"If there's more people up here than in the audience, then we've got to cancel," joked Jaime Hernandez at the start of the "Love and Rockets" panel at the Las Vegas Comic Expo, and those conditions came close to being met. Only a handful of people showed up to hear Jaime and his brother Gilbert, collectively referred to as Los Bros. Hernandez, talk about their decades of experience in indie comics and their long running "Love and Rockets" series published by Fantagraphics. Those in attendance were clearly impassioned fans and they were treated to an hour of anecdotes about the brothers' work and creative process.
Gilbert began by talking about the origins of the brothers' work, which was born out of their love for the comic books they read as children. Unlike many creators who grew up wishing they could tell their own stories about Batman or Spider-Man, "We weren't really keen on doing other people's characters," Gilbert said. "We self-published 'Love and Rockets' out of necessity, hoping we could get a job someday," he added, noting that there was little competition in 1981 for creator-owned indie comics. "Timing for us was very good," he said. "We're also lucky that people responded to it very quickly."
One of the main things that set "Love and Rockets" apart from other comics, according to Gilbert, was its focus on female characters. Jaime explained that the evolution toward spotlighting female characters like Maggie and Hopey in his stories came about naturally. "The more I was writing the stories, the more I liked the characters, especially the women characters," he said. "The characters kind of took over, and the dinosaurs were edged out, even if they were fun to draw."
Foreign films were cited as one of the major influences on the development of Gilbert's "Palomar" stories. He said momentum was a big factor in keeping the series going once it started, both on the creative side and on the retail side. "I didn't worry about it failing, because I had to fill those pages in anyway," he said of those storytelling experiments. As time went on, "there were periods when we didn't even know if it was just being ordered by retailers by rote," he said. "We kept doing it just because we wanted to. And Fantagraphics kept putting it out because they wanted to."
A fan asked about the brothers' experience working on "Mr. X" for Vortex Comics in 1984, one of their only collaborative efforts (with Gilbert writing and Jaime drawing) and one of their only work-for-hire jobs. "'Love and Rockets' at the time wasn't making us a lot of money," Gilbert said. "It was frustrating for us because we were already used to doing our own thing." Although "the publisher was such a pinhead jerk," Gilbert still felt that "it worked out okay" as an experiment.
Asked if they'd ever collaborate like that again, Gilbert said, "if we're getting paid gobs and gobs of money," and the brothers agreed that it's easier for them to each work on their own. "I'm writing as I'm drawing at the same time, and the characters are telling me what to do," Jaime said. "Sometimes I have a story and I know what the last panel is, and that's all. I have to get the characters to get from here to the last panel."
Gilbert discussed some of the lessons he learned from his other collaborative work, including drawing "Yeah!" for writer Peter Bagge, and writing "Birds of Prey" for DC Comics in 2003. "I had never done a comic that was supposed to be out on time," he said of working on "Yeah!" "What it does is it gets your body ready for putting out work on a rigid schedule," he said. "I'm able to do comics pretty fast now." As for "Birds of Prey," he found it constraining to work within the DC universe framework. "It was so rigid for me, because I'm used to doing whatever I feel like," he said. Although he only lasted five issues on "Birds of Prey," Gilbert found it to be a valuable learning experience on working within constraints. Even working with an editor on his graphic novels at Vertigo forced him to take a different approach. "I had to make a lot of changes, basically change the way I did comics to do that," he said.
Asked about his current pop-culture influences, Gilbert said he was still catching up on old foreign films, citing 1933's "Zero for Conduct" as a recent favorite. "As you get older, you start looking at influences less," he said. "You're really just doing your work all the time. The only time I read a book is when I'm on an airplane."
A fan asked about another prominent influence in Gilbert's work, author Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Gilbert said he hadn't read Garcia Marquez's work until after the 14th issue of "Love and Rockets," but he immediately noticed the similarities upon reading "One Hundred Years of Solitude." "I was surprised myself by how similar it was," he said. After becoming aware of Garcia Marquez, he tried to steer his work in different directions. "I consciously tried not to do what he had done," he said.
As the panel began to wind down, Jaime once again brought up the brothers' infrequent work-for-hire assignments, noting their contributions to the "Strange Tales" anthology from Marvel. "We didn't take it as a goof," he said, in contrast to some of the other indie creators who worked on the book. "The story I wrote was pretty silly, but all the characters were in character." Gilbert noted that indie creators are increasingly recruited for mainstream work these days, but that wasn't the case when they started out. "The timing was good for us for our own comics," he said, "but the timing wasn't good for us to do their comics."