Thursday, January 22, 2009

I live my life to a Love and Rockets beat

The woman at the counter gives me a funny look when give her the money to buy House of Raging Women. I’m standing in a weird little remaindered book store that won’t exist in a week, and she looks at the bright pink and red colour and asks me if I really want to buy it. Really?

It’s 1992, and I haven’t heard much about Love and Rockets, but everything I have heard has been gold. It’s only two bucks, which means it costs less than half the price of an X-Factor comic. It’s got to be worth a look.

This is, without any doubt, the best two dollars I have ever spent in my entire life.

For more than a decade and a half now, Love and Rockets has been the only comic where I've never missed an issue. The mix of mature storytelling on multiple levels, fantastic characters and fine art keep me coming back, and every new issue sends me diving back into the backstory, keen to see how it ties together to something that happened years ago, to see how the story has been shaped. Or maybe it’s just because the newest stuff has reminded me of what I liked the first time around, and I'm heading back in a vague drive to recapture that moment.

That British collection of Jaime's work that was sitting amongst faded cookbooks and Mack Bolan novels in the warehouse book sale was the gateway. I can't remember the first time I ever heard of Love and Rockets, but I was certainly aware of it when I saw it in that horrible, personality-free bookshop.

I devoured that first book, and was hopelessly confused. It took a while to work out that some of the stories were not in order, and several vital parts of the narrative were completely missing.

Still, I was hopelessly hooked. Fortunately, the new obsession happened around the same time I bought my first car, and a comic shop 200 kilometres away was selling issues of the series for three bucks each.

Those first half dozen random issues are easily the most damaged in my collection. Read to pieces, as the jigsaw came together. No wikipedia, no internet at all to fill in the gaps. These issues that lead off the second half of the original series featured the first few chapters of Jaime's fantastic WigWam Bam, and several chapters of Poison River. I still had no idea what was going on, but I was getting there. There was more than enough to get hooked on, with the promise of a vast, sprawling background beginning to shine through.

Tear It Up, Terry Downe, in issue #28 was a good key to Jaime's continuity, and remains one of the finest six page stories I have ever read. Snapshots of a relatively minor character's life, around which the others revolved. A bit sad, a bit funny and dense with information. Perfect.

That early nineties summer was one of those summers that went on forever, reading and re-reading those issues over and over again, sitting on the grass beside a swimming pool on achingly hot days, getting wasted every night and sleeping in till two. It's what being 18 is all about.

There are a few more issues here and there, but it would literally take years for these holes to be filled. #42 is the first regular issue I got, and I haven't missed one yet. The tail end of the first volume throws up a few surprises, and huge doses of emotion. The climaxes of issue #50 are staggering, Jaime's fantastically fake twist ending throws up something new before settling back down again, while Beto walks away from Palomar, leaving just a big enough crack to come back in a bit further down the line.

I still can't get enough during the dying days of volume one, and Beto's Blood of Palomar book opens the door on his own idiosyncratic universe for me for the first time. Another marked down graphic novel in a significantly nicer book store, just as much confusion, but all the same rewards. Still should have kept the Human Diastrophism title, but when the relationships between the myriad characters become clear and that ending comes closer, it is shattering.

This is getting close to the turn of the century now, and finding issues ain't any easier. On average, I can find one of the reprint books every couple of years, no credit card and the usual prejudices of geography makes getting it from the source too hard.

And then the new series starts up, and keeping track of Beto's prodigious output becomes slightly easier. In the gap between the two volumes of Love and Rockets, Jaime's storytelling takes several quantum leaps, and the stories he provides for the 20 issues of volume two are ridiculously well done. The past comes crashing in, but there is still movement into the future, along with all the black demons, giant dogs and old ghosts the reader can handle.

Me, I'm still living my life to a Love and Rockets beat, right to this day. Moving towns and the collection gets slowly better, with greater travel and the joy of the internet finally completing the collection three years ago. The first nine books in the Complete Love and Rockets, and the regular issues from #26 on up. The last book that remains difficult to find is the second, Chelo's Burden, but the wife takes care of that, and it's done. (Two weeks after she orders it directly from the States for almost $60, I see it in a store for ten bucks.)

And then Fantagraphics comes out with the Palomar and Locas mega-collections, and the latest format, which reprints everything in smaller, handier volumes. And it all looks so sexy again.

But I can't trade up. Love and Rockets is my favourite single comic ever, and every single one of those issues resonates with a time and place. A friend who I made read an issue in the background of a shitty, shitty zombie movie we're making on VHS tape, on a cold winter's night. The issue I bought with a $20 note I found on the ground, when I was right on the poverty line. The comics bought from shops that don't exist any more, or purchased from good people, some of whom aren't here any more either.

Switching to an annual format, and it's hard to handle the gap between issues, but it always has been. A bit of patience will bring just reward. Beto is still pumping out work of ridiculous quality at a pace that keeps him feeling close, and the prospect of dozens of pages of Jaime's art in one go is heart-breakingly wonderful.

I've tried to recapture that fire that Love and Rockets sparked in me many times since I found that first book, but nothing else has come close. There is nothing wrong with Strangers in Paradise or Hate or Eightball, and much to love, but they are not the same.

Part of it is, admittedly, little more than bullshit nostalgia, but it's a comic that is still entertaining and thrilling and, most of all, moving. Each slice of comic magic from Los Bros Hernandez is pure joy, a shining light that went a long way past superlatives a long time ago.

I've been living my life to that Love and Rockets beat, and it's one I have no intention of ever falling out of step with.


Bob Temuka said...

Thanks for the kind words, Matthew. I'm glad you enjoyed it.

Anonymous said...

very pretty and very true. I know this love for the los bros, too.