Getting a look at a renowned artist’s private drawings, sketches, or even doodles, the kind of work that was never supposed to be seen by the public, is a rare treat. Often this only happens when one is allowed access to a private archive or collection, but with Fantagraphic’s new book, Queen of the Ring: Drawings by Jaime Hernández (1980-2020), a simple purchase offers readers the privilege.

Queen of the Ring
Queen of the Ring cover

The book, edited by Katie Skelly, features drawings of female wrestlers by Love and Rockets co-creator Jaime Hernández. These range from full profile images of the wrestlers in camera-ready poses, as if they were in the middle of a photoshoot or promo, to faux-wrestling magazine covers done in the style they took inspiration from.

The magazine influence is clear throughout the book, with some images carrying big, stylized headlines commenting on the wrestlers’ personalities or whether they’ll stay loyal to their principles or turn heel. These illustrations look like real-life pictures one could easily find in these magazines and they might draw a straight line to Hernández’s own L&R wrestling story, “Whoa, Nellie!” (easily considered one of the best wrestling comics of all time).

Skelly, commenting on the book’s artistic identity and scope, stated that it’s a “blend of the real and the imaginary…[that] has a very dreamy quality about things that are both real and imagined.” It’s an excellent description of what Queen of the Ring offers, especially given the near photographic quality of the images of these women of wrestling.

The Beat sat down with Hernández to talk about what goes into drawing female wrestlers, whether wrestling can work in comics, and if wrestling moves were attempted in the drawing process for research purposes.

RICARDO SERRANO: Is there something that sets the image of female wrestlers apart from that of male wrestlers that you tried to capture in your illustrations? Be it movement, body language, presence.

JAIME HERNÁNDEZ: Not particularly. Female wrestlers just turned me on and that was part of the reason why I stuck with women rather than men while drawing wrestlers.

As a kid, you just draw what you want to see. I was a fan of wrestling. I wanted to do all that stuff. I just didn’t think wrestling was easy to sell in comics. Love and Rockets didn’t have that problem for me. There was a lot I wanted to say with it and it was easier to express that.

I would have done a lot more wrestling in comics if I thought readers would stick with it. But I just didn’t think the readers would stick with just wrestling. At the time, I had more to say than that.

SERRANO: It’s interesting you say that because you did get to tell a female wrestling story in Whoa, Nellie! And it’s a great story complete with character arcs and a plot that puts the focus on what being a female wrestler looks like, to an extent, and how that affects relationships and such.

HERNÁNDEZ: Well, Whoa, Nellie! was after our 50th issue of Love and Rockets. Gilbert and I were just fried with continuity. We said, let’s take a break and draw separate comics, no matter what they’re about, whether they’re part of the continuity of Love and Rockets or not. Let’s just do it to give ourselves a break from doing 50 issues.

The first thing I thought of was, well, I’ll do a wrestling comic because it breaks free from Love and Rockets and I already have all these drawings. I finished it so fast. I feel that Gilbert is better at ideas than I am. I can’t think of concepts or ideas very fast. So, I didn’t want to take a break from getting a paycheck, plus I wanted to continue putting out comics regularly.

It was quick. I already had the sources I wanted for the story drawn up and so I went with it. It was refreshing and it got me centered back on characters.

SERRANO: Has the creation process behind Queen of the Ring inspired a new interest in creating more wrestling comics?

HERNÁNDEZ: It’s psychological with me, because these are drawings that were never meant to be seen ever, you know? I was going to die with them. It was that kind of thing. Putting them out in public is kind of like, “Okay, what does it mean?” I’m even thinking a lot about, do I even want to do this? If it’s exposed, does it lose that magic it had for me?

I’ve been thinking a lot about how bringing it to the forefront is affecting the way I’m looking at my illustrations going forward into something else. So, I don’t know yet. I’ve been thinking about it a lot. It might also depend on how well people take to the new book.

SERRANO: You feature American wrestlers and Latina wrestlers in your book. Is there a shift in perspective or style when illustrating one instead of the other? Something you feel you have to keep an eye on as you draw them, especially in the case of Latina wrestlers?

HERNÁNDEZ: I grew up on American wrestling. I mean, even if I saw wrestlers from other countries, it was still mostly in American programming and events. I didn’t see Mexican wrestling till I started seeing El Santo movies, you know, with the lighting and the fire and all the stuff like that. It wasn’t till the mid-’80s that I actually started to watch matches from Mexico, which was a whole different way of doing it. But growing up on the American style, it just kind of became part of my style.

SERRANO: Did drawing female wrestlers influence your visual approach to Love and Rockets? Be it design, storytelling, body language.

HERNÁNDEZ: When Love and Rockets started off, I was throwing everything that I was into it. Even from before the first issues, when I was testing where and what I wanted the focus to be

I had wrestling in there from the beginning. Though, this is interesting, when I tried to use the wrestling characters in my little drawings and stuff, I felt it didn’t work. It was like they belonged to someone else. I created other characters that stood away from the ones in Love and Rockets.

None of the characters in this wrestling book exist in Love and Rockets. Some come very close, but there was just something that didn’t feel right about them in that series. It was a choice. They belonged to another world.

SERRANO: Did you in any way, shape, or form try any of the wrestling moves that you feature in some of the illustrations, even if just to get a sense of how they work?

HERNÁNDEZ: No, I just have a talent for copying. I can imagine where the light would fall on someone doing a leg lock or something. It’s just memorizing how things look like when watching these wrestlers on TV. I would just put that in my mind. Then I would tweak it, figure out what was right and what could look wrong for the viewer, even if the viewer was just me. That’s how I do comics anyway. I just applied it to wrestling.

Queen of the Ring is out now wherever comics and books are sold.