Date: October 8, 2011, 7:30 pm
Location: Shambaugh Auditorium, UI Main Library

Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez enjoyed a pleasant childhood in Oxnard, California with three other brothers and one sister. In Gilbert’s words, they were “born into a world with comic books in the house.” Their mother had been an avid comic book fan as a girl, and entertained her children with drawings of her favorite characters (the original comics had been disposed of by her own mother), beginning with her eldest, Mario. Mario went on to discover comic books and, in turn, passed them on to his younger siblings. Comic books proliferated in the Hernandez household, with each child developing an interest in drawing. Of particular interest to Gilbert and Jaime were Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko’s Marvel comics, Hank Ketcham’s Dennis the Menace, and the Archie line. For Mario, Gilbert, and Jaime, one of those interests would be music. Once again, Mrs. Hernandez would be a primary influence, passing on a fondness she developed for rock music while pregnant with Jaime. Rock and roll “became background music” in the Hernandez house, as natural as comics had been.

Jaime and Gilbert combined their interests in music and comics by incorporating the distinctive look of punk rock. In their hands the much-hyped and often misunderstood punk netherworld became a very real, habitable place populated with authentic human beings rather than stereotypes. To quote Gilbert, “[Punk] made me cocky enough to believe that I could do a comic book, and it was good and it was all right, as opposed to being intimidated by the Marvel guys... I took that musical anarchy to comics.”

Unfortunately, the musical anarchy that inspired Jaime and Gilbert would be abused by antagonistic suburban poseurs who invaded the L.A. punk venues. The rising violence exacerbated tensions between punks and the already antagonistic LAPD, and led to a general breakdown of the hardcore scene. (The brothers, however, did keep the faith through the early ‘80s with eye-catching poster art for local bands.) As the scene deteriorated, Jaime and Gilbert worked on expanding their respective cartoon universes. Jaime’s draftsmanship bloomed under the tutelage of the community college art instructor who had previously taught Mario.

Thanks to this instruction, Jaime mastered the articulate body language he had admired years earlier in Archie comics and Dennis the Menace. Jaime used his new skills to the fullest, with particular emphasis on the female form (one of the few interests the brothers shared with mainstream cartoonists). The female characters Jaime and Gilbert created would be notable for reasons other than prurient. Drawing on friendships formed with “punk girls” in the neighborhood and in clubs, both brothers infused their lusciously rendered ladies with strength, intelligence, independence, bitchiness, frailty, obsessiveness; in short, human qualities. These women were neither on a pedestal nor in the gutter but at eye level with their male counterparts. These were the kind of women that populated the first issue of Love & Rockets. Initiated by Mario and bankrolled by younger brother Ismael, it may have been a small black and white affair, but it offered a strong impression of what the Brothers Hernandez were capable of in their chosen art form.