Frank Santoro and Adrian Tomine on “The Love Bunglers”

I asked a few fellow travelers to send in short comments on "The Love Bunglers" by Jaime Hernandez (Love and Rockets: New Stories no. 4). Frank and Adrian were kind enough to send in theirs.

Frank Santoro:

Above my desk.

Jaime Hernandez is my favorite cartoonist. I think he is the greatest cartoonist of all time. My opinion.

Bill Boichel has this riff that goes like this: Jaime is the last cartoonist. He was immersed in the language of comics as a child – thanks to his family’s encouragement. Children learn languages differently. Jaime was fluent in the language by the time he was teenager – had his own voice. When he ascended into the professional ranks of cartoonists it was at a time when the comic book direct market was forming. So at the intersection of the  “comics as junk” old world and the “comics as art” new world – we find the Hernandez Brothers. Jaime’s style and writing is not a self-conscious throwback amalgamation but an approach that was learned within the old tradition. The new tradition, post '80s Renaissance, is steeped in self-conscious throwback borrowings and fusions. Jaime is the last cartoonist. So take a drink of that, student of the form. We live in a post '80s Renaissance era of comics – and I don’t think, personally, it’s possible to be as pure of a cartoonist as Jaime. A natural if there ever was one.

Back to language. Jaime speaks my language. The fact that he has always made comics for the present is important to me. He speaks to me now. He is not some dead historical figure to be studied from afar. He spoke directly to me in 1986 when I first discovered him and directly to me the other day when I read the new issue of Love and Rockets. I find this incredibly moving on a personal level because the stories and the people in the stories are an integral part of my own life.

There are other art forms that can sustain 25 years of continuity – like TV soap operas that began in the ‘50s and are still on the air – but we all know that’s like comparing apples and oranges. What comics is capable of in terms of continuity is a remarkable aspect of the form. Think Gasoline Alley. But Jaime uses time, real time, in ways no one has attempted in comics.

Something extraordinary happened when I read his stories in the new issue of Love and Rockets: New Stories no. 4. What happened was that I recalled the memory of reading “Death of Speedy” - when it was first published in 1988 – when I read the new issue now in 2011. Jaime directly references the story (with only two panels) in a beautiful two page spread in the new issue. So what happened was twenty three years of my own life folded together into one moment. Twenty three years in the life of Maggie and Ray folded together. The memory loop short circuited me. I put the book down and wept.

No art moves me the way the work of Jaime Hernandez moves me. I am in awe of his eternal mystery.

Adrian Tomine:

I picked up a copy of the new issue at a signing Jaime was doing here in Brooklyn a few weeks ago. It was a packed house, and there were a lot of people I was happy to talk to. Amidst all the socializing, I allowed myself a quick glimpse inside the comic, and when I randomly flipped to pages 92 and 93, I felt like I’d been blind-sided. I had to look closer to make sure I was seeing what I thought I was seeing. Was I actually recognizing the guy sitting next to Maggie in the coffee shop? Was I really remembering an entire scene of dialogue just because of the way Ray was leaning against those boxes?

I basically had to leave the party because I was so overwhelmed with thoughts of the fictional world Jaime had created, as well as my real-life experiences related to reading those stories. I did some quick math in my head and realized that I’d been following Jaime’s work for twenty-five years. Or to put it another way, there’s only twelve years of my whole life that didn’t include Maggie, Hopey, Ray, etc. Next thing I knew, I was wandering around Brooklyn alone, thinking about how real those characters seemed to me, and how much my life had changed since I first saw Maggie sitting in that hospital waiting room, holding her sunglasses.

It goes without saying that “The Love Bunglers” completely knocked me out once I actually sat down and read it. Concise, moving, and incredibly bold, it’s like a cartooning master class in the span of fifty pages, and a tremendous reward to the long-term reader. But I’m focusing here on that little incident at the book signing because it reminded me how deeply ingrained Jaime’s work is in my mind, how much it’s affected and inspired me, and for how long.


17 Responses to Frank Santoro and Adrian Tomine on “The Love Bunglers”

  1. Jim Rugg says:

    I enjoy these reflections of “Love Bunglers”. I read it one evening while sitting at my drawing table. When I finished it, I turned off the lights in my studio (spare bedroom), and decided to spend the evening hanging out with my wife. I knew I was done drawing for the day. It reaches emotional heights I rarely encounter when reading comics and was not prepared for.

    I agree with your assessments about its emotional weight being tied closely to Jaime’s mastery of the depiction of time in his cartooning.

  2. patrick ford says:

    It’s a real testament to Jaime’s imagination that he’s been able to hang with these characters so long and that the stories aren’t floundering around, but are still getting better, building to what may be a culmination. Compare Jaime’s cohesive body of work over many years, to the issues Tim Krieder found cropping up in Sim’s opus where Krieder felt the character became a hindrance.

    And in no way are Jaime’s stories limited in scope. They aren’t simple soap-opera, there is a larger context of social commentary which was amazingly mature from the start. You’d read his early stuff and think, “How can such a young guy write something with this kind of emotional insight.” It’s the same feeling I get when I think about a 21 year old writing Boots of Spanish Leather.

    Perhaps Jaime, like Gilbert, has reached a point where he has other places to explore. There are only so many hours in a day after all, so many pages a man can produce no matter his work ethic. If that’s the case (and if that’s what he wants to do I hope it is), it would be great if he doesn’t have to hear, “I like your old stuff better.”

  3. Jeet Heer says:

    The Sim comparison is an interesting one, something I’ve been thinking myself. I thinking Jaime really has achieved what Sim set out to do in Cerebus: create in the course of several decades a multi-volume graphic novel series that follows a central character and his/her circle. Of course, the difference between the two works are immense: The Locas series is a wonderfully cohesive and organic work where even the seeming digressions (Penny Century and the sci-fi stuff) serve as a foil for the central concerns while Cerebus is an unholy mess. The one fault I had with Kreider’s brilliant essay on Cerebus was that I thought it didn’t make sense to compare Sim’s work with Maus, Persepolis, or Fun Home. A comparison with the Locas series (or for that matter the Palomar cycle) would be more apt (but also more damaging for Sim).

  4. Frank Santoro says:

    Maaaaaaybe. Lets be careful to not make this thread about Sim. This is a Jaime celebration. Thanks!

  5. Paul Slade says:

    Just as a matter of interest, how many pages of the Locas characters’ saga – including all the digressions Jeet mentions – has Jaime drawn now? I agree that the saga as a whole surpasses Cerebus in terms of characterisation, coherence and and depth, but now I’m wondering if he might have Sim beat in simple, crude page count too.

  6. patrick ford says:

    I’m looking forward to what comes next.

  7. Jeet Heer says:

    Frank’s right, of course: let’s put aside all invidious comparisons and just say that the hundreds of pages J. Hernandez has devoted to the Locas cycle constitutes a rare achievement.

  8. Rob Clough says:

    Frank, I think the competition angle is an interesting one. I wouldn’t say Los Bros. have exactly been forgotten in the last twenty or so years, but they haven’t gotten the same kind of critical attention that they did during the first volume of L&R. The recent L&R issues certainly seem to be Jaime firing a shot across the bow, announcing that he’s better than ever. One of the things I like best about this story is that it retroactively makes some of his older, weaker stories better by drawing in some of their elements and recontextualizing them.

  9. BVS says:

    every issue of love and rockets new stories has been a shining example of everything that’s right about comics.

    the praise is long over due.

    when the T-girls stories were came out in new stories 1 and 2, I thought. wow here we have a home run. this says everything about female superheros, comic book reader’s connections to female characters, and why we have theses long term attachments to super hero comics. for every pissed off blog post about the treatment of the ladies in mainstream super hero comics. this story is the stunning anti-frank miller response. unfortunately the actual online response seemed to be pretty muted since people prefer to bitch more than praise. it seriously errks me that readers would rather endlessly carp about some cat-woman comic book, that they will probably still keep buying despite the disappointment, instead of just moving on to something actually awesome.

    Santoro and Tomine’s above responses are crucial evidence that the comics (even in mutating formats, as is the case with L&R) are the greatest medium for serialized narrative. this kind to reader to material just connection couldn’t happen with tv, film or even the written word.

  10. patrick ford says:

    That’s a very good insight on the “T-Girls” story. It’s all to common that comic book readers and critics completely miss the point of things, and there aren’t many better examples.

    And the same is true in spades for Gilbert’s recent stuff.

    Now Rob Clough leads off his review of the new L&R pointing out what should be obvious about what Gilbert is doing with his genre busters work.

  11. Sabin says:

    When the “New” issues of L&R started coming out I felt like Jaime was doing some of his best work but seemed severely overlooked. We’ve grown up with these characters and I wonder if future generations will feel the same way? It feels so of its time… but I often wish I was born in another time when discovering things from the past; I hope future generations experience this art with the same awe…

    The new work is simply stunning, and to say you were blown away by an artist of this caliber is DEEP praise. Look at the first issue of L&R… it’s rougher and still finding it’s footing but they hit the ground running and are still running the marathon.

  12. Tony Solomun says:

    I was very emotionally moved with Jaime’s story in L&R New Stories #4, as well,truly brilliant storytelling,at its purest,The Love Bungler’s should stand alone as a great storyarc in the comic book medium,I read it now one week ago,perhaps more,and it’s still resonating with me on so many levels, fantastic literary artistry, by a true great,

    There have been great series throughout the 70 or so years of comics,

    Acme Novelty Library,Palookaville,Optic Nerve,Kabuki,Madman, etc. the list goes on,though the Love and Rockets series has got to be up there as a terrific achievement not only in comics but of any literary medium,ever,Beto is as well a wonderful storyteller,and I adore his massive prolfic amount of work,though credit where credit is due,Jaime’s Locas story is like a looking glass through to a great fictional history of many characters who you feel are real,flesh itself,beautiful book,

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  16. steven samuels says:

    “But Jaime uses time, real time, in ways no one has attempted in comics.”

    Not even Doonesbury, eh? Interesting.

  17. Pingback: Maggie e Ray « Blog da Companhia das Letras

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