Graphic Novel Friday: The Summer of Love (and Rockets)
This summer, Los Bros Hernandez's celebrated, decades-spanning series, Love and Rockets, has been the topic of debate in terms of how best to read both Gilbert and Jaime's daunting, but rewarding, comics.
Much of this has to do with two new recent collections from Fantagraphics that, when combined, top 1000 pages. There is plenty of Love and Rockets to go around, but newcomers will be forgiven for balking at the seven books that comprise Volume One of the now three volume series.
In late July, The A.V. Club's excellent Guide to Geekery feature attempted to open up Love and Rockets to new readers. Then, comicbookresources.com's feature, Comics College, sprung up to offer a second opinion on how best to read the series.
Cliffs Notes version: Love and Rockets is essentially split into two storylines, one by Jaime and one by Gilbert. Jaime's series (often referred to as Locas) mostly follows aimless heartbreaker Maggie, her best friend/kissing buddy/maybe true love Hopey, and a slew of great characters as they grow out of their punk-rock roots. Gilbert's storyline, on the other hand, takes place in the fictional town of Palomar, where busty Luba, her children, friends, lovers, and neighbors cope with everyday life that isn't so everyday.
Volume One of Love and Rockets was recently collected by Fantagraphics in a total of seven tomes (split into three books for Jaime's Locas, three for Gilbert's Palomar, and a final book of miscellany with brother Mario). In the case of Locas, logic would suggest starting with Book One, Maggie the Mechanic. Not so, said The A.V. Club.
Instead, they suggested starting with Locas: The Maggie & Hopey Stories. It's an oversized, beautiful collection with only one problem: it doesn't collect all of the Maggie and Hopey stories from Volume One, and this is a point of contention for Comics College (and me).
Chris Mautner at Comics College felt that Book Two of Jaime's series, The Girl from H.O.P.P.E.R.S., is the best spot to start. His reasoning was that Book One is filled with too many Sci-Fi elements that Jaime would drop in later books, and that these oddities would only serve to confuse (or turn off) readers expecting a more straight-forward story. This is a good point, as Book One does indeed feature hover-bikes, dinosaurs, and other inexplicable details in an otherwise "normal" drama. But, by starting at Book Two, which was my least favorite of Jaime's three books, readers miss out on the origins of Penny Century; they miss seeing Maggie in her prime, and all future references to "Rand Race" would be meaningless. Now, to be fair, Chris mentioned going back to Book One after Book Two, but this seems too convoluted to me. Look, Book One is a weird book, but the artwork is outstanding, offering some of Jaime's most detailed panels and a very clear window into his big-eyed influences. Be prepared for Sci-Fi elements, know they won't last, but take it all in. I couldn't imagine falling as hard for Penny without first seeing her swoop in as she does in Book One. (For the record, Book Three, Perla la Loca, is my favorite of Jaime's.)
As for Gilbert's Palomar, The A.V. Club also eschewed the three individual books in favor of the collected Palomar stories in the single, oversized volume akin to Locas. Same issue, though: it doesn't collect all of the stories, and readers might miss key moments. Here, Comics College and I are in total agreement: stick with Heartbreak Soup, Human Diastrophism, and Beyond Palomar.
But what about Volume Two of the series? Well, that's another debate. On this, I am in agreement with The A.V. Club: pick up the recent Locas II: Maggie, Hopey, & Ray and Luba collections. These round up all the stories from Volume Two's respective creators and make for a superb reading experience.
Seeing Hopey, who, in Volume One, was the constantly mugging troublemaker, mature beyond Maggie was a highlight for me in Volume Two. And near the end of Locas II, I cared even for "Frogmouth," a femme fatale cursed with the voice of a bullfrog. That's what keeps me returning to Jaime's stories: the affectionate realism in contrast with disparate narratives, characters, and tones. Not to mention his unmatched artwork. And it's all here in the oversized Locas II.
Comics College offered an extensive checklist of all the individual books in Volume Two, but why bother? The very mature Luba collects everything, and, I believe, more from Gilbert's post-Palomar tales, including the "Venus and You" chapter. Gilbert's ability to weave the most implausible and bawdy moments (a busty, lisping therapist named Fritz who conceals a gun-play fetish?) into affectionate fiction is matched only by his frank, playful pencils.
Long-time readers have even more reason to celebrate this summer, because outside of these handsome collections, Love and Rockets: New Stories continues this month in its second installment. I've yet to see a copy, and the annual publication schedule is a killer--but last year's first chapter was a riot. It's tough not to envy uninitiated L&R readers, as the stories--no matter in what order they are read--only improve under the layers. Thousands of pages await.
For more Love and Rockets love, see also Omni's Emerald City ComiCon interview with Jaime Hernandez.