The Secrets of Life and Death: A Pre-MoCCA Q&A with Jaime Hernandez and Todd Hignite
Over the last several years the annual MoCCA Festival, sponsored by New York’s Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art, has become one of the premier events in the world of indie and small-press graphic novels. Among the many luminaries appearing at this year’s show, which gets underway on April 10, is Jaime Hernandez, one of indie comics’ seminal creators. His work on the long-running Love and Rockets in particular is distinguished by astonishingly lucid artwork, rich characterizations, and inventive narratives. Also appearing at MoCCA Fest is Todd Hignite, founding editor of the acclaimed journal Comic Art and author of the insightful and visually stunning The Art of Jaime Hernandez: The Secrets of Life and Death.
First off, what are you looking forward to at MoCCA Fest?
Hernandez: I guess the most important thing to me is meeting a different set of fans. I don't get out to that part of the country too often.
Hignite: I'm excited—I've never been, and it'll be fun to see what people think of the book and to catch up with folks. I'm looking forward to Jaime's panel, as the lineup of artists participating couldn't represent a more idiosyncratic mix of approaches to comics*. It's also always of interest to me to see what younger artists are up to.
Speaking of younger artists…Jaime, from that first self-published issue of Love and Rockets to a gorgeous coffee-table book, published by Abrams no less—is that kind of juxtaposition a little heady for you?
Hernandez: Just having a book with my name on the title instead of my characters' names is heady enough for me.
What’s the most surprising thing that resulted from producing The Art of Jaime Hernandez?
Hignite: The way Jaime's life relates to his work—in my approach to writing about comics, biography usually isn't the biggest jumping-off point. But in discussing Jaime's work, the characters are so obviously paramount that the amount of his own humanity he puts into them shouldn't come as a surprise. That his life is so closely tied to these stories truly added another layer for me as a reader.
Hernandez: I was a little surprised to find out that my approach to sex in comics is different from the norm. I've always tried to treat it as naturally as somebody talking about having to buy groceries, and I guess it paid off. Who knew?
Well, it's always refreshing to see sexuality without all the sensationalism. On the other hand, comics often seem pretty conflicted about the place of eroticism in the medium. Any thoughts?
Hernandez: As an example, I noticed years ago, when the model/figurine craze hit in the ‘80s, the Frankenstein figure would be very anatomically accurate and lifelike, but Vampirella would be this inaccurate, misshapen, globby mess of a figure. With that, it seemed clear to me that a lot of male "girlie" artists have no interest whatsoever in capturing real women artistically.
Todd, there was certainly no shortage of breathtaking artwork you had available to choose from in compiling your book. But was it challenging to convey the unique literary contributions that Jaime has made to comics in an art-book format?
Hignite: It was. I think it's a challenge for any monograph on a cartoonist, and it's something I thought about a great deal before getting too far into the process. I made sure that we included a number of complete stories, many shot from the original art. While his imagery is so great and iconic, you also want to ground individual panels and pages within the context of stories as much as possible. In every way, the book strives to immerse the reader in Jaime's world.
The Art of Jaime Hernandez does a nice job of that while also maintaining a kind of scholarly distance on its subject. But purely as a fan, what are some of your favorite images or sequences that you got to include?
Hignite: "Spring 1982" is one of my favorite stories from one of his peak periods, so I was very happy to be able to include it in its entirety, along with an unused page and comments from Jaime. Also, a huge thrill for me was uncovering the never-before-published first drawing of Maggie and Hopey in their "final form" prior to the publication of Love and Rockets #1. Talk about a piece of comics history!
Let’s stick with Maggie and Hopey a moment. What do you think about such complex and richly developed characters appearing in media other than serialized comics? Is it really possible to convey what’s special about them in, say, a movie or a TV miniseries?
Hignite: I have sort of mixed feelings—I know Jaime has been approached numerous times about a movie, and it would be really fun to see it done correctly (he has wisely been holding out for the last 20+ years). If it was a great movie, it would just make me appreciate the source material that much more—the comics are absolutely perfect and will always be the "real" version of Maggie and Hopey to me, no matter if they made the transition to another medium.
It's probably safe to observe that a lot of graphic novelists have been influenced by the approach that Love and Rockets has taken to the concepts of community and diversity. But in your opinion, who else is really exploring issues of class and ideology these days? Is it unfair to say that the popular acceptance of nongenre graphic novels and even indie comics by the mainstream has coopted a portion of their critical sensibility?
Hignite: I think that's a huge aspect of Jaime's comics that remains unique in the way he handles it—and has always handled it. While it opened up a lot of doors, I'm not sure I'm aware of it being specifically followed up on by younger cartoonists in the way that interests me the most—as an organic part of comic stories that are also great on many other levels.
Jaime, the book's text mentions the way that your work has evolved over time. But has the spirit with which you approach the work changed significantly in any way?
-- Peter Gutiérrez
Hernandez: The only way that it has changed to me is, “How can I get my work out on schedule so I can pay my bills and still remain true to my art?”
With that in mind, what projects are in the works that readers can look forward to?
Hernandez: I have an upcoming cover and short story for Marvel's Strange Tales series. I have a short piece coming up in DHP online. And the new L&R (#3) will be coming out this summer.
*The incredible lineup for “The Art of the Superhero: When Singular Vision Meets Popular Mythology” includes Frank Miller, Kyle Baker, Paul Pope, and Dean Haspiel.