As luck would have it, I speak to Jaime Hernandez the morning after the night before, the night before having been the premiere of Love and Rockets: The Great American Comic Book, a TV documentary condensing the 40-year history of the groundbreaking strips produced separately, but in tandem, by Jaime and his brother Gilbert into a 60-minute soup of pop art.
“Today’s a resting day,” he confirms, speaking in Pacific Standard Time on a sunny California morning, while, in Manchester, the blue of the afternoon sky is already beginning to deepen inkily. “Celebrating our 40th year, we’ve done a lot of photoshoots and interviews.”
He admits to a little trepidation prior to the screening, acknowledging that “I don’t trust anyone. I’m very protective of my work.” His tone across the phone has something akin to the almost bemused understatement of fellow Los Angeles resident, David Lynch, as he signals his relieved approbation. “Mostly they were able to put in the most important stuff. When I watched it, I thought ‘that was pretty good’.”
Anticipating his appearance at the upcoming Lakes International Comic Art Festival, and his first taste of England’s Lake District, I wonder if he’s looking forward to anything in particular?
“Just I’m not home, something that’s different from my usual stuff. It’s in a part of England I don’t know. I’m very curious.” It’s an adventure that he’ll be sharing. “I’m happy that they invited my girlfriend, Katie Skelly. We’re using it as a vacation. She’s had comics and books out for several years. Her most popular one was called My Pretty Vampire.”
The possibilities of a Lakeland break aside, he sounds most enthusiastic about the chance to meet his audience, an opportunity to step away from his drawing board for a few hours or so, which he views with particular relish.
“It’s very cool. It’s the only time I get to meet people who like my work. I try to give everybody my time. It touches me greatly when I go across the pond and meet them. I love it.”
Despite having its boots planted firmly in the predominantly Latin neighbourhoods in which Hernandez grew up, it’s always seemed to me that something about the specificity of the Love & Rockets’ milieu draws people in. He appears to agree: “When we started it, most of the world didn’t know our Southern California. Other people connect. I hope they feel at home in the comic book.”
It’s a connection that, on occasion, has resulted in unintended consequences, as Hernandez explains: “I’ve had people who moved here because of the comic and they kind of got lost. Most of the people were saying ‘I hated it’. Well, that’s not my fault. I didn’t tell you to move here.” Others, though, have ended more happily. “It’s like, you found your own little corner of it and that takes care of you.”
If that sounds to English ears like moving to Manchester because of The Smiths, then the impact of the comic itself bears comparison with the repeatedly romanticised aftershock of the Sex Pistols playing at the Lesser Free Trade Hall. Hernandez says as much himself: “We were young, snotty punk rockers, and we thought ‘I don’t care what you think’. Back then, you were Marvel or DC or you were nobody. We kind of helped comics break away from the norm. It came pouring out after we started, a lot of great creators.”
What’s striking, looking back, is how fully-formed that first statement of intent was, the equivalent of one of those debut albums that somehow perfectly encapsulates a group.
“I threw my whole life up to that point into it. I had a wonderful upbringing, a neighbourhood full of a million kids. I thought it was full of stories worth telling.”
Momentum and rigour ensured that there would be no “difficult second album”.
Hernandez says: “By finishing that first issue, I learned what was important to me. I had to see what I wanted to keep. The characters just took over.”
Four decades on, without ever having fallen prey to the graphic equivalent of becoming a tribute act to himself, Hernandez somehow remains in what the Pet Shop Boys used to refer to as an ‘imperial period’. What keeps him going?
“Even though there are times when I never want to lift a pencil again, I have to see how this turns out. I think I still have something to say.”
No longer young nor snotty, but perhaps still a little punk, Jaime Hernandez continues to break the norms.
Lakes International Comic Art Festival runs from October 14-16, 2022. Click here for more information.