You've come a long way, Jaime: or how I learned to stop worrying and love <i>Love and Rockets</i>

I just wanted to end Robot 6's impromptu weeklong celebration of Jaime Hernandez and Love and Rockets by posting this portrait of "The Love Bunglers"' lead characters Ray and Maggie during their flaming youth. We knew them when.

But what if you didn't know them when? What if this is your first real exposure to the worlds created by Jaime and his brother Gilbert? Jaime's been writing his "Locas" saga -- about a loose-knit group of (mostly) Latino/Latina men and women who (mostly) first met as teens in the Los Angeles punk scene -- for thirty years now. Gilbert's been chronicling his own group of characters -- first the residents of the fictional Latin-American town of Palomar, then the family and friends of Palomar's former mayor Luba, and now the on-screen and off-screen misadventures of Luba's B-movie actress sister Fritz -- for nearly as long. What if you've got no idea who these people are, or where you could possibly begin to learn?

That's fine too.

Love and Rockets has a reputation as one of the most intimidating comics to start reading, and that can cause many people never to try. Even if they do, it can skew their reception of the comics themselves. Trust me on this one.

Once upon a time I gave a bad review to Locas, a massive hardcover collection of many of Jaime's stories. Written after a long period of intimidated delay on my part, I focused too much on the hype I'd heard, reacting to the sense that "you had to be there" by saying that since I wasn't, these comics were no good. But years later I dropped all that baggage and started re-reading Jaime's "Locas" saga from its first digest collection, Maggie the Mechanic, right on through to his most recent releases. Instead of worrying about what I've missed and whether my reaction lives up to the hype, I treated it the way I've treated the prospect of renting Season One, Disc One of various great HBO and AMC dramas from Netflix and plowing on through: as a chance to immerse myself for a while in a smart, serialized fictional world. Once I did that, the pleasures of Jaime's writing and art really opened themselves up to me -- much the same way that Gilbert's had when I first cracked open his giant Palomar hardcover, and the way they did once again when I grabbed his first digest, Heartbreak Soup, for a marathon re-read/journey into undiscovered territory.

Tom Spurgeon's fond of saying that comics' current mania for "jumping-on points" is weird, because back in comics' glory days, your only jumping-on point was whatever was stuck in the spinner rack that day. The mildly disorienting sense you got that the issue of Fantastic Four in your hands was just the tip of an iceberg of plotlines and character development was a big part of the thrill.

I'd say the same is true of Love and Rockets -- or any great comic, really. It's never a terrible idea to start from the beginning, if you can, and Heartbreak Soup (for Gilbert) and Maggie the Mechanic (for Jaime) make that really easy. But there's also something to be said for starting with a story that makes sense as a starting point simply because it's really good. With Gilbert, that could mean discovering the origin of his leading lady Luba in Beyond Palomar, or following her post-Palomar adventures in the massive Luba hardcover, or even discovering the raunchy and disturbing world of her sister Fritz in High Soft Lisp. For Jaime, that could mean skipping his early, sci-fi-influenced stuff and diving right into his soap-operatic slice-of-life material in The Girl from H.O.P.P.E.R.S., or getting to know his leading ladies Maggie and Hopey as (more or less) adults in the giant Locas II hardcover...or, yes, starting with the emotionally climactic story of love and loss "The Love Bunglers" in the issue of Love and Rockets: New Stories that just came out.

The point is that both Jaime and Gilbert have produced massive, high-quality bodies of work, with multiple, affordable collections, each of which contains a story or two fit to knock your block off. If you love reading good comics, and chances are good that you do if you're reading this blog at all, that's not intimidating -- that's inviting! Don't think of it as homework, or as a test to see if you "get it right" -- think about it as one of those shopping-spree sweepstakes that TV networks used to do, where you're standing with an empty shopping cart in front of a vast expanse of awesome stuff ready for you to grab and explore. If you do it that way, there's nothing "intimidating" about it.

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