Jaime Hernandez’s side of the Love and Rockets anthology may have started in a world of futuristic fantasy, but this is the volume where he finds his feet and hits a groove. The most fantastical elements of this book remain relatively grounded, at least in the sense that they could be real: Maggie’s aunt is a top-level wrestler struggling to hold her title against advancing years and young upstarts; and one of Maggie’s old friends turns out to have married the world’s richest man.
However, this gentle fantasy is hidden amongst pages of normality. Maggie is stuck in a McJob but makes a new friend in single mum Danita. Maggie’s girlfriend Hopey takes off on a tour with her band without saying goodbye. And Maggie stumbles into a relationship with Ray, an artist and old crush of Maggie’s, who has returned home after finishing his university degree.
The book also features The Death of Speedy, perhaps the marker that showed exactly where Jaime’s newer style cemented itself. Clearly influenced by his brother’s work, it firmly places the story in its South Californian setting. Speedy is another of Maggie’s friends who she had a crush on in high school. Unfortunately he’s also a bit of a ladies’ man who ends up sleeping with Maggie’s sister, despite the fact that she’s the girlfriend of a boy from a neighbouring suburb who has gang connections. Tensions already run high between the youths of the two areas. Although the organised gangs have been abolished, the next generation of kids are escalating their own rivalries with talk of street fights and guns.
Like Gilbert’s work this is an ensemble piece, like a long-running TV series. The characters are familiar and comfortable, while the stories swing from gentle humour to aching sadness, often in the space of just a few pages.
Jaime’s illustration is beautiful and effortless. His characters mix a near perfect clear-line style with cartoonish expression, used with particular aplomb when emotions are running high. It’s a masterclass in comic illustration.
Love and Rockets, particularly Jaime’s side, frames a particular time in my life – a period during which I finished school, left home and went to university. Maggie and her friends felt like my friends at the time, or at least I wished they were. The stories in this book will live with me forever, and there are probably only a few others that come close to it, from a personal, emotional perspective. It might hit you in the same way or you might read it and wonder what I’m making all this fuss about, but it remains a masterpiece of comics about the early years of adulthood.