Jaime Hernandez is part of a comic book writing trio of brothers who have created the popular, alternative comic book series called Love and Rockets. The first issues were published in the early 1980s and reflect the influence of traditional comics including the requisite sci-fi and superhero adventures. But as with most comics in the alternative comics genre, the narratives soon veer into new territory. Part of the nascent “Nardcore'' punk scene in their hometown of Oxnard, California, the Hernandez Brothers were also influenced by DIY zines and punk show flyers - even lending their illustrations to zines, record covers and flyers themselves.Their early work reflects the energy of the SoCal punk milieu and the brothers’ Mexican-American cultural heritage. Both influences are essential to the spirit of Love and Rockets, from dialogue to illustration styles.
When I was about 14 years old, in a now-defunct punk clothing store in Los Angeles, I was staring forlornly at a pair of Doc Martens I couldn’t afford when a guy came up to me and asked if I’d ever read a comic called Love and Rockets by the Hernandez Brothers. I said I hadn’t. He said I reminded him of a character in the comic book and pointed to the comic on one of the store’s shelves. That serendipitous day, I walked home with my first comic book purchase. Little did I know at the time how much a random comic book would impact my life. As a working-class, punk rock Chicana growing up in urban Los Angeles, there were few, if any, representations of my life in creative works. There are plenty of books, movies, and stories about the experiences of urban people of color, but being punk rock and POC felt different. As Maggie, one of the protagonists and main characters of Love and Rockets explains to her friend Guy Goforth, there is something about growing up punk that is just hard to explain. Oftentimes as a teen, I would excitedly read a new issue of Love and Rockets and feel as if I’d just read a diary of my own life. It was so impactful to see my experiences and culture represented in a narrative form.
Jaime Hernandez is most known for the Locas series which revolves around two young Latinx punk rockers, Maggie and Hopey, as they attempt to manage the struggles, joys, and adventures of their working-class lives. Jaime deftly narrates and illustrates their stories with humor, tenderness, and authenticity. He is able to convey so many emotions in just a few lines of drawing. Maggie’s illustrated shrugs are the best and Maggie being a punkera, ends up shrugging quite a bit throughout the Locas storyline. What is not illustrated is implied, and he leaves space in his panels for memory and implicit understanding. Jaime has great affection for his characters but he is also not afraid to portray their messy lives. Critics remark on his ability to delve into the intimate lives of his female characters all while providing the social context of their struggles. Humor is woven into most of the characters' dialogue. Not a ‘guffaw’ kind of humor but the teasing, low-level jokes-about-everything humor Chicanos use to get through the day.
The Locas series is set in the fictional neighborhood of Hoppers, a stand-in for Oxnard, and subtly captures the smalltown feel of SoCal Latinx neighborhoods, where everyone knows each other and everyone knows your business. Jaime’s storylines swirl with a surreal, supernatural, mix of worlds and move between reality and fantasy. In interviews, Jaime discusses how as a child, he lived in a world filled with mystery, informed by the folktales and stories he heard from his mother and local community. For many Chicano and Latinx youth, our early memories are filled with supernatural, cautionary stories and tales passed on to us by grandparents and other family members. Jaime’s sci-fi storylines combined with the street happenings of Hoppers make sense when you grow up in a culture that accepts the unknown.
In the pantheon of U.S. Latinx creative works, there are books, theater productions, TV shows, and movies that have received accolades for documenting and representing the Latinx experience. Love and Rockets deserves to be included in this list of greats. There are very few authentic and real representations of the Southern Californian Chicano and Latinx experience, and not many have managed to capture our stories so meaningfully and humorously as Jaime Hernandez.
If you are new to the Love and Rockets universe, I recommend starting with the Locas series which has been compiled into a graphic novel. There have been many iterations of Love and Rockets. The comic has been published in both the magazine format and graphic novel books. There are online guides to help read the stories in the narrative chronological order and a complete bibliography to help you navigate the various formats and issues. I also recommend reading the stories by Jaime’s brother Gilbert which are a separate world of amazing characters and storylines. Most of the comic book issues will contain stories by both brothers.