Monday, December 17, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #351: The Love and Rockets Companion edited by Marc Sobel and Kristy Valenti

Any fictional world that runs long enough and has enough fans will eventually develop ancillary materials. It may be fan-made maps of a long-running fantasy series, or scholarly treatises on the families of Yoknapatawpha County, or K/S stories in some obscure internet archive. But the urge to understand, to systematize, and to make the loved thing exactly the way you want it will come out in the end.

Publishers know this, of course, and harness that force when they can. Those books of maps of fantasy worlds, or encyclopedias of Middle-Earth, or sharecropped novels by "the Killer Bs" were all official, all really licensed, all putting coin back in the pockets of the original copyright holder. And big anniversaries provide almost irresistible opportunities for those kind of ancillaries...even in these latter days, when the best guide to an on-going fictional world is a website or wiki that will get updated when the next set of stories comes out.

That brings me to The Love and Rockets Companion, published in 2012 to mark the thirtieth anniversary of the first Fantagraphics issue of Love and Rockets. (Which was a year after the first self-published issue, but anniversaries can be of any thing you want, to make them work.) It was edited by Marc Sobel and Kristy Valenti, two critics and writers-about-comics, and it's pretty miscellaneous. It also, since Love and Rockets keeps being published, becomes a little more outdated every time there's a new issue -- and there have been three or four of the New Stories volumes plus six issues of the latest series since this book came out.

There's no attempt at criticism in this Companion: it starts off by reprinting two long interviews with the Hernandez Brothers from The Comics Journal (owned by Fantagraphics, publisher of Love and Rockets and this book, and so probably free) from 1989 and 1995, and then adds a new interview by Sobel done for this book. That takes up nearly two-thirds of the book, and the rest is the kind of thing that a wiki would definitely do better: timelines of both Locas and Palomar, character guides for both worlds, and a checklist of all Love and Rockets stories by all three brothers, followed by what I think is meant to be a comprehensive list of their non-L&R work as well. (In the middle there is a small section titled "Letter Column Highlights/Bros.' Favorite Comics," which is cute but pretty fanzine-ish.)

The book is paperback, roughly the trim size of the older Love and Rockets collections, with a heavy dust jacket that folds out. On the outside is a jam piece by both Gilbert and Jaime (or maybe something assembled by others from their artwork from various places) with what looks like all of their major characters. On the inside are charts of the relationships of both worlds, family and friends and more complicated connections.

This is obviously a book only for huge Love and Rockets fans, preferably in 2012, so they can get it when it's new and shiny and up to date. It would have been a useful thing for me to have when I started "I Love (And Rockets) Mondays," but I only got it towards the end, and I'm not planning to double-check the list of stories against the published books and see if I can ferret out anything missing. I found it faintly disappointing: I'd like some kind of critical assessment, or even just a more journalistic listing and examination of the storylines over the years. As it is, this Companion is much more like something from the publisher of Amazing Heroes than the publisher of The Comics Journal.

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