“I'm drawing 24-hours a day, or all the hours I'm awake, I'm drawing. I'm walking down the street, I'm drawing in my head, I'm drawing that street in my head.”
Jamie Hernandez was born and raised in Oxnard, Southern California with his other four brothers and one sister. His father was a Mexican immigrant, married to a Texan from a family with deep Mexican roots. In her youth, his mother had collected comic books and that passion was passed on to her children, beginning with her eldest, Mario. Mario went on to discover comic books and, in turn, passed them on to his younger siblings. "It was nostalgic for her, I guess. So comics were always normal to us, it was an everyday thing. It wasn't until school that we realised that we were abnormal," commented brother Gilbert. Of particular interest to Gilbert and Jaime were Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko’s Marvel comics, Hank Ketcham’s Dennis the Menace, and the Archie line. A further strain was added when Mario smuggled R. Crumb’s Zap comics into the home. As puberty and other interests invaded, however, their enthusiasm for mainstream comics waned.
For Mario, Gilbert, and Jaime, one of those interests would be music. Once again, Mrs. Hernandez would be a primary influence, passing on a fondness she developed for rock music while pregnant with Jaime. Rock and roll “became background music” in the Hernandez house, as natural as comics had been.
By the time Jaime and Gilbert had reached their teens, rock and roll had entered a transitional phase, shifting from the excesses of glitter rock to the gritty basics of punk and new wave. In Southern California in the late ’70s, “hardcore” punk rock was at its loudest, rudest and most anarchistic. The energy and diversity of this scene attracted the Hernandez brothers more than despair and alienation. Jaime and Gilbert combined their interests in music and comics by incorporating the distinctive look of punk rock. In their hands the much-hyped and often misunderstood punk netherworld became a very real, habitable place populated with authentic human beings rather than stereotypes. To quote Gilbert, “[Punk] made me cocky enough to believe that I could do a comic book, and it was good and it was all right, as opposed to being intimidated by the Marvel guys... I took that musical anarchy to comics.”
Unfortunately, the musical anarchy that inspired Jaime and Gilbert would be abused by antagonistic suburban poseurs who invaded the L.A. punk venues. The rising violence exacerbated tensions between punks and the already antagonistic LAPD, and led to a general breakdown of the hardcore scene. (The brothers, however, did keep the faith through the early ‘80s with eye-catching poster art for local bands.) As the scene deteriorated, Jaime and Gilbert worked on expanding their respective cartoon universes. Jaime’s draftsmanship bloomed under the tutelage of the community college art instructor who had previously taught Mario. Thanks to this instruction, Jaime mastered the articulate body language he had admired years earlier in Archie comics and Dennis the Menace. Jaime used his new skills to the fullest, with particular emphasis on the female form (one of the few interests the brothers shared with mainstream cartoonists). But, as in that subtly subversive cover, the female characters Jaime and Gilbert created would be notable for reasons other than prurient. Drawing on friendships formed with “punk girls” in the neighborhood and in clubs, both brothers infused their lusciously rendered ladies with strength, intelligence, independence, bitchiness, frailty, obsessiveness; in short, human qualities. These women were neither on a pedestal nor in the gutter but at eye level with their male counterparts.
Since the first issue, their comics have done nothing short of shatter parameters of realism and narrative invention in the medium, and Jaime Hernandez’s poignantly humane stories have chronicled the lives of some of the most memorable and fully formed characters comics have ever seen. His captivating female protagonists, led by Maggie (Margarita Luisa Chascarrillo) and Hopey (Esperanza Leticia Glass), are masterfully delineated with humor, candor, and breathtaking affection, and come to life within Southern California’s Mexican-American culture and the punk milieu’s heyday (and gradually fading aftermath). Such groundbreaking depiction of everyday, ethnically diverse lives, which Hernandez has continued to expand, deepen, and interweave in his stories, is his most impressive achievement, and the aspect of his work most often commented upon. However, it is not merely his subject matter, but rather how he treats the material, that is revolutionary. While there were superficial antecedents that formed the building blocks of the brothers’ sensibilities, upon publication in 1981 there was literally no context for what Love and Rockets was to accomplish.