May 08

Comics: A Beginner’s Guide: Hernandez Brothers

The Brown Wedge4 comments • 1,265 views

I routinely review what I read on my LJ blog. After a recent comic review, one friend asked for a dummies’ guide to comics. It’s not the first time I’ve come across someone interested who doesn’t really know where to start. I thought I might write a sequence of short pieces suggesting where to look for great material in various areas (styles, genres, eras). Bear in mind that libraries often have good selections of comic collections these days, and you can generally order things for very low charges from other local libraries. I’ll also try to indicate when there are cheap editions available. Anyway, I thought I’d start with what has long been by stanard answer if an intelligent, literate person is interested in knowing what might be worth reading…
Jaime & Gilbert Hernandez

Two Mexican-American brothers (there is a third, but he’s not any good) who deserve a solid place among the all-time greats of comics. These are particularly good recommendations for women, who are not well served by the vast majority of comics. They both centre most of their stories around female characters, and they write them superbly.

Gilbert may be the stronger writer of the two (though there isn’t much in it). He sets his stories in a small jungle town called Palomar, and the obvious and irresistible reference point is Garcia Marquez’s A Hundred Years Of Solitude. We get long and short stories around many characters, with occasional anti-realistic elements: this is a genuine and rare example of magic realism in comics. There aren’t so many comic writers who have created a lot of characters that I can care deeply about, but Gilbert does it almost every time. More on this by me.

Jaime’s art is the more beautiful (which isn’t to say Gilbert isn’t a great comic artist too). His stories are set among Latinos in the US, mostly LA. His characters are young and edgy, into hardcore punk. There’s a whole generation of comic fans who fell more or less in love with Maggie and/or her girlfriend Hopey. He’s more focussed on a smaller set of characters, and it took him a couple of episodes to really find his style (lots of SF in Maggie’s first appearance). More on this by me.

These are the kind of comics to suggest in particular to smart young people who look with suspicion on giant muscles and lycra, people who read modern literature. If I were selecting ten books for a desert island, I think the mammoth hardback collections of their work – Palomar by Gilbert, Locas by Jaime – would be on the list. If that’s too much of an investment, try one of the smaller collections: maybe Jaime’s The Death of Speedy or Gilbert’s Duck Feet.


  1. 1
    Dan M. on 25 May 2008 #

    Good write-up, Martin. I haven’t read the big collections of L&R — I discovered it about half-way though the first run, so I don’t have the chronological perspective in terms of the decline in Jaime’s work. I wonder what you think of the current series of L&R comic books? Personally, I find the artwork of both brothers maintains its high level, but Gilbert’s characters and situations leave me either confused or simply un-engaged (with some exceptions, usually shorter pieces, like the suberb “Julio’s Day” in — it was either #1 or 2. To some extent I feel the same about Jaime — some fantastic individual stories, but the overall arcs have become only sporadically gripping. For me the brothers’ work is ALWAYS worth looking at, but too often not a great READING experience.

  2. 2
    Martin Skidmore on 25 May 2008 #

    I largely agree – I haven’t been captivated by their stories in a good while now. I do recommend catching up on the earlier stories – for a start, they are magnificent, very possibly the best comics of the last few decades, but also they might make some of the newer Gilbert stories mean more.

  3. 3
    The Dirty Vicar on 26 May 2008 #

    I don’t know if the old Fantagraphics Love & Rockets collections are still in print (they are all titled “Love & Rockets – [Title]”), but I find them a more manageable way of reading L&R stuff than the big volumes that have come out more recently.

  4. 4
    wedge on 30 May 2008 #

    I used to love Love and Rockets – but sometime around the 90s it started to leave me cold, especially Gilbert’s stuff. When he started overdoing the anti-imperialist polemic and throwing in serial killers, I think the acclaim was going to his head (is it just me or did his art get a lot uglier as well?). Check out his arrogant interview comments in recent years. The comics lost a lot of the charm and wit that won us over in the first place. I actually preferred it with more punk and SF elements – I can watch police brutality, racism, poverty, and bisexual girls getting fat in everyday life, thank you very much!

    I suppose comics are still so low on the artistic food chain that any creator getting a lot of acclaim starts to let it go to his head too easily – see also Alan Moore, Grant Morrison, Chris Ware, Robert Crumb, Art Spiegelman and Dan Clowes. If they’re not embarassing us with big (but obvious) ‘statements’ they’re either running to Hollywood or indulging messianic delusions. It’s only comics, guys!

Add your comment

(Register to guarantee your comments don't get marked as spam.)


Required (Your email address will not be published)

Top of page