Event Recap: Jaime Hernandez

Cartoonist Jaime Hernandez joined host Oscar Villalon and special guest Anita Felicelli to discuss Maggie the Mechanic, the January California Book Club selection, and Los Bros Hernandez’s iconic Love and Rockets series, of which it is a part.

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Host Oscar Villalon started out a resonant and wide-ranging conversation with Jaime Hernandez, the gifted cartoonist and author of our January California Book Club pick, Maggie the Mechanic, by asking whether he had a sense of the deep richness of the characters and stories he was about to unlock in the Locas storyline when he and his brothers put out the first issue of Love and Rockets in 1981. Hernandez said, “I know I liked writing them.” He said that the brothers hadn’t had any feedback, but they trusted themselves and were having fun creating comics.

Dennis the Menace, the Archie comics, and superhero comics—and the charm of those—were early influences. Villalon commented that what struck him about Love and Rockets was the way the characters were drawn, particularly the Chicana characters Maggie and Hopey, who were part of the punk scene and who, he realized, reminded him of Betty and Veronica from the Archie comics but were more fleshed out. Hernandez said that came from having friends while growing up who were punk women who were funny and spirited.

Later, when I joined the conversation, Hernandez commented that he’d wanted to see the characters grow up with him. He’d wanted to do the comics for the long run, until his ideas ran out. When he started out, he wasn’t sure what the Locas would be like in their 30s or 40s, and that was because he knew all these punks, but when the brothers’ comics took off, their punk life slowed, and he wasn’t sure what happened to a lot of the people. He said, “They disappeared…. I disappeared.… I knew Maggie more; I knew who she is more. She’s a lot like me.” But with Hopey, he wondered, “What does a punk kid do after causing trouble and getting drunk? And then my punk friends started to come back.” They were older, and so he said, “Oh, so that’s what.”

After a while, the rockets and robots that were part of the early comics began to fade because he was more interested in Maggie and Hopey looking for an apartment. Hernandez started thinking, OK, how old are they now? They were growing up next to him, whatever he was going through, and he would ask himself, OK what are the girls up to today? That created a future for them and got him “excited to find out what was going on.” He explained that part of the reason he can still do it after 40 years is because he is still trying to see what happens to them.

He explained that one of the reasons Rand Race, the love interest in Maggie the Mechanic, fell off as a character in the comics was because “I couldn’t picture where he lived. I couldn’t picture him living in a house having breakfast.… If there’s a character that I cannot picture—them being normal when there are no cameras around—they usually die out, but I don’t forget their memories.… Maggie will think about, Wow, Race—he was a gem; he was the cat’s pajamas.… He was never real to me, and so he got left behind basically. The comic took off, and I couldn’t wait for him to fix himself.”

Villalon and Hernandez spoke about the magical neighborhood in Oxnard where Hernandez grew up. “There were a million kids on the street,” Hernandez said. “You could always find someone to hang out with.” He said that he only encountered racism when he was in high school. Villalon asked about the comics scene in 1981, during Reagan’s America, what’s going to become Pete Wilson’s California, when there was no alternative-comics scene.

Villalon commented that Los Bros Hernandez created the alternative-comics scene; Hernandez responded that they helped the scene to develop. He clarified, “There were a lot of cartoonists we met who were waiting to bust out but had nowhere to go. We were just dumb enough to just go, to get it out there.” There was Marvel and DC, but he and his brothers were so small-town they didn’t care about putting work out with the mainstream comics publishers. He didn’t care about getting rich. He just wanted to draw comics. “Luckily, I kept that in my head because it would have ruined me, and I would have quit if I would have known how things really were.” There was no money in the beginning, but, he said, “I always was able to have my comic that was mine and no one could mess with, you know, so that, that kind of helped me survive.”•

We hope you enjoyed this event with Jaime Hernandez. Join us again on Zoom on Thursday, February 16, at 5 p.m. Pacific time, when Andrew Sean Greer will join CBC host John Freeman and a special guest to discuss Less. Please drop by the Alta Clubhouse to let us and your fellow book club members know your thoughts about the book. Register here for the event.

Anita Felicelli, Alta Journal’s California Book Club editor, is the author of the novel Chimerica and Love Songs for a Lost Continent, a short story collection.
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