RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Artists Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez have been drawing and writing their popular comic book series "Love And Rockets" since 1982. NPR's Mandalit del Barco says as they celebrate their 40th anniversary, their characters have grown with them.
MANDALIT DEL BARCO, BYLINE: Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez grew up in the small town of Oxnard, California, thousands of miles away from the New York and British punk music they listened to as teens in the late 1970s.
GILBERT HERNANDEZ: The Ramones and The Sex Pistols, The Clash - for us, it just seemed new and fresh, and that's what connected to us because it was a DIY thing. If we wanted music to change, we had to do it ourselves. If we wanted to change comics, we had to do it ourselves.
DEL BARCO: With that same do-it-yourself renegade punk spirit, the Hernandez brothers played in local bands and began drawing comics.
JAIME HERNANDEZ: We were into what you call junk culture - old science fiction movies and wrestling, crummy TV shows, you know.
HERNANDEZ: Crummy comics.
HERNANDEZ: Yeah. So it was just the stuff we liked to draw, and we thought it was cool, you know, because people started to tell us that that wasn't cool. And if you're going to tell us that ain't cool, then we're going to do it more.
DEL BARCO: We're talking at Golden Apple Comics about the 40th anniversary of "Love And Rockets." The beloved L.A. indie shop is filled with the kind of comic books the Hernandezes grew up with, especially "The Archies." Jaime says he loved how Betty and Veronica were stylish. He says they and his real life friends inspired him to create his main character, Maggie, and her clique.
HERNANDEZ: When we were in the punk scene, a lot of the young women were very spirited and very alive, and I just loved that about them.
DEL BARCO: For "Love And Rockets," Jaime says, he threw in everything he loved - rockets, robots, horror, punk. He made Maggie a rocket mechanic living in a science fiction world. Then she became a punk teen in a town like Oxnard, with friends like Hopey, her occasional lover.
HERNANDEZ: Anybody can go to outer space in comics, you know. But if I can make these girls bored out of their heads because they live in a small town and make that interesting, then boy, I'm a good artist.
DEL BARCO: Meanwhile, Jaime's older brother Gilbert wrote and drew parallel stories about a fictional Latin American village called Palomar. His storyline follows Luba and her family as they immigrate to California.
HERNANDEZ: I wanted something with some weight, something with substance, and that was a challenge just to get people to read it. And luckily it was enough people to get it to keep us going for 40 years (laughter).
DEL BARCO: Over the years, they focused on their women characters' interpersonal dramas.
HERNANDEZ: It might have been that we were raised by our mom and our grandmother, and our mom had a bunch of sisters. So we saw the world through women's eyes.
DEL BARCO: And they say it was important that unlike "The Archies," the "Love And Rockets" characters matured into middle age.
HERNANDEZ: Because it just seemed weird for them to be the same age all the time.
DEL BARCO: In a recent PBS SoCal documentary about "Love And Rockets," fans admire the honest portrayals of Latinx and queer characters dealing with love, loss, death and aging. L.A. Times journalist Carolina Miranda says the conversations are realistic.
CAROLINA MIRANDA: They're talking about their bodies. This is a surprising thing to see in a comic, especially one written by men. Menopause is not something that's talked about very much, and it's the sort of thing that really makes me appreciate "Love And Rockets."
DEL BARCO: At Golden Apple Comics, owner Ryan Liebowitz says the Hernandez brothers have die-hard fans since day one and newer generations too.
RYAN LIEBOWITZ: "Love And Rockets" just hits home for people who basically don't like capes and superheroes and want to read stories about kind of real people doing real things.
DEL BARCO: Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez say they have no plans to stop drawing "Love And Rockets." For their 40th anniversary, their loyal publisher Fantagraphics has a new box collection of their classics. Mandalit del Barco, NPR News.
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