Monday, June 2, 2014

Context and Reference: The Love and Rockets Companion

Written and edited by Marc Sobel and Kristy Valenti, The Love & Rockets Companion is an incredibly useful source of information and background regarding Gilbert & Jaime Hernandez and their seminal series. However, its content is quite separate from the forthcoming Love and Rockets Reader, which will include critical essays, including an issue-by-issue breakdown of the original series by Sobel. That's the book I'm really looking forward to, especially because I'm curious to see if Sobel also happens to grapple with the Hernandez's more recent works in addition to the first series. The Companion is more of a research resource, chock full of all sorts of lists, interviews and guides.

For a series whose stories jump back and forth in time, the chronology assembled for Jaime's Locas stories and Gilbert's Palomar stories is especially useful. It also doubles as a kind of Cliff's Notes for the series, hitting the major beats of the plots as it zeroes in on key characters. The character guides are also useful, especially now that both brothers are bringing back older characters that may have slipped one's mind. The guides were originally created by Chris Staros back in his pre-Top Shelf, Staros Report days. The book is cleverly designed but also remarkably unfussy. For example, there's a useful family tree for both brother's characters that's on the back of the book's dust jacket. There's text on the vertical edge of the pages that indicate what section the reader is in, be it "interview", "chronology", "check-list", etc. This is a book that is meant to be used, and the editors went to great lengths to make that experience as simple as possible.

The real meat of the book are three separate interviews with the brothers. The first was conducted by Gary Groth, Robert Fiore and Thom Powers in 1989. This was probably at the height of the brother's initial popularity. The second was conducted by Neil Gaiman in 1995, at a point when the brothers were starting to ponder ending the first volume. Both of these interviews were originally published in The Comics Journal. The third interview as conducted by Sobel, and this was the one I found most interesting. It touches on their status as family men and the fathers of teenagers, their opinion on their legacies, their thoughts on their most recent work and their views on their current status in the world of alt-comics. As always, Gilbert comes off as the most curmudgeonly of the two writers, railing against the current world of indy comics before confessing that he's not all that familiar with much of it, and Jaime coming off as more self-deprecatory and slightly shy. Gilbert in particular is reacting to criticism of his recent interest in using his character Fritz as a means to explore different kinds of genre and pulp comics, rather than write about his Palomar characters. On the other hand, Jaime had just finished up his superb "Love Bunglers" storyline that earned him a shelf full of comics awards and more recognition than he's received in nearly twenty years. He confirmed that one reason why he ended "The Love Bunglers" the way he did was in case he got hit by a bus that there would be a reasonable ending to his series. The one question that I would have liked to have seen asked, that I have never seen asked, is what kind of impact the comic has had on the Latino community and what sort of response they've received.

There are other goodies in here, like an interview with Gary Groth about publishing the brothers, a selection of the best letters and extras from Love & Rockets over the years (like the Brothers' favorite comics and records) and that aforementioned checklist, which contains information on a number of obscure publications the Brothers have appeared in over the years. The folks who would find this book most useful are dedicated fans who pretty much have everything but are interested in recent insights, and relatively new fans who are intimidated by thirty years of comics and need help keeping various plot threads and characters straight. It's a useful, entertaining, thoroughly-researched tool for those who want to dive a little deeper into the worlds of Palomar and Hoppers.

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