is what I liked about it: that interconnecting, even when stuff is off camera. That is pretty much what inspired me to go ahead and do that with mine. That way, you just have a larger canvas to work from.
That's a big part of L&R's appeal--you get the sense that we are following this handful of characters right now as they do things during the course of their day, but that if we just took that camera and moved over a couple of blocks, you could catch someone else in the middle of what is going on in their lives, too.
GILBERT: Yeah, and another aspect is that is how our family worked as well. That's something we brought from home. Our family, our cousins, aunts and uncles were all interconnected the same way. That was an influence as well, the family unit.
JAIME: Yeah, it was a big family. Our aunt had six kids and our other aunt had six kids.
Talk a little bit about your main characters. In your case, Jaime, it's Maggie and Hopey, the stars of The Girl From H.O.P.P.E.R.S., and with Gilbert it's Luba, the main attraction in Human Diastrophism.
JAIME: Maggie started back in high school, where I wanted to create a character I could put into any type of story I wanted--send her to outer space, back to time, to her grandma's house. She was just a drawing at first, and I just started to think wherever I go, Maggie goes. It took a while, but I put a lot of my thoughts into her, and that's why she's the main character and the stories follow her. I created her friend Hopey out of just wanting a sidekick, and seeing the punk girls in L.A. at the time; that was when I was first going to the punk shows. They just kind of hit off together. My Betty and Veronica, you could look at it that way. Or my Batman and Robin. [Laughs] They just worked. When we did the first issue, that was the first response I got: "I like your girl characters." I went, "Cool, because I like doing them!" [Laughs] That is basically how that started, and Maggie continues because I know her so well and I can put a lot of stuff into her.
GILBERT: My work around the beginning was similar to Jaime's: a science fiction, two-girls-hanging-out-type thing. Once Jaime's came out, the response to it was immediate. I could see how much more defined it was [than mine] and how much potential it had. Jaime had already grabbed it and was working that side of it just fine, so I abandoned my stuff and thought, "What is it I really want to say that's different?" I just kept going back to the idea of this imaginary Latin-American village [called Palomar]. The more I thought about it and the more I felt it out, the more it seemed right. It was completely different from what Jaime was doing. Even from the beginning I thought that Love and Rockets should be a bigger thing. It shouldn't be just all the same thing, and since Jaime was taking care of that part of it, then doing something completely different but still on the same page would make Love and Rockets a bigger thing, a bigger work of art. So that's where the encouragement came from, bouncing off the fact that Jaime's was done and already the response was good, so all I had to do was fill in the rest. I was a little freer, actually, to do something that might not have been commercially viable. I think that Palomar was a little chancier than doing the girl/rocket stuff at the time.
JAIME: I could tell you that Gilbert's approach helped me a lot in taking the girls out of the science fiction, to handle stuff more at home. Gilbert was the older brother, anyway, so he really did everything before me, ever since we were little. [Laughs]
GILBERT: What's very interesting about the science fiction stuff is that the question we get asked the most, at least out loud, is "Where is the rocket? That's the real Love and Rockets." Oddly, that's the smaller segment of the audience--they're just more vocal. The real audience is the one who followed Maggie and Hopey's adventures as real girls, so to speak, and the Palomar stories. That is the real Love and Rockets reader. But for some reason we have the most outspoken ones saying, "When are you going to do the rockets? It's called Love and Rockets!" That's fine, we love doing rocket stuff, but the real Love and Rockets is what we are famous for.
You mentioned that the audience has changed, and now the less genre-y things are actually more commercially viable. Jaime's had his work published in The New York Times, your recent collections have gotten major mainstream-publication review acreage--could you ever have seen this coming?
JAIME: I think that for me, it was more a case of, "One of these days, sure, I'd like my character standing next to Charlie Brown and Betty and Veronica and Superman." But I was just hoping we would be able to continue doing it and hopefully make a major living off of it because I didn't want to do anything else with my life. It was like, "Oh boy, I can continue!" But "How long is this going to go?" I wasn't even thinking about it. Twenty-five years later, I'm going, "Wow, a quarter of a century and I'm still allowed to do this?" It's amazing. I just think back to all the talented people I knew in the past who had to stop because they just couldn't live off of doing their comics.
GILBERT: The one time I got thrown was when we were getting a lot more attention doing Love and Rockets and people were really accepting what we wanted to do in it. What really threw me was when I got to a point where readers would tell us, "I used to read Batman, but now I read your stuff." I thought that was really creepy. I'd go, "You mean you'd rather read us than Batman?" Batman, Superman, all that stuff--they were icons when we were growing up. Nobody ever thought somebody would rather read stuff that wasn't that. It just threw me and was something I never really thought about, that someone might like a different kind of comic outside of the Big Two. For us it was always a note of encouragement: "We just better step up to the plate then. If this is what they are saying about us, if this is what they like about us, then we better be good!" And we've done our best to stick to our guns about giving the most honest comic we can--coming from our point of view, of course. But it threw me for a bit. It seemed like we were being scrutinized for a while, like, "Okay, this stuff is getting more attention than The Incredible Hulk, so let's see what they're gonna do next." We were like, "Oops!" The only thing you can do is try to get better. Otherwise you'd crumble if you tried to compromise or change things.
What do you think of the new digest versions of your work?
GILBERT: For me, I just trust our publisher. I don't have the say of how it is going to be packaged, because I couldn't tell you how, so I have to trust them a lot. I think it's great if it'll just give us shelf space. Don't colorize it or something like that. [Laughs] But as long as it's presentable and someone will put it on their shelf, that's all I can ask for.
Jaime, your latest digest includes "The Death of Speedy" and "Flies on the Ceiling," two of your best-known--and darkest--stories. How did each of them come about?
JAIME: Back before "The Death of Speedy" and "Flies on the Ceiling," I did this story about Speedy talking to his friend about his sister Izzy. He mentioned how she was all normal and then she went to Mexico and came back weird. When I wrote that, I didn't know exactly what happened to her. I got that question every time: "What happened to Izzy in Mexico?" I'd say, "Oh, I'll tell you one of these days." But to myself I was saying, "Yeah, when I find out!" [Laughs] It took almost 10 years to write. It all came from that, and it took on many forms and shapes and sizes till I finally did "Flies on the Ceiling." With "The Death of Speedy," certain continuity was building up in the drama, and all of this was building up to where I wanted to kill somebody. I wanted someone to die. But it was another one of those things where I thought, "I'll show you how to have someone die." I was going to challenge myself and everybody else. Speedy became the guy just because of the way things were going: I wanted to kill a main character, and he was a victim of my plans. [Laughs] It didn't have to be him, but it ended up being him. Years after that I asked myself, "Should I have ever killed him?" It was just one of those things that he fell victim to.
Do you ever wish you could bring him back to life, Superman-style?
JAIME: That's the cool thing with Love and Rockets: You can always have flashbacks. It doesn't mean they come back to life; you just tell a story that happened not to screw with history. Which I get really close to, sometimes, just because it's tempting. I can always bring Speedy back--just in the past. I don't want it to become formula. I have to do it right.
Gilbert, in your case, again, it's fairly dark material, since "Human Diastrophism" is about a serial killer preying upon Palomar. What made you let loose this violence on these characters in this town you created?
GILBERT: There was no direct line, no conscious effort to be that dark. It just sort of came out as the stories were developing. Whatever darkness there was is from my unconscious. I don't really know what the source, but I just wanted darker stories. I was also tired of the cramped format, doing a few pages an issue; I wanted to do a longer story, and the longer the story is, I feel I have to give more. I was basically doing stories unchecked, throwing everything in that I could. In those days I would write stories thinking, "When I finish this story, if I get hit by a truck the next day, then I'll be satisfied that this is my last story." I don't do that anymore. Now I think, "Oh, that was my first story," and that works just as well when I work. "This is my first story, I'm just getting started, I'm just learning." In the old days it was the other way around: "Okay, if I'm done with the story then I'm done, but I better get down to business." I wanted to do the world in a microcosm that had death and rebirth. Everything that you can imagine in an epic story, I tried to stick it in one big story. Like Jaime's story, I chose a character because whenever you are dealing with a story that big and that universal, the characters that you hurt the most have to be ones you care about, unfortunately. You can't just make up a character and kill them, because it doesn't matter. If it's a character that the readers cared for to a degree, that's what gives the story more resonance, especially in a large story like that. We don't really do it to shock or anything, but it's just part of life.
That is what I was going for with that. And once I was done with it and it did get very good response, then what do you do after that? You just start all over and do your damnedest not to cheapen the story. You try not to refer too much to that story, unless it's little things you need that you left out or something. Jaime and I are clever enough to bring back those characters in a legitimate way, without cheapening it. In Jaime's "The Death of Speedy," you never really see what happened--it could have been somebody else and not Speedy who was killed. There's that little twist that you can do and make it convincing. The same with Tonantzin setting herself on fire in my story. I could very well say it wasn't her, it was a set-up. I'm just saying that we're able to do stories where we can make it work--we're just not going to. It's too easy, it's too pat, and it just cheapens the earlier story.
The characters in both the "Locas" and "Palomar" stories aren't like the ones in Peanuts or in Riverdale High or in the Marvel Universe--they age in real time. Why'd you make that choice, and do you ever regret it?
JAIME: First of all, it was Gilbert's idea to actually age them. I'll let him explain.
GILBERT: I was thinking of a sprawling epic that took years to complete. I think I aged them too quickly for my taste now. I definitely regret that it was a little too quick compared to how long we have been doing it. We've been doing it for 25 years and that is not really too quick, but it is in terms of comics because I'm still doing them. I'm not done with the characters that are getting older. What happens is you get the "Tiny Yokum syndrome": The old strip Li'l Abner was about a bachelor who was being chased by a lovely woman, [and eventually] they married and had a kid. Well, now Li'l Abner is responsible. He can no longer have wacky, nutty adventures because he's married and has a kid. He has to stay home and take care of the family. What they did was create a character, his little brother, named Tiny. Basically, Tiny had the adventures that Li'l Abner could no longer have--but we don't know Tiny, we know Li'l Abner. The problem that happened with aging my characters too quickly is that I had to come up with characters to replace the older characters, and it's not as good. I've had several characters to replace my main character Luba, but none of them are Luba. That presents itself in that way, even though some readers probably don't even know who Luba is because they only read the new ones. That's fine, but it's something I regret a little bit, and I keep pushing the main characters back.
Jaime, earlier you compared Maggie and Hopey to Betty and Veronica, but in this case there's no Archie. Both of you focus on female characters. Was that a conscious choice? Did you just like drawing girls or did you really think you had something to say about women?
JAIME: I think it all started when I was a budding teenager and Gilbert was a teenager, and he said, "Jaime, you should start drawing girls." And I went, "No, I can't do that--Mom will kill me!" And he just goes, 'No, it's cool," because he was drawing girls left and right. I started and I thought, "Oh God, I can't draw girls--[mine] are so terrible!" Then after a while you couldn't stop me. It all started from wanting and liking to draw women. They are much more fun than drawing men. I thought, you can have your cake and eat it too if you do your comic starring the women instead of the men. You can have men, but you get a lot more done if you are drawing a character you like. At the same time, it's something Gilbert talked about earlier: When I was young, I always felt that if I was going to put something in my comics, I had to back it up. I had to step to the plate and be responsible. So there was always talk about T&A--"You just like women as objects" and stuff. I was like, "No I don't--look!" So I started making them characters. I thought, "That's easy! Just do it! I don't have to feel responsible to create 10-hundred male superheroes to 10 female superheroes--I can just concentrate on the female superheroes!" That's how it started for me. Gilbert was well on his way before me, being the older guy. I just followed along.
GILBERT: A lot of Love and Rockets is just simply what we wanted to do, even superficially--if we feel like drawing a person wearing these clothes, doing this thing, just because we feel like drawing that. Most of the time it's a woman doing it. Then we started giving the characters personalities, like Jaime said, having our cake and eating it too. There was a weird little rub there because we kept getting asked, "Why are you doing women?" Just the fact we were asked that all the time, it was like, "Something is wrong here if you have to ask us why. Why do anything? Do people ask Frank Miller why his stories are so violent?" People are fine with violence but they're nervous about women for some reason. So we are always up to the challenge. We stick our elbows up and go, "Look, we're gonna do this and we're gonna do it as best we can." We kept getting encouraged--the more we did it, the more good response we got. Then every once in a while, "Why do you do women?" and I thought, "It is really a boys' club out there, isn't it?"
JAIME: It was almost like the more they told us not to, the more we did it. It was like, "I don't see anything I'm doing wrong here. What am I afraid of?"
Who do you consider your peers? What other comics out there interest you?
JAIME: It's harder for me to say now, because I've gotten so locked in this Love and Rockets world of mine, creating my stories and not looking at anyone around me, so I don't know. I guess it's competition on the shelves: "Who's taking up my shelf space?" That's how it is [now]. When Gilbert and I started out, it was like we were welcomed by the mainstream when the comic first came out, but we didn't have the heart to tell most of the mainstream, "We don't want to do what you guys are doing." I didn't want to be an assh--- about it or anything--we were getting all this support--but we thought, "Oh, so you're gonna do Secret Wars? After we talked about how there's a new comics world, you're gonna go back and do that? Well, fine, you do that, but don't ask me why I'm not." It wasn't till more alternatives and people with their own goofy comics like ours started popping out that we started to get these peers coming out of the woodwork. I would say when the Peter Bagges and the Dan Clowes started coming out too, we kind of formed this little… I don't want to say club, because everyone lived in a different state. [Laughs] But we liked seeing each other at conventions and events like that.
GILBERT: Were you talking about peers now?
That would be the follow-up. Are you also "head-down," like Jaime?
GILBERT: I am, pretty much. I'm just so focused on getting work out that I look for influences and for other things to inspire me, [and] rarely is that another comic book these days. One reason is that alternative comics, as far as series go, are barely there anymore. Love and Rockets is one of the few that comes out on a relatively regular basis that continues this old tradition that is pretty much gone now. It's mostly graphic novels and online comics. It's just different, and a different way to get ahold of comics. The alternative comics they call pamphlets now are simply not around like they were. I don't look at comics on the Internet. I don't really look at the Internet too much. I'm focused on writing the best comics I can, and that takes up most of our lives, really. I don't want to dis anybody or ignore anyone--I'm just not really focused on things outside at this time.
JAIME: I find that when I go to a comic store I leave with an old Marvel or DC archive 99 percent of the time.
It is kind of a golden age for that stuff. The sheer volume of old stuff that is coming into print in really nice books is amazing.
JAIME: Gilbert told me recently that they did the complete [Steve] Ditko Amazing Spider-Man, and I'm just achin' to go and get that.
GILBERT: Actually, that just came out, and here is a plug for Marvel. I think that now that that's collected, the Ditko-[Stan] Lee Spider-Man, I think we finally have a book to show and put down and say, "This, for me, is the best superhero comic ever right here." There has been stuff that has been pretty close, like [Will Eisner's] The Spirit and [C.C. Beck's] Captain Marvel and other things, but this, to me, is the grail of superheroes. It's great to have it in a package like that. Which means I have to rebuy it. [Laughs] I've bought that stuff so many times now in different formats.
JAIME: So this is what we're influenced by, see? [Laughs] We have nothing to show about the new stuff--this is all stuff we liked when we were kids.
What does Love and Rockets have that would appeal to the kinds of readers who haven't said yet, "I used to read Batman, but now I read you guys?"
JAIME: It's more difficult these days, because there are more ways of getting ahold of comics with the Internet and different things now. I think what hooked people, the mainstream readers, from reading Batman or Superman and went to Love and Rockets is that [we] were serialized at the time. New stories about Maggie and Hopey were continued from issue to issue, new stories about Palomar continued from issue to issue. The reader could identify with that, reading a serialized adventure that was similar, superficially, to reading a Batman comic. Now Love and Rockets is different, a little more fragmented, a little more experimental, a little more idiosyncratic, I think. It's different from how mainstream comics are read now. I get a bunch of free [mainstream] comics every month, and I look at them, and you got to be really into them to know what's going on. You have to be a fan of that particular book to know what is going on. It's a different day now, a different way to look at comics now, so it's probably not as easy to grab that audience these days.
I know when I started getting into you guys it was difficult because of the array of formats and editions that were out there: You had the ongoing series, the trades, the spinoffs...But I feel like now, with the digests, it's nice and easy. In the same way that now a lot of the superhero comic book companies are collecting the complete Lee-Ditko Spider-Man and all these big giant historical runs of series in these easy-to-follow collections, it's now a better time than ever to get in on the ground floor of Love and Rockets and start from the beginning pretty easily and affordably. I've seen it happen around the office--those digests spread like wildfire.
JAIME: I imagine that is what is going to happen with reprinting this old stuff. It's sort of like seeing 11-year-old kids with Ramones shirts now--three of the main Ramones are dead. [Laughs] Their music is over 30 years old now, and 11-year-olds are into the Ramones! So you never know. There could be a Lee-Ditko Spider-Man comeback with kids. Who knows?
GILBERT: I met an 8-year-old kid a couple of years ago whose mom kept badgering him: "This guy draws comics! Tell him who your favorite Spider-Man artist is!" And the kid, under his breath, goes, "Ditko." I was like, yes! [Laughs]
JAIME: Ditko quit in '67, so it was a long time ago. It's kind of cool, things being in perpetual print.
Any closing words of wisdom?
GILBERT [in mock-pretentious voice]: We're not only mainstream geeks here-- we're actually progressive artists. [Laughs] I'm kidding. I don't know about the progressive part and I don't know about the artist part. [Laughs] We're going to continue doing Love and Rockets projects that strike our fancy. And I have a couple of other books coming out. One will be a Dark Horse miniseries which will eventually become a graphic novel called Speak of the Devil--that's in stores this July. I have another graphic novel coming out in June called Chance in Hell, and that's my first actual graphic novel with Fantagraphics. It's in the digest size--not quite as small as manga, but around that size. Hopefully, the casual reader will be like, "Hey, there's a small book--it must be manga!" [Laughs] That could help!
* Comics news of the week: Josh Simmons's Cockbone is now online. This was my #3 comic of the year, if you recall. For context, click here. I really want to warn you that this comic is very, very disturbing, so please use your discretion.
Browsing the web is a mostly silent affair. Isn't it odd, then, that a movie about the web sounds so wonderful? The most memorable scene in David Fincher's The Social Network isn't memorable for how it's shot or cut, but for how it's recorded: Justin Timberlake's Sean Parker regaling Jesse Eisenberg's Mark Zuckerberg with a vision of capitalistic creativity as an endless series of scores to settle and people to impress, barely audible over the insistent thump and roar of a nightclub soundsystem. To even hear what they were saying, you had to strain; I found myself leaning forward in my chair the way I would if I were in a similar real-world situation, despite the fact that what I was trying to hear wasn't coming out of someone's mouth a couple feet in front of me but out of surround-sound speakers all around the theater.
And throughout the film, the movie really comes to life when the score from Nine Inch Nails' Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross is cued up--pulsing, humming, twitching, ominous, and so prominent in the mix that it's almost like listening to some invisible robot's dialogue intertwined with that of the characters we can see. It gives an all-night drunken coding binge the anger and energy of a well-executed assassination ("In Motion," "A Familiar Taste"), and punctuates a jilted nerd's lonely walk across a wintry campus with a jet-black thrumming that wouldn't sound out of place being emitted by Leviathan from Hellbound: Hellraiser II ("Hand Covers Bruise"). Like that nightclub pounding, it's a presence that's impossible to ignore, altering and obscuring the stakes and emotions of the nominal scene at hand--like the class-conscious "speaking in code" that puts an end to Zuckerberg's relationship with Rooney Mara's Erica Albright in the very first scene, and like the fine print that Andrew Garfield's Eduardo Saverin ignores to his peril much later on, it's a truth you need focus on even when your instincts tell you otherwise. It even suggests, through the incorporation of chiptunes ("In Motion," "Intriguing Possibilities," "Pieces Form the Whole"), Erica's kiss-off to Zuckerberg when he confronts her after his creation starts taking off: "Good luck with your videogame." Boys and their toys.
There's the crux of the movie right there. Much has been made of the women in this movie, or the lack thereof, and in part rightfully so: Once you've learned the Bechdel Test you can't unlearn it, and it gets increasingly frustrating to watch movies not set in a monastery or prison that don't have two female characters to rub together. But contra this rather ridiculous Jezebel piece by Irin Carmon and its conflation of the presence of misogyny in a film with misogyny on the part of the filmgoers, I think I understand, and appreciate, what Fincher and writer Aaron Sorkin have done in this war movie about the battle of the sexes. And again I have Reznor and Ross's work to thank, specifically the sequence where a busload of girls pulls up to a swanky final club for sexytimes with the smart and wealthy. Attempting to pull Ivy League tail to the tune of Trent Reznor? I've been there, precisely for the reasons that the film version of Zuckerberg went there: to fill an endless cavern of insecurity, built up over a decade and a half of being the smartest kid in the room, with all the pitfalls and privileges that afforded me. To show that I'm in charge, I'm cool, I'm elite, I'm worthwhile--not the blond jock-gods, but the geek. The women we see in most of The Social Network, the status-hungry sex objects, the fetishized Asians and Californians, those are the women that young smart men who have been turned/turned themselves into young smart creeps see. It's no coincidence that the film begins and ends with two conversations in which two women of a very different sort than that getting Zuckerberg's number to the nth decimal. One calls him on being a dick; the other calls him on the fact that, somewhere inside, he knows better than to be one.
Since my earlier review of The Social Network was as much a review of the music as the movie, it was a little tighter than my long, rambly, everything-and-the-kitchen-sink movie reviews tend to be. Here are some other thoughts I had that ended up on the cutting room floor.
* The one-liner summation of the movie is that social networking was invented by a sociopath.
* Like Frodo Baggins leaving the Shire, Jesse Eisenberg has forever left Summer Stock Michael Cera behind. Good for him.
* Justin Timberlake is a scream in this movie. He's sort of playing himself as much as anyone else, especially in that sequence in the restaurant where he wows Mark but pisses Eduardo off, with all those quick cuts and cool poses and smooth moves sort of making mock of the idea that this guy is the coolest motherfucker in the room--the Tyler Durden to Mark's Jack. Good for Timberlake for having a sense of humor about this aspect of being Justin Timberlake (which fact pisses some folks off even more, I know). He was also quite convincing as a person so convinced of his own awesomeness and brilliance that all of his failures and all of his detractors were part of some grand conspiracy. What else could they be?
* I had a whole thing I wanted to say about how good the twin actors playing the Winklevoss twins were, really how good those parts were. With their looks and intelligence and background they probably had had everything in life handed to them, but they came across as self-aware about this, and decent about it too--always talking each other down from beating Mark up or suing him, realizing they're the Johnny character in the Karate Kid story their lives had become, trying to go about everything by the book. Perhaps that's because the book had never done them wrong, but still. And there was something genuinely sad and frustrating about watching them do everything right and still get screwed over--obliviously made to feel shitty by royalty, actively insulted by once and future Chief Swinging Dick of the American economy Larry Summers, and of course ripped off by Zuckerberg.
* But then I found out the twins were digitally created! Whoa whoa whoa! It's all Armie Hammer, with his face superimposed over actor Josh Pence half the time. I 100% did not notice this at all. Damn!
* How do we feel about Max Minghella in brownface? I'm alright with it--I mean, I've got that luxury, I suppose, but yeah--and here's why, and it redounds to the Winklevii: In his circle of friends, he's never condescended to the way Mark condescends to Eduardo by shrugging off his entree into high society as a diversity move. They're three pees in a pod.
* A.O. Scott's review contains a line he uses to describe the tone of the movie that's actually perfect for describing the Reznor/Ross score: "ambient tremors of unease."
* I think Matt Zoller Seitz takes things too far when he argues that this is a horror movie--and I say this as someone who lists Barton Fink, Lost Highway, Eyes Wide Shut, Deliverance, No Country for Old Men, There Will Be Blood, Mulholland Drive, Taxi Driver, A Clockwork Orange, Shutter Island, and Heavenly Creatures among his favorite horror films. I'm uncomfortable simply classifying any art that's about something awful as horror. It seems to me that an element of genuine physical danger, preferably of a sort that threatens sanity/soul, is key. But I think it's Reznor/Ross's score that pushes it in that direction.
If it weren't for Jacob Covey and Bryan Lee O'Malley, I don't think you'd be reading this post. Aside from Jaime Hernandez himself, they're the two men most responsible for persuading me to pick up the digest editions of Love and Rockets that Fantagraphics began releasing a few years back, and for how hard those digests clicked with me when I did. Covey's attractive design of the digests made the most of the power of Jaime's art, individual panels of which work as stand-alone images as strongly as those of any cartoonist ever to put pen to paper. (I recognized that even as a Jaime skeptic.) Combine that with bright colors and the digest format itself--chunky enough to feel substantial, light enough to fit in a backpack and be read comfortably on the train or the beach, tailor-made to be lined up on a bookshelf--and you've got a series of books that are compulsively collectable and readable. O'Malley's Scott Pilgrim series served a prophetic role in this regard: A format that's similar (though not identical) and similarly delectable; crisp, stylish black-and-white art incorporating a variety of traditions and influences into the basic alternative-comics tradition; a fast and loose approach to genre fiction that uses it as a spice rather than the main ingredient; compelling portraits of an incestuous social circle of music-interested, kind of feckless young people with disastrous love lives...reading Scott Pilgrim primed me for revisiting Jaime's "Locas" material, ready to accept it for what it is ("Locas"!) rather than what it isn't ("Palomar"). No, I could never go back and recreate the experiences of the long-time die-hards who grew up with Maggie and Hopey in every individual issue; but barring that, I'd found the ideal combination of content and format. Putting it all in fun little digests rather than a big portentous hardcover somehow made it all click.
And so, instead of being put off by Maggie's borderline-bipolar hysterics, Hopey's surliness and occasional cruelty, and Penny's bombshell ridiculousness...well, that's who they are, isn't it? I feel like it's somehow an insult to the whole critical project if I say "I used to find them all pretty annoying, but then I learned to accept it and move on"--like, c'mon, was it really that simple? And the answer is yes! Instead of bashing my head against the fact that they weren't more together, or that they weren't falling apart in the way my personally preferred alternative-comics protagonists tend to fall apart, I suddenly found myself digging it. For example, it's funny and endearing watching Maggie fall all over herself around the alpha males she's attracted to, and to contrast this with the alpha females with whom she surrounds herself as friends. Izzy Ruebens, Penny Century, and Hopey Glass are all a bit whacked-out in their own ways, but the personas they've constructed for themselves as a way of dealing with their problems are rock-solid, even overwhelming to newcomers. Maggie Chascarillo, by contrast, is an open book--even her attempts to cloak her true feelings send an equally true message in block letters five feet tall. Her inability to repress herself is her charm, and it's reflected by the physical business Jaime is constantly involving her in--crashing hoverbikes, breaking machinery, ripping her pants, getting tossed around by wrestlers and thugs and explosions. She's sort of an explosion herself!
(On a related note, I almost threw Terry Downe on my list of the alpha-Locas, but I can't get around that one heartbreaking panel in this collection where her glacial hardass facade crumbles and she begs Hopey to tell her what Maggie has that she doesn't. Hopey's hold over Terry is that she brings out the Maggie in her.)
Making his protagonist a basketcase (albeit a sexy one--let's be honest, that's a big part of the appeal of this material too) is just one part of what impresses me so much any time I revisit this material: I'm struck by just how confident it is in itself. What I really mean by that, of course, is LOOK AT THIS FUCKING COMIC. Can you imagine what the reaction would be if a cartoonist today came out with a debut with the chops Jaime's displaying in the very first issue? Keep in mind I'm not just talking about the crosshatchy prosolar-mechanic sci-fi stuff: The second story is "How to Kill a...," a wordless, increasingly abstracted portrait of Izzy as a young writer, hinting not only at the formal mastery Jaime would later display (it's all jumpcuts and comics-as-design), but at the psychological (and supernatural!) depths Izzy's gothy exterior would be revealed to contain years later.
And on a narrative level, Jaime spends no time at all explaining his world, why it bounces back and forth between a realistic portrait of young poor Latina punks and a light-hearted science-fiction satire of Reagan-era Latin-American political upheavals. Like magic realism gone Marvel Comics, it just throws you right into the deep end and expects you to swim. This is true even if you're just talking about the realistic stuff, the person-to-person relationships, and it's established right in the fourth panel, where Maggie complains about having had too much to drink last night: These comics predicate themselves on things that already happened. Nearly any time a new character is introduced, they're after money someone owes them, or getting teased for the crush they've been nurturing on another character for years. It's an in medias res world.
Okay, so a lot of it will be filled in with flashbacks eventually. We get a glimpse of this in "A Date with Hopey," the story that concludes this volume and is its strongest single strip. Our hapless hero Henry's one and only appearance relates how his sporadic, intense friendship with Hopey evolved into unrequited love, ended in rejection, and now exists as a bittersweet memory; the laserlike precision with which the story pinpoints powerful emotions nearly everyone has experienced serves as a model for the future of the Locas stories. (And, contra what I used to think, it's proof positive that Jaime is fully aware of the damage Hopey can carelessly inflict, even as its her carelessness itself that makes her so irresistible.) But the way you're just dropped into Maggie & Hopey, Already In Progress, is pretty much why I continue to recommend this volume, rather than its relatively sci-fi-free successors, as the place to start if you're interested in Jaime's work. I understand why that doesn't work for everyone--and it's true, the earliest comics are relatively talky and old-fashioned-looking as befits their influences. But if you start late in the game, you're not just missing dinosaurs and rocketships and robots and superheroes and such--you're missing what really feels like a couple years in the life. Even by page one, we've already missed so much!
* Your must-read of the day: Every once in a while an article or interview or essay comes along that's a sort of "The Way We Live (If We Are Awful) Now" kind of deal. This New York Times piece by David Carr on the misogynistic, mismanaged nightmare the Tribune Company has become under the reign of Sam Zell and Randy Michaels is such an article. Rich white sexist assholes enriching themselves at the expense of everyone else in an almost emblematic fashion.
* Now here's a way to fulfill your civic duty this October: Over at And Now the Screaming Starts, CRwM has launched The Great Slasher Research Project of '10. [UPDATE: Link fixed.] He's looking for potential definitions of the slasher subgenre--the necessary and sufficient conditions that make a slasher movie a slasher movie. You start with "I think the elements common to all slasher movies are" and then submit a numbered list. I took a stab at it (rimshot!)
I think the elements common to all slasher movies are:
1. A killer
2. Killing a succession of people
3. With a bladed weapon
4. After stalking/chasing most of them
This was fun; it reminds me a lot of back when I tried to come up with a definition for torture porn. Please go over to CRwM's and give it a shot.
* io9's Geek's Guide to the Galaxy podcast interviews George R.R. Martin. Cue it up to 52:54 for Song of Ice and Fire/Game of Thrones talk, and then to 1:03:03 for further discussion of the books by the hosts (who include anthologist John Joseph Adams, who put together a post-apocalyptic collection called Wastelands that was actually too bleak for me to finish. Me!). Everyone's story about coming across these books is the same story: Someone enthusiastically recommends it, the person's like "yeah, okay, fine," and within an hour's reading they're enthusiastically recommending it to someone else.
Here's an interesting case of coulda woulda shoulda. I used to hear this song all the time on modern-rock radio ten years ago, when I had a job driving around Manhattan as a production assistant on the show David Milch did before Deadwood--one of the very few songs of that era that could get me to leave modern-rock radio on for longer than three seconds at a time. Hearing it on the radio again the other day made me realize both why that was and why I still didn't run out and buy an Incubus record.
You've got a perfectly lovely, bubbly little guitar part that conveys the song's spacey central metaphor by sorta curling up and outward over and over again, like astronauts twirling around in zero gravity. Beneath that there's a pleasant two-note bass pulse to give it a little forward motion. And there are some striking images in the lyrics, too: The opening "meet me in outer space" is obviously the descendent of a very long line of moonstruck rock lyrics, but lead singer/shirtless handsome man Brandon Boyd delivers it quietly, not with the come-fly-with-me brio you might expect. The following line, "We could spend the night, watch the Earth come up," is a clever little reversal of the usual romantic evening. And I really do love the way he suddenly kicks the song up like twelve notches before the chorus: "We could start a-GAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAIN!!!!!" Whoa, where'd that come from? For the second verse that bit's even better because it accompanies a really direct and really sensual set of lyrics in which Boyd explains to his beloved that taking her to outer space "might be the only way that I can show you how it feels to be inside you." That might be a little too direct for some listeners, but I've always found that sort of sentiment to be very candid and very sexy ("Not Enough Time" by INXS and "Closer" by Nine Inch Nails being two other cases in point).
It's not until I heard the first chorus itself this time around that I realized "Oh, so that's what's going wrong here"--it's the drums. They pound away way too hot in the mix...and on one and three, like an audience of white parents trying to clap along to the gospel song their children are singing at a middle-school chorus concert! It's crazy--completely kills any kind of groove or flow, makes that big chorus sound like inert shouting rather than passion. And what's more, it continues at just slightly a lower level throughout the second verse, making it a slog rather than a weightless orbit. For a band that I think is supposed to be at least slightly groove-oriented, it's a pretty shockingly obvious misstep, and it transforms a potentially really lovely modern power ballad into something with some nice moments that you don't really ever wanna listen to on purpose. Coulda woulda shoulda.
* Both DC and Marvel are reducing prices on their comics. DC is scrapping the $3.99 price point for ongoing series in favor of $2.99, and dropping page counts as well to a 20-story-page standard. Marvel hasn't made their plans clear but they're working on it, I guess. In both cases the changes will take effect in January. I'm glad to see both publishers basically say "We tried something, it didn't work, so now we're gonna do something else"--I think that $3.99 price point on all the most popular titles was absolutely murdering the midlist, and not doing wonders for the most popular titles either. Of course, reducing content means reducing creator income.
* Aw man, I screwed up the link to CRwM's very awesome Great Slasher Research Project. That's the right link--please go visit and put your two cents in. My take so far is that people are painting with too fine a brush, although now I also see flaws in my own suggested definition.
* Without linking to anything in particular, I just wanna point out that Alan David Doane and Christopher Allen have relaunched Trouble with Comics and it's been rock-solid so far: Linkblogging, reviews, interviews, commentary, minimal invective. ADD relaunches his blog almost as frequently as Marvel relaunches its Hercules comics, but I hope this version sticks. It looks nice, too.
Look, I know that pretty much none of us give a shit about Avatar any more, if we ever did. But every time this movie gets brought up, it makes me more and more upset. Seriously. It's the #1 movie in the world, and the #1 Blu-ray. And yet it's not very good. Oh, I still think the 3-D was impressive and worth seeing in theaters, but buying it on home video? Watching it again without 3-D? Or hell, watching it again in 3-D in the theaters? I just can't fathom who would want to do that or why. I feel like I've woken up in a parallel universe where everything's the same except an exceedingly mediocre, albeit expensive, film is the most popular movie in the world. I do not understand.
Nerd bafflement is vastly preferable to nerd rage, don't you think?
* Real Life Horror #1: I'm not sure which side--the ones who concocted the stupid thing or the people who got really upset that other people would sink so low as to concoct it--Nate Silver was picking on when he tweeted about how the "ground zero mosque" has disappeared from the news and thus it might be time to "start making fun of those who called it a 'game-changing issue,'" but my first thought was that "it sure changed the game for Muslim-Americans," and sure enough.
* Now here's a great idea for a comic: A period piece about three junior high kids roaming around town one night trying to rent a copy of Dead Alive before the video store closes. Make it high school instead of junior high and I have been that kid. Cartoonist Brent Schoonover, creator of The Midnight March, if you're listening, please get in touch so I can read this thing!
Do you ever stop to think that David Lynch's work doesn't make sense? No, not in that way--I don't mean in terms of story logic, I mean in terms of his aesthetic/generic approach. In that case, your answer is probably "No, I haven't." But seriously: Pre-Beatles rock and roll nostalgia, soap-operatic melodrama, supernatural beings, naked ladies, small towns, Los Angeles, non-linear narratives, hideous violence, Angelo Badalamenti...there's really no reason why all of that should get lumped together, or why all of it should work together, but somehow it does and so you almost never pay attention to what a hodgepodge it is. Something about what Lynch does, the confidence with which he does it, makes it feel seamless, like "of course" rather than "what the?".
Looking at the cover for The Girl from H.O.P.P.E.R.S., I realized the same is true of Jaime Hernandez's comics. There isn't any particular reason for a sprawling slice-of-life saga to concern itself with punk rock, Mexican-American teenagers and twentysomethings, a pair of on-again off-again girlfriends/best friends, barrio life, and professional women wrestlers, with a soupcon of comic-book sci-fi thrown in now and then--no reason beyond that's what Jaime was interested in making comics about. But you read a story about Hopey ditching Maggie to tour with the shitty punk band she's in with her ex-girlfriend, and Maggie getting over that and the murder of the dude she'd been into for years/her Goth friend's cholo kid brother by becoming the sidekick for her aunt/the women's heavyweight champion, without batting an eyelash. That's what a Jaime comic is, the same as a David Lynch movie is doppelgangers, broad comedy, hot sex scenes, early '60s pop classics, a cameo by some impossibly cool rock star, and someone getting their brains blown out. He created his own kind of story.
So that's thing #1 that struck me about this collection, wherein the sci-fi stuff is largely dropped once you get past the opening section (and is outright rejected in a cheeky self-parodying strip that ends with present-day Maggie tossing aside a "Maggie the Mechanic" comic book with a "yeah, right") and wherein the Locas material goes from being a really good comic to a really great comic. Thing #2 is that Tom Spurgeon is right to list "memory" as one of Jaime's hallmarks, above and beyond "spotting blacks" or "portraying rock and roll in a way that actually captures what's awesome about it" or "drawing cute girls in bathing suits." I think it's the introduction of extensive flashbacks that makes this material so strong, so fascinating, and so epic in scope. For starters, it's fantastic in a fannish way to learn the "origin stories" of Maggie & Hopey ("The Secrets of Life and Death Vol. 5," "The Return of Ray D."), Hopey & Terry ("Tear It Up, Terry Downe"), and Izzy ("Flies on the Ceiling"). A student of superhero comics like Jaime was obviously gonna cotton to the appeal of that sort of thing.
And of course, flashbacks serve to flesh out Jaime's ever-expanding cast of characters. In that interview I ran the other day, Jaime mentions how he'd pick out characters he'd drawn in the background and use them whenever one of his main characters needed a new boyfriend, say--fleshing out the Locas world with stuff that's already present. Flashbacks do the same on a narrative level: You don't need some big character-revealing adventure with new character Doyle, say, with all the implications that might have for where you want to push the present-day story of everyone he interacts with, when instead you can rewind a few years to "Spring 1982" to see what he was like then. The contrast that arises between the genial slacker we met earlier in the volume, with his tousled hair, stubbly chin, drooping cigarette and shit-eating grin, and the scowling ex-con and ex-addict so scared of his potential to do wrong that he literally flees town we see in this flashback story says more than enough about the potential for characters in the Locas-verse to grow and change.
But from a formal perspective, this is where Jaime really starts playing with gaps on comics' atomic level, that of panel to panel transitions. There's this one great, totally unnecessary bit where Maggie's fearsome aunt Vicki's wrestler boyfriend comes to Maggie to divulge that Vicki really does care about how Maggie feels about her, but rather than stick that in a word balloon or three, Jaime jumps from a panel on the left in which the guy says "Wait, kid. Listen to me a second..." to a panel on the right where Maggie, already storming away, says "She said that, huh? So what am I supposed to do, feel sorry for her when she breaks my arm?" You're not jumping from place to place or era to era here, you're not doing anything that might occasion a jump cut in a more traditionally executed comic--you're just skipping a non-essential part of a conversation, without missing a beat. Time is porous in Jaime's hands, prone to dropping out from under you or skipping back and forth within a single page, let alone from story to story. The rise to prominence of flashback stories reflects that on an "as above, so below" level.
Most importantly, though, I think, is that this collection is where death becomes a presence and a factor in the characters' lives. Not the impersonal, absurdist, satirical deaths caused by the depredations of Maggie the Mechanics mad sci-fi robber barons (and wasn't it funny that the science fiction adventures Maggie had were the opposite of escapist--she was constantly hoping to escape from them?), but the death of family members and friends and babies, murder and the threat of murder, criminality and insanity. It's the volume where you learn how Speedy, really without even thinking about it, has hurt too many people over the years too badly for them to stay close to him when he needs them the most; how Izzy is so haunted by guilt that, regardless of how literally you want to take what we're shown here, it's become a relentless, inescapable presence in her life, quite literally destroying her personality. Awareness of death, of our mortality, is part of what makes us distinctively human; I think the ability to remember is just as integral to us. Certainly that's the argument Jaime makes when he ends "The Death of Speedy Ortiz" with a one-page flashback to a wedding reception of no particular importance. Memory is how we fill in the gaps death leaves behind.
* As Tom Spurgeon points out, the vague Marvel price-decrease announcement yesterday appears to amount to doing away with the $3.99 price point for new series, not eliminating it for all ongoings the way DC will be doing. Part of me feels like if you're not reducing the price for the top-of-the-industry Avengers titles, why bother. But then, that's approaching this issue from a perspective Marvel might not share. If you believe that charging four bucks per issue for the best sellers is choking off the midlist and you're really interested in freeing up cash for that midlist, that might lead you to do one thing; if you believe midlist prices are what's choking off the midlist, that might lead you to do something else; if you don't mind the midlist being choked provided it's not just your own company's line being affected, that might lead you to do a different something else. I think a big question remains whether Marvel and DC will scale back production of midlist-type series over the next year in addition to whatever pricing moves they make on both the print and digital end.
* For what it's worth, Alan David Doane talks to retailers Robert Scott, John Belskis, and Peter Birkmoe about DC's price reduction; all three of them are skeptical that it'll make any difference at their stores.
Things take a turn for the unpleasant in this volume. I don't mean sad or heartwrenching--they've already done that; I mean unpleasant. Taking a look that old negative review of Locas I wrote, I'm pretty sure this is where Jaime lost me completely the first time around. Ray can't get it together enough to hang on to Danita, and she skips town. Doyle can't get it together enough to hang onto himself, and he skips town. Penny's pretty much settled into the unfulfilling life of being Mrs. H.R. Costigan, theoretically banging out kids with her manservants as a way of passing the time. Maggie brings disaster everywhere she goes (though she means well, at least). And Hopey! With the image of her smoking on the toilet while pregnant still fresh in our minds from the last volume, she she falls in with a bunch of people just as glib and nasty as she is--only as it turns out they're even worse, and several people are beaten nearly to death for her to learn that lesson. Love and sex were never quite "carefree" in the Locas stories--people pined and got hurt at least as often as they had a great time or did really romantic and loving things--but in this volume the sex gets downright seedy, transactional at best and joylessly fetishistic at worst. It's a book about creeps.
Fortunately I'm now able to accept that. I don't know what the hell came over me when I wrote that old review, to be honest. In what world does making art about creeps necessarily constitute and endorsement of being a creep? Upon this re-read it's quite clear that Jaime is in no way rah-rah'ing Hopey's behavior, which he consistently depicts as show-offy, designed for audience consumption. I mean, she elbows a crowd of prostitutes out of the way to go down on someone, and out-hipsters everyone by declaring an aging TV star's pedo-fetish lifestyle: "I think it's super-cool." No one must ever accuse Hopey Glass of being in any way square! As we see from flashbacks to her as a squirmy little girl refusing to sit still for a photographer, and as a teenage asshole subjecting her loyal friend Daffy to a humiliating encounter with an S&M whackjob, she thrives on other people's disapproval. She lives to be a magnificent bastard. Only this time around, the bastardry comes back to bite her.
Maggie is a much nicer person and therefore her story is a lot nicer, but she's now getting less out of her basket-case love life than ever. Far away from anyone with whom she ever had a good thing going--Hopey, Ray, Casey, even Speedy or Race--she falls into a pattern of breaking the hearts of the people who are interested in her and screwing up the lives of the friends who aren't. Her chaos has become contagious. And her now-rare moments of sexual intimacy use cash as a buffer. "The real secret is that I really didn't feel bad about doing it," she confides, "Like it was no big deal." What a relief that must be to her, since "everything is a BIG DEAL" is basically her life story!
So what conclusions are we to draw from all this? It's taken me a while, but I've come to the conclusion that drawing a conclusion is the wrong thing to do. There's not some message being sent here about, I dunno, punk or fluid sexuality or sex work, which are sort of the common threads of the two big stories here--the Hopey-centric "Wigwam Bam" and the Maggie-centric "Chester Square"-to-"Bob Richardson" suite. The message, I think, is simply to be found in the fact that there are two big, separate Maggie and Hopey stories here. They're not symbols, they're people. Here you have two people who were once so inseparable and similar that their friends and enemies called them The Incest Twins, and now they're finally, really living apart. When two people have formed their identities in such an inextricable way--in Maggie's case it's so profound that it's the exception that proves the rule of her sexual orientation itself--what happens when you extricate them? Well, they make some really shitty life choices, they have a hard time figuring out who they are, they hurt some friends, they get some other friends hurt, they make still other friends wonder if they were really such great friends to begin with, they hurt themselves, and they start--barely--to move on. All in the hands of the kind of artist who can draw characters to have family resemblances or to look enough alike that other characters can't tell them apart, but we the readers can even while seeing those resemblances. Story made possible by sheer chops. Damn.
* The headline says it all: ICv2's Digital Conference In Depth. CBR's Kiel Phegley presents an exhaustive report from Friday's retailer/press/publisher confab at the New York Comic Con, and it's filled with eye-opening information beyond the dire sales stats that headlined the initial reports: July and August, the traditional summer-event blockbuster months, had notably weak sales; manga publishers are losing money hand over fist by providing no legal digital venue for readers to turn to; the iPad is a big deal (surprise!); anecdotal evidence suggests digital sales may help print sales in some early and isolated cases. Provided your interest in the ICv2 conference extends past 9am the following morning and goes beyond haranguing everyone for not reporting on it properly before cobbling together a report from their reports, this is worth reading from start to finish.
* Alan David Doane's series of interviews with retailers about DC's restoration of the $2.99 price point continues with Earthworld's J.C. Glindmyer. Meanwhile, writing at his own site, Brian Hibbs expresses what it seems like a lot of the retailers Alan has spoken with believe: Scrapping the $3.99 price point is a good idea, but its institution "broke the habit" of collecting those series for a lot of readers in such a way that they probably won't return.
* Wow, this is a pretty terrific line-up for the new Studygroup12 anthology: Trevor Alixopulos, T. Edward Bak, Chris Cilla, Max Clotfelter, Farel Dalrymple, Eleanor Davis, Vanessa Davis, Michael DeForge, Theo Ellsworth, Jason Fisher, Nick Gazin, Richard Han, Aidan Koch, Amy Kuttab, Blaise Larmee, Corey Lewis, Kiyoshi Nakazawa, Tom Neely, Jennifer Parks, Karn Piana, Jim Rugg, Tim Root, Zack Soto, Ian Sundahl, Jon Vermilyea, Angie Wang, Steve Weissman, and Dan Zettwoch.
* Over at Robot 6 today, I've got a big ol' interview with Fantagraphics' Eric Reynolds on the occasion of Mome's 20th volume and 5th anniversary. I've really enjoyed following Mome through the years; it seems like precisely the sort of regularly scheduled, meaty anthology people would be calling for if it didn't already exist. Sure, there have been a lot of duds in there, but it's also published some absolute monsters: Tim Hensley, Anders Nilsen, David B., John Hankiewicz, Josh Simmons, Kiloffer, my single favorite Jeffrey Brown comic, Al Columbia, Eleanor Davis...
* Wow, does this ever look good: Destroy All Movies!!!: The Complete Guide to Punks on Film, coming soon from Fantagraphics. Somehow this book completely evaded my radar, which is unforgivable of me. A flip through the Flickr gallery alone yielded the guy who flips Spock the bird on the bus in Star Trek IV, the surf punks from Back to the Beach, and of course The Road Warrior, which means this could not be more up my alley. I am absolutely fascinated by how punk was somehow most frequently depicted as a post-apocalyptic gang/tribe. Why the hell should that be?
* Dan DiDio and Jim Lee talk to CBR's Kiel Phegley about DC's price drop. I was struck by Lee's argument that no one's losing work because if you can do 22 pages a month instead of 20 (which is what issues will now run), that means you can do 13 books a year instead of 12. I was also struck by DiDio's characterization of comics as a weekly experience as opposed to one best experienced a trade paperback at a time.
* The great World of Warcraft blogger Bruce Baugh is back at it. This time, in anticipation of the big "Cataclysm" thingamajig that I understand will literally remake the map of Warcraft's World, he's putting together a series of videos that take us on a guided tour of some of the WoW places and things that have most impressed and entertained him. I really like this description of WoW maker Blizzard's worldbuilding style: "I once read a comparison to really good mainstream rock and pop acts, and that seems to me right on -- it's about combining the available material and spinning it just right, each time."
* My chums at Found Item Clothing, makers of the best movie t-shirts I've ever seen, present their annual Halloween Costume Guide. I don't know if I ever realized how glorious Edgar Frog's t-shirt from The Lost Boys is. Look at this thing! It doesn't make any sense at all...and yet I agree with every word.
Grown-ups! More or less. This volume collects stories that follow the conclusion of Love and Rockets Volume One, the initial years-long run of the series' comic-book format--first in spinoffs and standalones, then in L&R Volume 2--and it's clear Jaime took the dividing line seriously. From the largely wordless wrestling action of "Whoa, Nellie!" to the less spotted-black-driven line art of the "Maggie & Hopey Color Fun" (here presented in glorious black and white), the comics in Penny Century look less dense and read that way, too. Maggie and Hopey seem to have settled down, somewhat--no longer careening from adventure to adventure or disaster to disaster, still involved in the lives and schemes of their eccentric friends but no longer completely swept up by them, still romantically (or at least sexually) entangled with one another but not to the all-or-nothing extremes of the past. The most frantic strips in the collection, "Chiller!" and "The Race," are a late-night driving-alone mind-playing-tricks-on-Mag freakout and an out-and-out dream sequence respectively. The horns on H.R. Costigan's noggin, heretofore the Locas strips' only remaining visual link with their sci-fi roots, are explained away. The most outlandish thing that happens here, Izzy's magic-realist transformation into a giant, is tied to her very adult concern about an upcoming reading from her recently published memoir, and the comic's last remaining great free spirit, Penny Century, spends most of the book hiding from attention and is then widowed. Even the "who's who" portrait page at the back of the book has been cut. The wild-oats-sowing crises of the sort that drove "Wigwam Bam" and "Chester Square" are over. The Locas have matured.
Ironically, perhaps, Jaime takes this opportunity to indulge himself, if not his characters. He transforms Ray D. into a sort of hard-boiled hard-luck case, whose first-person narration captions speak of falling in with femme fatale Penny and cruising for action like the least violent installment of Sin City ever. He tells his longest li' Locas story yet in "Home School," which reveals the origin of Izzy's undying affection for Maggie in a fashion that's adorable--and carefully observed--as young Maggie's plight is revealed to be heartbreaking. He has Penny avoid the impending circus her life is about to become by also avoiding clothing. He draws page after page after glorious, please-study-this,-Avengers-artists page of women's wrestling action, an absolute master class in conveying the physical consequences of bodies in motion and collision.
And in the collection's gutsiest, flashiest move, he turns one of his long-running storytelling innovations into ostentation by completely eliding Maggie's entire marriage until we learn of her divorce. Obviously, the Locas stories are full of events we only find out about after the fact--from Esther's forced haircut to Ray and Penny's affair--but usually the characters involved were off-screen at the time. Maggie, on the other hand, remains our main character for the bulk of this book, so finding out she married a dude during that time comes as a shock. It's kind of gratuitous, even--it's Jaime doing the Jaime-est thing he could possibly do with his signature character. Why? Why not? That ends up being a sufficient answer. Sure, we go along with it in the end in large part because the flashback history we discover between Maggie and Top Cat Tony is convincing, and because Locas has always been about the past's bizarre on-again off-again romance with the present. But mostly we go along with it because it's fun, because Jaime has earned the right to even the most spectacular stylistic flourishes--sort of how Tony's okay with Maggie's dalliances with Hopey, since, well, that's Maggie. Settling down often just means owning your weirdness.
* Tom Spurgeon's epic post-NYCC post is a must-read. It chronicles the biggest comics publishing announcements and analyzes the show-as-phenomenon angle as well, and it spends at least as much time talking about Brian Bolland as it does about the party scene, which displays the correct priorities.
* Remember, The Great Slasher Research Project of '10continues! Please go and contribute. You know, it's really bizarre, the affinity I feel for slasher movies given how few of them I've actually seen. I think there's something to be said about how I love the slasher supercuts people have done on YouTube stringing together all the kills from a given franchise. Boiling a story down to a killer stalking and killing people over and over...there's something strangely and darkly magical about that.
* I'm excited about the release of my chum Zach Oat's Pop Sculpture, a how-to book for would-be makers of toys and statues. What I've seen of the book is hell of attractive, and Zach and his co-authors know of what they speak.
* Over at Robot 6, I explained why I didn't go to the New York Comic Con.The long and the short of it is that regardless of whatever calculations have subsequently been made by the relevant publishers and creators--and who knows, maybe they've all decided that participating in one gigantic general-interest comic con per year is enough--I think a series of decisions were made by the con organizers in terms of the importance of attracting and preserving as much of an alternative-comics presence as the show's obvious model San Diego has, and the result isn't one I'm all that happy with. I also talk a bit about why I think NYCC gets a pass from the press that comparable shows don't. That being said, as far as superhero/media-tie-in based comic cons go, I'm really glad New York has what appears to be a pretty top-flight and ethically administered one, though I'm told organizational problems continue to dog the show's day-to-day operation. And there's no reason to believe that it can't improve in the ways I argue it needs to--Top Shelf displays at the show, as do corporate alt-imprints like Pantheon and First Second and Abrams ComicArts, and if you put that together with the relevant creators at Artists Alley and an aggressive, perhaps festival-style alt/art/lit/underground programming track, you're halfway there.
* Also related: A dude proposed to his girlfriend at the Marvel booth during the show. Awww! My own popping of the question was surprisingly un-geeky, although I did do it at the Christmas light show at Jones Beach (I'm a Christmas nerd) and although my wife insists I waited until after the premiere of The Fellowship of the Ring just to make sure she liked it.
* Presenting a trio of provocative posts on rape, art, and outrage: Joe McCulloch on Alan Moore & Jacen Burrows's Neonomicon #2; Tom Spurgeon on the death of Shintaro Miyawaki and his character Rapeman; and Rich Juzwiak and Sean Fennessey on Meir Zarchi's I Spit on Your Grave, Stephen R. Monroe's I Spit on Your Grave remake, Salem's King Night, Southern hip-hop, and the short-lived "rape gaze" music subgenre. The congruence of these three pieces is really remarkable, right down to the involvement of Roger Ebert in the latter two. (And though this is by far the least important aspect of the discussions, Fennessey throws in a wonderful Ebert takedown, if you need the incentive.)
* Good question: Jim Henley asks if there are any pre-9/11 examples of torture by "the good guys" in pop entertainment. Before you point out, as I did, that plenty of superheroes and other fictional tough guys routinely roughed baddies up for information, Jim means "torture" in its...aesthetically understood sense, I suppose is the way to put it. That is, holding people immobile and systematically, deliberately abusing them, not just slamming them up against a wall or throwing them through a window and playing them a little chin music (even though we rightfully consider that to be torture in the real world). I can't think of any examples--can you? The best I could do was Gandalf telling Frodo that he and Aragorn "put the fear of fire" onto Gollum to find out what he told Sauron about the Ring and Bilbo in the Lord of the Rings books--but this happened off screen and only involved a threat (and knowing Gandalf and Aragorn, most likely an empty one at that, though of course Gollum couldn't have known that and wouldn't have thought so), so it's not really right. I wouldn't count torture by charismatic villains or anti-heroes in the "hero"/protagonist role, either--like, Nicky Santoro putting Tony Dogs's head in a vice in Casino doesn't count.
* Gently rolling, thick bass line. Kim Deal has so much to answer for, and even the worst of it is pretty decent. (Like, say, "Good" by Better Than Ezra.) I think Krist Novoselic's approximation of Deal's style was itself extremely influential. I would argue that even ahead of fuzzy guitar tone, this is the most essential and recognizable element of '90s alt-rock, especially when contrasted with a simple, pretty guitar figure as it is on the verse of "Number One Blind."
This reminds me of Barney Hoskyns's really tremendous, similar breakdown of the characteristics of glam/glitter, with the "glam descend" (cascading major chords) in the "gently rolling, thick bass line" slot. I can't find it online; I may have to rectify that.
* DC likes to use the dead early months of the year to do various cover gimmicks; this January's theme, "iconic poses against huge logos," is easily my favorite they've ever done. Please click the link, because they look really impressive all lined up like that. I'm running the Steel one here as part of my long-running campaign on behalf of that character. I think he's the most undervalued hero in the DC Universe. What a badass character design. Iron Man's m.o. with Thor's hammer and Superman's cape? How can you go wrong with that? Did I mention he's an African-American under there (with the mint name John Henry Irons) in a genre that desperately needs awesome non-white heroes?
Jaime Hernandez has long displayed an infrequently utilized but alarming alacrity for horror. The Locas comics' outbursts of genuine violence have been scary--I'll never forget Hopey getting stomped on in the bathtub and staggering out, leaning naked against the door frame, or Speedy half-lit by the streetlight, a portrait of a young man at the very moment he hits rock bottom that chills me to my very soul. But in general the real terror, the real exercises in creating and sustaining horror imagery, emanate from Izzy Ruebens. Maggie and Hopey's long-suffering, eccentric mentor has slowly withered, almost, over the years, from the semi-comical parasol-wielding goth of the strip's early, punky days to the stoic, emaciated, frequently naked presence we've seen in Penny Century and now Ghost of Hoppers. Whether she's simply mentally ill or genuinely haunted (and the two aren't mutually exclusive possibilities, to be sure) is almost immaterial. In either case, the danger comes simply from seeing what she sees. The shadows, the stains, the shattered and inverted crucifixes, the black dog, the flies on the ceiling--these are monumental horror-images, frightening not because of some physical threat they present but the violation of reality they represent. They're frightening by virtue of their very existence. Something is wrong with them. All of the damage they've caused--and based on what we know of Izzy's guilt over her abortions and suicide attempts, the damage that caused them--has been self-inflicted.
At first I struggled with why Jaime would choose this particular storyline--Maggie Realizes She's All Grown Up, basically--to delve deeper than ever into this aspect of the Locas world. I mean, this thing becomes a horror comic toward the end, easily the most sustained such work in the whole Locas oeuvre. What does any of it have to do with the misadventures of Maggie, the story's protagonist? But then it clicked: She, too, is threatened here by the violation of her conception of reality. Is she the badass punker she always thought she was, or has she grown up to be a square like everyone else? Is she basically just a fun-loving straight girl with one exception that proves the rule, or might she be physically and emotionally attracted to other women after all? Is she okay with the friends-with-benefits relationship she's had with Hopey since time immemorial, or does she want something more? Were she and Hopey really the center of the universe, or were there equally vibrant and vital relationships that continued on without them? Can she maintain her self-image as a troublemaker when she's at a place where she really kind of hates trouble? Does Hoppers--her neighborhood, her hometown, her group of friends and fellow travelers--still exist in her mind as a screwed-up but happy place to visit, or has the passage of time rendered that all a lie? No wonder the black dog chooses now to pay her a visit. She had so much to be frightened of already. Thank goodness that life sometimes grants even hapless Locas an exorcism or two on the house.
* I really liked retailer Brian Hibbs's column today on structural problems with the way the big publishers publish their comics. Using the recent price-reduction announcement by DC as a springboard, Hibbs points out that there's still a lot of work remaining, from ensuring that the comics they send out contain the same work they said they would when stores ordered them to making sure that multi-title franchises release those titles at regular intervals rather than in haphazard feast-or-famine fashion. I think that throughout comics lurk problems so fundamental--like, y'know, putting out books by the creative teams you said would be doing them and not shipping five titles starring the same character one week and zero the next--that we hardly even recognize them, at best shrugging and treating them like inevitable acts of god rather than the product of a set of conscious decisions about priorities. Thinking about them as such does create some unpleasantness, but it also presents us with a huge silver lining, which is that if conscious decisions created these problems, a different set of conscious decisions can end them.
* Wow, here's some fantastic footage of a night at Fort Thunder circa 1997. As I said on Twitter today, Lightning Bolt is basically "What if Thor's hammer and Loki's helmet formed a band?" (Via Spurge.)
The "all growns up" phase for the Locas continues. Looking back, the material collected in Penny Century was sort of the calm before the storm for our heroes and heroines--the point at which they'd matured, but the point before they realized they'd matured and started struggling with it. If Ghost of Hoppers was Maggie's confrontation with adulthood, The Education of Hopey Glass serves up the equivalent for Hopey and Ray. It's fascinating to me to see where their lives have taken them versus where they were--and more importantly, what they represented to Maggie--when they were first juxtaposed. For starters, this is a really weird and kind of silly thing to say about a comic book character, but I am straight-up proud of Hopey for becoming a teacher's assistant. (Waiting for Superman can go pound sand.) It reveals a strength of character she'd always kept carefully hidden, an indication that beneath the hellion exterior, she's actually, well, a good person, a person capable of caring about someone other than the Maggot. What's refreshing about what Jaime is showing us here is that this in no way "fixes" Hopey, nor makes her suddenly respectable. She's still a loudmouth bartender and an incorrigible womanizer with a wandering eye, and she still can't seem to help but hurt the people who care about her. And on the more positive side, she's still sexy and funny and badass and all the other things that have made her fun for her friends to be around. Her new job in a position of responsibility isn't something she sacrificed the person she'd always been to achieve. Like the glasses she spends the storyline shopping for, it's just a new accessory on the same old face, a new way of looking at things with the same old eyes.
Good ol' Ray Dominguez, on the other hand, is more ol' than good at this point. The rumpled, cigarette-smoking noir narration we encountered from him last time around is back with a vengeance, and the succession of endless nights of booze, broads, and loneliness it suggests tells us that much has changed over the nearly two decades since he first emerged as the safer, more caring alternative to Hopey in the quest for Maggie's heart. This is not to say that he's the full-fledged devil-may-care degenerate of the sort comprised by the circles his old friend Doyle and his would-be flame Vivian "The Frogmouth" Solis move in--on the contrary, his relentless narration is a litany of worrying that he's too old, a given situation too hairy, a given woman too much trouble, a given dude too dangerous even to know. And yet through some innate inability to really stick up for himself and go for what he wants, Ray is constantly buffeted from predicament to predicament by the still more fucked-up people with whom he surrounds himself--a classic noir patsy protagonist, played mostly for Lebowski-style black laughs. Ray wonders aloud why he's so fixated on the two years he spent with Maggie all those years ago, especially in light of what he eventually gets going with Viv, but it feels like less of a secret to us: He saw what he wanted and hung onto it. My fear is that the Frogmouth is too much of a (hilarious!) human disaster area to give him the gumption to do so this time around, but anything's possible, and he seems to realize that it's now or never.
What makes these two stories compelling and connects them to one another beyond the basic idea of the characters coming to terms with their age is how much the stories rely on the kinds of things only an artist of Jaime's caliber can pull off for their telling. Hopey's many loves and crushes--Maggie, Rosie, Grace, Guy Goforth, Angel, the woman at the eyeglasses store--are woven into an intricate web of eye contact and body language, glances and looks away, the clothes they choose to wear and what they look like naked. Half the story emerges from characters looking at how other characters look at still other characters. Ray's story, meanwhile, takes place about 30 feet in front of a murder mystery, if you will, one that he and his friends remain half-aware of and half-willfully oblivious to as it approaches, takes place, and ripples out into its aftermath. As Ray does his thing, we'll see people behind him start arguing and fighting, whisper to one another, disappear and reappear, shoot daggers at one another or look sheepish and sick. Ray putting it all together is one of the catalysts for him trying to get his own act together by the end of the story--and it wouldn't have been possible if Jaime hadn't been such a poet of bar fights and parking-lot conspiracies in the rear of the panels. Maybe adulthood isn't just choosing a new way to see with your same old eyes, but also choosing not to look sometimes, too.
* Alex Dueben interviews Charles Burns about X'ed Out. Reading that book will have to wait until I'm all done with LOVE AND ROCKTOBER/LOVEMBER AND ROCKETS, but I didn't know that it's just the first of a projected three-volume story. Burns also tells Dueben that he's pretty much pulled the plug on the fourth Fantagraphics collection of his pre-Black Hole work, on the thinking that that work doesn't hold up as a book.
* Curt Purcell on The Walking Dead. Curt read the book in its Compendium form, a giant book that collects the first forty-eight issues, equivalent to eight trade paperbacks. Sounds like it's A) a total steal, available from Amazon for less than the cost of four trades; B) a totally fascinating way to read this material--without spoiling anything for anyone, it takes you all the way from the beginning of the series through that issue. Yes, readers, you know the one. What a run of comics.
* Still on the World of Warcraft beat (hooray!), Bruce Baugh draws our attention to the big full-fledged couldn't-be-more-heavy-metal-if-it-tried trailer for the game's new Cataclysm event. I really am struck by what a great idea for a villain "dragon driven insane by Lovecraftian Old Ones" is. Monstrous traditions should absolutely be cross-pollinated like that. Dracula should solve the Lemarchand Configuration, zombie-apocalypse refugees should seek shelter on Monster Island--go nuts with it! I will also add that based on Bruce's description of what, exactly, is going down in that trailer, it seems like WoW's makers at Blizzard have a truly admirable habit of destroying things people care about, which seems like a prerequisite for writing compelling epic fantasy, be it prose or game.
* Elsewhere, Bruce points out a fascinating post about MMO genre conventions. In a weird way, it reminds me of what I said the other day about Brian Hibbs's column on structural problems with the supply chain from comics publishers to comics retailers. You stay immersed in a system long enough and you forget that it isn't the way to do things, it's a way to do things.
* Hearing Grant Morrison say "I don't want to get in a fight with Alan" = :( :( :( for ol' STC. Oh well. There's still much to ponder in the linked-to interview with Morrison by Comics Alliance's Laura Hudson, specifically on Pax Americana, Morrison and Frank Quitely's upcoming riff on Watchmen, but also plenty of Batman stuff. (Via Kevin Melrose.)
* I may need to retract everything I've ever said about scorched-earth snarky critics now that I've read the insults in this column from Charlie Brooker, a TV writer for the Guardian who's calling it quits because he's sick of being a professional asshole. Holy god, they are so good.
The moment anyone appeared on screen, I struggled to find a nice way to describe their physical appearance. David Dickinson was "an ageing Thundercat"; Alan Titchmarsh resembled "something looming unexpectedly at a porthole in a Captain Nemo movie"; Nigel Lythgoe was "Eric Idle watching a dog drown". I called Alan Sugar "Mrs Tiggywinkle" and said he reminded me of "a water buffalo straining to shit in a lake". What a bastard. And I'm no oil painting myself, unless the painting in question depicts a heartbroken carnival mask hurriedly moulded from surgically extracted stomach fat and stretched across a damaged, despondent hubcap. I think that constitutes some form of justification.
I laughed for five solid minutes when I first read these last night, then I had to hide in the bathroom at work to crack up when I thought of them again this morning. "Eric Idle watching a dog drown," "something looming unexpectedly at a porthole in a Captain Nemo movie"--holy shit. Oh my god more, and this is so funny if you've ever seen Jamie Cullum:
"Cullum should be sealed inside a barrel and kicked into the ocean," I declared, before going on to label him "an oily, sickening worm-boy...if I ever have to see this gurning little maggot clicking into faux reverie mode again -- rising from his seat to jazz-slap the top of his piano wearing a fake-groove expression on his piggish little face -- if I have to witness that one more time I'm going to rise up and kill absolutely everybody in the world, starting with him and ending with me."
LOVE AND ROCKTOBER | Comics Time: Love and Rockets Vol. 2 #20
Love and Rockets Vol. 2 #20
featuring "La Maggie La Loca" and "Gold Diggers of 1969"
Jaime Hernandez, writer/artist
$4.50 Out of print at Fantagraphics
(First, a quick reader's note: At this point I've read all of the all-Jaime/Locas L&R collections. For this, the final issue of Love and Rockets as a comic-book-format periodical, and for the three currently available volumes of its new squarebound incarnation, Love and Rockets: New Stories, I'm going to be reading and reviewing Jaime's stuff on its own before starting over at the beginning with Beto. There are other ways I could play this, but I'm enamored by the idea of being all caught up with Maggie and company. And yes, this means LOVEMBER AND ROCKETS is on its way...)
The triumph of the continuity! Leave it to Jaime to use "La Maggie La Loca," the inaugural strip for The New York Times' "Funny Pages" lit-comics section, to address one of the oldest, wildest, most sci-fi strips in his series' history. Though the more outlandish details are largely (but not entirely--I spy a glowing robot head in one of those flashback panels) elided, Maggie the Mechanic's adventures in the jungle alongside Rena Titanon and Rand Race are officially not retconned. I'm happy about this because I'm the sort of person who pulls for that early sci-fi stuff, encouraging folks who want to start reading the series to start there even though it's so different in vibe and visuals from what it ends up being. I'm also happy because it means that Maggie's translator for that time, Tse Tse, returns for the strip, revealing herself to have become maybe the smartest and most successful of the characters. (I'd always considered her the "lost Loca" and hoped she'd somehow find her way to Hoppers or the Valley.)
The strip's story involves Maggie receiving an invite to come visit Rena on the private island where she hides from the admirers and enemies she made during her dual careers as a wrestling champion and a revolutionary icon. Maggie, of course, is just a humble apartment manager, and she spends most of the visit alternating between awe, jealousy, and contempt for her hostess, whose glamour and strength appears to have slowly edged into isolation and paranoia. But what makes the strip really worthwhile in terms of how it relates to the Locas strips of the here and now can be summed up by one panel: A nude, 40-year-old Maggie, standing with her back to us in all her craggy, doughy, Rubenesque magnificence, looking out the window at Rena, her back also to us, arms akimbo, her 70-plus-year-old back and arms still seeming hewn out of wood despite her age, staring down at gifts left by her devoted fans. But as that mirrored pose indicates, both women have essentially the same plight: To what extent are they comfortable with their achievements? To what extent can they let the people they love into their lives? To what extent are they just standing there alone--or is the important thing that they're looking at people who care about them? Maggie may just be an apartment manager anymore, she may now get in way over her head (literally) when she attempts to have a fun island adventure like she used to, but the way Rena sneaks into her room at night just to watch her sleep reveals that the aging heroine could use a dose of the community and camaraderie that's part and parcel of Maggie's dayjob. A life spent fighting people in the ring and the streets has left her admired but alone; Maggie's misadventure teaches her it's okay to focus on the former to ameliorate the latter.
Accompanying the main strip is "Gold Diggers of 1969," a flashback strip drawn in Jaime's Sunday-funnies kiddie-comic style and concerning li'l Maggie as she bounces between her three other mother figures--her actual mom, her Tia Vicki, and her babysitter/mentor Izzy from back in her wannabe-gangsta teenage years--on a particularly dramatic day. Again we see the ways in which these strong women are weak (I was particularly tickled by the revelation that Izzy's not a founding member of the Widows at all; sorry, Speedy), and the ways in which they draw strength by helping to protect people weaker than they. Little Perla's way too young to really notice any of this, but I think that's the point--flash forward about 15 years when she's off gallivanting with Rena in the jungle, and she's still mostly too besotted with hero worship to notice the toll Rena's glamourous, dangerous life has taken on her. In much the same way that connecting with her new baby brother and her mom and dad makes young Maggie feel like part of a whole, so too does her semi-disastrous visit to Rena at age 40 help give a hero her strength back. What a kindly pair of comics.
"Can anyone tell me anything about this Hellraiser movie that doesn't have Doug Bradley as Pinhead in it? I haven't even been sent a script. But I suppose I'm irrelevant now....So this movie exists. It's finished? Well, for a title I suggest: HELLRAISER : FUCKED."
While we're on the subject of Sexy Star Wars, however, I want to take a moment to say something I've been stewing on for a few years now: "Slave Leia." Look, obviously Princess Leia's get-up in Jabba's palace is the hottest thing in human history. No one's disputing that. But for years, when I thought about it, which was often, I thought of it as "Princess Leia's metal bikini" or "Princess Leia's gold bikini" or something like that. The notion that she was a "slave" never entered into it. A prisoner, sure, but a slave? And then sexing up the slave aspect by making it the name of that awesome outfit? There's always been something creepy about that to me. Please allow me to enjoy the image that made me a man without bringing dubious gender-relational issues into it. Metal Bikini Forever!
* Today at Robot 6 I took a look at Marvel's incredible disappearing price cut for new titles in January. Actually it's not that simple, as some number-crunching I did with the help of JK Parkin and Kiel Phegley shows, but nor is it as simple as the across-the-board institution of $2.99 as the price point for new titles that Marvel sounded like it was promising the other week.
* Here's a really fascinating panel report from the Daniel Clowes spotlight at APE, hosted by Dan Nadel. I really like the idea Clowes advances that he's shifted his characters away from interior monlogues and into publicly proclaiming their points of view because everyone can post their interior monologue on the internet now. And this quote is just murder:
"I realized at a certain point that the thing that keeps me drawing comics and the thing that has always moved me along is that comics history is really disappointing," Clowes responded. "It's not the same as the history of novels, history of art, history of movies, the body of work is pretty spotty. The things we imagined don't really exist. We imagine that Alex Toth did really amazing comics in the 50s that really worked, that were like Howard Hawk's movies, but he didn't do that. He never made a comic you could read. It's terrible, and I say that thinking that he was one of the greatest genius' of the 20th Century."
I'm sure any armchair therapist could have an interesting time with the book. With "AYC," and pretty much all of my previous work, everything was hidden behind a curtain of humor. There's no curtain in "Prison Pit."
* Heidi MacDonald notes that Wizard's ignominious retreat from the Con War continues, as they've moved their Big Apple and New England cons a month prior to NYCC, instead of on the weekends on either side of it as they were this year--which in turn was a retreat from scheduling Big Apple directly against NYCC. As I said last week, the Wizard-initiated phase of the Con War was probably the worst thing ever to happen to Wizard. It served as a focal point for years of resentment in the industry and gave folks cover to take that resentment public; it ensured the already de facto non-participation in any of Wizard's shows by any of the comics industry's major players; it gave huge-name creators and Senior Vice Presidents and such cover to badmouth the company publicly and presumably withhold support privately; it cemented the Wizard shows' reputation as a low-rent autograph mill rather than anything remotely comics centric and gave them an absolutely poisonous reputation among comics fans, and so on. Waving the white flag in terms of scheduling is really just the splatter from the gaping self-inflicted wound that taking on Reed gave the company--especially considering the hubris Wizard's honchos were displaying at the time, as Tom Spurgeon alludes to.
This is going to sound a little weird, but one of my favorite things about the superhero flight of fancy with which Jaime inaugurated this third Love and Rockets series, now in bookstore-friendly post-altcomic squarebound format, is the fact that I was pronouncing the titular super-team's name wrong nearly the whole time. I was thinking "Tee-Girls"--maybe you can blame the aging super-version of Xochtil's resemblance to Maggie's Tia Vicki for putting that pronunciation in my head--when as it turns out its a play on "Tigers." And whaddayaknow, just like that, Jaime's imaginary team of misfit superheroines fits right into the very real and very long legacy of superhero characters and creators I've heard people completely mispronounce: Namor the Sub-Mariner, Magneto, Sienkiewicz, Quesada, Byrne--not to mention "Jamie" Hernandez himself. Probably just a fluke, I know, but somehow it feels more like attention to detail.
It's easy to dismiss "Ti-Girls Adventures Number 34" as precisely that sort of pleasant superhero-nostalgia diversion, a chance for Jaime to work directly in the idiom of one of his greatest but least frequently expressed influences. It's certainly difficult to square it with the Locas-verse as we know it. The wildest left-turn back into the fantastic that the "Locas" strips have taken in probably 20 years, it transforms Penny Century into the mad superhero she's always dreamed of becoming, reveals that Maggie's apartment-complex neighbors Alarma and Angel are secretly superheroes themselves (we'd already caught some glimpses of Alarma in costume, but that was in the storyline where we also saw the devil take the form of a levitating black dog, so, y'know, grain of salt), brings sundry superheroes mentioned in the imaginary comics Maggie reads to life (e.g. Cheetah Torpeda, herself the namesake of a strip club Ray D. frequents), features inexplicably aged versions of previously existing characters like Maggie's wrestler cousing Xochtil, posits the existence of a mutant-like female-only "gift" of superpowers, and ultimately reveals that Penny was never really real to begin with. "I've known Penny for quite a few years now," Maggie says, "and in all that time she never aged. Like, she was not regular flesh and blood, but like, this drawing that was clipped from a comic book and pasted down here on Earth." And here I'd thought she'd just used H.R. Costigan's billions to have a lot of work done!
And indeed, Jaime's art here is so zesty that maybe a chance to have fun with super-powered women in skimpy costumes really is the main point. (And frankly it'd be worth it if only for the debut of Alarma's glam-rock cut-off-tank-top villain look. Yowza.) The effect he achieves with his black-and-white-uniformed Amazons flying around or smacking each other around against the night sky or in the void of outer space is frequently breathtaking--my dream comic con panel is a "spot-black-off" between him and Mike Mignola. Meanwhile his action choreography is to die for. Witness the knockout wordless nine-panel-grid page in Part Two of the story, featuring a series of images in which Angel attempts to join the fight against an off-the-right-hand-side-of-each-panel Penny Century, only to be rebuffed at each stage by one of the uber-powerful popular girls of the superhero scene, the Fenomenons. In each panel there's a palpable drive from the left to the right, thanks to motion lines and those blacks, but there's always something stopping Angel from getting to that elusive border. I know I lecture superhero writers and artists all the time about how they should be doing their job, but, well, this is how they should be doing their job.
But there is more to "Ti-Girls" than meets the eye. Super-Penny turns heel not just because she's gone mad with power, but because those powers have caused her to lose two of her children; in order to thwart Penny, one of the Ti-Girls uses a ray-gun to zap another with a sample of Penny's "maternal instinct," which can be used as a homing device. I think this may be one of the most explicit explorations of motherhood ever for "Locas"; certainly Penny and Hopey's dueling pregnancies way back when weren't explored in terms of how the pair felt about the kids they had and/or didn't have. There's Tia Vicki's misery over her belief that Maggie resents her for how she raised her, too, but that didn't involve birth and babies and very young children like this storyline does. I wonder what it says about Maggie that this is all being processed in something very like a dream?
There's also an explicit feminist angle. Women are the only people capable of becoming super-powered naturally; they're born with "the gift," while men have to try to recreate it with lab accidents or magic meteors or what have you. Meanwhile, the entire history of female superheroes in this world is one of their management and exploitation by one Dr. Zolar--his crowning superheroine-team creation is an all-teen unit, the Runaways to his Kim Fowley. But perhaps most strikingly, certainly if you read regular superhero comics, is what a non-presence male superheroes are. None are drafted into the fight against Penny, and the few we meet are basically non-entities who exist to get thrashed by one of Penny's super-kids or to help out the Ti-Girls in locating them. The problems in the story--Penny's rampage, a breakout at a female supervillain penitentiary, a supervillainness out for vengeance, a Bizarro Ti-Girl--are all caused by women, addressed by women, solved by women, and have consequences felt by women. I actually think you might have a hard time getting this comic to pass a reverse Bechdel Rule, in fact. And that's enormously, enormously refreshing. If "Locas" has taught us anything, isn't it that women should be the stars and driving forces behind their own damn comic, even if they're dressing up in one-piece swimsuits and punching each other in the process?
* The Hobbit has been partially cast! Martin Freeman from the English Office as Bilbo, Richard Armitage as Thorin, and about two-thirds of the remaining Dwarves have been announced as well. The linked-to TORn post has a pretty thorough write-up for each actor, if your'e interested.
* I always get really excited when I discover that the military acknowledges paganism and Wicca, especially at the Air Force Academy, of all places. You pretty much turn into a Republican when you pass within a 20-mile radius of that place.
I'm looking for good critical writing on World of Warcraft, along the lines of what Bruce Baugh does on the topic, or what Zak Smith/Sabbath does for D&D. I don't trust my comments to allow you to leave links, so if you know anything, please email me at sean at all too flat dot com. You could always try leaving a comment too, I guess. I mean, you only live once. Thank you in advance!
LOVE AND ROCKTOBER | Comics Time: Love and Rockets: New Stories #3
Love and Rockets: New Stories #3
featuring "The Love Bunglers Part One," "Browntown," and "The Love Bunglers Part Two"
Jaime Hernandez, writer/artist
$14.99 Buy it from Fantagraphics Buy it from Amazon.com
If I had to sum up all of the post "Wigwam Bam/Chester Square/Bob Richardson" Locas stories in a phrase, it would be "coming to terms." With adulthood, with the death of punk, with a career, with the past, with reaching middle age, with falling in and out of love, with family and friends and heroes, with your limitations, even with really good things like your talents. (Heck, even this story reveals that Maggie's planning to open up her own garage, finally utilizing her long-dormant skills as a mechanic.) For the most part this has gone, if not smoothly, then at least pretty well in the end. Maggie and Hopey both seem less prone to disaster than ever before, as does Ray. Yes, Izzy had a fairly spectacular flame-out--literally!--but Ghost of Hoppers nonetheless ended on an optimistic note for her future. Put it this way: No, I wouldn't be surprised if that was the last we saw of her, if she were lost to mental illness and to us forever, but nor would I be surprised if she came back reunited with her man in Mexico, content and writing again. Penny sort of exploded her way out of the series too, depending on how much credence you give "Ti-Girls Adventures Number 34," but her story also ended on a note of hope for future reconciliation with her children and repentance for her life of fecklessness. A few years ago, Jaime ended Love and Rockets Mark II with two dueling stories of people making other people feel whole again by virtue of their very presence. What a kindly pair of comics," I said.
So much for kindness.
The suite of strips that Jaime contributed to this year's Love and Rockets: New Stories volume, which revolve around the long centerpiece "Browntown," comprise the cruelest and story he's ever told. Sadder than "The Death of Speedy," scarier than "Flies on the Ceiling," crueler than "Wigwam Bam." Jaime's line, which has been loosening somewhat over the course of the last few books (I first noticed it in "La Maggie La Loca"--a de-tightened approach to better accommodate Steve Weissman's colors), is as limber here as I've ever seen it, the closest perhaps he is capable to looking like he drew something in a white heat. In filling in one of the biggest remaining gaps in Maggie's backstory, the two years she spent living with her family away from Hoppers, Jaime reveals what seems like the key piece of the puzzle of Maggie's bad luck in love and her punk-era rebelliousness, and a sealed-off well of pain caused by her estrangement from her family. But worse--and I don't want to spoil anything here, so I'm not even going to say who I'm talking about--it introduces a character who, at long last, can't come to terms. What happened in this person's life, through no fault of anyone but the perpetrator but as a result of unwittingly malign neglect by everyone else, broke them, never to recover.
It's easy enough to tell that sort of story, I suppose, but difficult to make the reader feel an impact of discovery of this tragedy commensurate to what the characters themselves might feel. Jaime's genius is that he pulls it off, with an out-of-nowhere punch-to-the-gut revelation that literally made me gasp out loud. It's his "I did it thirty-five minutes ago." And ever since I read it, when I think of it, I just keep thinking to myself, "Poor [name]. Poor, poor [name]." It makes me want to cry! Cry for an imaginary person I'd never read about until a few pages earlier. (It's the flipside of feeling proud of the entirely imaginary Hopey Glass for becoming a teacher's assistant, I guess.) Such power! Between this and the not at all dissimilar ACME Novelty Library #20, this year has featured two of the most devastating--and I mean so sad it impacted me physically--comics I've ever read. I will never forget reading this book. Finally, I was there.
Color is like everything to storytelling -- well, alongside form, composition, line and everything else. It's not just a way to say "this is a tree" or "this is skin!," it's as powerful as lots of speed lines or heavy shadows -- it says "this tree is warped" or "this man's skin is sickly for he is evil" etc. I like color that creates mood more than realism, and that's in the stuff I read as well as draw. It's a key part of pacing a story to allocate a basic hue to each scene, so that (ideally) one can see the pages at a glance and see how the pages group together in scenes dictated by overall color scheme, and if one is using a specific hue for a particular location, then the color alone should act as a subconscious visual cue for each time we visit that place.
Irving is one of the best.
* Welcome back to comics class with Frank Santoro: This time, Frank's tackling the nine-panel grid in Watchmen. He points out that the center panel on each page sort of "sums up" what's going on that page--a perfect visual anchor. He also notes that on the occasions when Moore and Gibbons abandon the nine-panel grid, there's still a "center" image where that central panel would go.
* Sleazy Slice is on sale cheap! If you've wanted to get your hands on hard copies of Josh Simmons mini-masterpieces like Cockbone and In a Land of Magic, this is your chance.
* I'm so smitten with the idea of using epic-fantasy orcs as horror-movie monsters in a contemporary setting that I'm actually pretty bummed that this movie Orcs! is playing the idea for laughs. I mean, can you imagine seeing just one of those ugly bastards baring its teeth and swinging a scimitar in your direction? A lot scarier than some mute dude in a hockey mask. Oh well, you take what you can get.
* Here's a very thorough and easy to understand summary of the issues surrounding the now-abandoned actors union boycott of The Hobbit, from a person whom I believe is a Kiwi actor herself. The gist is that the demand for negotiations made by the New Zealand branch of an Australian union, which precipitated the whole situation, was illegal under current NZ law due to actors' status as independent contractors rather than employees--an attempt at collective bargaining was therefore classified as a sort of price-fixing. So Peter Jackson legally couldn't meet to negotiate even if he'd wanted to, which apparently he really really didn't. It also seems like Jackson and The Hobbit were singled out precisely because they were an enormous production already offering generous terms to its performers and helmed by someone who clearly wanted to shoot in New Zealand: The union calculated that it could make a big splash by targeting a big name already known for being amenable to actors and who clearly wanted to stay in NZ. This backfired bigtime, obviously, because Jackson reacted very badly to being singled out like that. (Via Kristin Thompson, of course.)
* I spent a decent amount of time last week watching all 20 5-to-7 minute "micro-episodes" for the new cartoon series Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes!, then watching the hour-long series premiere. It was pretty darn good! Please keep in mind I have almost no background with the Avengers prior to Brian Michael Bendis's relaunch a few years back, and this is very much the classic pre-Bendis team and its pre-Bendis antagonists (although the opening storyline is loosely cribbed from Bendis's Breakout arc, and obviously the Iron Man characterization is very post-Downey). Yet the series' creators are obviously having so much fun trotting adamantly non-classic villains like Whirlwind across the screen in all their bizarrely designed glory that it's tough not to go along with it. I'm also the sort of geek who really likes the idea of a Marvel Universe in which Hydra were our World War II antagonists rather than Nazis, and where there are four supervillain prisons each with its own specific purview in terms of how the villains it houses got their powers, and where Ant-Man and Iron Man found the Avengers in large part to avoid becoming government thugs, and on and on. Fun stuff. You can watch every micro-episode here, and I think you can still watch the two-part premiere here. (Thanks to Rob Bricken for the recommendation.)
* Finally, my friend Chris Ward has posted DJ Daymage's Halloween mix for 2010, and it's wonderful. Eighty minutes of continuously mixed spookiness and sexiness, worth the price of admission for "Walk the Night" by the Skatt Bros. alone.
* This looks like a pretty interesting week for comics, with some major, unusual releases and some sturdy genre faves. Tom Spurgeon and Joe "Jog" McCulloch handicap the slate. Bonus points to Jog for some writing on the comics of Carol Swain for good measure.
* Behold: "Derezzed" by Daft Punk, from Tron: Legacy. It sounds pretty good. It also sounds like "Juke Joint Jezebel" by KMFDM, which I suppose is another way of saying "it sounds pretty good." That said, I'm having a really, really hard time getting worked up for this completely conventional-looking Hollywood sci-fi blockbuster, with its unimaginative orange-and-blue color palette and the world's least convincing CGI de-aged Jeff Bridges. But hey, at least it features Daft Punk as themselves. Also, between this and the Twilight movies, Michael Sheen clearly cannot get enough of playing sinister, scenery-chewing dandies; I can't get enough of him playing sinister, scenery-chewing dandies either, so there's that. (Via Rob Bricken.)
* I guess that Battlestar Galactica prequel thing set in the First Cylon War is now a series. Like everyone else in the world, I'm finding it hard to get all that fired up about Caprica, so the thought of another BSG prequel series doesn't light my world on fire. Then again, unlike everyone else in the world, I am over the moon for the BSG finale, so I'm certainly open to getting excited about that universe again, in theory.
I don't know how anyone who cares about the integrity and moral standing of the United States can absorb the full details of this case and not be profoundly ashamed. To prosecute a child soldier, already nearly killed in battle, tortured and abused in custody, and to imprison him for this length of time and even now, convict him of charges for which there is next to no proof but his own coerced confessions...well, words fail.
And just in case they don't, the extremely graphic and disturbing picture that accompanies the piece is worth at least a thousand words anyway.
(Programming Note: Due to technical difficulties, I was unable to post this review during the regularly scheduled Comics Time slot on Wednesday of this week. This is the first time I've missed a Comics Time deadline, scheduled time off aside, in probably two years, and I'm pretty bummed. My hope is to resume the regular MWF schedule beginning tomorrow, but delays or erratic scheduling may continue until the issue is resolved. I apologize for the interruption in service. Anyway...)
The great temptation when discussing Los Bros Hernandez, and it's a temptation I've succumbed to, is to operate under the assumption that they're both trying to do basically the same thing, only one of them is better than the other at it. Now, obviously, they are doing many of the same things. They're brothers who co-founded a series they share in which they tell the sprawling saga of groups of (mostly) Latin American (mostly) young adults that unfold over (mostly) real time, dealing frankly with issues of sex, community, and mortality, starring women who are the closest alternative comics have come to generating sex symbols, and utilizing striking black and white art and inventive, challenging pacing. If that's all you're going by (and granted, it's a lot!), then it's almost irresistible to point to an element you feel one brother has over the other--Jaime's incorporation of poster-ready design into his visual storytelling, say, or Gilbert's magical-realist literary panache--and call him the victor.
But a) much as we comics folks love looking at absolutely everything otherwise, it's really not a "who'd win in a fight" situation, and b) my re-read of Heartbreak Soup has me more convinced than other that the differences between Beto and Xaime are not differences of degree, but differences of kind.
Let's talk about the art first. This is the arena where Jaime is most frequently said to have it over Gilbert. And indeed, I can happily imagine a day spent doing nothing but looking at drawings of Terry Downe or Doyle Blackburn. That smooth line, those sumptuous, propulsive blacks, those enormously appealing and endearing character designs--it really is eye candy, in the best sense of that term. But a key goal of Jaime's art, besides being pleasant to look at, is pop. Not in the sense of "pop art," although I think that's a major element and not just due to the occasional overt Lichtenstein homage, but in the sense that they pop off the page. Those blacks fill in space in a way designed to sharply foreground the figures and objects Jaime wants you to focus on or remember, something his sharp, slick line abets. When I picture Jaime panels, I tend to picture the characters are arrayed in a line from left to right against some sort of horizontally oriented background like a car or a wall, like actors (or punk rockers) on a stage. Moreover, he tends to draw his characters in poses and facial expressions that come across as, well, poses--the precise moment at which whatever they're feeling or thinking or saying or doing is communicated most clearly, so that that thing pops off the page. The overall effect is that there's them in the spotlight, and then there's the other stuff against which that spotlight is defined.
By contrast, when I picture Beto panels, I picture someone more or less standing around, usually with one or more other characters milling around as well, with the house-lined streets and intersections of Palomar extending out to the back left and back right. The very setting of his stories is one through which his characters are constantly walking to get from one place to another; I couldn't draw you a map of Palomar or anything like that, but I feel like I've been walked through its streets much more than I can say that of Hoppers. Moreover there's a casual element to Gilbert's imagery that Jaime's more compositionally calibrated panels don't have. Beto's line is rubbery, and complimented not by masterful fields of smooth, clean black but by shading and stippling that feels almost dusty. His character designs famously overemphasize flaws and virtues alike, and have a uniformly heavy-lidded weight to them; my wife simply describes his characters as "hard." It's tough to imagine spending a pleasant few hours staring even at Tonantzin or Israel the way you might at Maggie or Rand Race. And when characters are depicted for maximum impact, it feels like it's being done through great force of effort on Gilbert's part rather than with the effortless, effervescent precision with which Jaime does it. It's also almost always either something the characters in question are doing on purpose to impress someone else, or a shot of them as seen by someone who they've impressed unwittingly. The overall effect feels calculated more for immersion than impact.
Then there are the stories and subject matter. One difference is obvious from the start: Jaime had a couple-issue jump on his brother in terms of beginning his magnum opus, but the delay gave Gilbert the opportunity to draw a bright line between his science-fiction work and his (occasionally magical) realist material. But beyond that, Gilbert very rapidly jumps his action forward about ten years or so from the first major story to the next, while Jaime's almost resolutely marches forward in sync with our own real-world timeline. Jaime presents material from the past largely in the context of memory and how it intrudes upon and influences us; arguably the past's on-again off-again love affair with the present is even more central to the Locas strips than Maggie and Hopey's. Gilbert, however, doesn't usually view stories from back in the day through that psychological lens. They tend to be presented as discreet tales, filling in backstory, spotlighting a character or a relationship, illuminating a part of Palomar we haven't seen, depicting someone or something lost to time. Jaime's interest in the past is primarily internal in its effect; Gilbert's is primarily epic.
Particularly in light of their recent work, there's another difference between Gilbert and Jaime worth pointing out. Jaime's work is studded with sit-up-and-take-notice stories, and his most harrowing stuff--"The Death of Speedy Ortiz," "Flies on the Ceiling," and now "Browntown/The Love Bunglers"--tends to be among them. But when you hit "The Death of Speedy," it's not as though it establishes the tone for the rest of the series. It's an exception, not a rule. "Locas" tends to be lighthearted even though what it's really about--friendship, sexuality, identity, adulthood--is actually quite serious.
By contrast, the harshness, seediness, and bleakness of the world of Palomar and of Gilbert's work generally--the love many of his characters feel for one another notwithstanding--tends to be what first comes to mind when I think of his comics. Yet Heatbreak Soup struck me for how good-natured it feels, up until the very end. Yes, sex is presented from the very first strip as a magnetic force with the potential for incalculable damage, and the book often does feel like "horniness punctuated by the occasional physical assault." But centering the material on good-hearted Heraclio, unpredictable Luba, and packs of sweetly belligerent little kids and teenagers goes a long way to making everything feel funny, even when you're not laughing. It's almost Pueblo Home Companion, you know what I mean?
It's only when you hit the final story in this collection, "Bullnecks and Bracelets," that things truly take a turn for the dark: Try as he might to bury himself in bodybuilding, drugs, love affairs, and hustling, Israel's whole life is defined by the disappearance of his twin sister during a solar eclipse when they were very young. No matter where he goes or what he does, he cannot escape that black sun. And this is where "Palomar" becomes what it is--where Gilbert becomes what he is--as surely as The Sopranos became what it was with "University" in Season Three. Whether in terms of family, sexuality, physicality, or deformity, biology is destiny for the people of Palomar, in a way that is almost never true for the Locas (Penny and H.R. excepted, perhaps--and a certain character in "Browntown"). And although biology is obviously among Beto's primary concerns, destiny is the operative word. I don't think the Palomarians have the ability to escape the way the Locas do. Not all of them need to escape, mind you--there's a lot of really warm and adorable and hilarious and awesome stuff going down in Palomar--but whatever walks alongside them in their lives is gonna walk alongside them till the very end.
* Programming note: As I mentioned in my (alas!) delayed LOVE AND ROCKTOBER review of Heartbreak Soup earlier today, I am experiencing computer problems for which I do not anticipate a timely resolution. So you can probably expect my regular blogging to be a bit erratic, linkblogging to be slightly behind the curve, comment spam to linger a bit longer, and accidentally deleted comments to remain in limbo for longer too. For once this has nothing to do with my blogging platform--it's laptop-related. Thank you for your patience!
* Lookit, Fantagraphics previews the Strange Tales II contributions of Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez! LOVE AND ROCKTOBER marches on! And hey, Jon Vermilyea too! I'm happy to be involved with this series, and some of the folks who made it in were my suggestions, I'm proud to say.
* Now this is a first, for writers of my acquaintance: Sean Belcher liked the Friday the 13th remake. I remember being really impressed by how quickly and unstoppably Jason was moving in that first trailer, and then never hearing anything good about the movie ever again.
* Here's a nice thoughtful piece by Amypoodle of the Mindless Ones on Batman the Dark Knight vs. Batman the Caped Crusader. Even as a kid I thought that one of the greatest things about Batman was that he fit so convincingly in all sorts of differently flavored stories--straight-up superheroes, science fiction, horror, gritty crime/noir stuff, mysteries, whatever. Keep in mind, The Dark Knight Returns totally featured flying talking robot dolls.
Endless thanks to Jason Ervin and Ken Bromberg for making this move possible, and to the ATF team of Ken, Ben, and Ton for being such gracious hosts all these years, long after my blog outlived whatever dubious usefulness it had for them.