Monday, August 06, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #218: Amor Y Cohetes by Los Bros Hernandez

This is the only book in the current series of Love and Rockets reprints to be credited to "Los Bros Hernandez," which may seem odd to those of us who've been around for a substantial portion of the journey since 1981. But if we remember that brothers Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez have always told separate stories with separate casts -- and often had very different tones for material coming out at the same time -- it makes more sense.

Love and Rockets, the original comics series, had stories by both of them, so it made sense for the reprint volumes to do the same. At least for a little while, in the era when comics weren't about complete stories in book form to begin with. But comics eventually figured out what traditional publishing already knew: a book should be something that stands on its own, at least to some degree, and makes sense as a thing in itself. And so the Jaime books and the Gilbert books first started to be separated for new work, and then, when this new uniform series started up about a decade ago, those stories were separated from the beginning.

But not here.

Amor Y Cohetes is the "odds and sods" volume for the first volume of Love and Rockets: it collects all of the stories from that fifteen-year span (1981 through 1996) that didn't fit into the previous books for various reasons. So it has Jaime stories that aren't Locas, and Gilbert stories that aren't Palomar -- and the contributions of their third brother Mario, who did a few stories here and there and then dropped out of sight.

(I'd probably drop out of sight, too, if I was a pretty good cartoonist but my stories appeared next to those by my brothers Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez. No knocks on Mario for not being as brilliant out of the gate; few people are. It does make me wonder what kind of career he could have had if he could have had it somewhere with less of a direct comparison to the other two brothers. Or was he always destined to be the Magda to their Eva and Zsa Zsa? I tend to think, looking at his stories, that they were a little rougher than the earliest Jaime and Gilbert stories, but not by all that much: if he'd been able to work at their pace, I could see his "Somewhere in..." stories getting more assured, better at storytelling, clearer and more precise. And his stories had a distinct tone and set of concerns from either of the other two: he did have a niche that could have fit into Love and Rockets, if he'd wanted it as much as they did, or had the time to make stories, or whatever the real reason was.)

As far as I can tell, Amor is organized semi-chronologically, much like the rest of the books -- so this is more or less the order they appeared to the world -- with some exceptions. For example, the book ends with Gilbert's "My Love Book" from 1995, something of a summing up of his career to that point (in a typically sideways, metaphoric Gilbert manner) followed up with Jaime's one-page "Is It Ten Years Already?" from 1992, a blunter but equally sideways look backward.

It also mixes the brothers' work, as it was originally mixed in Love and Rockets -- the stories don't have headers or titles except as they appear in the comics themselves, and the table of contents doesn't credit any of the stories to anyone. Now, generally, if you're reading Amor Y Cohetes, you've got a good enough sense of their work to distinguish Beto from Xaime...except that their earliest work wasn't quite as distinctive, and there are curveballs like Gilbert's 1994 "Hernandez Satyricon," which starts as his slightly goofy take on a "Maggie the Mechanic" story and goes very weird places from there, and which is drawn in a Gilbert-does-Jaime hybrid look.

But, again, this book exists to collect the quirky, weird stuff. If you only wanted Locas or Palomar, you wouldn't be here to begin with. Amor has the pieces that didn't lead anywhere else, like Jaime's mostly light and mostly SFnal "Rocky" stories and Gilbert's early self-mocking SF epic "BEM" and the only slightly later "Music for Monsters" stories. And his "Errata Stigmata" stories, as well -- there's probably more Gilbert in Amor Y Cohetes, by the pound, since he seems to have just made more pages of comics. There's also a fair bit of Gilbert surrealism, and experimental comics, and retold folktales, and a few pieces by Jaime that sort-of fit into Locas continuity -- Ray D. tells a story of the KKK coming to Hoppers that really happened to Jaime, and a retelling of one scene from "The Death of Speedy" from another point of view, and some things like that. And, of course, those Mario stories, which are a little too full of incident and character and ambition for their length, making them hard to follow.

This is inevitably a book only for Hernandez brothers fans -- as separate from people who just like Maggie and Hopey stories, or who enjoyed the magic realism of Palomar. You need to be invested in the whole gestalt, all of the worlds that the two (maybe three, if you're also a Mario fan) brothers made. If that's you, you need this book. Otherwise, start with Maggie the Mechanic or Heartbreak Soup, or both of them in turn, and see if that might be you, eventually.

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