Since his debut thirty years ago, Jaime Hernandez (along with his brother Beto) hasn't stopped influencing numerous generations of comic book writers, utterly seduced by the charms of those Locas in the pages of Love and Rockets. With The Love Bunglers (published in 2011) ou Browntown (2012), there is absolutely no doubt that he remains today as masterful and essential as ever.
Xavier Guilbert : You have an exhibition here in your own name — how do you relate to being part of the “Los Bros” entity ? Preparing for this interview, I ended up having a lot of questions comparing you to Gilbert, and I thought — no, this has to be about Jaime, and not about comparing the brothers. There’s a few of your books that have been published under just your name (namely, the Whoa, Nellie ! and the Penny Century books), but most of your output came out under the “Los Bros Hernandez” moniker. How do you feel about it ?
Jaime Hernandez : I like it. I like the fact that Gilbert and I are connected in a way, even if we do our works separate. It’s cool, you know ? I can’t think of anything else besides that. (laugh) I mean, it’s a good thing that I like Gilbert’s work a lot. I don’t know what would happen if I thought his work was terrible.
Xavier Guilbert : What is striking in the Love and Rockets issues, there’s no clear separation between your works. Sometimes there’s not even a chapter page — as a reader, it’s quite obvious whose work you’re looking at, but from a formal point of view, things are really mixed, presented as something of a whole.
Jaime Hernandez : Someone told us early on, when we were starting the comic, that they liked reading our stuff side by side, that the work complemented each other. We didn’t plan it or anything, it was just… sharing a book. Like an anthology book. There was a time where we were wondering, we were asking our publisher : “do you think we should start separating it, or put all his at once, and then mine ?” And they said : “no, no, no, it works this way. Somehow it does, you two guys together.” On the other hand, there have been people who asked : “why two people in this one book ?” And we’d say : “because there’s two of us.” (laugh) You know, simple. But there have been people who have been confused by it.
Xavier Guilbert : And even after so many years, you still enjoy this ?
Jaime Hernandez : Yeah, it’s — I guess also Gilbert keeps me on my toes. If he’s working on a story that’s really important to him, a stronger story than usual, it gets me more — like : “oh, I’d better keep up. He’s doing really good, I’d better step up my game.” And that always helps. And sometimes, he will loosen up, and then I would say : “oh, maybe I should relax.” It’s just a kind of a tempo thing, whether it speeds up, or slows down.
Xavier Guilbert : Do you think it also works the other way around ? You mentioned yesterday (during the public talk) that Gilbert gave a lot of positive advice, in the form of “let’s do this, let’s try that.” And here again you’re telling about him setting the pace.
Jaime Hernandez : I’m sure it goes both ways, but I can’t speak for him. This is mostly an unspoken thing. We just do the comic and don’t talk about it. We just say : “I’ve got those many pages”, “Okay, I’ve got this many pages”, you know, it’s basically like that.
Xavier Guilbert : I saw Gilbert during his tour promoting Marble Season, and he was talking about the early days before Love and Rockets, and working on comics with your older brother Mario. And he said that you kind of blossomed overnight — do you remember yourself going through that kind of phase ?
Jaime Hernandez : Not until somebody mentioned it. When they said my art turned overnight, I was like : “oh, really ?” I hadn’t noticed it at the time, and looking back, I guess it was. Because it was just the time that I was learning to do this. Learning to actually write a story from front to end. I never really did something that involved. An actual series where I had a ten-page story. Before that I would do a two-page story, or I wouldn’t finish the story. It was about the time right before we self-published Love and Rockets where I started to perfect that. That I started to be comfortable with that. Love and Rockets, in many ways, was timing. I was ready when we did it. If we did it two years before, I don’t know if I would have been ready. Maybe it would have been not as cohesive.
Xavier Guilbert : From a reader’s point of view, there’s still some of the learning process happening over the first issues. Especially when it comes to the page layout, in the first Hopey and Maggie story, Mechanics, there’s a lot of experimentation happening there : big splash pages and smaller panels. But very quickly, you settle down with the three-tiered organization of the page that’s predominant in your work (even if there’s also a four-tiered variation). You also tone down some of the most outrageous science-fiction elements. Basically, this happens over the course of Mechanics, and once it’s over, things are very close to what you’re still producing today.
Jaime Hernandez : I would say a lot of it is the learning process. Another part of it was finding my groove, finding where I wanted to end up. In the beginning, it was a free-fall : I was still learning, and I was — also, I didn’t care much about continuity. I was just putting whatever I felt down, not thinking about where it was going to lead to. When I changed the format to the three tiers, I wanted a certain structure where I was given three tiers to work with, and then I would fill in what it needed. I also did that because it would be easier to edit, as far as cutting out panels to move them. If I had all the panels basically of the same size, that was easier to edit.
Xavier Guilbert : Looking back at your work, Mechanics feels very much improvised, in the sense that there’s not much of a structure to it, rather than a series of events. The Death of Speedy and stories like Wigwam Bam, for instance, are very long and very structured. What led you to consider longer narratives, even within the constraints of what was a periodical ?
Jaime Hernandez : I just wanted to try it. Wigwam Bam was at first supposed to just be one part. But I thought : hey, why not continue this ? As I was going longer — I’m going to extend this, see if I can do this, and see if it works. It’s just basically the same thing : my characters’ lives continue. This was just in a chapter form. I would have followed their lives that way anyway, even if it was self-contained. I just wanted to do it. Gilbert had been doing it, and I thought : oh, this is different.
Xavier Guilbert : What story was that ?
Jaime Hernandez : It was Human Diastrophism. That may have been also when I was doing Death of Speedy, something more continued. A lot of times, I just know the characters are moving on with their lives, so I don’t really know where this is going to end.
Xavier Guilbert : For Death of Speedy, you must have had an idea of how the story was going to end, right ?
Jaime Hernandez : Yeah, I had seen a downfall in some form. And at the same time, I was thinking : I want to have someone die. Because I was tired of watching superhero comics that would make someone die, and I’d go : “well, that’s not how people die”, or “that’s not how I would see it. So I’m going to show you how to kill a person.” (laugh) So that was at the same time, and I was noticing that Speedy was suffering, there was something happening with him. And I decided to make that him : that’s why the story is titled “Death of Speedy” from the beginning. I didn’t know exactly what was going to happen, towards his death. I had his death, the actual death, thought out first, the ending.
Xavier Guilbert : There are a lot of elements that are put into place, leading up to it.
Jaime Hernandez : Yes. But I was thinking about it before that story, where I was having small scenes of Speedy and Maggie and different people. That’s when I started to see it, when I started that story, Death of Speedy. “Okay, he’s going to die. How ?” I know how the ending is, I don’t know how he’s going to get there, not yet. I had to fill it in.
That was also a time when I was thinking : I haven’t shown my teen years, my youth of low-riding and all that. I haven’t shown that in my comic in a while. So I’m going to do a whole story about it. All those elements came together. So it was : okay, Speedy is starting to get in trouble. So here is the gang element. I didn’t have to have the gang element : I could have just had the whole story about guys hanging out. But there was the gang element when I was growing up, which I mostly avoided. And the gang element helped to get the trouble started.
Xavier Guilbert : One aspect that is very interesting in your work is that, for instance, the relationship between Maggie and Hopey is, on very specific occasions (and usually aggression coming from other people), described as lesbian, but in general it’s considered very matter-of-factly by the other characters. They just are. Which made me thing of Krazy Kat, where Krazy Kat is sometimes being referred to as a “he”, sometimes as a “she”, and nobody really questions that. In a similar way, all your characters are Latinos, but they all have “American-sounding” nicknames. Only with Death of Speedy is the subject of the gangs brought up, but there’s not much in terms of social commentary.
Jaime Hernandez : No, I always wanted to just produce facts, and then let you make up your mind whether it was — you know, “I don’t know if I like those characters ; they come from a different world than me.” Well, that’s your problem, you know what I mean ? It’s like I wanted to — I don’t know how to describe it. (a pause) You’ve got the way the world works. In Southern California, where I’m from, lots of Mexicans, lots of people from Mexico came over to work in the fields, or looking for work. It was just people looking for work when it happened. Now, it’s history, the history of the Mexican people coming to California. History comes later. You’re living normal life, and this is how life is. Later, it becomes the plight of — this kind of people, how they were created. But at the time, it’s just somebody looking for a better life. It’s so hard for me to explain, but…
It’s up to you to question it. I’m giving you the facts, the people in this world, it’s up to you to decide what it means. Because for me, growing up Mexican in California, in the United States, there was a lot of things going there, but for me it was me and my family getting up in the morning, eating breakfast, going to school — you know, the whole thing. Someone who is not me would maybe see that differently. It’s like someone looking at my culture and saying : “oh, these people are just like this…” To me, that’s just normal life — that’s just survival. To somebody else, it’s that interesting, or maybe not interesting, mixture of things, of culture. Being inside of it, it’s just — me trying to get along. (laugh)
Xavier Guilbert : In Ghost of HOPPERS, you’ve got Maggie who’s visiting one of her sisters and going back to her old neighborhood. And then she thinks : “maybe I’ve become too white.” Are those questions that you also have yourself ?
Jaime Hernandez : Sure. My brothers and I, and my sister, we grew up — certain interests were different than with normal kids on our block. We were rock’n rollers, that was unheard of in my neighborhood. Mexican kids my age liked Soul music or Funk music, or oldies. We liked long-haired, rock’n roll, white-boy music, as they called it (laugh). And a lot of times from different kids, they looked down on me : “you’re not a real Mexican.” Well, that’s your problem (laugh). So I kind of wanted to stick that in with Maggie, that she was always different than the kids, than her upbringing. Like when her family moved away, the people she’s visiting, they were raised different than how Maggie was raised when she was separated from them. And she couldn’t almost relate to them because they were different — they were different classes, almost. I just wanted to do that, because I witnessed a lot of that as a kid.
Xavier Guilbert : At the same time, it’s one of the most feminist (in a positive way) work that I can think of. There’s Maggie who wants to become a mechanic, and a lot of people telling her she shouldn’t, the fact that you’ve got a lot of women deciding what their lives should be, regardless of what other people think. To the point that some people were surprised that it was a guy who was writing those stories.
Jaime Hernandez : During many years, people thought I was Jamie, that I was a girl, a woman (laugh). So basically, you’re asking : why me, straight male… ?
Xavier Guilbert : No, it’s more about what got you interested in telling stories with that many girls ?
Jaime Hernandez : It started out, basically, being… a young kid liking women, for many different reasons (laugh). I was 13 years old, Gilbert encouraged me to start drawing. I drew terribly, but it was a turn-on. I wanted to draw sexy girls. But somewhere along the way, putting them in comics, which I probably learned from Gilbert — he was older, you know — was like : if you’re going to do it, you’d better back it up. You can’t just draw your sexy girls and put them in comics and expect everyone to accept it. Because there’s going to be people out there who won’t accept it. And so I was concerned about everybody across the board. I expected — I knew my comics had to appeal to everybody. I wasn’t drawing them for a specific group, or sex, or whatever. I had to give it even ground for everybody. It was a responsibility, even as a young teenager, that I felt I had to keep everybody happy kind of thing. So it became this responsibility, and… Also, I learned : “oh, make them human.” That takes care of 99.9 % of it. And then part of me said : if I make them human, I can draw them anyway I want (laugh).
Xavier Guilbert : There’s a huge diversity of women in terms of sizes and body types. They are completely different, they’ve got different attitudes, they put on weight, they age. Were you that versatile from the beginning ? With the gang around Maggie and Hopey, there’s Izzy, then the Japanese girls…
Jaime Hernandez : In the beginning, it just gave me something different to draw. And I thought it would be cool to make them different so you could tell them apart, basically. Later, I started to think more of the different — “oh, I haven’t not drawn a thin person, or a really thin person”, or “I haven’t drawn a person with this make-up, this physical appearance.” That also filled in because I had so many characters to work with. So I had to think about different ways of making the characters so you could tell them apart.
Xavier Guilbert : And yet, looking at superheroes, they all fall on three different body types, with all the women looking basically the same.
Jaime Hernandez : Yes, you look at a Marvel or a DC comic book, you look at the characters on the cover, and the only way you know who the characters are is by their costume. I look at a cover of X-men — I haven’t followed the X-men since I was a teenager, and I look and I go : “I don’t even know who these characters are ! Oh, she has red hair, that must be Jean Grey.” That’s all, that’s the only connection. “Oh, she has a blonde streak in her, she must be that character Rogue.” And that’s the only connection, because the artist has no intention of making them look like how they originally looked. Even if the original artist Jack Kirby was not so diverse in changing the faces of the people, in place of that, he gave them different looks, and different superheroes got different trademarks — color of hair and things like that. While I would have made it important to keep their look, the way they carry themselves, that’s important to me, these artists don’t care. They just want to do their version — their version meaning : “I want to draw him my way, but giving him the same costume.” It doesn’t make much sense to me. I mean, other than — oh, that’s what they like, the superhero stuff (laugh).
Xavier Guilbert : There’s a page in Love and Rockets listing all the arguments made against your work — and they often seem to come in pairs : “too this”, and at the same time “not enough that”. So again, you’re going to say that it’s up to the reader to make his own mind ?
Jaime Hernandez : Sometimes, of course, there are criticisms about me. I don’t get as much criticism as I used to, I don’t know why. Maybe, because I’m an old cartoonist, and they leave us old cartoonists alone (laugh). I would almost listen to what they say, that criticism. But many times, I ignored it, because a lot of it was just dumb. “They’re too this” — what do you mean, they’re too this ? Yeah, I’ll take it under consideration, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to change it. Because you haven’t convinced me that I’m doing something that I shouldn’t. If it was stone-cold, hard historical facts, then I would have to consider that. But if it’s like : “you decided to draw Maggie fat, we didn’t like that.” You didn’t like that — too bad. (laugh) There are people who do. Are you going to go out on the street and tell a real person : “I don’t like you because you’re fat” ? Maybe there are people who do that, but — but I just treat it the same way.
Xavier Guilbert : Based on the frequency of your signature, it seems you work on very short chunks of stories. Even in the longer narratives, it seems to come down to two-, three-page spans. Is it the way you approach the stories, trying to get this moment right before moving on to the next ?
Jaime Hernandez : A lot of times. Sometimes not. Sometimes it’s all I’ve got written so far. And I will just put that down and… and I’m thinking kind of cinematically as well, thinking about movies. So I’m thinking : after this, it’s time to change the tone. Maybe I will return to where this first part was, but it’s time to — it’s also, I guess, how people write a song. You have your chorus, you have the different parts, and the song is going at this tempo, and then you want to slow it down. Or you want to speed it up. It’s kind of how I do the stories as well. It’s kind of a flow, and the bumps that come with it. The downhill, the uphill.
Xavier Guilbert : Do you think this kind of rhythm within the number of pages you have at your disposal within a specific issue ? Like the way TV shows are very much based on a specific formula.
Jaime Hernandez : I guess, in a way, yeah, that I need a certain amount of emotion and events to satisfy me, and hopefully, the reader, before I finish something. Unless I’ll challenge myself and say : “okay, this is not going to have any ups and downs, it’s just going to go straight.” And well, my attention span and patience will tell me how far I want to go. If I find that I’ve expected too much of this, I can decide it’s time to break it up, or — “let’s mix things up here !”
It’s almost a breathing exercise (laugh). I need so much of this, and then I need so much of that. Like “it’s time to work on my legs — go running ; it’s time to work on my upper body…” You know, it’s the same thing, the way I approach a story, or the flow of a story. The beat of a story.
Xavier Guilbert : Even with the New Stories books, with the longer format, your stories are usually not in one big chunk, but broken down into chapters. So there’s definitely something around 25 pages that represents your comfort zone.
Jaime Hernandez : Sure. (a pause) Some of this stuff I don’t think about until it’s mentioned. I’m not sure how to answer that one.
Xavier Guilbert : I mentioned the four-tiered page organization — you mentioned the “cinematic aspect”, and I find that storytelling format very cinematic, just for the size of the panels that is close to the movie screen format. But also how you use it, for instance with The Love Bunglers, with the V-shaped organization. I’ve tried to look for something similar in your work, but I have the impression it’s the only time you’ve used something that obvious. But anyways, you put the four-tier page in action there, and it emphasizes this scene in a very efficient way.
Jaime Hernandez : Yes, but I use the four-tier for economic reasons. I usually use the four-tier when I have a conversation in real time. If I don’t want to jump cuts so much, and I want to stay on this one scene for a while, I’d be wasting space if it was three tiers. When it becomes a conversation, it becomes basically talking heads. It’s just two people talking to each other, it doesn’t really need that much visual, if I’m staying on the same scene. And so the four-tier is, a lot of time is economical. And I do like the letterbox size of it. I’ve been trying to find a way to do four-tier, but larger, so I could put more details in the drawings. But I haven’t made the jump to making my art larger. I’m so used to it — my eye-range reaching a certain point when I’m working. If it gets bigger, I’m further back from it, and it’s not as intimate for me.
Xavier Guilbert : I suppose it also changes your whole body position.
Jaime Hernandez : Yes. And when the work’s smaller, I’m more closed in, and there’s less… less around me. There’s just me and the page. When the page gets bigger, I’m back up and everything gets broader, and I don’t have as much intimate control over it.
Xavier Guilbert : Speaking of the four-tier, there’s the whole story of La Maggie where Maggie is visiting Queen Reña, and it’s all told in the way of someone being on vacation and sending out postcards. And the letterbox size fits that mood well. That story also struck me because you said you didn’t care for continuity, but this one more or less picks up with things that appeared in the very first Mechanics story, like Tse Tse and a direct reference to the text. And this, even if there’s been some kind of rationalization of the most sci-fi elements, such as Costigan’s horns being only bone outgrowth.
Jaime Hernandez : It does all relate, but interpreted by different people, differently. I mean, I don’t know how clear it is, but when Maggie’s at home with Hopey, Hopey is never around rockets or dinosaurs or anything like that. Hopey is based in the real world. When Maggie is with Hopey and their gang, there’s none of that crazy stuff. When Maggie goes to work, it’s that crazy world. I kind of treated it like Maggie had this weird job that nobody but her knew about. She would go to this job, and it would just be a whole different world. And in a way, yes, it was a whole different world, it was that science fiction world. So that’s how I handled moving into the more real world. I just treated it, that Maggie had this crazy job that she would go to, and when she’d get home she would lead a normal life. And that kind of helped — I hope it helps being not so confusing.
Xavier Guilbert : You’ve got an incredible attention to detail. In one of the most recent New Stories, there’s the diary of Letty Chavez, who dies aged fourteen in a car accident, and who’s a friend of Maggie. And that’s something that you referenced way back in issue #13. The same goes with the story Browntown, where there was a comment in a previous story on Maggie’s brother that “oh, he might prefer boys” that suddenly takes on an altogether different meaning. Do you keep notes and cards to track that, or do you have all your characters in your head ?
Jaime Hernandez : They’re in my head, mostly, but sometimes I have to look at the older issues. And sometimes it’s harder because there’s so much of it, and I’ll go back and… Like her brother : her brother came by accident — her brother Calvin. Because I had, back in issue #7, I had mentioned that Maggie had a family of six kids. As the series progressed, I created five of them. And I went back one day, and I just happened to be reading the old story, and I went : “oh ! I said six ! and I only gave her five !” Almost at the last minute, in a story, I have her youngest brother saying : “Oh, Calvin ran away. He got in trouble.” Then I said : ok, now I’ve established Maggie’s got a missing brother, and I just kept thinking : what happened to him ? For the longest time, at the back of my head, as I was doing the series. When I came to doing Browntown, I was ready to tell his story. So sometimes I have to fix things that I missed. I keep it most in my head, and obviously, I didn’t keep that “six kids” in my head. (laugh) But I think it turned out for the better, because it created a whole new story. Sometimes fixing mistakes turn out to be my best stories, because I am forced to create ideas to fill in the gaps, and that makes me work harder. And it makes it more detailed, with a lot more going on.
Xavier Guilbert : Indeed in that case, with something that seems to be a very light comment, giving it a new meaning altogether makes the payoff so much more efficient. Makes one want to get back and read again the story in the light of this new information, and wonder… Someone online built a big listing of all your characters and tried to put down all the chronological data, and it seems that Maggie is about five or six years younger you ?
Jaime Hernandez : Maggie is as old as my sister, yes.
Xavier Guilbert : And Ray is what, about your age ?
Jaime Hernandez : No, Ray is between. At first, he was as old as my younger brother, but then I found a mistake and I said — no, no ! he’s a year younger than my brother. So now I know he’s between my younger brother and my wife.
Xavier Guilbert : But Maggie followed your sister, basically.
Jaime Hernandez : Yeah. So I see what my sister’s up to to know where Maggie is now. Sometimes the stories I’m writing are not present — because the comic time falls behind real time and I have to catch up. And sometimes, that’s how stories happen. I’d say — okay, they are falling behind, they are five years back. How do I deal with this ? Then I’d create a story where there’s a jump in age.
Xavier Guilbert : And that’s very efficient. I’m thinking about the gap that happens at the end of the first run of Love and Rockets, with Maggie and Hopey reunited. Then there’s this jump in time which leads us to Ghost of HOPPERS, with Hopey older with a kid, and something happened and the relation has been strained between them. And even if we don’t have the explanation, there’s this definite impression that time has passed and life goes on.
Jaime Hernandez : A lot of times, I like the reader to fill that in. I’d leave things open, because I like to involve the reader. And hope they’ll accept what I give (laugh). The time passing — I treat it like people I know. Like I haven’t seen — I haven’t seen Maggie in five years ; next time I’ll see her, what is she going to be like ? That’s how I treat it, so I continue to know the characters.
Xavier Guilbert : One thing that I noticed reading all of it in sequence, is that people often talk about it as being about “Maggie and Hopey”, but it’s mostly about Maggie. Maggie is the unifying thread — with Ray, to a certain extend — to all that’s been published so far. With the New Stories, and also with Ghost of HOPPERS, is that there’s a kind of a new generation of characters coming in, younger characters : Angel and Vivian… do you feel the need to involve Maggie in this ? Why not do something entirely new with those characters ? Is it interesting for you to link it to your existing characters ?
Jaime Hernandez : Yeah, because it’s all part of one big family. They are all linked somehow, because they all live in the same town. Or most of them. Also, Maggie is so personal for me to write, it’s hard to keep her out of a story. I kept her out of these last two issues on purpose, just so I could break off and work on someone else, but the whole time I’m working on these people’s lives, I know the basic area where this is happening, and in the back of my head, I know Maggie’s living five-ten miles away from that situation. I know Hopey’s in another direction. It’s about keeping the whole world in mind when I’m writing. These characters, if they are connected somehow, even if I create a character that has nothing to do with Maggie, I know Maggie is still living in the world, in the back of my head. And a lot of times, she’s so easy to write, she can fill a lot of empty parts that I can’t fill — she can fill a lot of holes. I sometimes mean to keep her away, but she’s so personal a character, I can’t keep her out of my head.
Xavier Guilbert : The story with the T-Girls, basically all she does is she reads comics while they are out saving the world. And we’re back with maybe, Maggie is something of plot device because she has this kind of vivid imagination. But she doesn’t have a lot of impact on the story itself.
Jaime Hernandez : It’s kind of like, for Gilbert, all his stories are centered around this small town of Palomar. No matter what he does, no matter how far he goes, it all goes back, it’s all linked to Palomar. Maggie is my Palomar. Everything that happens is all linked to her somehow. It wasn’t on purpose, it just is. Because like I said, her character is — me, the biggest part of me, when I’m writing.
Xavier Guilbert : She’s got a special place, that’s for sure. Ray also has a special place, not as much as a character, but more as a narrator. I think he’s the only character in the whole Love and Rockets who speaks in the first person. Again, there’s this sequence in The Love Bunglers where Ray tries to remember, but there’s always one black panel because he forgets things, that’s very efficient from a narrative point of view. You said somewhere that Ray and Maggie were two aspects of yourself.
Jaime Hernandez : Yes, I created Ray to take the parts of Maggie that I couldn’t put into her. Basically, Maggie cannot go to the men’s washroom (laugh). You know ?
Xavier Guilbert : Well, she could, but…
Jaime Hernandez : Yes, but that would take a whole different turn, if she did. As for the first person narration, I chose that to be Ray’s way of speaking in the comic. Maggie’s way is her thought balloons and her reactions to what’s going on. Ray, I decided, his stories would be told differently, in a first person narrative. Hopey’s stories — Hopey has no thought balloons. In the early issues, she did, but I got rid of that, because I thought : Hopey shouldn’t have thought balloons, Hopey is just Hopey, and what you see is what you get from Hopey. Let’s see. I’m trying to think if there’s another character… Off the top of my head, I can’t — Angel is kind of a mix between Maggie and Hopey, where she has not thought balloons, but we are seeing it through her eyes. You are seeing what she is feeling, but without words.
Xavier Guilbert : When you deal with kids, the art is very different, very reminiscent of Archie or maybe Peanuts. Your art is usually of the “realistic” kind, for lack of a better word — but with the kids, it’s definitely different, more cartoony. Why is that ?
Jaime Hernandez : In the beginning, it just felt natural to do it that way. As a little kid, I used to draw comic books about little kids like me. And that Peanuts, Denis the Menace, I would look to : big heads, little bodies. It just felt right in Love and Rockets. It’s easy to draw, that’s another thing. And it just captures childhood for me, the way they are drawn. There’s no real secret behind it, it just felt right what I did it. When I draw more realistic kids, I don’t feel as magical with it as I do.
Xavier Guilbert : Do you think it also fits with what you said about point of views. The fantastical elements being echoes of Maggie’s look on the world, this question of perception…
Jaime Hernandez : Sure. I would think so. Like I said, it’s not so intentional, but it worked, it felt better when I did it that way the first time. In a way, it is seeing the world… I never thought about it much, but… yeah, sure. I’d buy that (laughs).
Xavier Guilbert : So you have a very elaborate hierarchy of your characters, about what they do and what you’re going to tell through them ?
Jaime Hernandez : Yeah, basically, the main ones. And also, Ray’s stories are told in three tiers. Maggie’s can be told in any tier.
Xavier Guilbert : Ray’s first stories are also some sort of pastiche of Film Noir or Raymond Chandler stories.
Jaime Hernandez : Yeah, and that just turned out — it wasn’t planned like that, but it just turned out that way. I have never read any of the Chandler’s books or anything, but I’ve seen the movies, the Film Noir, and I always liked when they talked about specific places. Especially the ones that happen in Los Angeles where I’m from. It would say : “And I picked up this dame on the corner of Franklin and Vermont, and…” and hey, I know where that is ! I’ve had lunch there all the time ! (laugh) Stuff like that. It worked magic on me, and I thought why wouldn’t I start and put that stuff in ? And with Ray, I started to name specific places. I used to avoid that when I was young, but now I thought — why not ? Name a place, so maybe somebody reading it, it won’t mean much to them, but if they are ever visiting Los Angeles and they’re driving and they see the street signs and they go : “oh, this is where Ray was at…” It brings you closer to the characters. I just want you to get as close as you can to particular characters, like Ray and Maggie, especially. Some of them, you don’t need to be too close to. Some of them, I like to keep a mystery, like Vivian : I prefer her to be this bit of walking trouble in your life, that you can’t wait till she leaves, before something happens (laugh). I kinda like that with her, so I don’t give you much. I leave a lot of guessing with her.
Xavier Guilbert : Coming back to Ray and Maggie, in The Love Bunglers, you have those two pages with nine panels each, that show different stages of Ray and Maggie growing up in parallel. And it’s very potent, in the sense that it bookends their whole story, in a way. I was wondering if it was difficult to pick up the series from there, after that — and keep on telling stories involving Ray and Maggie, after reaching something that could be a good ending for them.
Jaime Hernandez : I wrote it to have that closure, on purpose. I wanted to do it where I put an end to it, and if I died the next day, I was okay with that. I just wanted to see if I could do that. I know life goes on, it’s kind of like in your life, when a loved one passes away. And you’re like : “this is over.” But no, it’s not. Next day, you go on with your life — maybe differently. So I treated this the same way. I’m not through with Maggie, and Ray, and Hopey, and all of them. This was just a bit of closure for… so you can breathe, and be satisfied, until the next one. (laugh)
Xavier Guilbert : And for instance, after doing something like The Love Bunglers where you said that you had done something that felt right, how was it to go back to the drawing board ? How do you follow it up ?
Jaime Hernandez : It’s like I’m starting over again. After I’ve done something successful that I feel I’ve put everything into, I go : “well, here we go again. Let’s start from the bottom up, and start working towards the next part.” And hopefully, this batch of work will lead up to something, hopefully as satisfying. But it’s always a build-up process. Once in a while, I would do a story that would get a good response and stand by itself. But I think a lot of it, the strength comes from building something. And by the time there’s the payoff, of some kind of payoff, it earned that because I worked my way toward it.
Xavier Guilbert : You’ve got a new Love and Rockets (New Stories #6) premiering tomorrow. How does it feel to have a new book out ?
Jaime Hernandez : I’ve forgotten about it, you know ? You finish it, and…
Xavier Guilbert : You’re already working on the next one ?
Jaime Hernandez : Yeah, mostly notes. I haven’t put anything down yet.
Xavier Guilbert : What is your process, by the way ? I’ve seen some notes, but do you do pages layouts and the like ?
Jaime Hernandez : The thumbnails are in the notes. So when I’m saying “Maggie walks through the door”, and when I’ll figure out where she is, I’ll put down : “at the market”, or something like that. So I’m thinking visually when I’m putting those notes down. So by the time it’s time to put it down on paper, I don’t do thumbnails, I go straight to the board. And I edit on there, I’m erasing a lot, I’m moving panels…
Xavier Guilbert : Chester Brown explains in Showing Helder how he works on Post-It notes, or cutting up his pages.
Jaime Hernandez : Sometimes, I have to do that when I edit. I ink it, and I think : “this is good”, and then I look at it, and I go : “weeell, I didn’t need this”. So I’d cut it up, or if it’s just penciled, I’d use a light board and I’ll shift the panels like that. So yeah, it’s a mixture of everything. A lot of times, the characters start the stories, the characters write the story. Like, right now, this new issue. I’m returning to Maggie and Hopey, and it’s them taking a road trip, but I don’t know why. I haven’t figured that part out, but I just know I’m picturing them on a road, either taking a bus or driving cross-country or something. All I know is it’s them together, travelling together. Who knows, by the end of the story, it could be meaning something completely different from what I have in my head now. It’s very rare when I have a real story to put the characters inside. Usually, it’s the story I put inside the characters.
Xavier Guilbert : Daniel Clowes was saying about Ghost World that the characters existed, and he was just there to throw situations at them and see how they would react. Is the creative process painful in some way ? Is it enjoyable ? Do you have moment of self-doubts ? Do you go through phases, where…
Jaime Hernandez : It’s all in there. Every issue has every bit that you just mentioned. I can be really excited about, like I just said, Maggie and Hopey travelling together. I’ll be really excited about it, and then I’ll come to this block and be like — this isn’t working. All of a sudden, all of it is shit, it’s no good. I’ll go : “this is terrible. I don’t know what to do with this”. So I leave it alone and I go away, and I can’t go near it for weeks. Something’s got to give — so I’m just doing my chores : driving my daughter to school, or pick her up from school, folding laundry… and the whole time, just swimming at the back of my head : “what can I do with that thing ?” I don’t try, I don’t take notes or anything, it’s just something in my head. Sometimes, I can’t get back to the drawing board for weeks, because it just won’t let me.
Xavier Guilbert : So you mean that at a given time, you’re only working on one story ? You don’t have different stories you’d be working on in parallel ?
Jaime Hernandez : Sometimes there’s a few, but… It’s not as easy for me as, say, for Gilbert. He can work on three things at once. I put everything in me — my whole soul ! — inside what I’m working on. And it’s hard to break away from that. Sometimes, I get a side project. Usually, I’m hoping it’s a side project where I don’t have to think about much, where I mostly go on autopilot and let the drawing do the talking (laugh). But sometimes I’m doing a side story for someone else, a single story. That’s a good break. But while I’m doing all that, my head is still swimming in this Love and Rockets story : “what’s happening, what are they going to do, how can I save this, how can I make it fresh it seems so old, so tired, after thirty years I have no more ideas…” I start feeling that way. And then there’s just the time where I sit down and I look at it again. One day, I feel — I can do this. It’s a mental thing that I go through.
Xavier Guilbert : Does it stop there ? I mean, actually drawing the story is also a lengthy process, where you can have plenty of time to keep on thinking about it. Once you get to the drawing board, do you know what you want to do ? Or is there still part of that process going on ?
Jaime Hernandez : It’s almost like — now I have the courage to put things down on paper. I have courage, I don’t have doubt. Whatever I’m going to put down there is going to work, and it’s going to help the next bit of the process. So it’s like the block is almost like cold feet : I don’t trust my skills. I don’t trust that it’s worth putting down. So I have to re-trust myself again, you know what I mean ? And it’s frustrating. That’s a really stressful and frustrating time of the work. The best part of the work is finishing it. Is when I’m watching it, and things falling into place. I color in the black areas, and — I can see this, I can see it now, I can see the end ! There are times when I’m drawing it where I don’t see it. But I know after all this years — don’t stop, because you’ll find it, it’s just going to be a little painful before you get there (laugh).
Xavier Guilbert : So you’ve finished New Stories #6, did you start on the next one right away, or did you give yourself a bit of a vacation ?
Jaime Hernandez : More a breather — it’s at this point mental more than physical. The breather is giving myself a breather away from the actual, physical, drawing and all that. A lot of it is just in my head, like I said, swimming around. And taking notes, so I don’t forget the things I thought along the way. It’s Maggie and Hopey, where they going — I don’t know. I haven’t figured it out. I have choices, different ideas, but I don’t know which one it’s going to be at the end. Until it starts to make sense. Like : “Oh, okay. Then they will be going to this reason, because that reason will help this scene here work better.”
Xavier Guilbert : Do you share part of this process ? You mentioned talking to Gilbert or discussing with your wife — are those people resounding boards, or do you keep that to yourself ?
Jaime Hernandez : I mostly keep to myself, but once in a while I would just talk to my wife and ask her : “what is it that Maggie and Hopey are going to do ? what’s wrong ?” I don’t know, when something is not working. She doesn’t necessarily give me an idea, but she gives me — she reassures me. Or she doesn’t want to hear it that day, “you’re on your own” (laugh). Something like that.
It’s rare that I ask Gilbert. I don’t ask him specifics, because I don’t want him to specifically tell me : “well, make them take a taxi instead of a bus”. That’s not what I want to hear. It’s more like — am I going in the right direction here, or should I start over ? Am I wasting my time ? I guess that’s what I am looking for through someone like Gilbert and my wife. I don’t think I ask anybody else. I’ve tried to ask my daughter, because lately I’ve started to work with characters her age, or around her age. It’s like I’m not expecting an answer but I’m curious to know her take on it. “What do you think they should do ?” But my daughter just goes : “I don’t know !” (laugh)
Xavier Guilbert : It’s been thirty years you’ve been doing Love and Rockets. You are, without a doubt, one of the most influential creators alive in comics. Do you feel any kind of pressure when you release a new book ? Or is it still the same punk attitude, where you don’t care much what people think ?
Jaime Hernandez : I’m, maybe not so cocky anymore, but it’s still — I still want to do this. While I get all this praise, gallery shows and people inviting me to hear me talk — that’s beautiful, you know. I’m very flattered and grateful. But I know that once I get back to the drawing board, I’ve got to work my ass off. I can’t live off my easy-going “fame”, because I know this world I created wasn’t based on people telling me how wonderful I am. This was based on really busting my ass to tell the best stories I could. That’s why I’m here : because I did bust my ass. I still know that I have to still bust my ass to keep putting out work that I think, is up to my standards.
[Interview conducted on August 17, 2013 in Minneapolis, during PFC#4]