David L. Ulin: Welcome to tonight's meeting of the California Book Club. I'm David L. Ulin, the books editor of Alta Journal. And before we get started, I want to introduce the book club, Alta Journal, tell you a little bit about the event.
We're really excited tonight to have Jaime Hernandez with us talking about Maggie the Mechanic. Unfortunately, John Freeman is not able to moderate tonight's conversation, but Oscar Villalon, my good friend and our associate, is filling in, and our special guest will be California Book Club editor Anita Felicelli.
California Book Club is a monthly meeting and discussion of books that are part of what we consider to be the new California canon. The book club is dedicated to the notion that the most interesting and exciting literature in the country is being produced in this state. We all believe that to be true and we are happy to present these works to all of you and have these conversations.
And we do this in conjunction with our partners who I want to acknowledge those partners are Book Passage, Book Soup, Books Inc. BookShop, BookShop West Portal, Diesel, A Bookstore, Green Apple Books, the Huntington-USC Institute on California and the West, the Los Angeles Public Library, the San Francisco Public Library, Narrative Magazine, Vroman's Bookstore, and ZYZZYVA, where Oscar is managing editor.
I'd like to remind you the California Book Club's monthly events and continuous content leading up to each club meeting are always free. If you haven't had a chance to check it all out, you'll definitely want to. Great sort of supplement to the conversation you're about to see. There are essays from many contributors with reflections on and related to tonight's work. There's an excerpt of Maggie the Mechanic and more. All of this is also included in our weekly California Book Club newsletter, which is also free. So please sign up and you'll get the information in your inbox.
So, how can you support the work we do, bringing these in-depth articles, essays, and interviews with writers and artists like Jaime Hernandez to you? We do have a sale for California Book Club members. For just $50, you'll get a year of Alta Journal, you'll get the California Book Club hat and one of our upcoming California book club books. Just go to altaonline.com/join or watch tomorrow's thank you email for a link to this great deal.
You can also join Alta as a digital member for just $3 a month, which will give you access to all of the California Book Club material as well as the online book reviews and the other online web-only material that we're publishing at Alta Online.
And for Bay Area people. Please join us tomorrow night. We'll be hosting a live in-person party at Bookshop West Portal at 7:00 PM to raise a glass and celebrate our new desert issue, our desert print issue, the most recent print issue of the magazine. The event is free. There'll be some readings from Alta contributors and everyone is welcome. Again, Bookshop West Portal, tomorrow night, January 20th at seven o'clock. And now enough of me, let me introduce my friend Oscar to take us away. Oscar?
Oscar Villalon: Hi, everyone. Good evening, and thank you, David for the introduction. Thank you everyone for coming out for this event.
Let me introduce our author for the evening, it's Jaime Hernandez. He's recognized as one of the greatest comic book artists working today. In 2017, he and his brother Gilbert, with whom we started the series Love and Rockets, which we'll talk about very soon, we're inducted in the Will Eisner Comic Book Hall of Fame. In 2016, he received the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for his graphic novel, The Love Bunglers, and in 2018 received the Aesop Book Prize for his children's book, The Dragon Slayer: Folktales from Latin America. His work has also appeared in New Yorker, New York Times Magazine and Hernandez has also created DVD covers for the Criterion Collection and album covers for bands such as Los Lobos and The Indigo Girls.
Love and Rockets was started in 1981 by Jaime and his brothers, Gilbert and Mario and would continue off and on for decades. The book club selection, Maggie the Mechanic, is but a slice of that immense and landmark body of work. In this volume, the rockets part of Love and Rockets is made clear and we are introduced to Maggie and Hopey, two the most iconic characters in the history of American comics.
The work collected here is made up of both the intimate and the incredible, taking place not just on the sidewalks of Oxnard, California, but in fantastical jungles in imaginary countries. On the other side of the globe. There are dinosaurs and cholos, superheroes and pro wrestlers, the lovelorn and the Locas, the powerful and the punks. It is also a Chicano universe that seemingly contains all the wonder the world could possibly hold. With that, would you please give a warm welcome to the California Book Club to Jaime Hernandez.
Jaime Hernandez: Hello.
Villalon: Hello, Jaime. How are you doing?
Hernandez: I'm wonderful, thank you. Thank you. Glad to be here. Thanks for having me.
Villalon: Thank you for being here. I wanted to start out by asking you, when you and your brothers put out that first issue of Love and Rockets in 1981, did you have a sense of the deep richness of characters and stories you were about to unlock?
Hernandez: I know I liked writing them. I didn't know ... We hadn't had any feedback, but we kind of ourselves that we ... Let's put it this way, we were having fun doing it, and that's all that mattered. It was just something I found that I enjoyed doing. That's why as the comic took off, the characters was all I cared about after a while.
Villalon: I wanted to talk more about those characters, particularly Maggie and Hopey, but I just wanted a little context for us before you get further in. You grew up in Oxnard, which is in Ventura County. I happen to know it as a hometown boxer, Fernando Vargas, and La Colonia Boxing Gym is down there. Could you tell us what Oxnard was like when you were a kid? And I only ask this too because Oxnard does show up in Love and Rockets.
Hernandez: Yeah, yeah. I kind of base my fake fictional southern California town of Huerta, based on Oxnard basically. It was what you see in the comic, it was just a small agricultural town, lot of farmworkers and all that. It also had the beach where the rich people had their summer houses, that kind of thing. But to me, it was just normal, just neighborhood stuff, suburban stuff, growing up in kind of diverse neighborhood, mostly Mexican. But I don't know how to explain it other than it was home and it was a great experience growing up. That's why I tell all these stories because I like to include my little part of the world into the world.
Villalon: And so growing up in Oxnard, expand upon that a little bit. How did these sort of stories around you, how did they bubble up and make their way into the series?
Hernandez: Oh, well, grew up reading comics and then drawing comics for ourselves. And it was something that I clicked with. I liked drawing, and then I started to learn to write right as the comic was starting. It was a real learning experience for me.
Villalon: How old are you when you're first doing this? When you first trying your handed comics?
Hernandez: Oh, well, five years old, but I was drawing my Batman comics or making up my own little superheroes or my funny Peanuts-like characters. Just kind of taking from the comics I read. I read the superhero comics, I read the Archie comics, I read the Dennis the Menace comics, and it was just something that stuck with me, and it was just something that I found I was able to speak through.
Villalon: And these were comics that your mother brought you to you and your brothers as a way to keep you guys occupied, get you guys out of her hair?
Hernandez: Yeah, and she was a comics fan as a kid, but she had to hide her comics because comics are trash and going to ruin kids' minds, that kind of thing. But she encouraged us. It was better than putting us in front of the TV, which she did, or things like that just to shut us up. There was five boys in the house, and later a sister. And so it was just something that we ...
They said, "Draw something or look at comics or something." And I don't think they had any idea how attached we became to that. I didn't know. I didn't know I liked drawing.
Villalon: And these were Archie comics and Dennis the Menace, is that correct?
Villalon: And you could see the influence of that in the series.
Hernandez: Yeah, they were just comics that I connected to. I also grew up with the early Marvel Comics as well and the superhero comics, but the Archie Comics stuck out because they had good artists at the time. I don't know, I'm sure they have good artists now. But at the time, there were certain artists that just spoke to me that were really good at characterization, real good at making the characters come alive, I guess, with just the few lines on paper. And I really took to that, especially the older I got, right before Love and Rockets when I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do.
I wanted to do comics, but I had nowhere to take them. But I was really going back to those old Archie and Dennis the Menace comics because they had a certain charm that and way of telling stories that I was very attracted to. And so I put a lot of that in how I tell a story, how I put the words and pictures together.
Villalon: Again, we'll get into this a little bit more off, but I remember one of the things that struck me about Love and Rockets when I first started reading way back in the late '80s, early '90s, was the thickness and the thinness of the lines, the way the characters were drawn, and particularly Maggie and Hopey. And the reason I bring up Archie comics is because for a while I remember looking at it going, "What does this remind me of?" And I couldn't quite put my finger on it. "Oh, it's Betty and Veronica."
Hernandez: Yeah. They were basically my Betty and Veronica.
Villalon: Yes. They have this certain va-va-voom aspect to them, but yet at the same time, they're ... well, I should say more than Betty and Veronica, they're fleshed out.
Hernandez: Yeah. Right. And that came from having friends growing up and hanging out with women. The older I was getting, when I got into punk, I made friends with a lot of punk women who were very funny and spirited. And that's what I put ... That's why I did Maggie and Hopey. I loved the camaraderie. It was like Betty and Veronica in real life. And-
Villalon: Where Jughead was sort of a sexual harasser.
Hernandez: Was he?
Villalon: Well, I'm saying in this universe, I mean, it's like, it is sort of that world, where also though men terribly towards them, they say really horrible things. They're sexist, it's not misogynist.
Villalon: So it introduces that element of like, yes, unfortunately that's reality. That is part of what these characters would have to deal with.
Hernandez: Yeah. I try to bring as much truth to it as I could and not a lot of it was pretty. So it's just juggling reality and what I want to draw and what I want to write. And it's just this stuff and having these influences from all corners of the world.
Villalon: Jaime, I just want to say really quick, someone's pointing out, I see on the webinar chat, yes, Reggie would've been the harasser. That's absolutely correct. It would not have been Jughead. Though jughead would've been a surprise. It would've added some depth, some interest. It would've been a twist if that had been the case. I wonder if I could cue you-
Hernandez: I was just going to say Jughead just didn't like women.
Villalon: It's all right. [inaudible]-
Hernandez: Oh no, no, he didn't like girls.
Hernandez: And I never found that a problem, but people did later, "What's wrong with Jughead?" I go, "He just doesn't want to hang out with girls."
Villalon: He really is. With that in mind, if I cue you to read a little bit from Maggie the Mechanic. Which is tough because it's a comic, but there's parts of it that are epistolary. So there it is. I wonder if you wouldn't mind just reading a little bit.
Hernandez: Sure. Now I warn you, I don't do this sort of thing, so I'm going to be reading like a book report-
Villalon: That's fine.
Hernandez: ... or a book report in front of the class. And that was never good for me. And also, I'm reading the stuff that's 40 years old. So-
Villalon: Is that strange for you?
Hernandez: Looking back at it, it's more like, "God, I can't believe they said that. Is that what I thought back then?" Or whatever. I was 22 and I was still a kid basically.
But anyway, here is from the story "Mechanics" from the Maggie Mechanic book, and it's about ... Maggie gets ... she's writing letters to Hopey because she's off on the other side of the world working. And the first part of this is written through her letters. So here we go. Mechanics. Bear with me.
"Dear, Hopi. Surprise, it's me. I'm still alive. I bet you it thought I was dead or kidnapped or something. Well, I'm neither. I'm writing from an old decrepit hotel clear across the globe in Zimbodia. It was really weird. Last Friday when you and Izzy went to Mad Dogs without me, I was sitting there all sentida watching TV when the phone rang. It was Rand Race. He said we had a big, big job somewhere outside of the country, that I had to be at the airport in 15 minutes. Sorry I didn't leave a note, but I barely had time to even pack. I didn't have enough clean underwear. So I borrowed some of your old ones. Okay? I'll bet you thought I got so sentida that night that I went out and killed myself. Huh? I'm so excited because we're just stopped here for a night."
"We really have to get to this Jato, and I don't mean the fun populated city Jato. I mean the jungle wild animals, cannibals, Jato. It's some big government job we're on. I'm not even sure if I'm allowed to tell you about it, especially since you're the most anti-government person I know. You're even anti-anti. Ha ha. I'd only be gone for about a week. So if you could please feed Dick Duck and wash the dishes this week and I'll do them next week. Oh yeah. And please take out the trash. Okay? Thanks a lot. See you in about a week. Love you, Maggie. PS, I've finally seen a real live Zimbodian. They really have skin like olives. They also have the biggest feet in the world. Whew. Say hi to Izzy and Penny for me and I'll bring you all souvenir from Jato to real soon."
Okay, next day.
"Dear Hopi, today we arrived at the Bubay, pronounced Bubay, airport just outside Jato. We'll be spending the night in the Juan Panavero Hotel. Ugh, what a dump." I can't believe I wrote this. " Before we take a chopper into the jungle where we'll be working. There we met this funny guy who was supposed to fill us in on where we were staying and stuff like that, but he didn't know his ass from his shit. We waited around four hours before we got any instructions. It wasn't so bad waiting because they had this little jukebox in the airport café and on it was the theme song to that hillbilly program you like."
"I played it eight times. Oh yeah, I saw a picture of the damages on the rocket ship we'll be fixing, and I have a slight feeling will be more than a week. What a mess. I'll write you in a couple of days. Take care, huh? Love you, Maggie. PS, this is the Lubanese greeting. [inaudible]. That means don't count your chickens before your britches is hatched. Ha ha. PSS, in case you haven't noticed, our job is to fix a rocket that crash landed in the jungle years ago."
"Day one. Well, here we are. Sorry I've taken so long to write, but we have to go about 90 miles into Jato to mail a letter. And the express here is so slow. But anyway, remember when I told you we were working in the deep jungle? Well, even I didn't know it would be the deep, deep, deep jungle where the local native language is so complex that even the closest tribes, which are several miles away, can't make it out."
"I mean, this jungle is so deep that if the rocket we have to fix didn't open some space when it crash landed, we'd all be living in the trees. Our huts are very nice. They're just like the ones in the movies. Only they smell like daka. I guess I'll just have to get used to the scent here in lower Polisador. I mean, this jungle is so deep that next to this big, big, big rocket ship we have to fix that is stuck in this slimy muck is a big, big old fat smelly, old fat old black dinosaur."
"No kidding. It kind of looks like a Brontosaurus Rex, except it's got a bump on its head. They say it's been sitting there since the big bird out of the sky, the rocket ship, crashed into it many years ago and they both have been sitting there since. It seems the big twisted roots underwater grew up around and tangled it up. So it's there for good. Anyway, we talked to Mr. Escareno and he filled us in on the situation. He said, "It's only the engine." He's crazier than the last guy. So before we started work the next morning, we had the rest of the day to look around and get a feel of the place. Well, the men did. They went to check out the dinosaur. Me, I got started on my tan. Huh, some tan."
Shall I keep going?
Villalon: No, no, that's good. Thank you. Now, like you were saying before though, you wrote that when you were 22. How does it strike you now?
Hernandez: It's different. I mean, I write differently now. I mean, I still like it. I haven't read this story in ages, but there's a certain spark that we had when the comic was starting. I was really, really exuberant and enthusiastic. It's not that I'm not now, but 40 years later, it's kind of like, "All right, what are the characters up to now? What should they do?" I'm a little more relaxed, I guess, with my comics.
Villalon: I was going to ask you, well, based on just what you read, you could see in that early work the influence from all these different places. It seems like you're almost like informed by all these other sort of comic books of that era, of jungle locales and fantastic creatures and this-
Villalon: Yeah, it seems like you guys were feeling your way through this trying to make sense, "What is it that I really want to talk about"?
Hernandez: Yes. That was from the second issue of the comic book. When we did the first one, we didn't know there'd be a second one. So like I was saying earlier, it was a real learning experience for me. And I was learning as I was going along with the comic and I was learning a lot of things about myself and my art and my storytelling and stuff. So I would say, "Where are they now? They're in the jungle," Because I used to see movies about having these jungle adventures.
Villalon: When it was on TV.
Hernandez: Yeah, and stuff like that. So all my influences just came from my childhood, watching B science fiction movies or monster movies or comedies and reading comics and then hanging out with my friends on the street and then being into music and just throwing it all together. All this junk culture, bringing it all together, but having this feeling that it all belonged. And so that early ... The stuff in Maggie the Mechanic, you could see I'm kind of growing, feeling my way into what I want to do.
Villalon: Before we talk a little bit more about Maggie and Hopey, I wanted to talk about this before I forget. So I know the punk ethos is a big part of the field of Love and Rockets, and you were an Oxnard now. So, how did you encounter punk in Oxnard?
Hernandez: Well, we were buying the punk records from England and New York and Ramones, Sex Pistols, Clash, stuff like that. But it was so far away. I mean, we never thought we would-
Villalon: But now, how were you attracted to punk culture? Because I'll tell you something. I'm Mexican American. I grew up in San Diego. And one of the things I was always so conflicting about stuff that was like punk was that, man, that was so white. It felt like that's what the white kids like. You know what I'm saying? So it was fraught. You could like it, but then it's like it is ... Well if you're going to be that, then are you saying ... Are you an Anglo? What are you saying? What are you-
Hernandez: Oh yeah.
Villalon: So anyway. But you pushed through that. I mean, because if you love the art, you love it and it speaks to you. So I guess I'm asking you, so what part of it spoke to you that you thought, "Oh man, this is something I really want to get into"? Was it immediate attraction? Was it something that slowly happened?
Hernandez: It slowly happened because I was four years old when the Beatles came over and the British invasion. And so radio was booming and the culture and the cultural revolution started. And I watched it as through my Eyes as a kid. So I grew up on basically white music and say Motown and stuff like that. But my brothers and I, we really got into rock and roll.
My brothers went through a glam phase. And when punk came it was like, "Oh, this is glam, but different." And so I was a teenager by the time punk came and I was bored in Oxnard. And none of my friends, none of my Mexican friends liked punk, they liked Earth, Wind and Fire. I thought Earth, Wind and Fire was fine, but I liked the Sex Pistols.
Villalon: And as folks are pointing out in the chat, I mean, there were a lot of Latinos in the punk scene. People forget that Los Lobos were on the Slash label.
Hernandez: Yeah, yes. And when we started going to LA to see bands, first, we would go see the main bands who had big records. But we started to like the bands that opened up for them, and they were the local LA bands. And so we started just going to see the local bands. And whenever someone had gas for the car, we'd drive to LA and watch these shows. And we had favorite bands, but I remember it was very diverse of color and a lot of women were involved and stuff like that.
And so I really liked it and I really was like, "Oh boy, that band's all Mexicans. This is cool. Wow." And sometimes my white friends were like, "Why are you so concerned about that?" "Come on, guys. I mean, I need something for myself too." And so it was hard being a teenager, liking Kiss and stuff like that, when my Mexican friends were just always making fun of me or whatever.
Villalon: Well, I want to bring Anita in real soon, but I wanted to say just very quickly, I think that's one of the things too, I think about the comics I found so intoxicating was the way it presented the complexity of that Mexican American experience, all the varieties, the ways of being Chicano. There wasn't just one way, there wasn't one way that was more authentic than some other way. It was all of a piece. There's cholos and there's punks and there's goths and there's this and whatever, man. And it's all the same thing. It's all the same community. It's not just one way of being, who you are as a Mexican American. And I found that just mind-blowing quite frankly. Because sometimes in art, things are presented in a sort of regimented way, that this is the way you have to think or this is the way you have to be for it to be real as opposed to, well, I mean, there's all kinds of ways. Like the man said, there's all kinds of homeboys, there's not just one.
Hernandez: And that's why I would have Speedy, the guy Maggie had a crush on, but he was a cholo. But since they all grew up in the same neighborhood, it was kind of like, "Oh, Maggie, that stuff you like is crazy. The way you is crazy, man." But it wasn't like insulting because they all grew up together and stuff.
Villalon: So let me go ahead and ... I'm sorry, Jaime. I didn't mean to ... Let me go ahead before I forget, to bring on Anita Felicelli, she's the editor of Alta's California Book Club. She's also the author of Chimerica: A Novel and the award-winning short story collection Love Songs for a Lost Continent. She's been a regular contributor to the San Francisco Chronicle and Los Angeles Review of Books. And her non-fiction has appeared in the Washington Post and the New York Times among other places. She's on the board of the National Book Critics Circle, where she serves as Fiction Chair for 2022, 2023. Please welcome Anita Felicelli.
Anita Felicelli: Thank you, Oscar. That was a nice introduction.
Jaime, I'm so excited that you joined us. I have really enjoyed getting back to Love and Rockets. I'm a longtime fan, as you know. I have been reading it since 2001 and it was actually one of the comics ... was the one that I was reading when I met my husband. So it has a special place for me for that reason as well.
Felicelli: So I love these characters, I love the Locas in general. And I think what I wanted to talk to you about was time, because it's pretty incredible to spin out these stories over 40 years. It's just such a feat and it's a little bit like a soap opera. There's twists and turns in the plot, there's twists and turns in the love stories, but there's also this kind of rich emotional resonance in terms of, there's nostalgia. As you go along, you sort of jettison some of these science fiction elements, which are really exciting in Maggie the Mechanic, but they start to go away to the side. And I wondered, as I was revisiting Maggie and sort of thinking about other books that you've written, whether Maggie and Hopey were always sort of endgame for you or whether you were experiencing their adventures along with them as opposed to sort of redesigning it.
Hernandez: Right. I don't know how to say this. I made the characters age and supposedly in real time, even if comics move slower than real life. So I wanted to watch them grow up with me. I wanted to grow up next to them. I wanted to see what would happen with them. I don't know if this answers your question, but I just wanted to do this for the long run, as long as I could, till my health or whatever, or my ideas run out.
But a little bit of it was difficult because I didn't know, say a character Hopey, how they would grow up, what they would be like in their 30s or 40s. And that was because I knew all these punk kids. And then when the comic took off, our punk life kind of slowed down and I don't know what happened to a lot of these people. They disappeared. Or to them, I disappeared.
I knew Maggie more. I knew that she was who she is more. She's a lot like me. But someone like Hopey, I was like, "What does a punk kid do after causing trouble and getting drunk and ... " Excuse me. And then my punk friends started to come back. They were all older, and I was like, "Oh. So that's what they do." Anyway, like I said, I don't know if that answers your question, but ...
Felicelli: Yeah, no, it absolutely does. I think that is actually something that a lot of critics hit upon in your work, where they're looking at the fact that the women age so realistically and there's wrinkles and cellulite and weight gain, and you're just really embodying the aging process in your work.
Time is a big theme of the work. And then there's also the way that it's un-spooling and there's also just watching these characters get older. I wondered a little bit about what was that decision like. Because Maggie the Mechanic, which was our featured book, she's very young. You definitely see the Dennis the Menace, Archie comics, Betty-Veronica sort of influences in how these women are drawn. But as you go along and you have the Love Bunglers or Is This How You See Me or something like that where there's so much attention page paid to aging and doing it very realistically and the disappointments and their regrets and show up in the body as well to some extent.
What was your thought process on that? At what point did you start thinking about, "Oh, I want to make them age, unlike the comics that I grew up with"?
Hernandez: I think it started because part of it was that I started to think about their past when they were kids. So I thought, "Oh, if they have a past that's pretty cool. You get to know another side of them. And so maybe I can make them age. And the stuff like Maggie the Mechanics is their past now."
I just always liked stories told by my mother and my aunts, and they would tell stories about being growing up, especially my mom. She would tell just go on for hours, just talking about how cool it was to be barefoot poor in Texas. And that stuff was always warm to me. And so when Maggie and Hopey started to move on, I started to want to follow them in a more realistic world. So the rockets and the robots and stuff started to fade away because I was more interested in them looking for an apartment or something and then thinking, "Okay, how old are they now? Okay, they should be thinking about school or they should be thinking about getting a job for the rest of their life or settling down, or not settling down or stuff."
And I would just think about that and it was like they were kind of growing next to me. Whatever I was going through, I would always say, "Okay, what are the girls up to today?" And that kind of created this past and almost this future for them. And it got me really excited to find out what was going on. And I think that's part of the reason I can still do it after 40 years is because I still want to see what happens to them.
Felicelli: Yeah, absolutely. So there's no endgame in your mind, you're not quite sure where it's going to go? Or do you have secretly some idea of what's [inaudible]?
Hernandez: Well, being 63 years old now, when I was 22 starting this stuff, I do think of an ending now and some of it's not so great, but I do think, "How many years do we have left to do this?" And I didn't used to think that when I was younger. It was just like, blam, "Let's go as long as we can." But I still like them. I still writing them. They're in their 50s now and some of them have grown up, and some of them haven't grown up. It's like I'm watching them live. It's like I'm only reporting what they're up to.
Someone once told me, they said, "My comic creator friends, they're always talking about these plans of what their next comic is going to be and what their next project is going to be." And then they told me, they go, "But you seem to talk about your stuff like you're just the reporter, like it's already happened." I'm just putting down the facts. And that's kind of the way I look at it and that's kept me going this long.
Felicelli: Yeah, no, it's incredible. I mean, I often wonder when I'm looking at the different panels, how much time do you have to spend in terms of figuring out what moments you're actually going to show? Is it actually un-spooling in your head like a movie or is it more how it looks on the page and then you're like, "Oh, let me tweak this"?
Hernandez: I picture it moving in real life or a movie. It only comes out it lines on paper because it is paper. But everything I'm thinking about when I'm writing it, I'm picturing them moving and actually living and breathing. So I don't know, it helps me a lot to believe in them, to believe that they're real. I treat them like they're real. I know people think I'm crazy, but I have to in order to make them breathe, make them seem more than lines on paper.
Felicelli: Yeah, absolutely. Do you keep a sketchbook and jot things down as you go or have allotted time?
Hernandez: I jot things down, but most of the time it's in my head and a lot of stuff disappears and I go, "Wow, I had a great idea for a story. Now I don't remember what it was." But what makes it cool is that it's like, "Okay, I'm not worried about the story. I'm worried about what's Maggie doing? She seems really bummed out lately, she's kind of in a funk. Hmm, do I get her out of the funk or do I investigate her funk?" And that's what usually tells the story.
Maggie writes the book herself. I never planned to have so much Maggie in this comic, but she'll take a story and turn a two-page story and turn it into a hundred-page story. She's just that character and I'm not going to sit around and wait to find out why. I'm just going to let it happen.
Felicelli: And you drew for us a cartoon, Why I Draw, and it was Maggie and all these different moments of her life. It was pretty amazing, I thought. Anyway, it was very beautiful. I was moved by it.
Let's see. Oh, I had one more thing before we end, then we should probably pull Oscar back. I wondered how did you move from Rand Race, who's sort of the main love interest in Maggie the Mechanic, to this love triangle with Hopey, and sorry to give spoilers, everybody, to move to this love triangle with Ray and Maggie? Which I think is so ... It's really complex and it actually plays out. That's what ends up playing out over years more so than Rand Race, who's kind of like a dashing ... He looks like a superhero somewhat, Clark Kent or something.
Hernandez: And the reason I stopped doing Race was because I couldn't picture where he lived. I couldn't picture him living in a house having breakfast. I could not picture it. Maggie? Oh sure, I could picture that. I could picture Hopey he doing it. I could picture Ray doing it. But if there's a character that I cannot picture them being normal when no cameras are around, they usually die out. But I don't forget their memories because every once in a while Maggie will think about, "Wow, Race, he was the cat's pajamas." But yeah, 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. See, I'm acting like someone else did it, but that's how I see it. And a character disappears, or at least for a while it's because I just ran out of stuff for them. They've stopped living in my head. Until five years later, I'll go, "Oh, I know what I can do. I'll bring them back." Stuff like that.
Felicelli: And it's almost a point of humor because you have and How to Kill a, you have Izzy's like writer's block, but she's also the one ... I think she's the one that doesn't actually age as much as the others. She's interacting in one of the comics with other superheroes from Maggie's comic collection. Is that right? And-
Hernandez: Oh, right.
Felicelli: Yeah. And she's kind of immortal a superhero. And you've got this kind of play with the immortality versus the mortality and immortality has really taken over, I think.
Hernandez: Yeah. Yeah. It's strange. My characters speak to me differently. Some of them I can't figure out, so I kind of put them on a different plane. And so I play with that. Izzy's weird. Oh boy, I get to mess with this. She can do a lot more than Maggie can. Maggie has to be grounded in her continuity. Someone like Izzy or Penny Century or somebody, they can go off and do a lot more. So-
Felicelli: That's Penny Century. Okay, here's Oscar.
Villalon: Oh yeah, no, you're fine. You're good. This is the part where I relay to you some questions from the audience, Jaime.
Villalon: You are, of course, a comic book artist, meaning to a lot of people here tonight, there's a lot of questions about your very art, the art itself. So I wanted to address those. One of them is simply, did you and your brothers have any formal training?
Hernandez: Mostly, no. I mean, I took art classes, high school, junior college, just because I didn't want to take algebra. So no, [inaudible]-
Villalon: Look, you could have used algebra this whole time, Jaime.
Hernandez: Yeah, but-
Villalon: You left that on the table.
Hernandez: So I mean, the art classes helped me a lot, but it was mostly just from drawing our whole lives and just doing what we thought was right.
Villalon: And also, what are your go-to illustration tools? Pen of choice? Ink of choice? Paper? This sort of thing.
Hernandez: I just use a standard ink, Super Black India ink. But I don't use a brush. I've never used a brush. I use these pens, nibs, dip it in and go to town, and I have three because one is new and very thin. And then the next one is kind of new but more flexible because it's aged. And then I have a really old one that can make really broad strokes. And that's how my art has evolved over the years. But in the beginning, I would just use one pen for the whole thing.
Villalon: That's incredible. Also, a couple of questions. Let's talk about Oxnard. And why not? Let's talk about Oxnard. First of all, how did growing up in an agricultural town influence your writing? Did you have awareness of environmental racism? And you said Oxnard was a great place to grow up, and what exactly made it great? And I don't think ... That's not meant sarcastically, but truly sincerely, what was great about Oxnard?
Hernandez: Well, what I'm talking about is being six years old and leaving the house and just finding the adventure in your neighborhood. My whole world was two blocks long, but it was home and it was just magical to me. It was just like, there were a million kids on the street, you could always find someone to hang out with. And so for a kid, it was great. It was very innocent. And those are days when you walked home from school in kindergarten.
So luckily, nothing ever happened, but I just thought that's the way life was. You just live and stuff like that. So that's the way I talk about Oxnard. I don't know anything about the politics of Oxnard. I don't know anything about who you're not supposed to hang out with. But it wasn't till I got older, high school, where the racism was there. So I would say it's like most kids growing up, you just dealt with what came at you, and you just survived. It was just survival.
Villalon: What you say about the racism is interesting because one of the things I wanted to ask you was about what the comic scene was like in 1981, when that first issue comes out. Because we're talking about Reagan's America, we're also going to talk about what's going to become Pete Wilson's California. These were not accommodating times.
Hernandez: I was small town, so I didn't care about that part.
Villalon: But what else was out there besides ... What were you reading in the so-called alternative scene in '81, when Love and Rockets was coming up?
Hernandez: Oh, well there wasn't an alternative scene in comics.
Villalon: You and your brothers more or less created it.
Hernandez: I would like to say we helped it.
Villalon: You helped it, okay.
Hernandez: Yeah, because 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, just to get it out there. But there was not an alternative market, what you call it, that's not the big two, the big superhero companies. So it was like you were Marvel and DC or nobody.
Hernandez: But we were so small town that we didn't care. I didn't care about getting rich, I just wanted to draw comics. And luckily, I kept that in my head because it would've ruined me and I would've quit if I would've known how things really were.
Villalon: When did you find out how things really were?
Hernandez: When I already had my thing. The comic had already supported me, living a life. Because in the beginning, we had no money, we were bums. And then the older I got, the politics came in of where I lived or whatever. But I always kept my comic separate. I always was able to have my comic that was mine and no one could mess with. So that kind of helped me survive. Where the world was just terrible and stuff, I just always had my comic where I could ... If I was going through a personal problem, a breakup or a right or this and that, I always had my comic and-
Villalon: We could [inaudible].
Hernandez: Yeah, I'm just saying, I don't know if that was the smart way to do it, but it kept me going and that's why I can still do it in 40 years.
Villalon: But as I hear you talking about that now it makes more ... the dovetailing between what you were doing with your comics and the punk scene makes so much more sense. It's that sense of exasperation. There's got to be something more to the way we're living. There's got to be something more out there and there's no obvious channel to express that. It's like DIY.
Hernandez: Yeah. And so it was kind of, "Okay, I don't like what's going on in comics now because I'm bored." So we did it ourselves. Basically just said, "Well, I'm going to make this comic because we're not happy with what we're seeing out there in comics."
Villalon: I was going to ask you one more question from the audience and a loop Anita back in here. It's really interesting. Lisa asks, "Who is or was your most critical reader since the beginnings of Love and Rockets?"
Villalon: Well, I imagine what they mean is someone who would show things for their opinion before, "What do you think of this?"
Hernandez: Probably my brother Gilbert, because we worked together and we talked a lot. We were very close and we always talked about like it was us two against the world kind of thing.
Now I will do it, I'll show my girlfriend, or I would show my wife in the past. And I would just go, "Yeah, I'm doing this thing." But the way I describe it's like, "Yeah, Hopey's pissed off right now." And they would just go, "oh, that's too bad." Just stuff like that. But yeah, I hate to say it, but I didn't really trust a lot of people. Because if you didn't do this comic, then why should I listen to you? That one's going to get me in trouble.
Villalon: Well, presumably you have a vision, and this thing is still, even after all these years, I wouldn't say delicate necessarily, but something with an integrity that you maybe protective about. Or not even protective, that how do I fully ...
You do what you do because that's how you articulate to yourself what it is you're trying to do. So until you see it on the page, "Okay, that's what I was trying to do." And that could be very difficult. I imagine something you had to ask for feedback on when you're still not entirely clear.
Hernandez: Sure, sure. And a lot of times I surprise myself. I still will do the comic and in the middle of writing a scene that I go, "This scene is okay, it'll pass." And then I go, "No, no, no, I'll make this other person say it." And that'll just open up the story like a floodgate. It'll do that. And so I'm constantly surprising myself still, and I allow it to happen. But it's five guys in my head, not outsiders.
Villalon: Right, right, right, right. So, who needs more opinions in that case? You're already contending with the five.
Hernandez: Right. I'm always arguing. I always got an argument going up there.
Villalon: Anita, would you like to come back on? Hello again.
Felicelli: Hi, again. I see we have a question in the chat for Jaime. Will you ever say what happened to Maggie's ankle? So before I forget-
Hernandez: I think I've been thinking about it for, what, 30 years or so. And you'll know when I know. I still don't have a story for that. And one day it'll come, because I've had unanswered questions since the beginning and some of them are in this book. But I always ask myself, "What happened there? This person mentioned it, but what happened?" And it'll just swim in my head for years and years till I come out with something.
The ankle one is really hard because I've become a more strict self-editor with myself, that I leave a lot of stones unturned, or my stones are turned. It's hard to have to find little loopholes where I can find where, "Oh, this could have happened here," but now I work so ... The editing of my comic is so tight that I don't leave a lot to play with.
Like say in the Maggie the Mechanic book, there's a lot here that I would just say, "Oh, Maggie did this. Okay, cool." And then I'll go, "Okay, what'd she do?" I left it open because I didn't really have an idea, so I just have to get a little looser with the facts so I could fit things in if I need to later.
Villalon: Well, that sounds great. I think, is this our hour now? Are we now at the hour, Anita?
Felicelli: We are at the hour. Can I sneak in one last question?
Villalon: Please. Please.
Felicelli: I see that in our audience is Michelle Gonzalez, who wrote a really beautiful essay about discovering Maggie for the first time for us, writing this essay. And I was curious whether you had any memories of a particular punk show or punk group that influenced something in those early years of Maggie the Mechanic?
Hernandez: I would say that whole LA punk scene, all the bands, X, the Go-Go's, Weirdos, Germs, all the bands that were playing LA. It was just a really cool time for me and it helped me kind of say, "Oh, good, now I'm going to do what I want to do." The DIY thing, basically.
So my favorite bands, I remember even the Go-Go's were a punk band in those days. And yeah, I really liked the bands like X. They were really special. It was all fun. And I look back and I don't regret any of it.
Felicelli: It's really nice that we have this artwork of yours to commemorate the all of that.
Villalon: And one more thing because someone pointed out for folks who are interested, KCET, they did a documentary.
Hernandez: Yeah. Yeah. In 2022. Yeah, I was scared because I didn't know if I had anything to say, but it turned out really well, and I really enjoy it. And I think if people are interested, they should watch it.
Villalon: Definitely check that out for more about the history of Love and Rockets, about Gilbert and Raymond and Mario and their whole endeavor.
Ulin: Pardon the barking dog in the background. It's that time of the night. But I will take us out if that's good with everybody else. And you guys, you're welcome to stick around or you can mute and stop video and I'll do the outro.
So, big thanks to Jaime, Oscar and Anita. That was a fascinating conversation. If you want to revisit it, the interview was recorded and will be up at californiabookclub.com.
Next month's California Book Club book is the novel Less by Andrew Sean Greer, winner of the Pulitzer Prize, the book was. And I just want to remind you all again of the sale on Alta membership for CBC members at altaonline.com/join. Or again, the $3 digital membership. There will be a two-minute minute survey that'll pop up as soon as we end the event. So please participate in that. And stay safe, stay healthy. See everybody next week and have a great night and a good weekend. Thanks for being here.•