Today sees the release of the latest issue of Love and Rockets, the alt-comics landmark by the Hernandez Bros. that has inspired and entertained for 35 years. Personally, it’s a series that’s run in the background of my life since I was very, very young. Around the same time I was learning the contemporary line-up of the X-Men, or the worlds of DC’s multiverse, I grew ever so curious about this oversized series that populated a converted liquor box my uncle labeled in black marker as “indie comics”. I didn’t get a chance to actually crack open a copy of an issue, beyond a few stolen glances, until I was much older. But once I did, I was hooked, and it quickly became one of the greatest fictional adventures I’d ever embarked upon – from Jaime‘s slice of life punk rock/occasional pro-wrestler odyssey that basically laid down the template for titles like Blue Monday, Phonogram, and a countless host of others; to Gilbert’s surrealist mixture of Marquez, Lynch, Almodovar, and whatever other reductive outre points of interest that my brain can currently conjure.
There’s no comic like it, it’s hard to imagine there ever will be. With today’s issue #3, the next entry in their return to the magazine format that was the delivery device of their work in the 80’s and 90’s, Jaime produces a triptych – the continuation of the Hopey-Maggie reunion with their still rowdy, but much older friends from the Huerta punk scene, the next chapter in his retro sci-fi adventure tale: “Princess Anima”, and the real surprise, a flash back tale to the days of Izzy Reubens acting as a caretaker for a young Maggie and Hopey, potentially laying the groundwork to fill in a tale that’s only been told on the fringes throughout the series’ history. As for Gilbert, he returns to genre excursions that he’s occasionally stopped into during his intertwining of the career journeys of both Fritz and Killer, in this instance, a more fleshed-out look at the Doctor Who-esque Professor Enigma. And in the comic’s back-end, he checks in with the separated at birth Rosario and Remedios, and the latter’s entry into the world of pornography. It’s an incredible work and I’d argue their strongest installment since New Stories Vol 6, which rightfully earned them both Eisners.
The day following their induction into the Eisner Hall of Fame, I was given the opportunity to chat with both Gilbert and Jaime about the new issue, their transition back to the magazine format, and what’s to come. These interviews were conducted separately, but edited together, kind of like an issue of Love and Rockets!
For the spoiler-averse, do come back after you’ve read the latest issue, as some very specific details and turns of Issue #3 are discussed.
The transition back to the magazine format: Has your creative process benefited from it? And on top of that how about your actual production process for the stories themselves?
Jaime: This goes back to when we decided to go annual. I was doing fifty pages a year. I found out that my work really blossomed because I had more space, and I had room to breathe, and I learned a lot, a new way of storytelling. And I did some of my favorite stuff in that. But in the long run I started to burn out. I started living with fifty pages for a year with no breaks, no closure.
And it started to bug me, and I said “well, do I give up the perks that come with it? Or do I want to be happy?” And I decided I want to go back to sixteen pages an issue. More closure, more often. It’s just less wear on me, and, yes, I think I did some of my best work in the big format. But I’m trying to balance that, trying to get the best of both worlds.
Do you also prefer having your art being able to breathe a little bit more in the larger page size as well?
Jaime: Yeah, because I get to let the characters kind of breathe, let them be more human and more natural. I was able to write them in real time, kind of. And I found a lot of pluses in [that format]. But I also kind of miss – I grew up on the pamphlet. In the sixties, you know, you sat and you had your little private comic, and you read thirty pages and then you were satisfied.
I was kind of raised on that, so I kind of like that feeling. Like your little personal moment for a few moments.
When you’re starting back at a number one issue, do you worry about catering to new readers? Or did you have specific stories you wanted to tell, and it didn’t matter what the issue number was?
Gilbert: Actually, we did think about it. We didn’t consider, like, “let’s just drop the storyline we were right in the middle of, with the annual, and just start over and then gradually get back”…. Because it was so involved in what was going on, that we just thought, “you know what? That’s just more work.” That’s just more pushing our work back, back to the future, you know. So we just discussed that and thought, “no, let’s just go right in from where we left off.” You know, I hope we don’t lose any readers that way, but…we just went ahead.
Jaime: This was the first time that I had to give up that idea of letting new readers discover it, because I was in the middle of three continuing stories.
And I said I’m not going to mess that up. I’m just hoping that people know it’s the same comic book. Hopefully they can adjust. There’s a lot of … compromise that I find now. Can I give up this, but I get to have this? And I try to work it to the best that will work for everybody.
For the actual negotiation of storytelling space between you both and sometimes Mario, I know you don’t work side by side. How do you guys work out what goes where and in what order?
Gilbert: We split it in the middle; it’s just easier that way. It used to be that we would … He’d say, “oh, I need this many pages to finish this chapter”, or I would say, “okay, then that way, I’ll take less pages this issue and next issue I’ll have more”. That’s how we used to do it. Now we just split it right in the middle. Sixteen pages each, and work it that way.
Jaime: It’s usually like if I’ve got a cover, he will have the first story. We just kind of work that out. And then we kind of go “okay, I’ve got a really strong ten-pager. Can that go at the end? Cause it’s got a good cliffhanger or something.”
And then he’ll go, “Okay. I’ve got a really kind of two-pager that’s just kind of information. It’s not really going to carry the issue. So do you have a really strong one to put after it or before it?” We’ll just talk that way.
Gilbert, toward the end of Volume 3 you were already headed there, but Volume 4, you have really started to shine the focus back on Fritz again. What is it about Fritz that keeps bringing you back?
Gilbert: It’s something about her. She was actually my first character that I created, but I had no place for her. She’s in the very first issue in Love and Rockets, believe it or not – the untitled story with the small panels.
She was simply a character that I wanted … I wanted a catch-all adventure character, female. I gave her a distinct look with the thick eyebrows and that sort of thing, but I didn’t really have any place for her. I wasn’t really sure who the character was. I just liked drawing her in different settings. So anyway, so I brought her back for Birdland, my adults-only comic book, just because I had the character, and I thought, “Oh, this would be fun to do. Why don’t I just use her for that?”.
I used her for that, but what happened is that she started to develop a continuity with her sister and the other characters, so I just thought this would work as a character. So anyway, I guess the whole point is making her a psychologist and then an actress, was that I don’t know who she is. I know who all my other characters are. I don’t know who she is, so I’m always trying to discover who she is.
Now, that can get into repetition because maybe you never find out what that is, so luckily, being an actress, I can put her in different settings, I can do this … She can express herself. Like so many actors in real life have no special personality in their regular lives, but they express it on film, express it in the story. They become different people, and they really shine. Well, that can only go so far, so… I started doing Killer as more of a sympathetic character, but I have to admit, she doesn’t look like a normal person. So how much can you relate to a character like that?
So I will still continue doing Killer, but that’s why, one of the reasons I introduced Fritz’s daughters, and one that she didn’t know about, was just sort of, kind of mousy, isn’t really sure what’s going on, not part of the Palomar universe. She’s a character I want to focus on developing as the reader’s guide through the stories. And that’s why Fritz is so much in the story. She’s going to fade out as the lead character, and it’ll be more about the daughter and her world, her spirit.
Jaime, I think one of the interesting themes that sort of struck me while reading the Punk Reunion story in Huerta was how Hopey and Maggie’s relationship is recognized by their friends, like Daffy, as one that seems to never change. Every time they fight, it’s like “same old Maggie and Hopey”. But in the quiet moments, they instead have a very different relationship. They’re no longer intimate with one another. Hopey, in particular, is a completely different person than the one that we knew twenty years ago. Was this the intentional theme of the story as to sort of define how much they’ve changed and how little they’ve really changed?
Jaime: Yeah. It was basically for many of the characters, you can’t go home again.
They go to this punk reunion. Hopey doesn’t want to go cause she’s like, “it’s not me anymore. I’m not that same person.” Yet there’s parts of the story when she’s there she’s just like “I’m back.” Yet she was the one who wanted to go least. And then Maggie feels like “this is going to be fun. It’ll be meeting old friends.” And then she’s finding out a lot of people don’t even remember her. You know? So it’s as if you can dream about the good old days, but maybe some of you shouldn’t go back.
Within the issue, this story ends with one of your scariest cliffhangers yet. Why did you do that to us?
Jaime: I was so fixated on the freedom of gender and trying to correct stereotypes, that I forgot that freedom is not always greeted, it’s not always welcome. And I thought “well, this is that time”. Out of the blue, where you’re going to get shit for being who you are. There are consequences for some people, which is a really sad thing, but hey, it’s reality. I want to remind you, “hey, this is reality”. It’s not all beautiful Maggie and Hopey. And I’m not going to tell you what happens, but it’s kind of a reality check. Every once in a while I have to, it’s almost a reality check for me… I was just so wound up in everybody has the right to be what they want to be, everyone has the right to live the life they want. That’s what I was concentrating on. I wasn’t concentrating on the shit part of it.
So I thought, this is one of those moments. And I’m kind of hoping I’m catching the reader off guard too.
Not to bring it up beyond this. But did the current political climate and the level of discourse impact that decision at all?
Jaime: That helped a lot.
But it’s helped for the good because I’m bringing stuff out that says: “Hey, remember where we are? Remember, this is our country.”
Gilbert: That’s part of it, but at the same time I’m trying to make it fun. I’m trying to make it like that angle of show business, that doesn’t really exist. It does in the context of what I’m doing, but it’s basically about a B-movie actress who would never make it in mainstream films, basically the way she’s built, but she’s critically acclaimed. She’s a very good actress. An actress like that in real life isn’t going to be a star. It’s just not. They’re just not going to do it.
So I just thought that was kind of a funny angle, how the hypocrisy of body-shaming, like you can body-shame *this* person, but you can’t body-shame *that* person. Yeah, I’m just playing with that a little bit.
And the Fritz imitators were simply a little gag because I saw a documentary on Bruce Lee, the famous action star. This guy talked about how many imitators there were when Bruce Lee died. There was like almost a hundred of them. Bruce Lei, Bruce Lai… And they all wore the Bruce Lee wig, and they all had their own movies. Who knows? Some of those movies might be good. We don’t know. But I thought that was kind of funny. There was even Conan Lee, and Bluce Ree … I mean, it was just, like, insane. The film industry’s different over there in Hong Kong.
I just thought that would be funny, since Fritz is a critically acclaimed B-movie actress who has no popularity in America, but she gets good notices, that all these imitators would want a piece of that. And they’re all looking for credibility. They’re not necessarily just imitating her looks; they want to be taken seriously the way she is on a certain level. So that’s all kind of a gag, actually. But I can’t really say right now, but I’m really going into more of the Fritz imitators thing…Women [in this story] are actually mutating their looks.
Does that bring back the Dr. Emil thread?
Gilbert: The Dr. Emil thread’s going to get more intense, and there’s going to be more of it, to the point of insanity. But it’s basically where cosmetic surgery is going. They’re trying to figure out how to do it without being invasive. How do you change people’s bodies and looks and this and that without the surgical knife? And because once that is done, once it’s done with drugs, and literally mutating people’s looks, that’s a billion-dollar industry…that’s what I’m playing with right now. So it’s almost science fiction, but science fiction now is science fact tomorrow, you know?
Jaime, one of the happier surprises of this issue is the flashback to Izzy. But what does Izzy represent as part of the Hoppers crew to you?
Jaime: She’s my perfect enigma. She’s the one that I can’t figure out; you can’t figure out. So there’s a certain freedom in using her, in writing her. She’s kind of always an observer. She thinks her friends are silly. But at the same time, she loves them, she’s part of them. So I’m kind of learning new things about her as I’m putting her in the story. Kind of like, I don’t know who this person is anymore. Let’s all find out together.
So in future issues will we expand beyond just these first flashbacks and learn more about Izzy as we continue on?
Jaime: Sure, sure. Whatever I find out. If I don’t find out anything you won’t. People always ask me if characters, how come you don’t do this character anymore? To tell you the truth, because they ran out of their story. When they get their story back I’ll bring them back. I was really happy to bring Daffy into this story and finally give her a voice. She’s always been kind of a background character. In this story she has a lot to say, she has a lot of stuff going on. And I’ve been working on that for thirty-five years, just trying to have her moment, and it worked out how I liked it.
Kind of a silly question Jaime, but while reading Gomez in-story, do you ever take any inspiration from your niece?
Jaime: Not specifically. But I try to watch how young people are, like my daughter’s friends. Stuff like that. Gomez is a character I really like because she was so straight. She needed to be the straight man in the relationship [with Tonta], and I really enjoyed creating her that way. But for a long time I had no response about her, and I thought no one even knows who this character is. Only in this past year have people said, I really like Gomez. What’s she up to? And I’m like, oh shit, I was gonna send her to college and have her disappear. Now I’m like “hmm”.
Her adventures in college could be very interesting.
Jaime: Yeah. Yeah. Sure. She’s gone to college because my daughter went to college this year.
This new issue sees you both play in sci-fi trapping but molded to your own storytelling instincts. Gilbert, you craft a Doctor Who riff, with Professor Enigma, but you use the imitators swapping out in the assistant role, rather than the Doctor regenerating or whatever.
Gilbert: Right. Because that was something I liked about the original Doctor Who. The original actor got sick, and so they were kind of like, “Well, how do we change the guy without ruining the continuity? Oh, well, he’ll just change, because he has to.” And he always has a new assistant every several seasons. So I thought, that’s funny. Both the assistants and Doctor Who changes, you know, at different times.
I just thought it was a funny thing, because I just happened to start watching Dr. Who with my daughter. I hadn’t really watched the show before, but my daughter got into it. She started watching it, and I thought, “Oh, that’s interesting, about the Doctor Whos changing with different actors.” And then sometimes there are those episodes where several of the Doctor actors were together.
I just liked it. I just thought it was a charming idea. I just used that for the Fritz thing. But a lot of that stuff is really just a gag. It’s just really a funny story. But some people take it too seriously. “Oh, I can’t get these Fritz imitators, you know, I can’t figure them out.” You don’t really need to, you know? Some of them are going to be there, and some of them are going to fade away.
Jaime, on your end, you’re continuing with the Princess Anima story that’s been building since the end of Volume 3, what made now the time to sort of return to genre story-telling, which you haven’t delved into much since the days of Rocky and Fumble?
Jaime: I needed an outlet. I don’t want to trap myself in continuity. There was a time where the continuity was building up so much that I was very unhappy. And I don’t want to be unhappy doing what’s coming. So I set a part of me aside just to have mindless fun. Not mindless where this story’s going to suck…it’s just more like free, free of the real world. Maggie and Hopey are really restrictive because they live by the rules of the real world. Princess Anima’s just, “okay, let’s go to this planet and see what this is like.” It’s that simple, and it’s “Oh boy, I get to draw weird rocks. Oh boy I get to draw a monster. Oh, I get to draw [Anima] cutting its head off.” It’s just my release. I want to have fun.
If Maggie hopped on a rocket ship would she be able to meet Princess Anima?
Jaime: See it’s hard now, because she has so been taken away from that world that I would have to be thinking like alternate universe. Does this happen? And if someone dies did they really die? It’s all that. So, I try to keep things separate. Like in the past when Maggie was a rocket mechanic, I kept Hopey at home, because Hopey didn’t belong to that world. She was based on my true life experiences. So, I prefer to keep certain characters away from that stuff.
Gilbert, with Killer, I get the impression that she’s much more of an aloof character than Fritz, maybe?
Gilbert: She’s more down-to-earth, believe it or not. Despite her looks, she’s very down-to-earth, very insecure, very much like the other characters. Whereas Fritz, you can’t read her all the time.
Do you think that’s a generational divide in any sort?
Gilbert: I don’t think about it that way; I just made Fritz a strange person, you know? Whereas you don’t know exactly what she’s thinking. Is she acting? Is she sincere?… Whereas Killer, despite her cool beauty…she’s insecure. She’s just a regular girl. She just doesn’t look like one.
Now, you can only go so far with that for the readers to relate to that. People do it with actors and stuff, but if it’s a character in a comic, you can actually get a little deeper into it, just because it’s more personal.
She seems to approach fame differently than Fritz too, and maybe that’s just Fritz’s strangeness, but Fritz always seems very insecure herself.
Gilbert: Yeah, she’s very insecure, so she’s acting all the time. She’s always got a wall up, she doesn’t really show expression in her eyes, just, you know … But I can understand how that could be tedious if I just keep repeating that, so that’s why I’m kind of moving that away from different areas. So anyway, Killer’s going to continue … She doesn’t like being exploited either. She’s actually younger than people think.
I was always fascinated as a boy, a teenage boy, girls in high school … There was all the regular girls in high school, you’re like … And there’s always a few that look like women. They just did. They just had a natural shape of their face, or whatever. And sometimes … I noticed that they were never very open. They were always sort of reserved, because they probably got a lot of crap from older men, you know. So I kind of played with that. I kind of played with Killer [having] that look, like she’s a serious, almost woman-like teenager in her look. But she’s very insecure. She is a girl. But she just doesn’t [look that way] … So they’re always asking her to be naked in her movies. She says, “I’m a teenager!” You know, so, she’s trying … she’s actually … Well, this is a spoiler: She’s going to just stop acting and become a pop singer, where exploitation is accepted. Just watch pop videos.
Jaime, the three narratives that you’re working on right now, are those going to be the three narratives you continue to push forward? Will there be anything new introduced that’s peculating in the back of your head right now?
Jaime: I really have some new things that I’m dying to put in, but I’ve got to get these things done, you know? Now that I’ve got sixteen pages to do it, it’s going to take longer. And I kind of don’t want them to go on for years and years. But some of them, no, no, it has a very important ending, like the Maggie and Hopey story right now. This is going to go on for at least a couple more issues, because I need this ending. I need to do this ending. But part of me is done with it. I want to do this other new stuff, but I have to wait.
I know Ray is often seen, or you see him as a bit of a stand-in at times for yourself. Maybe that’s changed over the years, but will we get more Ray, or post Browntown/The Love Bunglers have we sort of gotten our fill of Ray and we’re taking a break from him?
Jaime: No. I really want to dive back into him because his types of stories have an inner voice that the other ones don’t that I really like. I like his thoughts. So I want to do him more. I just have not. He gets smooshed out because Maggie and Hopey’s personalities are so big they hog the thing, they hog the issues. Maggie’s not supposed to have these long epic stories. Her character, I just know it so well, that it just takes over. It creates a story bigger than I imagined. So unfortunately characters like Ray they get kind of pushed out in the back. I want to do all my characters, just some of them are filling up the room, you know?
Gilbert, over the years, you’ve been flexing your genre muscles a lot, too. I think you’ve gotten Maria M just about completed. And you’ve got all these different film exploits for both Killer and Fritz. Is that something that you’re enjoying doing, like playing with noir, playing with the post-apocalyptic-type stories, the Aladdin story … Is that something that you’re going to continue to do?
Gilbert: Yeah, I mean, I do want to do more of that stuff, but I probably won’t do it as much as I was. Well, really, the reality is these comics, these long stories, take a long time.
And I really get excited about doing different stories, you know. So yeah, once Maria M’s done, I have to juggle to which the next one’s going to be. The reason my comics take so long is because I have to do so many comics, basically, to make a living. That’s the harsh reality.
So that’s why they’re taking long. I’m going to still deal with that world, but making exploitation movies, making strange movies, but like I said, Love and Rockets proper, I want to just emphasize the characters more. Interconnections. I will have a side comic that’s going to deal more with the Fritz stuff. I just haven’t been able to finish it, but it’s called Psychodrama Illustrated, and it’s basically the Fritz stories that Love and Rockets could no longer handle, because of the limited space in Love and Rockets.
Have you kept a detailed filmography for Fritz and Killer stashed away somewhere?
Gilbert: Yeah, I have my notes at home. And then they change all the time. I shift movies and stuff. Oh yeah, I have Fritz’s filmography. She basically … I mean, without spoiling things, she started late, she was 34, and just started acting in movies. Or starring in movies. Only because her girlfriend, Pipo, financed them. But as Fritz gets older, she gets more indulgent… Pushing the envelope of sexuality, and people are starting to back off her. So she’s pretty soon starting to move away from the people who helped her make films. She’s also getting older, so that is what it’s about now. What’s Fritz going to do? She’s 50 years old now. What’s she going to do?
She’s going to still try to be the sex kitten? Or are you going to be a serious actress? Well she is a serious actress, but she’s the type that likes to be the sex kitten. So she’s a little deranged.
Well that’s a very relevant story, though. You’ve got actresses who are in that age range playing mothers and unfortunately rarely in starring roles. Is that the kind of challenge that Fritz is going to face?
Gilbert: Yeah, that’s the stuff she’s trying to avoid, by basically trying to make movies where’s she’s still the sex kitten, but nobody wants to finance them. So that’s the difficulty she’s going to have.
So, Gilbert, with Issue 4 coming up, there’s a Palomar story, as advertised. Will you be finally returning to a full Luba story at that point, or is this going to be a different side of the cast altogether?
Gilbert: It’s just stuff that was in between the lines. It’s actually returning to the original Palomar, where Pipo was 14 years old, and her relationship with Manuel and Soledad, with the two guys… This is what leads up to Manuel’s death. This is not a spoiler; he’s been dead for 35 years. But yeah, it’s really about that. I’m going to jump into stories like that once in a while.
That’s another freedom of the magazine. I can just stop what I’m doing — instead of this issue, I’m just going to do this. Whereas with the annuals, like, okay, I’m going to do this. And then this! And then this! And pretty soon it starts to grow, and then you have to start taking things out. This way, it’ll be a whole 60 pages of Pipo’s story in Palomar. It’ll be a classic Palomar story.
Jaime, do you read comics at all on a regular basis, or even an irregular basis?
Jaime: Very irregular. Most of it, I have to say, is old reprints or something.
What is the last reprint you read?
Jaime: The latest Dick Tracy. I don’t know if anyone knows but in the sixties Chester Gould just went mad, and it’s so funny, because it was right around the time that Marvel was starting to go mad. And the Silver Age era. Yet this Dick Tracy stuff was just nuts. And I’m just enjoying that. Hell, because it was a lot of stuff I didn’t see. I knew all the old forties ones like The Brow, Flat Top, all the famous stories. But all this newer stuff like Moon Maid and stuff like that. It’s like holy shit. All this was happening when I was a kid.
I remember going to our corner market, and they would have the newspapers out there, and I’d walk by and the Sunday comics, our local newspaper, always had Dick Tracey on the top. And I would just look at it and go, why does that lady have antlers? This is a cop strip, you know? But I really, it’s a really surreal thing that wow, new surreal comics have no idea what was happening back then.
The most burning question I’ve ever wanted to ask you, more than any other, is how do you go about choosing the songs that are sung by someone like Hopey, or Maggie or Tonta? What’s the thought process behind all of the tunes?
Jaime: You know, it’s very simple. It’s just what I have coming in my head that day. Or like, I picked up a record, and I really fall in love with the song. And it’s just swimming in my head, and as I’m writing and drawing, it’s like, here’s a panel where they’re just kind of walking down the street. Let’s have them singing, you know? And I just throw a lyric in there. Just a fun thing. Keeps me spontaneous. So I don’t get bored.
Do you still listen to punk music at all?
Jaime: Sometimes. Not as much as I used to. I’m older and a lot quieter in my life now. Buying old Mills Brothers record from the forties. You know? But yeah, every once in a while the punk stuff. I can’t get into new punk. It wasn’t my time, it wasn’t from my era.
Are there any really tantalizing teases you can provide to readers that may be upcoming without spoiling things?
Jaime: This next couple of chapters of this Maggie and Hopey story are going to be really interesting. And maybe not so nice.
Love and Rockets #3 is in stores today and can also be ordered directly through Fantagraphics.