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The Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez Interview

2012 has been a victory lap year for Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez. The brothers celebrated the 30th anniversary of Love and Rockets with a slew of appearances from coast-to-coast and have continued to release comics that rank among their very best, including Love and Rockets: New Stories #5, Gilbert’s Fatima: The Blood Spinners and Venus, and Jaime’s God and Science: Return of the Ti-Girls. One morning in September Gilbert and Jaime sat with us in Dan’s Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn kitchen and discussed their new work, some old bones, and their processes. – Tim Hodler, Dan Nadel and Frank Santoro.

DAN NADEL: I wanted to start with Ti-Girls. First of all, it’s Ti-Girls, like tigers.

JAIME: There you go.

NADEL: So what took you so long to do a full superhero story?

JAIME: I just didn’t have a superhero story ’til now— I kept putting it in the background in the regular comics, and there was the time Gilbert said, “I want to do a superhero comic on the side, a color comic.” He goes, “One that doesn’t make sense, like an old ’40s one that has no explanation, just superhero stuff.” And I was like, “Huh, yeah, that’d be cool.”

So I was thinking of doing this one, too. And so we were gonna do one together, but my story got too big, and it was gonna be something on the side, like maybe Dark Horse or something. I was going to go to them to have it done. When we changed formats on Love and Rockets again and we went to the 100-page one, I had no story for the new first issue. I just decided, “Well, I’ll put it in here.”

It was just something that I was going to have fun with and it just built into something more than that. I did get a review recently that it had no soul.

NADEL: Really? Because I thought it was incredibly soulful. I found it really moving. It seemed like a lot about motherhood. Which obviously you’ve covered before, but not quite so explicitly. This seems about about motherhood as a double-edged gift, and fear of parenting. And then also a lot of Gilbert’s recent stuff has so much to do with mothers and daughters, and has for a long time, but it seems especially in these stories.

GILBERT: Well a lot of that has to do with simply editing down the stories to remove all the men, really. Because usually more stories start out having equal parts men and then I just whittle it down to the lovely ladies I want to draw.

HODLER: Is it just for that reason? Because of what you want to draw?

GILBERT: There’s always a lot of reasons to do stories but that’s how it starts off. I want to draw these girls, and then the story evolves from there. And then it gets “serious.” But at first there’s more males involved in the stories, but I only have so many pages to do, so I’m constantly chopping down stuff. It’s easier now ’cause we have so many more pages in Love and Rockets — 50 pages each, but then that, right away, then that starts getting too long. I have the new issue of Love and Rockets— it’s not out yet — that I’m working on now, it’s basically the mother and daughter thing again, but it literally has two pages that I can’t squeeze into it, because I ran outta room.

HODLER: Did the reviewer say why he thought Ti-Girls was soulless?

JAIME: No, he liked it, he said the only thing was it was soulless, and I wish he could’ve done something more with it, and I got the feeling that for him, he wanted it to be a Marvel comic, or …

HODLER: Yeah, that’s soulful. [Laughter.]

GILBERT: What we’re getting these days is that when we stray away from what we originally did, what got noticed in the comics — the soulfulness, the deep-hearted family dramas, that stuff — a lot of the critics just won’t go there with us. They’re just simply stuck on the older work, as if everything else is lesser. It’s like, “don’t do the lesser work.” I completely don’t agree. I think I can do whatever I want.

Love and Rockets is a comics store that we grew up in — well, there weren’t comics stores; there were newsstands. But there’s a comic-book rack and there’s Blackhawk, Archie, My Love, and they were all comic books. It wasn’t like, “This is real comic books, and these are fake comic books” — no, they were all comic books. So we just take every subject we do in that way. Jaime did a superhero epic, that’s because that’s what comic books were. I’ll do a romantic story, soap opera thing, that’s what a comic book was, too. I’m not gonna do Westerns, ’cause I’m not interested in that. Same with war comics, we don’t do that stuff ’cause it’s just not what we’re into. I’ll read one, but they’re not that interesting to me, except for the Harvey Kurtzman ones.

But back to the thing … but yeah, the soullessness could either be, “well, you didn’t make it a serious superhero story, you didn’t make Dark Knight Rises … you made, uh, The Inferior Five. Why’d you do that?”

NADEL: It’s so funny, because I thought it was so serious. It’s really fun, but it was really sad, and really, really moving. It seemed like, in a lot of ways, stuff that you hadn’t really covered before, specifically mother-daughter stuff. It’s like the best version of superheroes; it felt like ACG superheroes. And Richard Hughes is a great writer who paced stories in a commonsense way that seems related to Ti-Girls.

JAIME: Yeah, I also felt that superhero fans these days are holding onto this thing to make superheroes worth reading. They have this thing about the myth of the superhero and stuff, and I think, I’m guessing that’s what didn’t have the soul in it, that I didn’t follow the myth of the superhero, which I didn’t care about, ’cause I don’t know what the hell the myth of the superhero is … [Laughter.]

NADEL: How did God and Science become more than just a lark? ’Cause it’s pretty heavy in parts …

JAIME: Because I don’t know how to cheapen things. It starts off as a funny romp. The more I’m writing it, the more I’m thinking about who the character is that I’m putting through this romp. And then the whole thing about the mom: It was part romp and then part if superheroes were in the real world, she’s got these powers, her mom has the “talk” with her about responsibility, that whole thing. So there’s like a jump back and forth, like, I’m not taking this too seriously, but at the same time these characters are very serious to me, so I need to treat them with the respect of being human beings, instead of just who they’re going to sock next. You know that’s fun, but you know.

GILBERT: I’m just gonna ask you, OK, I’ll shoot myself in the head here … but is Spectra, the Granny-Goodness-looking gal, is that Xochitl or is that a new character?

JAIME: It was … it’s a long story. [Laughter.] It goes back to that, when I started creating ’em, I was going, “Oh my God, I’m creating more characters that look like other characters.” So that’s when I came up with that twisty thing of, “Hey, why doesn’t it be some old characters in a different dimension. “It’s “Hey, Rocky is the Weeper. I’ll use Mini Rivero as Golden Girl, and then she looked a lot like Xochitl.” But in the end, she didn’t really. I mean, if you look at Xochitl there’s similarities, but she really didn’t and I thought, “Why, I guess I didn’t have to after all.” So that’s why I kinda made it when she and Maggie meet — Maggie goes, “I’ve got a cousin that kinda looks like her.” [Laughter.] So that just made it even more that this dimension, this different dimension thing was weird, there was more to it than just, we’re the same people in this dimension, too, but we have different roles. [Laughter] I was covering my ass a lot.

GILBERT: OK, no, I just wondered, ’cause that’s the type you draw now, I was just wondering what was going on …

JAIME: Yeah, I like that pumpkin-head goofy face. [Laughter.] I like drawing that.

GILBERT: Funny, because I’m the opposite; I like drawing Killer over my other less attractive characters.

HODLER: That’s like that story you told at your SPX panel about how you created Fritz’s sister. How you just drew her face wrong…

GILBERT: Oh, on the first issue of Birdland, you mean?

HODLER: Yeah.

GILBERT: Yeah, it was supposed to be Fritz on the cover of Birdland, and it didn’t look like her, and I didn’t feel like whiting out everything. Her hair was too straight, and I went, ehhh, I’ll give her a sister. It’s porn, and you need more girls in it. That’s that. For some reason in the old, very halcyon days of porn movies I’d see with my friends at the drive in, a film would have one girl and a bunch of guys instead of one guy and a lot of girls. Who likes the former? [Laughter.] Who’s that for? Except for Russ Meyer. He got it right.

Well, anyway it was that. And I used to get pooh-poohed for that, but that’s how stuff’s created. It’s an image that you just work with from scratch. Dan Clowes does that all the time, you just draw somebody and … Wilson was just a drawing, he said, and then he did a whole book from there.

HODLER: Is that how you usually create characters? It’s kind of accidental?

JAIME: Sometimes! Those happy accidents, so those will work out. Some of them don’t work out as well, but the ones that like, it turned out perfect … and I didn’t know.

HODLER: Do you think of a lot of background for them before you start the stories or does it just kind of come out as you write?

JAIME: I would say sometimes we plan them, right?

GILBERT: Yeah, not too far in, but just enough to get us going, and to build a story around, but a lot of times we just write. It took me 25 years to figure out who Fritz was, that’s why she’s in it all the time now, because I finally figured out who she is.

JAIME: And in Tonta’s case, I’ve just started with her. You know, I go, OK, she’s a teenager, with a goofy face, and then she’s Frogmouth’s sister. OK, we’ll see what’s gonna come out of this as I do her. Maybe she’ll fail. You know, maybe I won’t want to do her after a couple issues, but I’m hoping that I’m gonna run with her and even where she becomes a supporting character to others, but …

HODLER: I just read the issue yesterday. I like how even when you introduce a new character the story will read like it’s been going on for a long time, and just coming in it’s like, did I miss 12 stories about Tonta? [Laughter.] It’s kind of an interesting effect that gets created.

JAIME: Sometimes you start smack dab in the middle, and so, people feel they know her in a way or they want to know her. Sometimes you have a person walking up in the distance and that’s the beginning of that character’s story. It’s also editing. Tonta, I didn’t want to have her origin. [Laughs.]I just wanted you to see this big goofy face right away, BAM! Who is this girl? And then follow from there.

NADEL: When you guys talk about writing, what do you mean? Are you doing scripts?

JAIME: No, writing in the sense that you are literally writing when you’re drawing a face. This, which is going to be this. Yeah, that kind — for us, it’s writing. You know, just drawing the figure, too buff, not buff, skinny, whatever, well, she’s too skinny for … I already have a character that’s too skinny, that kind of thing — you start to write that way so you can build it up.

HODLER: I might be misremembering, but I believe I read an interview with you where you said that when you create stories, you kind of work at the beginning and the end and the middle all at the same time.

GILBERT: It’s different all the time. That’s probably most of the way I worked. Sometimes, I would just draw the last page real sloppy because I’m tired, I’ll do that as I start the story, and if I know what the ending is, I rarely know what the ending is, but I’ll draw the last page early on if I know what it will be. Like, Marble Season, my Drawn & Quarterly book, I drew the last page when I was halfway done with the book, because I didn’t want to get to that last page feeling, “I’m tired, I don’t wanna draw this page!” [Laughter.] That lesson came from one of the early Barry Smith Conan stories, it was “Red Nails”. Was it the end of the first chapter, or the whole…? The page where you can tell, Barry Smith, it was probably 4 in the morning, and he just couldn’t do it much justice.

JAIME: I thought the whole second issue was …

GILBERT: I think it was the last page of the first chapter, ’cause the first part was real intense and Conan gets chased by the dinosaur and he has to carry Valeria; and then at the end, it was the last page of the chapter, it looked like Smith handed it to Vinnie Colletta to finish.

NADEL: Oh, Colletta finished it?

GILBERT: No, it looks like it. Or Pablo Marcos.

NADEL: Oh. [Laughter.]

GILBERT: I can tell because it looks like Barry Smith was fried at 4 in the morning, and he’s gotta get it into the office and it’s not done. I don’t wanna do that, so the trick is to do that page before you get to the end. Yeah. And the sloppy page might be in the middle of the story now, instead of the very end but not a lot of people notice. It’s very telling when it’s at the end.

I learned from those mainstream guys, that’s one thing. And I think a lot of indie artists don’t. And that’s why they can’t freakin’ tell stories or structure stories or have stories, ‘cause you gotta learn from the mainstream, the nuts and bolts of putting a comic together, anyway. Like Dan Clowes said, “You watch enough episodes of Mannix and The Twilight Zone, you learn how to structure a story.” These guys don’t. You know, story structures. I mean, they might be talented in their own way, but you’re not getting stories there. And I think that’s what makes our comics kind of awkward in the indie scene, ‘cause they’re actually stories. No plots, but stories still.

NADEL: Yeah, I don’t know what the indie scene is anymore.

GILBERT: I don’t remember the names … half the stuff we get at the conventions, we look at it and we see some struggling artists that are good, but it’s not structured as a story, or potentially as a story.

NADEL: Is that different than it was 15 or 20 years ago?

GILBERT: It might be individuals, because the ones who can do the story thing are around still and the ones who couldn’t aren’t around. Dan Clowes, Chris Ware, Adrian [Tomine] … it’s all storytellers, and they’re still around, and the other guys aren’t.

JAIME: One of the differences I find now, that when I hear about indie comic artists is they don’t care about the old way of doing things as far as we do a comic and then we finish one and then we do the next one after that. Just by hearing them talk it’s kind of like, “Yeah, I’m gonna do some comics this summer.” [Laughter.] And they’ve been doing illustration or something somewhere else, but it doesn’t seem like they seem to care about the series part of it; I’m not saying that’s bad, but it’s hard for me to relate, as far as comics. They’ll go, “Yeah, I got some comics this year to bring to the show,” or “I’m not gonna come to the show ‘cause I don’t have any comics.” And, kinda like, “Well, maybe I don’t wanna do comics anymore.” That’s just so different from the way I think. For me, it’s born in me, you know, I have to do it.

HODLER: Well, there’s also now the emphasis on graphic novels, so a lot of times, an artist will be working on the same thing for years before it’s ready, and he won’t have anything to show until it happens.

JAIME: Yeah, that’s true.

GILBERT: The problem is the Kubrick Syndrome, when you start something and it takes a really long time to — it’s outdated by the time it comes out. Like, Kubrick apparently was sad when The Shining wasn’t as scary as other movies, because he took so freakin’ long to do it [laughter] and then 20 other movies that were scarier came out during that time he was making it. “I’m so damn slow, and everybody’s scarier than me now.” This is what I heard, anyway.

HODLER: Well, he’s an unusual case —

GILBERT: Oh, sure. Artistic dreamer or tech head? Wanker, as one of my brothers once said.

HODLER: People still watch that and get scared.

GILBERT: Not me. I don’t judge a horror film if it’s scary to me or not. I’m a grown up; I can get startled like anybody else, but scared? I’m not scared of special effects or fancy editing or camera work. I like it if it’s well made or at least funny.

SANTORO: Well, what I’m also noticing with the Tumblr generation is there’s more of an emphasis on just image-making, just like they just wanna put up an image or one page or something that’s not so much of a story, and then they get like an instant gratification, instant Likes, or somebody will say something about the image they made, and a lot of those folks might make comics, you’ll see them in a collection later, but they’re not really telling stories …

NADEL: They’re not cartoonists. That’s different.

SANTORO: They’re not cartoonists. They’re kind of image-makers, but they’re getting play in the comics circles because of the imagery, and so there’s a lot of stuff. But what I’ve noticed also with the indie scene or the younger guys, the reboot of Love and Rockets and also, ’Beto, your stand-alone graphic novels, you know, there’s a lot of intimidation with the younger guys trying to get into Love and Rockets, I’ve noticed. I would talk to younger guys over the years and they would say, “It’s been hard to get into Love and Rockets,” but now, with the stand-alone graphic novels, like Michael DeForge, Jonny Negron, they’re telling me, “I’m really into Beto’s stand-alone graphic novels and that was my entry point,” so you’re kind of providing new entry points and I think Jaime with Browntown and some of these other stories and the new collections allowing people different entry points, I just wondered if you guys can riff a little bit on the stand-alone graphic novels and how that’s provided a new audience for you.

JAIME: Yeah, I’m just happy they found it. [Laughter.] ’Cause it’s Fantagraphics who figures out how to package it and stuff like that, and I just say, “Oh, OK, that’d be cool. Send me a check.” [Laughter.] But, I mean, I’ve seen that first Mechanics story just reprinted 80 million times.

And I always expect other people to think the same way I am, like “Oh my God, we got that again?” But I got no real answer for that other than I’m just glad. [Laughs.] I’m just glad that they’re finding it, and it’s really cool to be appreciated by this generation who I’m used to not even knowing who we are, you know? Even the artists that draw kind of like me and Gilbert who were copying the third generation person now, who don’t even know where it came from.

SANTORO: Gilbert, how do you feel about some of the reaction you got at SPX, I felt like it was just really nice to see you with some of the younger guys. How do you feel about that?

GILBERT: Oh, I feel great! It is a resurgence of interest, and I think if it is those stand-alone graphic novels, I’m happy on one end because they’re easy to get into, especially with the second two, Troublemakers and Love from the Shadows, but they are horror stories, they are crime stories, so that’s gonna bring them in. That’s what I’m interested in, I can’t wait for Marble Season to come out ‘cause that’s something else, that’s something of me, what I’m actually more known for, that these guys haven’t gotten to yet, and I think they’ll be pleasantly surprised. I hope it’ll pull ‘em into the rest of my stuff. So, yeah, but I like the stand-alone graphic novels myself; I think Troublemakers and Love from the Shadows are the best things I’ve done. I guess Speak of the Devil too, even though that was problematic, because that’s when the critics started pulling out the machetes. But in my defense, it wasn’t about Palomar, it wasn’t about Love and Rockets, it wasn’t about any of that. [Using a grumbly voice] “Well, you’re just doin’ horror comics.” Well, these are my horror comics. You don’t have to like it. Some shit-for-brains failure in The Comics Journal wrote, “Well, you didn’t do high school gymnastics properly.” [Laughter] I guess I didn’t get the crotch shots right for this [censored] loser idiot.

JAIME: Oh, I remember that one.

SANTORO: That was pretty funny. Yesterday you guys were talking a little bit about trying to do different things. We always want our favorite artists the same.

GILBERT: OK, some of the stories I’ve been doing, the slasher thing, the crime thing, now I’m doing the zombie thing, those are normally by other artists, and the readers will accept that. But coming from one artist who’s known for a specific thing, like the Palomar stuff, then that’s when the criticism comes in. I’m reading between the lines, “I don’t want you to do those comics, I want you to do this. I don’t want you to do that part, that’s icky, stop doing what I don’t want you to do.” [Laughter.]

NADEL: Speak of the Devil is one of the best things you’ve ever done, and [laughs] same with Love from the Shadows

GILBERT: Those are two of my most cynical books yet, so …

NADEL: Yeah, but they’re also really pure. They feel like a chance for you to engage with one aspect of comics, and go in really, really, really deep, which is fascinating. Why did you pursue that and what are you looking at to get there? But also the other funny thing about these books is that they’re all connected. Well, sort of, like Speak of the Devil is the real-life version of Troublemakers.

GILBERT: Yeah, or no actually, the book Speak of the Devil is the real life version of a Fritz movie, but I don’t need to do the movie version ’cause I’ve already done the true-life one. [Laughter.]

NADEL: It’s a little confusing. But does the real-life/movie thing come in after, or are you there already and —

GILBERT: Well, I hadn’t done graphic novel stories yet except for Sloth; my books were  collections, and I was ready to get going on doing graphic novels. I gotta get into this, because I know I can do this, this is my area, but I’m not getting there. I’m so busy with other stuff, and I thought, well, I gotta fill these graphic novels, and I gotta do ’em quick, and I gotta do ’em to where I want to do them, instead of just coming up with, like, I think I’ll adapt a Bible. No, it was more like, what do I want to do? And at that time I didn’t care about being taken seriously.

JAIME: Had enough of that.

GILBERT:  Yeah, I’d had good reviews for being a do-gooder, but I liked the idea of Fritz becoming a B-movie actor, and I started developing stories and I thought, well, I’ll put them into short stories in Love and Rockets, but then they started to have a life of their own. “This would be a cool crime story. I’ve never done that!” But I gotta do that in a graphic novel, so that’s double-duty. I said, “Fuck it, I’ll just put them together.”  Then it was about  making the books movie-versions of crime stories— and I knew that was a leap. I’m going to do-or-die doing this. It’s going to take me somewhere and I don’t know where. But I wanted to do it anyway, ’cause I thought, “Well, if I use my Bat-cleverness skills to do a good graphic novel, they might not notice that it’s a monster movie or a B crime movie, or something. Yeah, right.

SANTORO: It also allows you to experiment formally with each new iteration of the book, like Troublemakers, you’re using that fixed CinemaScope grid, and there’s a really nice rhythm to that, and I think, unless you explore things that maybe you wouldn’t, you’re not going to do that necessarily.


GILBERT:
Exactly, that was it. So I figured on the Fritz books as sort of throwaway books really, just summer reading, just a cheesy paperback crime novel, and looked at that way. But I didn’t realize, there’s no audience for that, nobody wants that, at least from me; they want the next issue of Optic Nerve, not exploitation comics. But then Fantagraphics, considering it was my first graphic novel series for them, they wanted to do-it-up: hardcover, we’ll sell it as your first graphic novel from Fantagraphics. Because I’d done my first real graphic novel Sloth for DC, but I had to go through the DC ropes, I had to be edited, re-edited, you know, argue on the phone, that stuff. So in a way it taught me how to do it. So basically I did it the hard way the first time, which is good, because I learned a lot.

SANTORO: Oh, can you tell that Iron Man story, how you pitched that — [laughter] — No, for Strange Tales, you did an Iron Man story.

NADEL: Yeah, a great story.

SANTORO: But then you pitched it as a whole series.

GILBERT: I pitched it as a miniseries, as literally “The Search for the Original Human Torch.” It was supposed to be a story to lead up to Fantastic Four Annual #4, where they find the original Torch. The Human Torch before he was spread out to become Wonder Man and the Vision and Ultron, and others since, probably. I thought, because as a kid, my favorite Marvel characters were the old gold robotic Iron Man and the original Human Torch. “Ah! I’ll use Toro, and Toro will use Tony Stark to help him find the body of the Human Torch,” which had been missing. They get a line that one the Marvel robot master villains has the Torch’s body as a novelty item. They’re going to have to deal with the Mad Thinker and his goofy, big clay android, they’re going to have to go through Leader and his pink androids, they’re going to have to go through the Puppet Master and his menacing eighteen inch high puppets.  The editor at Marvel just said, “Too retro.” Click. Bye. And I just dropped it. And then another Marvel guy said, “Hey, I know. You can sell that story but OK, Toro’s a fireman, and he gave me this backstory that was like —

NADEL: Oh, Jesus.

GILBERT: — Make him a fireman? Toro STARTS fires! And then he goes, “Yeah, he’s fighting fire and stuff, and he’s jaded, and he opens up his coat and there’s the Toro symbol.” And I think, “Toro didn’t wear a shirt!” [Laughter.] I went through all that and I just dropped it. And then it wasn’t until a couple of years ago when another editor wrote to me and said, “We have an opening for Strange Tales. You can do anything you want as long as you remain true to the characters.” I went, “OK, I got an Iron Man/Toro story.” I don’t think he knew who Toro was. [Laughter.] And that’s how that happened. It’s just because I had a chance to do an old Marvel-type story and I said, “Well, I’ve got this story hanging around, so I’ll just do a condensed version.”

HODLER: So were you ultimately happy with how Sloth came out, or was there too much interference?

GILBERT: I am, because I did take a lot of lumps and it was really hard and it drove me crazy. I mean really crazy. From the first page to the last it changed completely. Because it was about something else, and I just started pulling stuff out. It just wasn’t happening and DC was getting antsy, because they pay a lot of money. And the more they pay you, the slower you start to work. [Laughter.] That’s the weird thing, I don’t know why. I guess I can’t blame them.

JAIME: It’s kind of like when you have a lot of money, you don’t check your bank account so often.

GILBERT: Yeah, yeah it’s true. So you don’t push that much.

JAIME: Yeah.

GILBERT: Yeah, when I don’t have money, like zero in the bank, I’m working like crazy. But anyway, like I said, it was a learning experience. I had never done anything like that in one fell swoop. It was always a series or whatever. And I like the way it turned out in the end, even though it’s not perfect. It’s shy 4 pages, because they just wanted to get it out and I was taking way too long. There were four exposition pages that kind of explained things a little bit more. [Laughter.] Oh, we’ll just blame it on David Lynch-type obscure storytelling if the story’s confusing. And I give my editor credit for that. She put up with a lot. They put up with a lot. And it turned out well. It wasn’t 100% mine, but I could see the problems they were having with it, because I didn’t know — I was learning.

HODLER: What didn’t you know how to do?

GILBERT: Just to make it a cohesive whole, to have the most important things rise to the top, to have a story arc, that sort of thing. Like I said, nuts and bolts. I learned nuts and bolts there, and that’s why I think I’m able to be a little more [prolific?], because what I’m about now is the nuts and bolts of telling a story. And then when I applied that to Chance in Hell, that’s not perfect, but it’s closer to what I was looking for. And then by the time I got to Troublemakers and Love from the Shadows, I’m pretty happy with the way I drew those.

NADEL: How does that learning experience then funnel back into Love and Rockets?

GILBERT: Like I said, nuts and bolts. You just learn a lot quicker to spot the weaknesses and what’s important, and where the arc is, and where it’s gonna end. Sometimes you end up with 3 pages to end the story, sometimes you have a panel to end the story. But either way works, because I always remind myself that the reader doesn’t see it ‘til it’s in their hands. So they’re not going to go, “Hey! You knocked out that page you promised in your mind!” And I think a lot of artists second guess themselves. They might think that the reader’s going to find them out. I’ve had panels that were without words because I’d reworked the word balloon so many times that I felt “None of this is working.” So I completely remove the word balloon and it works better. And the reader doesn’t know that. They’re just reading a story. So I don’t beat myself up to much for it.

HODLER: You did a Strange Tales thing and then something for the DC version of that, but have you ever gotten requests from them to do anything longer or more involved like Gilbert has?

JAIME: Um, I think they just stopped asking.

HODLER: You never had interest in doing that?

JAIME: I never had interest in involving myself in something long. Outside of Love and Rockets. So the interest? Yes. Would I want to draw Wonder Woman? Yes. Do I have to draw a whole damn book about it? No.[Laughter.] Can I just draw her beautiful body flying? Yes. Do I want to do a graphic magnum opus about her? No, never. [Laughter.] I just don’t have the energy and the interest to follow her or even the research to follow her, the myth behind Wonder Woman. No. I know Wonder Woman looks good, and she looks good kicking people’s ass. That’s about it.

SANTORO: Yeah but you were also saying, maybe in the early days they needed you or something, they didn’t have artists that could copy what you were doing. But now all these generations like … we were talking at SPX and you were saying you look on the shelves and they have these types of artists that are sort of close enough to you or whatever, sort of aping some of your stuff or just the look or something enough that they don’t “need” you like they used to.

JAIME: Yeah, and also they have artists who are drawing them the way they want to. The way the mainstream embraces art now. They have that. They don’t need me. My style is outdated for them. They’ve gone a certain way that they don’t need my style anymore. I mean I’m sure there’ll be an editor that’ll say, “We got a concept here that’ll be perfect for Jaime.” And I do get those once in a while. But other than that, they’ve got all their computer coloring, their rendering, that stuff, and it’s all fine for them. They’re just happy. They don’t need anything else.

NADEL: I wanted to ask you about the recent stories. It was interesting that you did God and Science and then “Browntown” and “The Love Bunglers”. Was that an arc that you were thinking? Or was it just that’s where things slotted in and chips fell?

JAIME: I was waiting to finish the superhero story, and then the next one I said, “OK, now it’s time. I can bring Maggie back.”

NADEL: And bringing Maggie back meant concluding that part of the story in a way, I guess? That was an interesting move, because you did it in a really unassuming way, and then all of a sudden it was an incredible story. But it was funny that it had just dropped in there. It’s great. A great surprise.

JAIME: Yeah, it wasn’t planned. It wasn’t a big plan, other than I was done with the superhero story in time to move on, and I think … Because sometimes I think people get tired of Maggie. Because I do a lot of Maggie. And sometimes I think people want a break, so I give them a break. Especially after a long story where I run her through the mill and then it’s done. I’m like, oh shit, I can’t do anything more with her. So I’m gonna give her a break and work on someone else. And when I … I don’t remember exactly how “The Love Bunglers” started, but yes, I wanted to continue the Maggie/Ray thing, because I go, “This is going on for years!” He’s chasing her for years. And so I think I gotta wrap it up. I didn’t have the ending yet, but I did want them to kind of come to a conclusion somehow. I didn’t know what it was going to be. And then “Browntown” just came because … I can’t remember exactly how it came, but I wanted to do Maggie in Palomar, because I was so tired of her environment. I wanted her to go somewhere where there was very little, few backgrounds, life was less complicated, and it was that perfect story of that lost three years that I had mentioned years ago. And I thought, I’ll put her in some desert town where nothing happens. And I found out it worked for the better, because the less she had, as far as background, the more story I had to give her. I could just focus totally on their lives, with nothing intruding around, nothing interrupting their boring lives. So that’s how that came about.

NADEL: And when did you figure out the ending? Because that ending is a doozy.

JAIME: By the time I was finishing that first one, where I said, “OK, I kind of know what’s going to happen —

NADEL: First one?

HODLER: “Browntown.”

JAIME: — but also, it was because my wife made the small remark where she read one of the latest Maggie stories, and she said, “What are you doing now? What are you working on now?” And I go, “Oh, I’m doing a Maggie again, Maggie and Ray, and this and that.” And then she goes, “If you run Maggie through the mill one more time, I’m never gonna read your comic again.” [Laughter.] And I kind of understood. She wanted some kind of happiness for her, and I was just giving every time, Maggie’s living a normal life and then it goes [Jaime makes a sound effect like a car swerving off course].

NADEL: [Laughs.] Yeah.

JAIME: And I kind of agreed. And I thought, well, I guess it’s time to give her her happy ending. But not before shit happens, bricks fly.

HODLER: I don’t know if you heard this or not, but some people weren’t sure if the ending of this was a fantasy, or if it was real or not.

JAIME: That’s what Heidi [MacDonald] was saying yesterday.

HODLER: Like this mirror scene [page 12 in Love and Rockets #4], it looks like maybe she’s imagining a possible future. Was that intentionally ambiguous?

JAIME: No, but I did, reading back, think, “Hey, this could be a fantasy.” [Laughter.] We were discouraged against captions a long time ago. Captions would just take care of so much of our confusion, but they were discouraged by Gary and other people at Fantagraphics. “Oh, you don’t need to do that. The reader’s intelligent enough to pick it up.” And not true, not true. [Laughter.]

SANTORO: That’s why you said that you were using a lot of different grids in some of the … to use the grid to differentiate between what story it was. Like it was Ray’s point of view or Maggie’s, and you said that “Because I don’t do the thing where it says ‘5 minutes later’” and you were using, I think it’s an interesting formal device to come up with that.

JAIME: Yeah, when it comes from Ray’s point of view, it’s the 6-panel grid with captions.

GILBERT: I’m just going to start doing the “Meanwhile,” “Six years later” stuff again, because it is problematic. I get whole different views of my stories that aren’t accurate.

JAIME: But no, it’s all real.

HODLER: Well you can tell once you get the next issue that it’s real.

NADEL: It’s real, yeah. This was also a funny page that a lot of people talked about, the very first page of issue 4.

HODLER: What’s that?

NADEL: A lot of people just haven’t quite figured out what it’s referring to, or if it was meant to be Maggie and Ray like 50 years in the future.

JAIME: Oh, I didn’t think of that. That was just an idea for a 1-pager I had in case I’m ever in an anthology or something, because I’m trying to do shorter stories on the side, but they always end up in Love and Rockets. I always turn them into these characters, so I just thought, “Well, I’m doing a story called ‘The Love Bunglers.’ Let’s see another side of love.” Then I did that and then I thought, “Hey, I’ll make it the first page.”

NADEL: Were you relieved to give Maggie a little happy ending?

JAIME: Yeah, because it worked well. It just worked right and I was really happy with the emotional part of it. But also the gears started turning again. I’m not done. Maybe with “The Love Bunglers,” but more to come with Maggie’s love life.

NADEL: Oh, so it freed you up a little bit.

JAIME: Yeah.

GILBERT: I want to interrupt you real quick before I forget the thread here. But the reason I think we’ve been able to continue and thrive and people remain enthusiastic about our work is because there is that link, there is that thread. Jaime created Maggie early on, and she became his character, his speak-through. So any other character to speak through, like he does with Maggie, is a lesser character to him. I’m speaking as an artist. That’s why Maggie’s always there. Nobody can match Maggie for him to express himself. There’s no real reason for Jaime to do stories without Maggie, because if they’re linked to Maggie, it has a resonance and it builds towards something.

Same thing with the Fritz books for me. If I wasn’t doing Fritz as the main character in those books, it would be a lot harder to get to. But knowing that they have that teeny-tiny link with her being Luba’s half-sister. Basically, in those Fritz books, the characters she’s playing are aspects of her personality that she doesn’t show normally. She’s pretty much a blank in the Love and Rockets stories and always has been, but that’s what the whole character is: she’s a blank, but then she expresses herself in acting. She has a genius I.Q, and she was a psychotherapist. In a way that’s like an actor, and she learned acting from talking to people and having a blank look and not freaking out at her patients and yelling, “You stupid idiot! Just don’t do that.” She has to talk calmly in that therapist reserved way. So she applied that to acting, and now all aspects of her personality are coming out in these stories. So that one link, which is not apparent or even important to the reader keeps me interested and pushing forward and getting into it.

(Continued)

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6 Responses to The Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez Interview

  1. mateor says:

    Oh man, thanks.

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  4. KenParille says:

    Great [censored] interview!

  5. Michael Grabowski says:

    It’s disappointingly eye-opening to read about the economic reality even these guys face producing their books. These are pantheon-level comics artists (but apparently not Pantheon-worthy?) and Gilbert’s got to work as hard as he describes here to keep publishing new stuff? One would hope having a few thousand pages being regularly reprinted and resold for thirty years would itself by now provide a comfortable supplement as well as a big enough audience for new work to pay better than what he seems to be saying it does here.

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