It is, of course, always a pleasure to return to Love & Rockets, even if things have changed a deal since the last time we were allowed to visit. Jaime Hernandez’s half of the first issue in the book’s rebirth as an annual—which sandwiches Gilbert’s more fractured, but largely familiar contributions—reintroduces a few familiar characters like Maggie, who is, of course, a bit older and more than a few pounds heavier than the first time we met her, more than 25 years ago.
Penny Century is back, too, unmissable as she towers over a cityscape on the book’s front cover. Century’s height, however, is hardly the only thing striking about the image that graces the cover. Decked out in a cape and miniskirt, she appears—save a beanie in her right hand and, of course, Jaime’s instantly recognizable linestyle—to fit right in along side any number of superhero books currently lining the shelves.
Jaime’s portion of the latest L&R number one simultaneously marks an exploration of new territory and a return to the artist’s roots, delving into the fantasy work that colored much of his early contributions of the series by embracing a passion for superheroics that defined much of his youth.
Most importantly, however, is the fact that, even as Jaime lets his characters roam free in his recently expanded universe, they thankfully largely maintain all of those characteristics that made them so have long peppered his contributions to the Love & Rockets canon.
One of the most striking things about the new storyline is the fact that it begins in the real world with Maggie in her apartment complex, but veers off into the fantastic. Was that part of the initial plan when you were first working with Gilbert on putting out a superhero comic?
No. At first it was just going be Zolar the Great, flying through space like a 50s superheroes, and then he sees a spaceship or an alien, and then the story goes from there. That’s what it was going to be—anything goes. But then when I started doing it, I started borrowing characters from my Love & Rockets world. And then I said, “why don’t I do a mystery about the character, Alarma?” I always hinted that Maggie had this tenant in her apartment complex that could have been this superhero in hiding. I was doing that for fun, this mysterious character, and then it just started to evolve. When my superhero stuff started to get more evolved, I just thought I would just do the story of who Alarma is. It’s kind of the reverse of how the comic started. Now the real life people are starting to face this other world that’s kind of a mystery. There’s this world of superheroes that nobody knows about. They kind of stumble onto it.
I always liked the question, ‘if there were, in fact, real life superheroes, would comic books exist in the same way?’ And in the book, the characters use their comics to help solve the mystery of the existence of superheroes.
Yeah. I was thinking back about Maggie’s past, where, if she was depressed, she’d go back to her stack of her favorite superhero comics to cheer her up. I thought, “oh! Those will be involved!” I just grabbed everything. Penny Century always wanted to be a superhero. I just went back into the old history of the superhero in the background of Love & Rockets, and now we find out what that was all about, 25 years later.
Earlier you touched on how important that transition into reality was to the evolution of Love & Rockets. Now that you’re returning to the fantastic, is it hard to balance these two worlds?
No, because I make my own rules. My superhero world is a rewrite of superhero history. I’m just making up my own rules to it. I’m not going to borrow from the real superhero past. I just decided this was going to be my own doing, and if someone says, “that’s not how you do superheroes,” well, it is in this world [laughs]. So it was pretty easy. And to mix the two, I realized it wasn’t that hard because I had made things in the past several years, like Maggie in the ghost world, in the super natural world with folklore from mine and Maggie’s past. So I handled the superhero thing like a dream world. Is it real, or isn’t it? It’s not that big a secret, but one thing I’m giving away is that this could all be a dream. I’m not going to cheat like that and say, “hahaha, this was all a dream. None of this exists.” I like to work where you don’t know which is a dream and which is reality. I want to leave it up to the reader.
Do you still worry about things like continuity?
I do when it deals with things like their lives. Like I can’t all of the sudden say, “Maggie has a kid somewhere” [laughs]. With this particular story, it’s like Maggie’s the guest. She’s in their world in this book, they’re not in her world. I put her in the middle of this total fantasy world where I can do whatever I want with it, and it works. I don’t have to deal with the continuity there. The only thing that’s weird is that Maggie, this real life person, is visiting. She’s the stranger on in this whole thing.
I don’t know if she comes back into play in subsequent issues, but it seem like more than anything, she’s the conduit for this story.
Yeah. And in a way, a lot of the story will go back to Maggie. She plays an interesting part [laughs].
Is there something in her character that makes it so easy to adapt her to such diverse scenarios?
No, but I guess because I know her so well, I know how she would react in any situation, so I put her in this impossible situation where there are these superheroes, and there’s no explanation as to why they exist. It’s kind of like she’s meeting new people. That’s pretty much how I handle it, “ooh, there are people with costumes in my house.” I don’t have to explain it, all you see is Maggie’s expression—she doesn’t get it.
You’ve been coming back to Love & Rockets throughout your career. Do you see Maggie being an important part of your professional life, as long as you’re doing comics?
Yeah, pretty much. I try to break away from her, but I can’t [laughs]. She’s too involved in this world I’ve created. It’s almost like she is the world that I’ve created. Everyone around her can come and go, but she can’t. if I burn out on her, all I have to do is focus on another character and bring her back later. I’ve just set her up to a point where I’m never ashamed to use her. It’s never like, “oh, she won’t work in this.” Well, if she doesn’t work in a scene, I just don’t use her. But she can pretty much almost fit in everything, because of how open-ended I’ve left her.
Is that what causes you to back away from Love & Rockets from time to time? Just getting burned out?
Yeah. If you don’t see someone for a while, it’s because they’ve been used up. I use a lot of emotion in my comic—stuff gets pretty emotional for my characters. I run Maggie through the ringer a lot [laughs]. And sometimes I think, “well, maybe it’s time for her to get a break.” I can’t keep pounding on her. I can’t keep throwing all of this stuff on her. I need to take her out of the limelight so she can recuperate and then I come and run her through the ringer again.