If there was a theme that ran through the "Love and Rockets" panel at Comic-Con International in San Diego, it was Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez relating to each other as brothers, sparking off one another and occasionally engaging in a bit of sibling rivalry.
Fantagraphics publisher Gary Groth led off the panel with some new information about the previously announced news that "Love and Rockets" is going to be a serial comic once more. The new series will be published three times a year in the slightly-oversized magazine format used for the first 50 issues of the comic.
Fantagraphics began publishing "Love and Rockets" in 1982 in an 8Â½" x 11" magazine-size format to set it apart from the other comics that were being sold at the time. In 1996, after 50 issues, Jaime and Gilbert both moved on to solo projects. They returned to the series in 2000, first in a smaller comic-book format and then as graphic novels that came out once a year. Gilbert said they switched to the graphic novel format because their "Love and Rockets" was doing better in bookstores than in comic shops, but after a while they got burned out.
While both Gilbert and Jaime contribute to "Love and Rockets," they each do their own stories rather than collaborate together on a single tale. "By issue 3, Jaime was already doing the Locas stories, Maggie and Hopey, and that was already established as the go-to stories to read in 'Love and Rockets,'" Gilbert said. That gave him the freedom to do what he really wanted, knowing it would be seen by the same audience, so he launched the Palomar stories. "I had a place to do something that probably wouldn't do well on its own," he said. "If there was a Palomar comic book, it might have a cult following, maybe three issues or something, but being in 'Love and Rockets,' it was already being looked at."
For his part, Jaime didn't know the Palomar stories were coming, although he had seen the sketches.
"Every time Gilbert would do something new, I would go, 'Oh shit, I gotta get off my ass!" said Jaime. "Even if I had already a small following for the Maggie and Hopey stuff, I still knew that Gilbert was serious, and this was stuff to be taken seriously -- and as serious as my stories would get, I didn't see my stuff as serious. Maybe it was a childhood thing, being his little brother, but I was like, 'Oh no, I'm being left behind again!' Then Gilbert started expanding the Palomar universe. He was giving each of his characters these awesome stories and I was still swimming around going, 'What are Maggie and Hopey going to do today? They are going to the beach!' I just remember going, 'God, I gotta do something!' and it wasn't till the return of Ray D in issue 20 that I got it -- 'I know what I want to do.' And the death of Speedy came after that."
Still, Jaime's glad he had time to be spontaneous. "I was having fun before, and now I look back at that stuff and I'm glad I had fun, because a lot of stuff was coming out of me that I didn't know I had in me. At the same time, I wanted to be taken as seriously as Gilbert, but I didn't think I had the chops."
"You mean as a writer," Groth said.
"As a writer, as telling a complete, contained story that could be on its own, set apart," said Jaime.
On the other hand, Gilbert always felt constrained by the continuity in his stories. "I think that was such a luxury, not knowing what you are going to do... Those days when Jaime was having Maggie and Hopey [say], 'OK, let's go dye my hair today,' but then the story evolved into something -- that's something I missed, even then."
Even when they were children, the brothers didn't collaborate. "We had our own DC and Marvel," said Gilbert.
"It was usually me being little brother, copying him and trying to match him," said Jaime. "I think I was still doing that in 'Love and Rockets,' trying to catch up, and it helped me a lot. I'm glad I didn't take it so literally that, 'He has Palomar, so I'm going to have this other town.' "
"I'll tell you about Jaime growing up and doing our comics -- he always did that," Gilber said. "Like, 'Oh, Gilbert drew this kind of comic' -- and he would think of his own comic, and it would be completely different and he had these weird precocious moments in comics where he drew in a completely different style that wasn't his. He didn't care, but he just felt like drawing like that... He just decided to draw in this really deliberate line work, it was really detailed, and he only did that a couple of times. I think he was eight or nine when he did this. It was almost like we didn't know better, so it was good for us. We didn't know we weren't supposed to draw Batman like that, so by the time we came to 'Love and Rockets,' it wasn't that hard to do different kinds of stories."
Before they started "Love and Rockets," the Hernandez brothers would submit spot illustrations for "The Comics Journal," which Groth edited. "They would submit these drawings of mostly superhero characters and mainstream characters to 'The Comics Journal,' which I would sprinkle through the letters pages and wherever I could find [space]," Groth said. "They were invariably goofy takes. They were not serious takes on superhero comics, which we got mostly from artists who really wanted to look like George Perez or mainstream comics; they were invariably these screwball takes on superhero comics. So you always had that kind of spin."
Asked by an audience member if they had ever dreamed of doing superhero comics, both brothers shook their heads.
"Never," said Gilbert, pointing out that superhero comics in those days were very constrained. "You have to do it in a certain way. Spider-Man has to look like Spider-Man, swinging around in New York City. I'm from Oxnard, a small town. You had to have extensive training. I didn't want to do that. My dream was not to do mainstream comics; it was to crush mainstream comics."