The many moods of Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez are illustrated in "Love and Rockets," Vol. II, issue 10.

Brothers’ comics perfect
for holidays

Three years ago, our column contributor Burl Burlingame extolled the virtues of -- and celebrated the return of -- THE best independent nee alternative comic book from the 1980s, "Love and Rockets" by Los Bros Hernandez, Gilbert and Jaime.

image: comic cover And with 2004 waning, there's still cause to cheer.

With the quarterly Volume II now up to issue 12, the brothers' publisher, Fantagraphics Books, has also put out two thick black-and-white hardbound collections of their best long-running story arcs, just in time for holiday giving.

Gilbert's "Palomar: The Heartbreak Soup Stories" ($39.95), about the intertwining lives of the people of a mythical (in the richest sense of the word) Central American village, and Jaime's "Locas: The Maggie & Hopey Stories" ($49.95) may finally get the Hernandez brothers the mainstream recognition they deserve, in line with the rise in notoriety of fellow creators Chris Ware and Daniel Clowes.

The books are great introductions to new readers and bookshelf-worthy collections for fans.

Praised for their stories' "realism, complexity, subtlety and ethnic authenticity," the Hernandez brothers have turned their comic book empire into a respectable cottage industry, already responsible for 50 issues comprising their first run (with 15 books collecting those stories). They've also created side titles featuring some of their notable female characters, namely the lusty, hammer-wielding Luba and the voluptuous blonde Penny Century. (Raised by their supportive mother and grandmother in Oxnard, Calif., it's no surprise that their female characters are so strongly delineated.)

Both were primary characters in Gilbert and Jaime's stories, respectively. Century (actual name: Beatr’z Garc’a) was the widow and heiress to the fortunes of the mysteriously horned H.R. Costigan and friends of Maggie and Hopey. The native American Luba, who arrives in Palomar with four kids by four different fathers in tow, moves from bathing services to town mayor and matriarch. Over the years, she, along with Maggie, has shown the most character growth. Luba has since moved, with her children, to America because of some political intrigue in her past.

The bisexual Mexican-American Maggie Chascarrillo is the most beloved of the large number of "Love and Rockets" characters. Originally a feisty denizen of the early-1980s underground SoCal rock scene, she meets her match there -- and the love of her life -- in Hopey Glass. It's her on-again, off-again relationship with her friend Hopey that follows Maggie, through her life, marked by weight gain that, while realistic, bothered some longtime fans who fell in love with her thin and pretty younger version.

What has distinguished both brothers' drawing styles is the influence of being raised in a household filled with comic books by their mother, an avid fan herself. When Gilbert and Jaime list their favorite comic books, they're invariably from their childhood, whether it was the "Dennis the Menace" books, the Archie line, the Marvel titles of Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, the Classic Illustrated titles, Mad magazine through the '60s, and later, thanks to older brother Mario (who occasionally collaborates with his more-famous brothers), the classic underground -- and adult -- Zap and Weirdo titles.

After your appetite for all things Hernandez is whetted by the books, check out their other volumes, as well as the new run of their series, that featured more of the life and times of Maggie (some stories are already collected in the book "Dicks and Deedees"), and Gilbert's contributions, the riveting "Julio's Day" and, with brother Mario, the surrealistic "Me for the Unknown."

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