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'Love & Rockets' co-creator Hernandez joins forces with novelist Junot Diaz

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.
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With his brother Gilbert, Jaime Hernandez has written and drawn the alternative comic "Love and Rockets" for more than 30 years.

Jaime Hernandez, born in Oxnard, is a giant of the comics world, and is beloved by Pulitzer Prize winning novelist Junot Diaz. That's why when Diaz released a special edition of "This Is How You Lose Her," his latest collection of stories about the semi-autobiographical Yunior, he asked Jaime Hernandez to do the illustrations. 

The special edition of the book is out now on Riverhead Press, and this week at KPCC's Crawford Family Forum, Hernandez talked with Off-Ramp Producer Kevin Ferguson.

The partnership between the two authors was arranged in the hallowed halls of the New Yorker magazine. An excerpt from Diaz's novel "The Brief, Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao" was set to makes its New Yorker debut, and the editors needed an illustration. 

"When they asked me to illustrate this story, I didn't know who Junot was," said Hernandez. "But I read the story to get the image down, and I liked it a lot. And not just because he put little 'Love and Rockets' references in the story. And I remember I liked [it] because the editors at the New Yorker go, 'Draw a really sexy girl.' And I go, 'That's the first time you ever asked me to do that!'"

A partnership was formed: Hernandez became the New Yorker's go-to illustrator for Junot Diaz stories. Hernandez said that, this time around, the work was a little more collaborative, with Diaz sending feedback to Hernandez regularly.

"One of his notes was to make her look less 'Mexican,'" said Hernandez. "But I knew exactly what he meant, and it wasn't kind of like, 'Who is this buffoon ruining my characters?' And that brings up the hardest part I had with actually illustrating the book. I was really nervous about getting the characters right. ... Because his world and my world are two separate worlds. I'm a West Coast Mexican guy, and he's an East Coast Dominican guy. I mean, I can say, 'Oh, we're all Latinos.' But when it gets more specific, you start narrowing it down."

Hernandez is no stranger to illustrating short stories — he's done dozens for hire. But the intimate, autobiographical nature of "This Is How You Lose Her" made the work particularly intimidating. "This was his baby," said Hernandez. "I mean these stories are coming from inside of him. And it's obvious when you read them. That stuff's really personal. Because when I do my own comics — this stuff comes out of my blood."

Hernandez also talked about punk rock, KISS and his 30+ year work on "Love and Rockets." To hear more, check out the Crawford Family Forum page for the event.