Fear of Comics

Los Bros Hernandez return, bearing Love and Rockets

The brothers stopped doing Love and Rocketsin 1996 simply because they found themselves too tangled in their own dense story telling; they felt the need to simplify, to clean up the clutter. But they wouldn't abandon their characters: Jaime kept telling Maggie and Hopey tales in Penny Century, and Gilbert would return to Palomar in New Love Comics. (Jaime's later work is collected in the just-released Locas in Love; Gilbert's can be found in the new Fear of Comics.) But they discovered that once they retired the brand name, their audience deserted them: Groth estimates that sales of Gilbert and Jaime's work dropped off 30 percent once the name Love and Rocketswas no longer attached to it. "If you take 100 percent of any fans of anybody, whether it's Love and Rocketsor Tom Hanks," Groth says, "and if you change the way they're produced or disseminated, X number of those fans are going to be lazy enough to drop out."

Last year, Gilbert and Groth hatched the idea of resuscitating the title. They both admit it's nothing more than a marketing ploy, a way of reviving the trademark and luring back those lapsed, lazy readers who stopped panning for Hernandez gold in the comic industry's sewer system. It will resemble the original series, but it will also allow enough room for the novice to enter without becoming overwhelmed by 20 years' worth of accrued mythologies. Jaime will reintroduce Maggie by ridding her of two decades' worth of baggage: She is divorced and alone, a blank slate. Gilbert will contribute two pieces: He and brother Mario begin an adventure tale titled Me for the Unknown, and Gilbert will debut the first chapter in his serialized graphic novel titled Julio's Day. The latter will not be an ongoing series; once the story is finished, it is forever done. There will be no reviving its characters or its setting, which is the antithesis of his earlier work in such stories as Human Diastrophism and the epic Poison River, which contains Luba's origin story. (It's collected in a single paperback that does indeed read like a brilliant, self-contained novel -- a soap opera set amidst Marxist revolution and mambo beats.)

"I tried to shoehorn as much as I could into those stories," Gilbert says, "but particularly in Poison River, that became a burden for the reader, so I always thought, 'One of these days, I'm gonna do one of these stories where, after I'm done with it, I can't use the characters again.' I just made my own rule: I can't ever use these characters again, like a real novel. Whatever I put in here is it. With the Palomar characters, I couldn't do that, because I knew I would revisit them one way or another in other books. I knew there were other stories, so that's why I never felt a series of books were real novels. Like, a sequel to Moby Dickis absurd, ya know what I mean? There are some books where you just need to leave them alone, and that's what I always wanted to do in comics -- do a graphic novel where I leave it alone once it's done, and that's it, goodbye."

Eighteen years after its debut, and four years after its demise, Love and Rockets returns this month.
Eighteen years after its debut, and four years after its demise, Love and Rockets returns this month.

Gilbert insists he will return to Palomar only if readers demand it; he has stories left to tell, though little interest in doing so unless readership continues to wane. He just had a daughter and will do what he has to -- on his own terms, he insists -- to keep from having to get what he sneeringly refers to as "a real job." He is finishing a book for Time-Warner-owned DC's adult-oriented Vertigo offshoot -- titled GRIP, it's about a man who wakes up one morning with amnesia -- and appreciates working for a company that pays, but would prefer keeping his work at Fantagraphics, where creators keep control and ownership of their own work, which is still almost unheard of in the comic business. And Groth would prefer the brothers keep from having to take outside work: They are the Beatles of the comic book industry, oft-appropriated but never duplicated.

"They're so good, you start taking them for granted," Groth says. "There's no longer the shock of the new, of course, but there's just this great satisfaction that they're doing work every bit as good as they did in the past. Maybe our relationship is like a long marriage: There's no longer the sexual epiphanies, just this sense of pleasure and happiness."

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