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ECCC 2009: Interview with Jaime Hernandez

In the early 1980s, Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez (Los Bros Hernandez) began the long-running indie favorite series Love and Rockets. The comic is a true family affair with brother Mario occasionally contributing stories as well. The series involves a very full collection of characters—well-respected for its depiction of real, intricate personalities—told over years and years of plots. Relationships grow and fade as characters age and put on weight, unheard of in the never-aging world of superheroes.

At Emerald City ComiCon, Jaime Hernandez talked with me about his complex characters, his influences, the future of Love and Rockets, and his longtime relationship with publisher Fantagraphics.

Amazon.com: I have to admit, I did catch you coming into the Fantagraphics booth with a stack of bagged comics. It’s great that you’re here as a fan. What were you looking to pick up today?

Jaime Hernandez: I like coming to a convention that I’ve never been to—I’ve never been to one in Seattle. I get to look for old comics from dealers that I haven’t burned out (laughs). I like to get goofy, off-the-wall stuff, just to have a box of 50s or 60s stuff that doesn’t really make sense. You know, I like to open the box once in a while to look at it for fun stuff, inspiration. Looking at an old comic gets me excited to do comics sometimes.

Amazon.com: A lot of your Love and Rockets work has a nostalgic feel. Am I wrong in picking up a bit of Dan DeCarlo inspiration?

Jaime Hernandez:  Yeah sure, Dan DeCarlo. There are other artists who did Archie as well. My favorite being Harry Lucey—he did the actual Archie title, while DeCarlo did Betty & Veronica. I like them both, but Lucey just happens to be a personal favorite, because I think he was better at drawing natural characters—just their expressions taught me a lot about how I do my comics.

Amazon.com: Your work is often praised for the way in which you depict women—neither as villains nor heroes, just natural characters. Are there real life inspirations who have influenced your work?

Jaime Hernandez:  You know, of course. I’ve always like being friends with women. Besides liking to draw them, there’s just something about women—they’re very interesting creatures, for lack of a better term (laughs). I guess because they’re not boys? It interests me the way in which they react to things, and the way they treat each other, and the way they treat boys. It’s just fun trying to get into their heads. I don’t know if I’m doing it right, but no one’s complained so far.

Amazon.com:  Fantagraphics recently finished compiling the Love and Rockets complete seven-volume set, while you and your brothers recently relaunched the series as Love and Rockets: New Stories. Did you have any trepidation about returning to the series and in a new, larger format?

Jaime Hernandez:  It was pretty natural, because no matter what changes we make, I’m still doing the same characters and in the same ways I tell stories. To be honest, the changes come because of the market. I’m the last person to argue about what’s going to make my comics sell (laughs). This was just the next wave: the more “graphic novel” [format] that can go in bookstores as well.

There were a couple things that were learning experiences, like having to do a year’s amount of work at once and in one book. So I had to rethink the way I approach stories, like not leaving them so open-ended. Because if I continue a story, someone has to wait a whole year for it to end, and I’ve lost readers in the past because of that, I think. It’s kind of fun, exploring and figuring out that I haven’t gotten it all figured out yet.

Amazon.com: New Stories Vol. 1 has a much more anthological feel to it. Was that a conscious decision?

Jaime Hernandez:  I don’t know! Gilbert and I live in different states now, so we’re not over each other’s shoulder as much. Sometimes, we find out what the other is doing when the book is printed (laughs). In this case, when we start a series at the beginning, we experiment with different things, and then it settles into what path we’re going to take from there. But in the beginning, you’re like, “OK, lets’ try it. Let’s see where it goes.”

Amazon.com:  Last year, your brother Gilbert published Speak of the Devil, a side project completely removed from Love and Rockets. Can fans expect similar side projects from you in the future?

Jaime Hernandez:  I would like to, but I’m not as fast as Gilbert (laughs). Yeah, I have plans in the back of my head, but by the time I come to them, I say, “Oh, this can fit into Love and Rockets.” Like the current storyline in New Stories—the superhero title was supposed to be a side project for somebody else, but I realized I’m not that fast, and so I stuck it in there!

Amazon.com:  I really like that storyline’s mixture of Sci-Fi. It’s great to see you take it somewhere unexpected.

Jaime Hernandez:  The superhero thing was kind of my answer to the mainstream. A lot of cases in the superhero world are trying to make you believe that it’s something more than superheroes. Well, I’ve been a fan of superheroes since I was a kid. I believe superheroes belong in their own silly world, and I’m saying that as a compliment. My take on it is this Ti-Girl story [in New Stories]. Some of it doesn’t make sense, and that’s on purpose, because in the superhero world it makes total sense.

Amazon.com:  Are there any comics you are currently reading?

Jaime Hernandez:  You know, I don’t really keep up with it, partly because there’s so much of it out there. Another reason is because the older I’ve gotten—I’ve been going through comics for almost 30 years—I got to a point where I stopped—for lack of a better term—being in competition with other comics. Lately, I’m drawing more inspiration from either movies or real life. I’m not getting it from comics.

Amazon.com:  You, your brothers, and Love and Rockets seem to have such a great relationship with publisher Fantagraphics. Can you talk about how you partnered with them?

Jaime Hernandez:  When we first started Love and Rockets, it was our own self-published venture. We had no idea what the comic market was like, and at the time there was not a market like it is today—it was still superhero-oriented. But we just liked comics, and we wanted to do our kind of comic, and we said, “Let’s publish it ourselves and see if we can sell it!”  Well, that’s when we learned that the market was not our place, you know, at the time. And Gilbert got this idea to send a copy to The Comics Journal, because he thought, “Well, if they review us—even if they hate it, because they were known for hating most comics!—maybe it’ll be free advertising."  That was kind of our punk mentality at the time: If they hate it, that’s good too!

So, we sent it and kind of forgot about it. I don’t remember how long it took, but Gary Groth [Fantagraphics' co-founder]  sent us a letter that basically said “We’re about to start publishing comics, and we like yours. Is it okay if we publish yours?” Simple as that, and it’s been that way since. We were kind of lucky that we didn’t have that long to fail (laughs).

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great interview, I love Jaime Hernandez's universe of comic characters

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