Saturday, June 06, 2015

The Art of Jaime Hernandez: The Secrets of Life and Death by Todd Hignite

First we got to the point where the towering names of comics, dead for a decade or more, got big serious books about their art. And that was pretty nice. Now we've come another step along the road to legitimacy, when major creators in mid-career can get the same treatment, without any whiff of Bam! or Pow! And that's even better.

(I doubt we'll ever get to the last stop on that road, where hot newer creators get the same treatment. That happens in the fine-art world because those enfants terrible are selling their work for large piles of cash and getting a lot of fawning attention from highbrow media and rich people. The mechanisms and audience for comics are so different that the equivalent is a quickie paperback collection of the hot artist's pin-ups from SQP or someone like that. And those books, I think, are in decline since the rise of DeviantArt and similar free online mechanisms.)

Thus, we now -- "now" here meaning "in 2010," when this book was actually published -- get Todd Hignite's The Art of Jaime Hernandez: The Secrets of Life and Death which is firmly in the second category, since one of the greatest stories of Hernandez's career, "Browntown," was entirely created and published after this book. Anyway, Jaime Hernandez is a great artist and a deeply incisive maker of stories about people with real lives and emotions. Hignite's book nods in the direction of that second talent here and there, but the point of an art book is to show art, so the first talent is the one he really focuses on. The spine of Hignite's text is Hernandez's life -- there's a longish introductory chapter about his childhood, in a large, rambunctious family in a minor city in Southern California, and then the text rambles through his Love & Rockets and other work in phases basically chronologically up to about 2009, when the book went to press. But the point of a book like this is the pictures, and Hignite has a lot of good ones here. He has full comics pages, both as printed and in sketchier form, up to the full story "La Maggie La Loca," originally published in The New York Times Magazine's short-lived "Funny Pages" section and not otherwise reprinted.

Hignite also showcases art for album covers, flyers, merchandise, random covers, and other ephemera -- but the point here is the sequential art, and he smartly focuses on that most of the time, with full pages and longer sequences. The only downside of that approach is that it makes the reader want to read more Jaime Hernandez stories right away -- and that, honestly, is no bad thing. This is clearly a book for fans of Love & Rockets and Jaime, but if you read comics even vaguely about real lives and people, that should describe you.

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