"Love and Rockets" is one of the most celebrated independent comic book series of all-time. Created by Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez, "L&R" spanss decades and formats, with Jaime's work focusing on a fictionalized version of the Southern California world they grew up in, and Gilbert's work employing several different genres including the magical realism of his "Palomar" stories. Published by Fantagraphics since 1982, it's a shining of example of both the vast array of stories that can be told in comics and independent, punk-rock inspired spirit.
Gilbert most recent project outside of "Love and Rockets" is "The Twilight Children," a DC/Vertigo series illustrated by Darwyn Cooke that merges the writer's love of science fiction and magical realism. Following its conclusion, Gilbert Hernandez sat down with CBR TV's Jonah Weiland during WonderCon in Los Angeles to discuss everything from his small town beginnings to what it's like bringing "Love and Rockets" back as single-issue comics. He also talks about his favorite collaborations, what he learned working for DC Comics and how the punk rock scene of the early '80s influenced him personally and professionally.
In the first part of his conversation with CBR TV, Gilbert Hernandez explains what it was like for him and his brother, Jaime, to grow up in a small town in Southern California and how that ultimately shaped what their comics became. He also discusses his ADD-influenced nature and how it's led him in a number of directions beyond "Love and Rockets," and recounts how "The Twilight Children," his acclaimed Vertigo collaboration with Darwyn Cooke, came to be.
How growing up in Oxnard, California led to making comics where there's "nothing going on":
Gilbert Hernandez: It's an agricultural town, it's low key. Places like that are great for little kids to grow up because you just walk down the street and play baseball with the kids, there's a ball park, all kinds of stuff. It's really low key. And then for people who don't want the fast-paced living [of Los Angeles], older people like to move there. It's terrible for teenagers because you're just bored to death. You have to figure out what to do so besides creating our own little music scene, our own punk scene, my brother and I were just doing comics just because it was something to do. And that was great because just using the basic background of the town, which is an agricultural, low key -- but having our enthusiasm for music -- punk music, regular rock and roll music -- movies, comics. We just decided to set it in a different place than normal. Comics at the time were mostly super hero in New York, but we just thought, "What it would be like doing comics where there's nothing going on?"
On what drives him toward each new project and how "The Twilight Children" came together:
It depends on I did last. If I'm really involved in something like more in "Love and Rockets" vein, more indie, more personal, where I'm writing and drawing, doing everything, sometimes when that's done I don't want to do that again right away. but I need to work. When they call me up from DC/Vertigo it's always, "Gilbert, you got a book in you? Want to do something?" And I open up my wallet, the moth flies out, I go, "Sure, why not?" [Laughter] But other than that, usually it's just for a creative change.
Working on "The Twilight Children" with Darwyn Cooke was perfect timing because they asked me to do it and I took a look at Darwyn's work -- I know his work, but I looked at it closer and I go, "This guy knows how to make a comic." He doesn't need me, but let's do this. Let me write this story, but I was gonna write it as simple as possible, As directly as possible, mostly dialogue, not a lot of description of what's going on, just letting him know it's a little fishing village, it'll move along at a certain pace and this and that. And he just ran with it, beautifully, he just knew what to do. So the synergy was there, and he hooked up with his friend and colorist, Dave Stewart, who just made the beautiful colors. It was just an ideal situation because we let it happen. A lot of times when people collaborate who have their own careers separately collaborate there's a lot of head butting. We were head-less. [Laughs] We basically just let it happen. Let it happen the script, let the art happen, he just let himself do it. That worked really well. We'd like to do another project together later on where he writes and I draw, so we'll see about that.
In the second half of the conversation, Gilbert Hernandez explains why "Love and Rockets" is back as a comic book at Fantagraphics, who his favorite collaborator has been and what he learned working with Peter Bagge at DC Comics. He also discusses the major impact punk rock had on both his life and his comics, giving him and his brother the right attitude to forge their own path and take chances on projects like "Palomar."
On his best collaboration with someone other than his brother, and what he learned working for DC Comics:
I think it was Darwyn [Cooke], actually. I've worked with other people that we worked fine, like Peter Bagge, but that book ["Sweatshop"] was actually difficult for me because it was the first thing I did outside of "Love and Rockets." And since you're working at DC they're more involved in getting the books out. They're scheduled, they got printers, they got colorists, they got all this stuff planned. Whereas indie comics are more like whenever it gets done. That's why you never see indie comics come out on time. [Laughs] Whereas DC, they don't enforce it but they would prefer to see this stuff happen on a normal basis. For me that's great, because it was a learning experience. It was really hard because I had to pump out all these pages at a certain time and it was grueling at first but I liked the discipline it creates.
On the return of "Love and Rockets" as single-issue comics at Fantagraphics:
It started out as a magazine for 50 issues, and we wanted to take a break to have our own little comics -- the comic-sized comics. We did a few of those and they basically asked us at Fantagraphics, "People really miss 'Love and Rockets.' Would you like to do it again?" I go, "If we change the format. I don't want to go back to the same thing." So we just decided to do it as a comic book.
So we did that for a few years and then the market was changing with graphic novels and collections, and bookstores seemed more appealing than only comic stores, because you can do both with graphic novels. We thought about it for a while but the trouble is you gotta put out a lot of pages. So for several years Jaime and I put out a 100-page book, which is 50 pages each, and that was fun at first because you could really spread out. You could do long stories, you could do two issues of one of those books and collect it, you got a book. But then it started to get tiresome, it really did, and we missed comic books. We grew up with comic books, I liked the fact that you could go every several weeks to the comic store and get the new issue of whatever you like. And indie comics are a little slower, but the idea that "Love and Rockets" will come out as a comic book again and more often, different covers, you get to see the cover, "Oh, new issue of 'Love and Rockets!'" That's fun. And Jaime prefers it, he prefers to do shorter bursts of energy coming out often. And I have to agree with him right now. I got a little bored with the long book. It was a little too labor-intensive. It was more about finishing it than enjoying it. Now we're gonna give that a try for a while and see how that goes.
On how the punk rock scene shaped him as a person and creator:
We were at the right age. I was 20-ish, Jaime was in his late teens, so we'd already been drawing our comics for ourselves and that music came and it was an "F you" attitude. All the Eagles fans and the Journey fans from the past are saying, "You listen to terrible music." [Laughter] We could just say, "F you. We got our scene, we got our music." And somehow that just -- we had comics to do and somehow that just, well we don't know what else to do. We just didn't want to repeat what was already done like Spider-Man or something. That requires discipline and listening to authority to get it right because Spider-Man is a licensed character. So we just didn't really want to do that even though we liked it. We were more, "F that, let's just do our own stuff." And I was doing goofy science fiction and Jaime just went right away with his punk girls and the scene. And that got such an immediate response because that really wasn't out there in comics. It is there now, but there really wasn't too much of that, if at all, back then. That's what it was. We were just energized and snotty and we didn't care what people thought about our comics.