Hernandez, Los Bros
Los Bros Hernandez
Born August 14, 1957 (Oxnard, California)
American author, artist
Born April 27, 1959 (Oxnard, California)
American author, artist
"We're inspiring a new generation that is taking comics pretty seriously, like real fiction"
The brothers Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez—often recognized simply as "Los Bros Hernandez" or "The Hernandez Brothers"—are best known as co-creators of one of the most influential comic series in recent decades: Love and Rockets. Its introduction in 1982 was a breakthrough. For the first time, comics portrayed realistic stories about human relationships. What's more, the Hernandez brothers write about distinctly Latin culture. But "the gender slant of their work was more revolutionary than the ethnic slant of their work," Tony Davis, co-owner of The Million Year Picnic comic book shop, told the Cartoonista Web site, adding that "the strongest and best realized female characters in comics in the '80s and '90s were being done by two Latino men from California."
Love and Rockets, Vol. 1, #1–50 (1982–96).
Love and Rockets, Vol. 2, #1–(2001–).
Graphic Novels: Jaime Hernandez
Music for Mechanics (1985).
Las Mujeres Perdidas (1987).
House of Raging Women (1988).
The Death of Speedy (1989).
Flies on the Ceiling (1991).
Wigwam Bam (1994).
Chester Square (1996).
Whoa, Nellie! (2000).
Locas in Love (2000).
Dicks and Deedees (2003).
Graphic Novels: Gilbert Hernandez
Chelo's Burden (1986).
Tears from Heaven (1988).
Duck Feet (1989).
Blood of Palomar (1989).
Poison River (1994).
Luba Conquers the World (1996).
Girl Crazy (1997).
Fear of Comics (2000).
Luba in America (2001).
Palomar: The Heartbreak Soup Stories (2003).
Love and Rockets is the series title for a number of comic books created by Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez. Each issue features at least one story by each brother. Jaime Hernandez's stories revolve around Hispanic culture in Southern California, and Gilbert Hernandez's stories focus on the inhabitants of a small Central American town he calls Palomar. Love and Rockets stands out in the comics industry because both Hernandez brothers create such realistic, sympathetic characters, people with human strengths and weaknesses, hope and despair, futures and pasts. Through these characters, the brothers offer readers insight into such gripping issues as domestic violence, Catholic guilt, gang membership, immigration, long-term relationships, marriage, poverty, prostitution, and racism. Neither of the Hernandez brothers turn away from the gritty, dark, and troubling aspects of real life. Love and Rockets is thus rated "for mature readers" for the use of coarse language, sexual content, and mature topics. By showing some of the horrors of real life, the brothers are able to convey the joys of everyday life in a truly realistic way, revealing the strength of the human spirit. Quoted in the Los Angeles Times renowned graphic novelist Alan Moore (1953–; see entry) put it: "Instead of implying that the only real human heroism comes with transcendence into a super-human state of grace, [Gilbert] Hernandez uses a genuinely poetic eye to show us all the rich and shadowy passions that surge behind the bland facade of normal life.… (He) shows us a little of what humans are actually worth, and while some of it, predictably, is bad news, there are moments of understated optimism that are both touching and illuminating."
Growing up on a diet of comics
Born in Oxnard, California, in the late 1950s, Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez enjoyed the warmth of their large, close-knit family. Their neighborhood was filled with Mexican Americans who shared a strong cultural bond. Although their father died when the boys were very young, their mother maintained a solid family life for the six Hernandez children. "We saw the world through our mother's eyes," Jaime Hernandez told Hispanic magazine, "how everything was run by her, how she reacted to things." Both brothers would later credit their mother for influencing the strong female characters in their work.
The brothers had been reading and drawing comics since their youth. Their mother had been a fan of comic books and dreaded the memory of her own mother's disapproval of the medium, so she encouraged her children to indulge themselves, even allowing them to read comics at the dinner table. Although the boys had begun by drawing superhero comics, they eventually decided to draw their own life experiences. Gilbert Hernandez related to Publishers Weekly that creating comics "was such a part of me growing up that I never thought of it as a vocation or anything. I thought of it as amusement or to impress other kids." The boys kept their creations. "We didn't know what we were going to do with them," Jaime Hernandez told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, "because we never thought we were professional enough." But the brothers did not have strong aspirations for a different career. "Growing up," Gilbert Hernandez remembered in an interview with Los Angeles Times writer Sheila Benson, "the future didn't look too good to me. I thought I was destined for a life of odd jobs and drawing for fun. I did have a full-time job once, as a janitor, and it completely drained all the energy I had for drawing."
Creating Love and Rockets
In their late teens and early twenties, the brothers became self-described "punks," a distinct youth culture that developed in the late 1970s and centered on punk rock music and rebellion against norms in clothing and behavior. The brothers joined a rock band and collected a diverse group of punk friends who populated ethnically mixed neighborhoods around Los Angeles. Jaime Hernandez commented to Colorlines that, at the time, "the life we were living was more interesting than the comics we were reading." So the brothers decided to write their own comics, populating their stories with characters based on other punks they knew. With the urging of their brother Mario and financial help from their brother Ismael, Jaime and Gilbert self-published the first volume of Love and Rockets in 1981. They sent a copy to the influential Comics Journal for review; what they received was a contract to publish their comic with the then-fledgling publisher Fantagraphics. The success of Love and Rockets was enormous. The brothers were soon able to live off of the income from their comics work, an unusual feat in the alternative comics industry.
The brothers started their individual stories as short comic books made in monthly or bi-monthly installments. Mario occasionally contributed stories, but Jaime and Gilbert were the main creators. The two started out telling their own stories about the lives of the people they knew. The early stories mixed everyday trials and tribulations with science fiction storylines involving rockets and dinosaurs, common to most comics at the time. Bolstered by fan interest and approval of their characterizations, the brothers quickly rid their stories of the fantastic elements in favor of more realistic stories about their characters' lives. Jaime's stories focused on the people living "alternative" lifestyles in Southern California, whereas Gilbert began to concentrate on Hispanic culture "back home," as he told the St. Louis Dispatch.
Jaime Hernandez set his stories in the southern California community of Barrio Huerto, or Hoppers 13, as it came to be called after all the neighborhood low-riders (customized cars that sit low to the ground and are made to hop with the help of hydraulics or loose springs). The stories focus on the relationship between bisexual Margarita Chascarrillo, or Maggie, a mechanic who can repair just about anything, and her friend and sometimes lover, Esperanza Leticia Glass, or Hopey. Hopey holds a variety of jobs over the years, including one as a punk band member. The stories include a huge cast of ethnically mixed characters, including a variety of bandmates, a billionaire's wife, a dizzy blonde, and a struggling author. Each of Jaime's stories focuses keenly on the interactions and ongoing relationships between the various characters, revealing the intimate story of their personal lives.
Gilbert created the Central American village of Palomar as the home for his characters. He explained to Publishers Weekly that "the reason I chose to go with Palomar was that I could put enough of my own experiences and observations into a comic strip in a simple and direct way, using a small village." He added, in an interview with the Los Angeles Times, that "by making it an almost primitive little town, I could draw whatever I wanted. But I was also trying to make it feel like home to the reader: The most important thing was to make the reader feel he'd been there or that there could be such a place." Gilbert Hernandez populated his town with a number of distinctive characters, including the leading characters Luba and Chelo, two strong women who begin the series sharing the same profession—women who give baths to the townsfolk—but evolved into Palomar's mayor and sheriff, respectively. Gilbert told Publishers Weekly, "As things went on, I always felt guilty about abandoning characters, so the cast became huge." But in addition to the relationships between the townsfolk, the Palomar stories explore gang violence, political turmoil, and threats to entire communities, such as an at-large murderer.
The brothers have shared a work ethic and approach over the years. Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez create their comics sitting at simple writing desks with paper and pen to draw bold black-and-white images and write their text. Gilbert Hernandez estimates that it takes him about three months to complete a twenty-four page story. Both brothers prefer to write stories that come out in serial form first and are then collected into a larger graphic novel, mainly for financial reasons. But Jaime Hernandez commented to A.V. Club that "I would be too anxious. I'd be like, 'God, I've got 50 pages of work here that nobody's seen.' It would just drive me nuts. I like chunks of it coming out little by little." Over the years, the brothers' drawing styles changed. But Jaime revealed to A.V. Club that he never intended to stick with a consistent style. "I think if I had thought about the art having to be same from issue one to issue fifty, it would've drove me crazy. I just let it happen, and it gradually changed, because that was how I felt. There were times when I was dropping out all the cross-hatching because I just found it unnecessary after a while. But it was all natural, the way it happened. No game plan."
The Hernandez brothers not only introduced the qualities of realistic literature to the comics industry, they set the standard for the literary graphic novel. In the magazine The Stranger, Bret Fetzer praised Gilbert Hernandez's narrative talent: "The emotional power that accumulates over the course of Hernandez's Palomar stories is truly wrenching—he's one of the most gifted storytellers in comics, able to follow the paths of multiple characters through intricate plots." And by 1998, critic Patrick Markee noted in the Nation that "the Mexican-American Hernandez brothers' work is among the most vibrant literature published in the United States in the past fifteen years." In the 1980s, the Hernandez brothers began earning the industry's top awards for their work, and they continued to receive accolades decades later. In 2004, the brothers shared a Harvey Award for the best single issue or story of the year, for Love and Rockets, Vol. 9.
In addition to the brothers' influence on the content of graphic novels, their artistic innovation also transformed the medium. Gilbert Hernandez draws vivid landscapes, placing his characters in the larger context of their history. His hash marks and shadings convey the mood of his stories. Gordon Flagg commented in Booklist that among Hernandez's great strengths are his "expressive cartooning" and "masterful design sense." Jaime Hernandez has a cleaner, bolder style that captures the emotional shifts of his characters especially well. His artwork has received a great deal of industry attention and praise. Scott McCloud (1960–; see entry) told the National Public Radio program Weekend All Things Considered in 2002 that "there had been black-and-white comics before, but most of the black-and-white scene was really color comics waiting for color. When the Hernandez brothers worked in black and white, it was black and white. There was real sensibility to figure-and-ground relationships. Jaime was a real influence on a lot of artists who learned the value of spot blacks and contrast."
A five-year hiatus
The Love and Rockets stories have been likened to a soap opera. In both Jaime's and Gilbert's stories, the characters change, age, grow fat, dye their hair, get ill, and change careers. But after more than fifteen years and fifty issues of Love and Rockets, the Hernandez brothers had grown weary and in 1996 decided to stop publishing Love and Rockets. Gilbert Hernandez explained the decision to Noel Murray of the A.V. Club: "I just didn't want to ruin it. I didn't want to continue on like a television show that people enjoy and then they complain about the last two seasons or whatever. Or a great comic strip that just should've ended at a certain time. You know, an artist doesn't know his own decline. So I basically destroyed the town with an earthquake. I wouldn't be able to return to it if I wanted to, except maybe in flashback stories. The only regret I have is that there are characters I left there. Carmen and Heraclio and Sheriff Chelo I miss dearly, but I can't figure out how to do them again without making it too easy, like bringing them to America."
For five years the brothers worked on their own separate titles. Jaime Hernandez developed some of the minor characters from Love and Rockets more fully. Every year between 1998 and 2001, his series Penny Century, about one of Maggie's friends becoming a superheroine, won a Harvey Award. Gilbert Hernandez did a variety of adult comics, including a new comic for publisher DC Comics. The two also created their first stories for a younger audience (see sidebar).
Comics for Kids
Love and Rockets, the work on which the Hernandez brothers built their reputation and which changed the standards for graphic novels, is most appropriate for adults. It contains mature themes and images. However, both Hernandez brothers have created books for younger readers. Gilbert Hernandez created Yeah!, a children's book about an all-girl rock band and their adventures in outer space. "It's sort of a modernized Josie and the Pussycats meets the Spice Girls," Hernandez told Los Angeles Times contributor Jordan Raphael. Jaime explored the world of women's wrestling in an all-ages book called Whoa! Nellie, which won critical praise for its vivid wrestling sequences.
Their solo work never caught on with the public in the same way that Love and Rockets had, however. In 2001, they decided to reintroduce Love and Rockets. Gilbert Hernandez told the A.V. Club that "We did a few years of our own comics, but for some reason, Love and Rockets is such an iconic title. It's the perfect umbrella for our readers to go to us, find our work, and read what they want to read. Doing the separate comic books, we sort of scattered our readership, and they never came back. It was difficult to sell those books, because readers didn't even know they existed. I'd do a six-issue miniseries and no one would know about it. Basically, the title Love and Rockets was bigger than we were. We brought back the title, and boom, the readers came back."
Returning to Love and Rockets, the brothers took up where they left off. Maggie and Hopey had become middle-aged and Luba started new adventures in America (since Palomar had been destroyed). Neither brother had distinct plans for the future of their characters or the variety of other storylines and characters they might devise. But Jaime noted to the Los Angeles Times, "My only plan is that Maggie lasts forever—other than that, anything can happen."
With the reintroduction of Love and Rockets, both brothers published compilations of their earlier stories as graphic novels. Gilberts's Palomar: The Heartbreak Soup Stories came out in 2003, and Jaime's Locas: The Maggie and Hopey Stories the following year.
While the Hernandez brothers were joined by other serious-minded graphic novelists in the 2000s, Patrick Markee noted in the Nation that they remained the only recognized creators of "a rich and all-too-rare portrayal of Latino lives in all their messy, unrepresentative splendor." Gilbert Hernandez related to the Los Angeles Times that "I know it's important to have a Latino comic book out there; it's very important to me. When I throw up my hands in disgust at the market or changing tastes, I remember that if we don't do it, nobody else will."
For More Information
Artze, Isis. "Building Characters." Hispanic. (October 2000): 36.
Benson, Sheila. "A Novel, Realistic Approach to Comics Books." Los Angeles Times (July 16, 1991): 6.
Chang, Jeff. "Locas Rule: Los Bros Hernandez' Love and Rockets Is Back, and the Timing Has Never Been Better." Colorlines, vol. 5, no. 1 (Spring 2002): 39.
Fetzer, Bret. "Screw the System: Indie Comics vs. Respectability." Stranger (Seattle, WA; September 2–8, 2004): 25.
Flagg, Gordon. Review of Luba in America. Booklist (April 1, 2002): 1291.
Markee, Patrick. "American Passages." Nation, vol. 266, no. 18 (May 18, 1998): 25.
McDonald, Heidi. "Gilbert Hernandez's Palomar." Publishers Weekly (October 20, 2003): S12.
Raphael, Jordan. "Get Ready for the 21st Century." Los Angeles Times (June 13, 1999): 2.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch (January 3, 1993): C4.
"Drawing on Culture." Cartoonista. http://www.cartoonista.com/about/article.bostonglobe.html (accessed on May 3, 2006).
"Gilbert Hernandez." Read Yourself Raw. http://www.readyourselfraw.com/profiles/hernandez_g/profile_hernandezbeto.htm (accessed on May 3, 2006).
"Interview by Michael Gilman: Gilbert Hernandez." Dark Horse. http://www.darkhorse.com/news/interviews.php?id=619 (accessed on May 3, 2006).
"Jamie [sic] Hernandez." Read Yourself Raw. http://www.readyourselfraw.com/profiles/hernandez_j/profile_hernandezjamie.htm (accessed on May 3, 2006).
"Los Bros Hernandez, Interviewed by Noel Murray." A.V. Club. http://avclub.com/content/node/23357 (accessed on May 3, 2006).
"Profile: Return of the Comic Book Love & Rockets." Weekend All Things Considered. National Public Radio (March 31, 2002).