The first book in the Love and Rockets
collection by the Brothers Hernandez
, consisting of 'comics
' published in the early 1980s.
This is the only one I own and one of only two I've read, so I'm sticking my neck out if I talk about the whole series: I don't know where it developed from here. In this introduction however, the two Hernandez brothers Jaime and Gilbert ('Bert) develop two themes similar in style but unconnected in plot. A third brother, Mario, contributes one story.
Gilbert's stories are science fiction, futuristic, sometime comic or fantastic, and rather schizophrenic. The conventional centrality of plot drops away in favour of dialogue and atmosphere. If it were these Gilbert stories alone ("BEM", "Music for Monsters", "Radio Zero") I wouldn't be much interested. Mario's is along those lines too.
Jaime is the novelist, the storyteller. His half of the book (the "Mechanics" tales) weaves around characters, very real-feeling. In the background is a near-future landscape of rockets, mutants, the odd leftover dinosaur; but the foreground is the barrio, a present-day cityscape with punk chicks, motorcycle gangs, beer and hangovers, family, ambition and lovesickness and apathy and joking. This is the novel I want to keep reading.
Maggie Chascarrillo and Hopey (Esperanza) are the Latino punk chicks; they're sleeping together but it's not over-emphasized. Maggie has a new job with Rand Race, the hero spaceship-repairer, and is smitten with puppy love for him too. Their friends include the gorgeous Penny Century, with her multimillionaire partner, and the brooding, troubled Izzy (Isabel Reubens). Their band is called Ape Sex. One of the stories is an extended illustrated letter sent by Maggie, who's working in the distant, war-racked (and dinosaur and crashed spaceship racked) country of Zimbodia, with her boss Rand Race. More "adventures" happen in this section (including Penny Century swinging in near-nude on a vine), but still the primary interest is in the people and their interactions.
Looking through the book trying to work out what they had in common, and why you are so drawn in to read each one, to linger on each panel, I decided that each panel was like a painting. Not physically: they don't texturally have a painting style, I don't mean that at all. Each is only an ordinary comic-book panel. (Jaime is the more accomplished artist.) But a painting has no sequence, no intrinsic antecession and succession. You stand before a painting, look at it, look into it, try to take in the story, reconstruct the passage of time and the circumstances beyond the frame from what the artist has chosen to give you in this one complicated still image.
So with the Brothers Hernandez. None of the stories begin and end in the ordinary way, with explanations. They don't need to. You can take any panel from any one and consider it in itself. None is superfluous, merely to advance a plot. They show a situation, now, with a certain angle, focus, lighting, perhaps some words, emotions carried by the faces, or by the shadowing: and you can pause and read the image as you might a nineteenth-century painting. Then you move on, forward, or back, and they do link in the story, to a greater or lesser extent, but the pleasure is in how the story sits within the image. This is not to say they're full, packed: they can be very small, sparse images, the slightest sketches, with the momentary story a sketch has to tell.