Sunday, October 16, 2011

NEW COMICS: Love & Rockets (New Stories) #4

I came late to the party where Love & Rockets is concerned. But, thanks to my wonderful wife, I got introduced to the amazing cartooning of Los Bros Hernandez the right way when she bought me the omnibus editions of Palomar and then Locas a few years back. From page one of Beto's Palomar stories (which came out a year before Jaime's Locas collection), I was hooked.

At that point, Fantagraphics was producing volume II of L&R, in a smaller comic-sized format. I got all 20 of those issues and have continued on with volume III, which offers new stories from these master cartoonists in annual 100-page chunks, with Jaime and Gilbert each taking roughly half of each book.

If you have never read Love & Rockets, and you are a fan of great comics or just great storytelling, you need to remedy that situation. There are few cartoonists working today of this caliber. Their stories are poignant or fanciful or cute or heartbreaking or involve any number of emotions along one's mental spectrum. And their simple, yet elegant art (with Beto having a softer, more rounded look to Jaime's very precise, sharper lines) illuminate these stories so perfectly.

The Hernandez Brothers (including, from time to time, Mario) are also pioneers in graphic storytelling, utilizing the page and its inherent rhythms and boundaries to evoke these emotions and tell their stories in new and inventive ways, despite having done this for nearly three decades. It is a testament to their mastery of the medium that, with this latest iteration of Love & Rockets, one still finds something new within their work to be amazed at.

For example, take a look at this double-page spread encapsulating the relationship between Maggie and Ray through the years. Simply brilliant:

And, if you want, here are those two pages at a larger size, for a better comparison:

In particular, the work of Jaime in these last two installments of the "New Love & Rockets" has been breathtaking. In issue #3, he ripped my heart out with the understated narrative he offered, illuminating facets of the Chascarrillo family (Maggie's family of Hopey & Maggie) that put many of his previous stories into a whole new light. It was an amazing, heartbreaking story full of very authentic emotions, but handled so deftly that it resonated more.

And Jaime followed that up with equally heartfelt and emotional chapters of Maggie's story in this latest issue. The way he continues to tell these characters' stories - while also allowing them to actually grow old and evolve into similar, yet new, characters - and add more to what has come before without it growing stale is a joy to experience.

Gilbert's offerings in this volume are equally enjoyable, if less "earth-shattering." In recent years, Beto has been enjoying recounting the B-movies of his character Rosalba "Fritz" Martinez. They are fun, over-the-top, stories that allow Beto to show a fanciful side, which has always been present in his work. But I don't want to downplay his contributions. The beauty of these stories has been the little bits of humanity lurking beneath the slick veneer of the main narrative. The moments when we see Fritz away from the movie set, able to be human and relate her own feelings and dreams. These are the gems that elevate his recent narratives.

The humanity and the artistry found between the covers of any Love & Rockets book is a wonder to behold. Every new edition jumps to the top of my to-read pile, even trumping the novels I may be reading at the time. And this newest iteration of Love & Rockets is a nice hefty package that affords Los Bros Hernandez to produce longer works that keep them invested in the material, which was part of the reason for the change in format. The subtle differences in art style, along with the different stories each brother wants to tell (and did I mention that Jaime was producing a superhero story with his characters in the initial two issues of the "New Love & Rockets"?) provides a nice balance within each issue.

You cannot go wrong with Los Bros Hernandez and Love & Rockets. Seek it out. Now. You won't regret it.


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