The Book Pages: Why ‘Love & Rockets’ is the Great American Comic
When I reach filmmaker Omar Foglio on the phone, he and his colleagues are finetuning “Love & Rockets: The Great American Comic Book,” a documentary for the PBS series “Artbound” that’s premiering Oct. 5 on KCET.
“We’re still working on it right now as we speak, like the finishing touches,” says Foglio, who is codirecting with Jose Luis Figueroa for their company Dignicraft. “It’s been a ride, but we’re really happy with how it’s coming together.”
The documentary, which I’ve seen in rough form, is a nearly hourlong look at the Southern California sibling comic book creators Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez, who for the past 40 years have been writing and illustrating “Love & Rockets.”
“We did the work and we kept doing the work,” Jaime Hernandez told my colleague Peter Larsen at Comic-Con this summer. “And hopefully, we were pretty good.”
Not only does the film offer a brisk overview of the duo’s work – and makes the case for the overall importance of their creative output – it provides glimpses into their shared love of LA’s early punk rock scene, their creative inspirations and their unique working styles.
“It’s been my best excuse to read ‘Love and Rockets’ and nothing else all this year,” says Foglio, who first encountered the comics in the 1990s and had been wanting to get back into them. “I mean, for me, it’s the best comic book. Period.”
The film, which includes among its interviewees Fantagraphics founder and president Gary Groth, scholar Esther Claudio Moreno and photographer Carol Kovinick Hernandez, who is married to Gilbert and was there at the beginning taking photographs.
The brothers grew up in Oxnard with parents who supported their interest in comics as did their siblings. Their elder brother, Mario, introduced his younger siblings to comics and contributed to “Love & Rockets” for the first 7 or 8 years before the demands of raising a family led him to stop, while another brother helped bankroll the first issue.
Despite developing their own distinctive black and white artwork, which was influential on the alternative comics movement, the brothers happily discuss the effect that “Dennis the Menace” and “Little Archie” comics had on their work.
Foglio says their background is part of what kept them down-to-earth and devoted to the work. Despite offers to work for major comics companies like Marvel and DC, the pair have been with Fantagraphics since 1982 and sound genuinely thrilled to make a living doing what they love – at one point in the film Jaime recalls asking with awe, “If people like this, I get to do this forever?”
“They come from a working-class background,” says Foglio. “Devoting yourself to the work that you do, and what you like, is very strong in them. But I would also say the punk spirit is embedded in everything they do, not just their artwork, but their approach to the craft and to life in general.”
Foglio hopes viewers of his film will get a sense of the excellence of the Hernandez brothers’ output – and a desire to start exploring it.
“My feeling is that they are totally underrated. I mean, they are big within the world of comic books, but my gut feeling is that they should be better known,” says Foglio, while heaping praise on Fantagraphics for its support of the brothers’ work. “People should know about them, and I see them like living legends…and they still have so much to give.
“I’m hoping that this film, this ‘Artbound’ episode, will at least introduce their work to a wider audience,” he says. “It just deserves to be read more.”
For more information, go to www.kcet.org/shows/artbound
Here are some Southern California book events to explore this weekend:
Saturday, Oct. 1
Reyna Grande and Lalo Alcaraz
Author Reyna Grande will be in Conversation with cartoonist Lalo Alcaraz about her novel “A Ballad of Love and Glory.” But note: There won’t be copies for sale so please bring your own books for signing. (Or see Grande’s appearance on Sunday below.)
When: 1 p.m.
Where: Santa Ana Public Library, Main Branch, 26 Civic Center Plaza Santa Ana,
Boom! Studios’ launch of its “Hollow” graphic novel will take place at Revenge Of, an LGBTQ+-owned comic book store. The event will feature dessert-themed food trucks, trick or treating, photo ops and an author meet and greet.
When: 4-8 p.m.
Where: 3420 Eagle Rock Blvd, Los Angeles, CA
Amanda Gorman Future Voices Youth Poetry Reading
Beyond Baroque will host a virtual reading with the winners of the inaugural Amanda Gorman Future Voices Poetry Prize and Scholarship, which aims to recognize poets enrolled in grades 9-12 who self-identify as Black, Indigenous, or people of color.
When: 4:00 p.m.
Where: The event is virtual on Zoom
Sunday, Oct. 2
Orange County Children’s Book Festival
This free children’s event offers six stages of entertainment including the Animal & Nature Stage, S.T.E.A.M. Ahead Stage and World Stories & Adventure Stage featuring bilingual and multicultural children’s book authors. As well, there will be food trucks, booksellers, lit-minded exhibitors and the Orange Coast College Planetarium will offer programs and a visit from Star Wars characters.
When: 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Where: Orange Coast College, 2701 Fairview Road, in Costa Mesa.
Authors Reyna Grande and Maria Amparo Escandón will be in conversation with actress Yareli Arizmendi for a bilingual talk and reading from their new books.
When: 2 p.m.
Where: LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes, 501 N Main St., LA
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Have any book recommendations? Please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org and they might appear in the column.
Thanks, as always, for reading.
Author and librarian Nancy Pearl really likes books that do these two things
Librarian Nancy Pearl is the former executive director of the Washington Center for the Book at Seattle Public Library and she was Library Journal’s 2011 Librarian of the Year. She is the author of “Book Lust,” “More Book Lust,” “George & Lizzie” and “The Writer’s Library,” co-written with Jeff Schwager. The just-published children’s book “Library Girl,” written by Karen Henry Clark and illustrated by Sheryl Murray, tells the story of how Pearl became a librarian. The delightful Pearl and I spoke earlier this month, and her answers have been edited for length and clarity.
Q. Is there a book or books you always recommend to other readers?
People always say, “What’s your favorite book?” and I have no favorite book. I have many, many books that I love. But the book that I recommend most – or the book that I say will appeal to the most readers – is “Lonesome Dove,” Larry McMurtry’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book. I always joke and say you need to have a bottle of water handy when you’re reading that book, because your throat is going to get so dry from all the dust on the cattle drive.
And it won the Pulitzer Prize, so the writing’s not shabby.
Q. Do you remember the first book that made an impact on you?
I think the first book that made an impact on me was Robert Heinlein’s novel, “Space Cadet,” which was written in the ‘50s. I read it when I was about 10, and I remember where I was in the library when I found the book.
It’s about a group of young men from different planets, including Earth, who are all trying to become members of the Space Patrol, and they have to go through a series of tests to see whether they’re worthy of that. That whole thing of honor had a big influence on me when I first read it, so that’s a book that I do have fond memories of – even though Robert Heinlein turned into a bit of a fascist towards the end of his life.
Q. Do you listen to audiobooks?
I was very late to audiobooks. People would always ask me if audiobooks counted, “Oh, I just listened to this, does that count as reading it?” Well, of course, it counts as reading it.
I love British readers. I listen to the audio versions of books that I’ve already read and enjoyed, so going back to them is just such a pleasure. In some ways, I think I prefer audio almost to traditional reading. During the pandemic especially, I walk for miles every day, but it’s so I can listen to audiobooks and I started doing 1000-piece jigsaw puzzles, so I could sit and listen to audiobooks while I’m doing the puzzle. I just love audiobooks.
Q. Who are some of your favorite audiobook narrators?
One of the ones that I really enjoyed is “The Enchanted April” by Elizabeth van Arnim. It’s read by several different people, so you can get different versions, but oh my gosh, that is such a good audiobook. I listened to it twice in a row and then my husband listened and loved it.
There’s a great series of mysteries by Adrian McKinty that are set in Belfast in the 1980s. It was originally supposed to be a trilogy called The Troubles, but it’s now seven books. Great on audio, and, and I understand that he’s writing at least one more new one. The first is called “The Cold, Cold Ground,” and, again, it’s just really great.
John le Carré’s “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy,” the same reader reads all of those. And the Terry Pratchett books are so wonderful on audio. Another great British one to listen to is “Belgravia,” which was a TV show by Julian Fellowes, and it’s read by Juliet Stevenson. That’s another one that both my husband and I just loved.
[Note: This is where Pearl and I spent a long time discussing how much we love Juliet Stevenson’s audiobook narration and then made wild plans to listen to the actress’ recording of “Middlemarch,” which neither of us have read yet.]
Q. What do you look for in a book?
Ah, the language. I really want language that doesn’t have to be highfalutin at all, but it can’t make me wince; I don’t like that. But really just three-dimensional characters and wonderful language. And a little bit of quirk. I love a little bit of quirkiness in the books that I read.
One of the authors who I think does all that so well is Elizabeth McCracken. Her new book, which I think comes out sometime this fall called “The Hero of This Book,” is just wonderful – all her books, novels or short stories are just terrific.
Lorrie Moore, her short stories, particularly for me, the ones in her collection “Birds of America,” is another one. In each of those short stories, the characters are so real and so alive to me. And the writing is just absolutely terrific.
So it’s those two things. For me, it can be nonfiction. It could be, you know, a romance novel. I mean, anything that has those two characteristics front and center, wonderful characters, and wonderful writing, is the kind of book that I would love.
Q. What’s something that stayed with you from a recent reading?
So I read a brand-new book, “The Catch,” by Alison Fairbrother. One of the things that the main character does in the book is, instead of just writing down the name and author of the book she’s read, she writes down the first sentence of the book, which I thought was just a brilliant idea.
Q. Is there a person who made an impact on your reading life – a teacher, a parent, a librarian or someone else?
So the person who made an impact on my reading was a particular librarian at the Detroit Public Library, the Parkman branch.
In fact, there’s a picture book coming out in September called “Library Girl,” which is like a biography of me and how these librarians really helped me. I mean, you know, I feel like they saved my life, but you can’t say that in a picture book. But it’s just a beautiful picture book that’s coming out. So it was those librarians, Miss Whitehead, especially, who really made me want to be a librarian because I wanted to do for other kids what she did for me.
Q. What’s something about your book that no one knows?
So when I wrote the novel “George and Lizzy,” those characters came to me pretty much fully formed. I didn’t know anything about them, but they just appeared one night in my head after a whole day of taking oxycodone for foot surgery. [laughs] They just came and were there and I couldn’t stop thinking about them. I just loved them and I would tell myself stories about them.
And after six or seven years of thinking about George and Lizzie, and then not being able to find anything to read one afternoon, I realized that I have these people in my head, so why don’t I write down all these stories that I told myself about them? And that became, with the help of a wonderful editor, “George and Lizzie.” So that’s something about that book.
I wrote it for me. I wrote it because it’s exactly the kind of book that I love.
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What’s next on ‘Bookish’
The next free Bookish event will be Oct. 21 with guests Anthony Doerr, Michelle Tea and Martin Dugard joining host Sandra Tsing Loh.