KPCCRadio (via YouTube)
Legendary "Love and Rockets" artist Jaime Hernandez talks about illustrating Junot Diaz's "This Is How You Lose Her," as well as past and future work.
Jaime Hernandez may not be as well known as Stan Lee, the force behind comic-book legends "Spiderman", "The Hulk" and "The Fantastic Four." But his name resonates with a subset of comic fans inspired by the medium's ability to tell rich stories that combine fantasy and everyday life.
As co-creator of the famed alt-comic series "Love and Rockets," Hernandez is a legend even to those unfamiliar with his earlier work. His most recent project, "This Is How You Lose Her," a beautifully illustrated graphic novel he co-produced with Pulitzer Prize-winning author Junot Diaz.
On Monday, November 4, Jaime Hernandez sat down with KPCC Off-Ramp producer Kevin Ferguson to talk about the artistic collaboration, how it relates to "Love and Rockets" and how some of his most famous characters—Hopey and Maggie—came to be.
On working on "This Is How You Lose Her":
"I started out as a hired gun, but by that time I knew Junot liked my stuff. And the editors of the book, they knew I had illustrated stuff of his before and thought maybe we can reproduce some of those old images and maybe he can add more. It was very simple. They just emailed me, and said, 'how would you like to do this?' And I said, sure.
[Diaz] would just look at the sketches and he would talk to them and then they would talk to me. There were only a few times when it was directly in emails.
One of his notes was: 'make her look less—quote—Mexican.' But I knew what he meant. I knew it wasn't like, "who is this buffoon ruining my characters?" And that brings up the hardest part I had in illustrating the book. I was really nervous about getting the characters right and the settings and the way they dress, because his world and my world growing up are two separate worlds. I'm a west coast mexican guy, and he's an east coast dominican guy."
Growing up in Oxnard, CA, and punk rock influences:
"I left [Oxnard] when I was 31. I was in no hurry. It's just a town. Oxnard was just a little LA without a movie industry. A lot of people leave because they want to leave small town minds. I was lucky to grow up in a family of five brothers and a sister where we all, our brains were going all over the place. So that was my culture there. So it wasn't so terrible.
By the early 80s we were meeting other punks in Oxnard. We would go, Oh, look at the way that person's dressed! That person has a button.' But it was exciting.
But it wasn't until the Oxnard-Ventura scene started to have more kids come out, and pretty soon we had our own thing. Hardcore punk took over Oxnard. A lot of Black Flag generation."
How "Love and Rockets" got started:
"Gilbert and I were older and we were out of high school and we didn't want real jobs. We wanted to draw comics. But we didn't want to draw Marvel comics. We didn't want to move to New York and have to draw that stuff. We wanted to draw what we wanted—goofy stuff.
I knew I wanted to draw my Mag and Hopey characters, because I had them and I had been doing drawings of them for a couple of years. But I didn't know what the stories were gonna be about.
But in those days I was just a cocky, punk kid with nothing to lose, so we did a comic we wanted to put in stuff we wanted to see in comics. So we just threw everything in there—that's why you got rocket ships, robots, and punks, and homies, stuff like that, all together."
Drawing punk rock band covers:
"I hate to say it, but it's work for hire, most of it. A lot of these bands I never even met. I did the cover, got paid and I got copies. Something like the Junot Diaz book was a little more personal. I wanted to make him happy because his work is personal to him and I know how that feels."
The process of capturing Junot Diaz' imagery:
"It would be tricky at times. Junot wrote these stories with words in mind. I don't think he knew these were going to ever have images, so I had to read into a lot of stuff, like hints through out the story of what these characters were like. Like the story of 'Flaca'. Not 'til more than halfway through the story I knew she was a white girl. So I tore up the sketch, redrew it. Like I said, I wanted to do him right."
Source of inspiration for 'Hopey' and 'Maggie':
"Maggie came from before, when I was in high school, she was a character that was in a space suit. And by the time I got into punk, she started to cut her hair, she started to change her clothes, she started to be in outer space less. And I wanted my 'Betty and Veronica,' so I created Hopey to be her partner in crime.
I kind of got them from the punk girls I was seeing at the shows, at the punk shows. By the time I got into punk shows, I thought the energy and the cockiness of the women in punk was cool and amazing.
Also I wanted to do women characters. Even in high school drawing my super hero comics, I liked doing the women super hero characters more than the men. I just started to pick out the things I liked about women because talking to a woman was a whole different thing than talking to a guy for me."