Where Did All The Cool Kids Go?

Old punks never intended to be role models for everybody else, but it still fucking happened anyway. Musicians and other trendsetters who always championed forging individual paths of your own still got everyone following their example. They bought into the ideological purity of The Ramones’ basic beats, and the political disgust of The Clash, and even the inevitable tragedy of the Sid Vicious lifestyle. These punks left big footprints in modern culture that others can’t help stepping in.

Still, some things do actually last longer than the feedback that lingers from a two-minute buzzsaw of a song, especially when it’s all put down on paper in thick, dark ink. There have been 40+ years of Love and Rockets comics, and Jaime Hernandez’s Locas saga has built up from a pure punk beginning to a legacy unparalleled in modern comic books – a deep, enriching, and emotional series of stories about ordinary folk in an extraordinary world.

Hernandez has produced years and years of great comics that have always maintained a terrifically high standard. The science-fiction stories of the early days soon gave way to crunchingly realistic tales of life somewhere in California and tackling all the big issues of self-worth and suicide and enduring friendship, with the layers of emotion spread thick over years of storytelling. He’s even gone back to the sci-fi for some stream of consciousness brilliance in recent years, but the Locas goes on.

Love and Rockets #2

Brother Gilbert, who has shared space in various volumes of Love and Rockets over the years, has an output that is wildly variable. Just when you’ve written him off, or gotten completely lost in his vast and intense family dramas with massive breasted-women, he’ll hit the reader with an emotional kick in the head, one that makes all the meandering so worthwhile

But Jaime’s work is as beautiful and as tender as it was years ago, and is consistently rewarding. All the cool kids raved about Love and Rockets in the 80s, before moving onto other pursuits, while Jamie has just kept blazing away with absolute sincerity — the punk grown up. A new issue of Love and Rockets is quickly snapped up by the faithful, but hardly makes a dent in mainstream comics culture, where there is far more concern about how Polaris is going to fit into the new X-Men line-up.

Occasionally the collected edition of something like the 2014 storyline The Love Bunglers comes along, and the Maggie and Ray love story reaches an incandescent end, and smacks everybody who reads it upside the head. But the long, slow, and regular burn of the regular issues of Love and Rockets means so few people are regularly talking about how stunning Jamie Hernandez comics still are.

Because his characters — his people — still have something to teach you about how being an honest and decent person can really pay off.

The Love Bunglers

Down Hernandez Way

It’s just so easy to overlook the brilliant work that Jaime Hernandez has produced — a massive, decades-long saga in hundreds of absolutely gorgeous comic books — because he always makes it look so effortless. He always picks the exact right line, the perfect angle for the shadow, a single tear in all the right places, and it looks like there was never any other way to do it. None of his work since the early 1980s is ever anything less than very good, and a significant chunk of it is transcendent and amazing. It’s a fucking great ratio.

Hernandez was right there in the middle of the chaotic West Coast punk scene, and those punk roots run deep. He’s always had the attitude that you can just pick up a pen or a guitar or anything, and let the world hear your voice, let it hear what you have to say -- and he’s stuck to those roots, for years and years and years. He’s always been uncompromising and always doing his own thing, telling exactly the kind of stories he wants to tell. He will do silly six-pagers for the big companies if they flash enough cash, but Hernandez’s heart is in the story of Maggie, Hopey, Ray, Penny, Doyle, Daffy and all the rest, and their weird and complicated lives.

Through this dedication to doing it your own way, on your own terms, Hernandez has become a role model for many, many other artists over the decades.Some comics — including Bob Fingerman’s Minimum Wage, Martin Wagner’s Hepcats and, most obviously, Strangers in Paradise by Terry Moore — were unashamed to show how much they followed Hernandez’s example. It did result in loads of fairly mediocre black and white comics about sensitive bisexuals that have all faded away over the years, but if you had to follow the path of a creator sticking to their vision, better Jaime than practically anyone else.

It’s not just Hernandez’s dedicated focus that sets the standard to follow, it’s the characters he has filled with life and vigor in the pages. After four decades of intense storytelling, the people in the stories themselves have gained their own legacies.

credit: Jaime Hernandez

The Many Mediocre Mentors of Maggie

Despite disappearing from the story for sometimes years at a time, Jaime’s Love and Rockets always comes back to Margarita Luisa Chascarillo — Maggie to her friends. The girl from the barrio was there on the first page of the saga, and has always been the center of this universe.

Hernandez checks in on other characters now and then — although sometimes, that might take a decade or two — but Maggie is everything. In the early sci-fi days, she was the spunky mechanic with a crush on her boss who went to punk shows with her girlfriend. That little rebel is still in there, even as Maggie has matured and deepened in the years since.

On the surface, Maggie is just a regular person in a world full of them, working dead end jobs and just getting by with life, as best she can. Even the most normal person has an ocean of hidden depths, and she has known love and loss, and has done well to avoid her family’s professional wrestling legacy altogether — a concept revisited in Hernandez's latest Love and Rockets adjacent graphic novel "Queen of the Ring" (https://www.fantagraphics.com/collections/jaime-hernandez/products/queen-of-the-ring-wrestling-drawings-by-jaime-hernadez)

Always wearing her heart on her sleeve and constantly cursed by the guilt of her own mistakes and failures, Maggie’s deepest fears and regrets are all out there for everybody to see, over years of stories.

credit: Jaime Hernandez

All through that, in the best spirit of her times, Maggie did her own thing, and didn't give a shit what anybody thought about it. She has turned into a kind and decent human being with a rich and vibrant sex life, and something that is all the more remarkable because in all those years, she never had a good role model to look up to.

There was Hopey, the love of Maggie’s life, who was always just beautiful, maddening chaos. She taught Maggie lots of different stuff, when she wasn’t away with her shitty band.

Izzy is the next big influence on Maggie's life. The two were getting into mischief together since they were the size of Peanuts, and Izzy was busy keeping the teenaged Maggie out of trouble. Like Rena, Isabel Ortiz Reubens had her own path to follow, and hers led her into madness and out the other side. She taught Maggie not to take anything else at face value and to stand up to all the demons.

Maggie has still had friends and family who have taught her how the world works. There were women like legendary wrestler Queen Rena Titañon, whose concerns were always both global and deeply personal. She's sparking revolutions in odd little countries down south and then losing her son for too many years. She taught Maggie self-reliance, and the power of fierce will.

credit: Jaime Hernandez

And that was about it. Maggie’s mother was never there, her Aunt Vicki - another wrestling champion, even if she had to use the ropes to beat Rena — tried her best, and was never really good enough, and someone like Hopey’s ex Terri was always more likely to put a cigarette out on her face than offer any advice.

She had the best of friends to help her blaze her own path, and some of the women who failed as mentors still loved and trusted her. But that road can be lonely and scary, when there is nobody to follow.

Now, in 2021, after decades of real-time characterization and development, Maggie is getting on in years, and has her own lessons to teach. She’s seen some things and made some mistakes and doesn’t want anybody else to repeat them, because what kind of asshole would want that?

credit: Jaime Hernandez

Alone In This Sucky Universe

Telling stories about the same people over a 40-year period brings an incredible depth and complexity, but has the potential to get stale over the decades. Hernandez has kept things lively by slowly growing the cast of his Locas stories and bringing in the next generation of young and confused punks. And in recent years, the comic has been infused with the exuberance of youth through the adventures of Tonta and her young friends.

The Tonta stories are often an opportunity for Hernandez to go large, because everything about Tonta is big and fun. She’s been the spirit of youth in the comics for the past 10 years, energetic and keen and very, very dorky. She’s got her own punk bands to follow, but is more comfortable making mini-comics with her nerd friends.A lot of them are growing up and moving on, but Tonta is happy to play the fricking loon.

Her personality is right there on the page — Hernandez’s art opens up on her stories with big, splashy panels and massive emoting faces. It all gets squashed down to more claustrophobic panels when Tonta has to deal with weird real-life shit — her family gets mixed up with some gangster nonsense, even if Tonta is only ever watching from the sidelines. But then it all gets wide and open and in-your-face when Tonta goes on the rampage through the neighborhood woods, or throws a therapeutic fit on the floor of the latest house she’s been dumped in.

She's the new Maggie — a bit goofier, a little looser, a bit more buck-toothed, but the same decent person at heart. Sex is boring, (but only because everyone is doing it). She's more into creating comics than repairing weird space machines, but Tonta is another young punk kid who never had anybody to show her the way.

credit: Jaime Hernandez

Her family is even more of a mess than Maggie's with half siblings that are incredibly cruel and a mom that might be responsible for the deaths of several husbands. She has a bunch of extremely cute friends and while they are all designed by the artist to be instantly recognisable, they're all as lost as she is.

Her closest relative is her sister Vivian, introduced years before by Hernandez as a force of glorious balls-out fucking chaos. Viv might be the very worst person in the world to have as a mentor, especially when she is a combination Penny/Hopey figure - a bit unreal and full of pandemonium. She didn't teach Tonta anything, apart from how to take a beating.

Tonta has her own Queen Rena in Rose 'Angel' Rivera, an older figure who looks like she has got her shit together. But while she is out there suplexing super-villains on the edge of space, Angel also can't hold onto a job as a PE teacher, has to wrestle in glorified back yard tussles, and has her own problems to deal with, man. There's not much help for Tonta there either.

No wonder Tonta is always away and racing into various predicaments. It's all fun and games, but she's also stuck in the same cycle that Maggie went through years and years earlier, flailing around in search of a direction, or a purpose, or an identity.

Tonta is the new kid on the block so to speak, despite being created more than a decade ago, because she is part of Hernandez's long game. The artist can have stories and characters simmering away for years that can suddenly crash into a new resolution in just a few pages.

And after years of Tonta running around, she ran straight into Maggie. It didn't go well at first, but it only took them six pages of the latest issue of Love and Rockets to sort their shit out.

credit: Jaime Hernandez

On The Beach

Despite mostly living in California, the Locas characters rarely spent much time at the beach, and when they did they usually did it in a deeply ironic and mannered style. But when Maggie and Tonta finally and properly collide, it's there on the sand and Tonta has nowhere to hide. Which is unfortunate for her, because she has wronged Maggie recently. Over a hat.

After almost 10 years of Tonta stories, she finally met Maggie in a story in the March 2020 Love and Rockets vol4 #8, and it was a complete catastrophe. After getting into another fight with Viv, Tonta is being loud and obnoxious and takes out her usual frustrations on a random woman in a hat, who happens to be Maggie. Tonta strides off in ignorant triumph, which soon turns sour when Tonta finds out the woman in the hat is the partner of her beloved art teacher.

Tonta makes some terrible and vague attempts to apologise with a crappy letter and some melted chocolate, but can’t help running into Maggie at jury duty, and the local comic shop, and just about everywhere. And then, in the six-page 'Rock Your Baby' story in Love and Rockets v4 #10, they meet each other properly for the first time.

Maggie is still a little shaken by a recent attempt to grab onto the past at a punk reunion, where many of her old pals don't remember her, and the young kids don't even know she existed (while being ultra-aware of Hopey). She didn't need this shit, especially not from Vivian's sister.

After recognizing Tonta, and meeting her properly, she would be in her rights to tear into the kid who bullied her for no good reason earlier. But Maggie is just a human about it, and treats Tonta with a bit of grudging respect.

credit: Jaime Hernandez

By just being a good person about it, Maggie ends up being the best mentor Tonta never knew she wanted. Someone she could aspire to be like, someone who shows you don't have to be glum and mean about everything. That it's okay to feel scared of going in the water, and that you should take care of your ankles. There's some silly comedy with a hat, because this is a Tonta story and she can’t help bringing that splash of kooky clumsiness, but they two help each other out.

So far, there have only been a few panels of Tonta’s life after meeting Maggie, but she’s already looking sharper. Hernandez body language — as always — tells the story; Tonta is full of self-assurance, and has a sweet new haircut. Her future is wide open. While it might still be scary, she can go into it with a bit more confidence, thanks to the weird, kinda nice and slightly crazy aunt she never knew she needed.

Thanks to Maggie - another punk kid all grown up, still young at heart, still capable of great love and forgiveness. There are worse people to emulate, and worse ways to react.

These are important lessons for anybody, not just the fictional characters of this Locas universe. They have triumphed over the pain and tragedy of everyday life, and have woken up to their own beauty. So can we.

credit: Jaime Hernandez

The Perfect Line

Jaime Hernadez's Love and Rockets comics have been beautiful and enticing, with all those perfect eyebrows, and the way he draws faces in profile is absolutely unparalleled in modern comics.

But that's not the only reason why Jamie Hernandez’s comics are so special and important, especially in a time when we all feel a bit more alone. Because they show you that people can just be decent to one another, and that can work out well for everybody.

It’s all pure romance and utter melodrama, but Hernandez gets around the cheese of it all by pacing it out beautifully over years of comics, drawing out threads for such a long time.

Hernandez has been an inspiration to many, many other comics artists. Not just all the boys who did sensitive black and white comics about those adorable lesbians, but every artist who had some kind of unique story to tell, and some distinctive way to tell it. Hernandez has shown that you can do your own comics your own way and long as you’re willing to keep doing your own thing. Learn three chords and form a band. Learn to draw a basic human figure and put out decades of some of the best comics created anywhere.

This decades-long dedication to craft means the rest of the world often runs out of things to say about Love and Rockets, and as stunning as the most recent episode in the life of Maggie and her pals is, it's released to the comic crowd with barely a whisper, even though it’s just as powerful as work that was roundly celebrated in the 1980s, stronger even, with the accumulation of years.

But stick with it, and it becomes obvious — Hernandez plays the long game, and the quality wins out over that time. These comics, and the artist who creates them, still have something to say to us. Even if you've been reading his comics for years, there’s still something to learn.

That’s today’s lesson from Jaime Hernandez’s Love and Rockets comics: you can be more like Maggie. She doesn't have to just be Tonta's mentor and role model. She can be yours too.

Robert Smith is a digital news editor at Radio New Zealand and a total dork. As Bob Temuka, he has been blogging at the Tearoom of Despair for 12 years, and has no reason to stop.