Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Books: Love and Rockets: Heartbreak Soup


Love and Rockets
Heartbreak Soup
By Gilbert Hernandez

Available now from Islington Libraries
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I'm gonna open with a quote from this AV Club Article here: "There are few comics in the history of the medium as universally beloved as Love And Rockets, the long-running Fantagraphics title by Los Angeles-based brothers Jaime and Gilberto (“Beto”) Hernandez, sometimes assisted by a third brother, Mario. The comic helped kick-start the alternative-comics revolution of the 1980s, it inspired the name of a well-known rock band, and has been so good for so long that it’s almost impossible to find anyone with something bad to say about it. "

*clears throat*

As far as I can tell I've covered pretty much every major 'serious' comic series on this blog (Sandman, Strangers In Paradise, Preacher, Hellboy etc etc etc) with the exception of one - Love and Rockets. The reason for that is simple - I've never read it properly. I mean - I tried dripping in a few times - but there was always something about it that seemed to resist my attempts. Everything just kinda seemed kinda bunched together and the art was just kinda - I dunno - sloopy. But as it says in the quote above this is a series that's loved by everyone - and so I just figured that there was something wrong with me - and I wasn't giving it the care and attention it obviously needed. I mean - this is a series that I think I have always been aware of - and has hung at the back of everything at the start of it all like Bob Dylan or The Beatles. If comics were arranged like people - then this is graphic novel royalty. The kind spoken of in devotional and hushed terms by it's loyal and unwavering subjects and a book that I have never heard anyone speak a bad word of - ever ever ever.

First started as a self-published affair way back in 1981 Love and Rockets is a catch-all umbrella for the work of two brothers: Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez both of who write and draw and preside over their own separate fictional universes. Jaime writes about punks and the romantic entanglements of Margarita Luisa "Maggie" Chascarrillo and Esperanza "Hopey" Leticia Glass (yes - I'm just copying and pasting this from wikipedia) while Gilbert writes about a sleepy Latin American village named Palomar inspired (apparently) by the magical realist Gabriel García Márquez classic: One Hundred Years of Solitude (which I guess is the kind of thing you would have to say in the 1980s in order to get people to take your comic book seriously).

Now before I get my knives out I wanna say this: I don't deny that Love and Rockets is a comics classic. History is important and - even tho I don't think that currently I would be much use as a comics historian - it seems evident that Love and Rockets played an important part in the evolution and development of the art-form. But (here it comes) just because something is historically important and just because it helped blazed a trail and set the scene for everything that comes after - that doesn't mean that it's going to be worth your time.

I'm gonna use the Sex Pistols as an example (bear with me):

No one can deny that the Sex Pistols are a big deal. 1977 and Punk and all the rest. And without them - we wouldn't have today my absolute favourite musical genre: loud guitars and shouting melodically about stuff. And yeah - they've got two or three good songs that I like to hear every other year or so - but - let's not pretend that you'd want to put one of their albums on and listen to it from beginning to end (or maybe that kind of thing - listening to an album and enjoying the music - wasn't really what punk was about and I'm missing the point? Oh well - whatever).

So yeah - what does it matter if something is influential and all the rest - if you can't enjoy it on it's own merits? Another example (I don't care if it's not needed) is Raging Bull. Around the time that I was trying to get to grips properly with the Love and Rockets and making a concerted effort to understand and appreciate it - my girlfriend said that she wanted to watch Raging Bull - because she'd "heard it was really good." Hell yeah - I said - I love Raging Bull - I'll get a copy from the library... (skip to the end) ...it's not as good as I remembered it being. I mean - I could see all the cool things it did - and the way it pushed things forward - and all the nice editing and camera techniques - and Robert De Niro sure does a whole lot of acting. But as a film that's still as fresh and lively as I'm sure it was when it first came out (and way before everyone from David O. Russell to Paul Thomas Anderson (to name just the first two guys to pop into my head) stole all it's best moves).

But I realise now that I'm babbling (sorry).

The point (yeah - there's a point) is that taken on it's own merits Love and Rockets isn't all that. At least - not for this reader.

The things that people mainly tend to say when they praise this - is how great it is that the characters all age. Ok - fine. That's nice. But what else is there? The art still even after reading it closely nose up against the page (and waiting for the greatness to jump out at me) isn't all that. I mean - I guess that standards were lower back in the day. But it just didn't do anything for me. And the stories don't tend to do that much with the words and pictures: the stories just kind of sit there without doing much before they decide to stop at some random point and then glare at you with a kind of "yeah - what?" The one thing it really reminded me of was All About My Mother - a Pedro Almodóvar film that I got dragged to back in 1999 (I guess people thought it would be good for my soul or something): like - yeah - people have complicated relationships and time destroys all things. But would you mind serving me up some kind of entertainment?

I know that I sound like a major philistine at this point - and maybe you're saying to yourself that I'm the kind of comic fan that only likes his heroes with capes and four colours. No. I like it when comics go further and overstep all their boundaries and all the rest: even now most of the time I end up thinking that more books should try more things. And - damnit - I wanted to like Love and Rockets - I wanted to be seduced and won over. And - who knows? - maybe in a few years I'll try again and see the light. But for now: it's not exactly a book I would recommend.

I dunno. What do you think?

Links: Shelf Life: 25 Years of Love & Rockets, Warren Peace Sings The Blues Review, Hooded Utilitarian Roundtable.

Further reading: Love and Rockets: Maggie the Mechanic, The Essential Dykes To Watch Out ForStrangers in Paradise, Black Hole, David Boring,  Shortcomings.

All comments welcome.


Tam said...

I felt pretty much the same. I've had Gilbert books for a few years but always get bored after about twenty pages. Mind you saying that, I've found most of Marquez' stuff a bit of a slog as well. I do like aging in comic books though, Judge Dredd's about seventy now and a more interesting character than ever...

Islington Comic Forum said...

Yeah. I totally agree. Aging in comics is a really cool idea. And yeah: Joe Dredd's slow slow slow growth/maturity/or whatever to call it (i dunno) is pretty wicked (I used to be a 2000AD kid back in the day - altho haven't brought a copy in over a decade - still it's nice to dip into the big collections every now and then). But - wait - what were we talking about? Oh - yeah: Love and Rockets. yeah: for whatever reason: just found them to be really really really boring and (to be honest) I just didn't have the strength to finish a whole volume - it just felt too much like work. (and as everyone knows: work is bad).
Thank you very very very much for your comment tho. Always lovely to hear from someone!

Islington Comic Forum said...

Thinking about it - ("it"=Love and Rockets) - I think it would just be nice for someone to explain to me just what the big deal is. About from you know: back in the day it was the only "serious comic book" around...

Rolando A. López said...

What I like about Gilbert Hernández in particular is how he explores the darker sides of human behavior and relationships. And, of course, whereas the art left you nonplussed it simply astounds me. I love the simplicity of the black/white, how sometimes one single stroke of black can represent so much.

It would take a long time for me to go through why I love Fritz' character, and why I think Luba is one of the most complex characters of all time, and how brilliantly Gilbert structures his stories (see: "Poison River" and "Love and Rockets X")... I might write that essay some day.

For now I leave you this link which is for a blog that covers the whole of L&R, with an entry for every volume. Features some pretty good in-depth analysis of the stuff, from an appreciative (and critical) angle. Sobel isn't afraid of holding his punches.

Maybe this could be a good step in appreciating L&R, if you're still open to it.


Islington Comic Forum said...

Hey Rolando! Thanks for your comments. Much appreciated.

I am always open to having my mind changed and admitting when I'm wrong - it's not something that happens that often (lolz) but I'm always easy to giving something another go.

Thing is with Love & Rockets it's like (currently) at least I can't see the point in having another go. I mean - I do realise that I am strictly in the minority here - but I just can't see what is in these books that would mean that I should give them another go - do you know what I mean?

Like you mention the artwork - but I don't know - it just doesn't do anything more for me. You mention the strokes of black - but I dunno - it just looks like a impoverished version of Persepolis - like the artist doesn't have enough iron in their diet. And you say that Luba is one of the most complex characters ever - but how can I get to that when the stories (for me at least) are all so - meh and blah.

What I'm looking for I guess - is a reason to care. I have read two of the books (as much as I could anyway) and so far all I've got is nothing.

Please help?