Monday, December 31, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #365: Love and Rockets, Vol. 4: Issues 1-6 by Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez

This is not a book; this post breaks one of my silly self-imposed rules. (I'm just noting that up front. I'm not going to do anything about it.)

The fourth run of Love and Rockets returned to a magazine size and a periodical publication: there have been six issues since it was launched in 2016. So, to close out I Love (And Rockets) Mondays for the year, I thought I should look at the most recent material, to see what the Locas and Luba's family are doing with themselves right now.

Each issue has 32 pages of comics (plus four pages of ads or other editorial matter; there's usually a letters page), so, as of about a month ago, there are 192 pages of new Hernandez Brothers comics, roughly the size of one of the individual graphic novels.

Like New Stories, or like any serialization, this is work in progress, mostly middles of stories. The only major break from New Stories is the new logo (seen to the left; it changed slightly for issue two and later) and the altered credit line -- Gilbert and Jaime finally get their first names on the cover after thirty-five years. (And it has been consistently alphabetical, or maybe age order, for all six issues to date.)

As with New Stories, they alternate covers. Like the classic magazine series, the other brother contributes a back-cover. For the new century, though, there are also variant covers -- several for the first issue, and a Fantagraphics-exclusive for all of them to date. (If I were a retailer, I would not be happy at all if a publisher had a cover only available for purchase directly from them, and so I'm happy I'm not a retailer.)

The stories continue from New Stories as well: Jaime finishes up the Maggie-and-Hopey-go-to-a-punk-reunion in the sixth issue, has a little more with Tonta and her gang, and continues the baffling and now apparently standalone adventures of Princess Anima in space. Gilbert milks the lots-of-Fritz-clones story for the first couple of issues, and then drops it to focus on Fritz's long-unknown twin daughters. (Unknown to the reader, unknown to each other, but one was, retroactively, not unknown to her mother.)

I'm finding the Jaime material of this era generally more successful -- the Maggie and Hopey story is another strong one, and I'm looking forward to seeing how it comes together in a single book. Tonta and her friends are still goofballs, though, and their stories are, I guess, more slice-of-life than anything else: they don't seem to be going anywhere. And I think the Princess Anima stuff needs to have an ending before I have any clue what it's going to be: it feels to me like Jaime is doing a Gilbert-style id-fueled SFnal story, without long-term plots and driven by immediate momentum. There are interesting bits, and he as always draws wonderfully, but I'm not sure if there's a there there.

Gilbert, on the other hand, is doing a lot of quirky things with his drawing, not all of which are immediately working: using heavier borders for flashbacks, for example, which he felt he needed to explain in the stories. I also noticed some deliberately stiff layouts and "camera" movements: there's one sequence where Killer and Jimmy stand stock still for several panels while the viewpoint rotates around them one quadrant at a time, and a number of places where he lines up faces repeatedly. As in the late New Stories era, he's also spending a lot of time in these stories having his characters face each other and talk through the same things over and over again -- Killer is now a singer, let's run through the top 10 Fritz impersonators for this issue, Baby/Rosario and Rosalba are twins and here's how they were separated, Fritz has never done porn but there are rumors she has, and so on and on and on.

I suspect he's been getting letters about some aspects of this -- or maybe somewhat different complaints -- because he has stories titled things like "Fritz Haters Will Just Have to Be Patient" and "More for the Haters." He's also drawing "must be 18" censor-boxes over the naked chests of his female characters a lot, sometimes in art on the walls -- which I thought was a quirky, fun choice; maybe a comment on the art-world -- but also sometimes in characters actually in the stories, which is more metafictional. Jaime has drawn nipples in the same issue, so it's not an obvious issue of censorship -- just another artistic choice that isn't quite clear yet.

But Gilbert wrote his way out of the swamp of Too Many Fritzes, and the last couple of issues sees more lightness to his work, as it opens out to more of the cast and shows changes in their lives. He's still doing the people-standing-still-and-talking-at-each-other thing, but it wouldn't be Gilbert without some odd artistic choices.

Love and Rockets the periodical was always like that, though. The books organize and coral the material, putting all of the wild-hair ideas into separate volumes and allowing the larger stories to stand alone. But the ongoing comic, in whatever format, is full of pieces of story in any era -- Tonta or Rocky, Errata Stigmata or Mila -- and those don't always turn into anything nicely book-shaped. We read Love and Rockets because both Gilbert and Jaime are great cartoonists, with a few touchpoints in common, and because even if we think what one of them is doing this year isn't all that great (Too Many Fritzes, Adventures of the Ti-Girls), it's always going to be at least an interesting, unique failure.

It's been going thirty-five years so far, in various formats. I can hope for thirty-five more, can't I? To see what ninety-something Jaime and Gilbert will be doing?

Note: this is day 365, but it's not the end of Book-A-Day. Look for a post-mortem tomorrow listing the whole series...and about fourteen more daily Book-A-Day posts running through mid-January, since there's stuff I read in 2018 that I haven't gotten into that format yet.

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