Arts preview: “Love and Rockets” creator Jaime Hernandez on mortality and treating his characters like family

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From the November 14, 2013 edition

In one of the first issues of “Love and Rockets,” Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez’s largely influential alternative comic, the characters Maggie and Hopey break the fourth wall, asking the reader why their creator picks on them. Talk continues of a protest, of refusing to go along with the strip until something changes, but it’s a playful and loving and short-lived tease that feels forged from a deep bond, like a sister ragging on her brother about a school crush.

Three decades in to publishing their seminal comic (aside from a few off years), the brothers have lived with their “Love and Rockets” characters longer than most spouses. In a phone interview with Jaime in advance of the Hernandez brothers’ appearance at the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum for an artist’s talk, it showed.

Jaime spoke of his characters as though they were old friends, suggesting that even if years might pass between visits with certain fan favorites, he usually knows where they are and what they’re up to, even if their final destination is unknown.

“Some characters write their stories better than others,” Jaime said. “A character like Maggie is much easier to do. I know her character better than the others, so you get more Maggie stories. The ones I don’t put in people say, ‘Are you never going to do Terry again?’ Sure I am. I just don’t know where she is. She’s living in Wisconsin somewhere.”

“I don’t know exactly where the characters will end up,” he continued, “but I can picture some of them being very old.”

How old depends, of course, on many factors, the least of which is their creator’s health, a concern Jaime brought up more than once.

Perhaps it’s from watching his contemporaries and characters age alongside him (unlike many comics where the protagonists are perpetually young) or the increasing creak in his back that requires an occasional break from the drawing table. Either way, it’s hard for Jaime to ignore his own mortality and what role that might play in his work (like, for instance, “When does the point come where I’m so out of it that I don’t notice how crappy my comics have become? That’s the stuff I think about now.”).

When Jaime started his comic in 1981, those thoughts, perhaps obviously, were far from his mind.

“I hoped I could do this forever,” he said. “I didn’t know if I could in the early days; I didn’t know if I’d be allowed. But this is going to go as long as I can, until it sucks.”