Artist Bio – The Hernandez Brothers

{product_snapshot:id=741,false,false,false,right}Five women stand in a police lineup on the cover of Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez’s Love and Rockets #1; four of them are garishly dressed, impressively endowed superwomen — perfectly normal, because this is, after all, a comic book. A closer look, however, reveals a fifth woman who seems thoroughly out of place — mousy, in bathrobe and curlers, smoking a cigarette, she appears to have been suddenly yanked from her breakfast table. Surely, this diminutive, dowdy woman is here by mistake — or is she? That image might have seemed not only a contradiction but downright subversive in a medium dedicated to idealized fantasy females, but Love and Rockets was a contradiction, and most definitely subversive, and would within a few years virtually define alternative comics in the ‘80s.

Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez enjoyed a pleasant childhood in Oxnard, California with three other brothers and one sister. In Gilbert’s words, they were “born into a world with comic books in the house.” Their mother had been an avid comic book fan as a girl, and entertained her children with drawings of her favorite characters (the original comics had been disposed of by her own mother), beginning with her eldest, Mario. Mario went on to discover comic books and, in turn, passed them on to his younger siblings. Comic books proliferated in the Hernandez household, with each child developing an interest in drawing. Of particular interest to Gilbert and Jaime were Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko’s Marvel comics, Hank Ketcham’s Dennis the Menace, and the Archie line. A further strain was added when Mario smuggled R. Crumb’s Zap comics into the home. As puberty and other interests invaded, however, their enthusiasm for mainstream comics waned.

For Mario, Gilbert, and Jaime, one of those interests would be music. Once again, Mrs. Hernandez would be a primary influence, passing on a fondness she developed for rock music while pregnant with Jaime. Rock and roll “became background music” in the Hernandez house, as natural as comics had been.

{mosimage}By the time Jaime and Gilbert had reached their teens, rock and roll had entered a transitional phase, shifting from the excesses of glitter rock to the gritty basics of punk and new wave. In Southern California in the late ’70s, “hardcore” punk rock was at its loudest, rudest and most anarchistic. The energy and diversity of this scene attracted the Hernandez brothers more than despair and alienation. Jaime and Gilbert combined their interests in music and comics by incorporating the distinctive look of punk rock. In their hands the much-hyped and often misunderstood punk netherworld became a very real, habitable place populated with authentic human beings rather than stereotypes. To quote Gilbert, “[Punk] made me cocky enough to believe that I could do a comic book, and it was good and it was all right, as opposed to being intimidated by the Marvel guys… I took that musical anarchy to comics.”

Unfortunately, the musical anarchy that inspired Jaime and Gilbert would be abused by antagonistic suburban poseurs who invaded the L.A. punk venues. The rising violence exacerbated tensions between punks and the already antagonistic LAPD, and led to a general breakdown of the hardcore scene. (The brothers, however, did keep the faith through the early ‘80s with eye-catching poster art for local bands.) As the scene deteriorated, Jaime and Gilbert worked on expanding their respective cartoon universes. Jaime’s draftsmanship bloomed under the tutelage of the community college art instructor who had previously taught Mario. Thanks to this instruction, Jaime mastered the articulate body language he had admired years earlier in Archie comics and Dennis the Menace. Jaime used his new skills to the fullest, with particular emphasis on the female form (one of the few interests the brothers shared with mainstream cartoonists). But, as in that subtly subversive cover, the female characters Jaime and Gilbert created would be notable for reasons other than prurient. Drawing on friendships formed with “punk girls” in the neighborhood and in clubs, both brothers infused their lusciously rendered ladies with strength, intelligence, independence, bitchiness, frailty, obsessiveness; in short, human qualities. These women were neither on a pedestal nor in the gutter but at eye level with their male counterparts.

Jaime’s central characters are Maggie and Hopey. Maggie Chascarillo, a gifted apprentice “Pro-solar Mechanic” in the earlier fantasy-oriented storylines, and Hopey Glass, a feisty anti-authoritarian punkette who also happens to be Maggie’s on-again, off-again lover.

{mosimage}These were the kind of women that populated the first issue of Love & Rockets. Initiated by Mario and bankrolled by younger brother Ismael, it may have been a small black and white affair, but it offered a strong impression of what the Brothers Hernandez were capable of in their chosen art form. After showing the first version at conventions and being advised to conform more to mainstream comics standards, a copy was sent to The Comics Journal, a publication known for its demanding criticism of the medium. To quote Gilbert, “If we can take their abuse, we could take anything.” To the brothers’ surprise, Gary Groth, the editor/publisher of The Comics Journal, offered to publish their work under the new comics imprint, Fantagraphics. It was an ideal match: Fantagraphics got a comic book that showed every sign of living up to the hoped for standard of excellence, and the brothers got a publisher who allowed them total artistic freedom.

With that freedom, the brothers produced some of the most startling, original, and intelligent comic art to be seen since the ’60s underground boom. Jaime garnered the first notice as a masterful cartoonist in the making, but his storylines soon evolved into realistic stories of barrio life, which turned out to be far more exhilarating than the fantasy that helped first earn him attention.

With the release of Love and Rockets #50 in 1996, Gilbert and Jaime began a five year hiatus from the series, each focusing instead on a series of solo comics: Whoa, Nellie! and Penny Century from Jaime (both collected in 2010’s Penny Century softcover), and New Love, Luba, and Luba’s Comics and Stories from Gilbert (stories from which are spread across several collections).

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In 2001, the three Bros. (including Mario) reunited to launch Love and Rockets Vol. II, which ran for 20 issues through 2007. 2008 saw the launch of Vol. III, entitled Love and Rockets: New Stories, which appears as an annual 100-page trade paperback collecting new stories from all three Bros.

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Four massive omnibus hardcover collections of the Bros. stories have been released: Palomar collects for the first time the entire, 20-year, 500-page saga of Gilbert’s fictional Central American border town from Love and Rockets Vol. I, and its 2009 sequel, Luba, continues the stories of the imposing matriarch and her extended family in America; Locas similarly collects Jaime Hernandez’s magnum opus, the Maggie-and-Hopey stories from the first volume, and its sequel, Locas II: Maggie, Hopey & Ray, arrived in late summer 2009.

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In 2007, Fantagraphics began to reprint the entire first volume of Love and Rockets in a definitive, more compact and affordable series of trade paperbacks: The first two volumes in the series, Heartbreak Soup and Maggie the Mechanic, were released in February and were followed by Human Diastrophism and The Girl From H.O.P.P.E.R.S. in July and Beyond Palomar and Perla La Loca in November. A seventh volume, Amor y Cohetes, collecting all of the remaining non-continuity short stories, was published in summer of 2008. In March 2010, the series expanded with its first post-L&R Vol. I volume, Penny Century, followed by Esperanza in 2011.

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In addition to his continuing work on Love and Rockets, the prolific Gilbert has also been responsible for Girl Crazy (Dark Horse), Birdland (EROS Comix), and Grip and Sloth (DC Comics), as well as, in collaboration with Peter Bagge, Yeah! (DC Comics, collected by Fantagraphics in 2011). 2007 saw the release of his first original graphic novel for Fantagraphics and the beginning of the “Fritz B-Movie” series, Chance in Hell; the third and final issue of his Ignatz miniseries New Tales of Old Palomar; and his Dark Horse series Speak of the Devil (since collected in graphic novel format). In 2009, Gilbert collaborated with brother Mario on the sci-fi miniseries Citizen Rex, also released by Dark Horse. 2010 saw the second “Fritz B-Movie” graphic novel, titled The Troublemakers, a new Love and Rockets collection titled High Soft Lisp, and a new story starring his beloved character Roy in the Summer 2010 issue of Fantagraphics’ anthology series Mome. And in Spring 2011, the third “Fritz B-Movie” book, Love from the Shadows, was released.

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Jaime resides in Pasadena, California, with his wife, Meg, and stepdaughter; in addition to his comics work, he occasionally creates drawings for The New Yorker as well as album and DVD covers (most recently for the Indigo Girls and the Criterion Collection, respectively). Gilbert and his wife, Carol Kovinick, live in Las Vegas, Nevada with their daughter; the television series he wrote, directed, and starred in, Naked Cosmos, was released on DVD in 2005. Mario and his wife, Rebecka Wright, reside in San Francisco with their daughter.

Click here to read an extensive interview with Los Bros. Hernandez originally published in The Comics Journal #126 in 1988.

“The rough-edged Latin American minimalist, stylized black and white comic strips have been widely described as the graphic equivalent to the fabulism of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, the Nobel laureate.” — The Times of London

“The Hernandez Brothers are uncanny. No other man in or out of the field understands women the way they do. (And they ain’t half bad storytellers either!) Love and Rockets is the one book I always recommend to my female friends who’ve never read a comic before.” — Trina Robbins, author of A Century of Women Cartoonists

“Jaime’s Maggie and Gilbert’s Luba are two of the great characters in contemporary American fiction.” — The LA Weekly

“Los Bros… have been responsible for some of the smartest, best-drawn, most indelible comics of the past 30 years…” – Douglas Wolk, TIME/Techland)

All solo books by Gilbert Hernandez
All solo books by Jaime Hernandez
All collaborative books by Los Bros. Hernandez
How to Read Love and Rockets