This Book Could Be Your Life

Love and Rockets – Punk, Pettibon and the Birth of the Cool

Maggie and Hopey by James Corcoran
Maggie and Hopey by James Corcoran

I recently commissioned James Corcoran to draw me his version of Maggie and Hopey from Love and Rockets. A very tall order I know as Jaime Hernandez is one of the greatest comics artists of all time. I loved his wrestling themed drawing and the extra sketch of Penny Century was absolutely amazing. Love and Rockets means a lot to me personally and this gives me a great excuse to write a bit about my favourite book. To kick it off I want to dive in to how the punk scene and artists like Raymond Pettibon influenced the Hernandez Brothers.

As a teenage comics fan in the 80’s I had to hustle to find my comics. I soon knew which of the newsagents in my town would get weekly deliveries of imported Marvel comics. I even knew the few that would have the occasional DC book. To get my hands on anything more exotic meant a trip to the big city. In my case that meant a train ride and crossing the Forth Rail Bridge to Edinburgh. Then, out of Waverley Station, down the Bridges to East Cross Causeway, home of the Science Fiction Bookshop – the nearest ‘direct market’ shop. 

Penny Century by James Corcoran
Penny Century by James Corcoran

In the Sci-Fi Bookshop I discovered a whole world of new comics. Every Marvel and DC book and a bunch of those back issues I had missed. And for the first time smaller indie publishers like First Comics and Eclipse. The Goblin from Warren Comics.  Underground stuff too. It was heaven and I would spend what seemed like hours there spending every penny I had. Alan Moore even showed up for a signing one day, I shyly waited in line to get my copy of Warrior signed.

And I picked up a magazine sized book that stood out. It was called Love and Rockets by Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez.

Luckily Titan Books put out some of the collected stories for the British market, with each of the brothers having separate books. Love and Rockets, Mechanics, Heartbreak Soup. I read those books over and over again.  I became obsessed and carried my obsession with me wherever I went.

Luba, Maggie, Hopey, Ray, Doyle…they not only came with me on my journey through life but they went on a journey themselves. One of the amazing features of Love and Rockets is that it has characters that age. Not only do they age but they change, they change jobs, they lose touch with each other, they view the youth that you shared with them with the mature eye of an adult.

Love and Rockets issue 1

Love and Rockets was first published by Fantagraphics in 1982 after publisher Gary Groth saw the brothers self-published comic. The iconic cover sets the tone for the contents. Inspired by a Black Flag record sleeve illustration by underground cartoonist Raymond Pettibon, it depicted five women in a police lineup. Some are fantastical, others down to earth.

Back cover to the Nervous Breakdown single by Black Flag, illustrated by Raymond Pettibon. Note the ad for his ‘Captive Chains’ comic

Pettibon has a fascinating part to play in the underground culture of the United States from the 80’s onwards. Pettibon was the younger brother of Greg Ginn who owned the SST record label and was the central figure in the band Black Flag. Pettibon actually came up with the name Black Flag and designed the iconic logo for the band (which can be seen on t-shirts and doodled on the wall in many issues of Love and Rockets.) He drew flyers for gigs and record sleeves featuring Black Flag and other punk bands like the Minutemen.

His illustrations went beyond the usual fare and featured non-sequitur panels that were often shocking and hinted at a wider story. One flyer featuring a cop with a gun jammed in his mouth caught unwelcome attention from the LAPD who began a campaign against the band, even tapping their phones1. The naive and often ugly art style appealed to the bands, although Pettibon later complained “they would go through two hundred drawings and take the worst one possible.2

Raymond Pettibon flyer - note that it is labelled Black Flag Flyer #7
Raymond Pettibon flyer from Homo Americanus – note that it is labelled Black Flag Flyer #7

Jaime Hernandez noted that Pettibon would number these flyers and he would collect them at gigs3. In this way they were sequential and formed a weird early link between comics and punk. Pettibon had actually produced more typical comics in the past (advertised via Black Flag record liner notes) but this interface with punk produced a deeper cultural impact.

Jaime Hernandez noted that Pettibon would number these flyers and he would collect them at gigs. In this way they were sequential and formed a weird early link between comics and punk.

As James Parker noted in his biography of one of the Black Flag front-men Henry Rollins “the drawings resemble isolated frames from a vanished strip cartoon – they came jabbing at you from nowhere, inventing their own sinister context…the drawings recyle stray snatches of TV speak, one liners, odd images, and mix them with political satire, sexual undertow and a streak of mysticism which is purely inexplicable.4” Dangerous, fascinating and very cool. Rollins himself lived for a while in Pettibon’s family home and described him as an artistic genius.5

Jaime went on to draw many flyers himself for bands, especially Dr Know which his younger brother Ismael played in. The influence of Pettibon and other artists associated with the music scene like Gary Panter and Shawn Kerri (who created the Circle Jerks logo) was clear. A good collection can be viewed here.

Jaime Hernandez flyer from Love and Rockets Sketchbook volume 1. There is a great Henry Rollins story about Circle One also featuring Oki Dog here

That front cover image of Love and Rockets issue one shows a love of genre archetypes but rooted in reality. Pulpy, sci-fi elements, comics and pop culture references feature throughout the issue. Neil Gaiman noted “The BEM, the Radio Zero stuff, that has a wonderful quality, it’s like someone going crazy in the basement of junk culture.6

Punk was one important element in the birth of Love and Rockets along with many others like Archie comics, wrestling and sci-fi and monster movies. The DIY punk ethic was an inspiration to the Hernandez brothers to self-publish the first pre-Fantagraphics Love and Rockets. But their depiction of working class latinx life in California gave the book authenticity and brought the world of Maggie, Hopey and Luba to life. In the next part I’ll talk more about life in Hoppers and the impact this perspective had on comics.

End of Part One.

Notes

  1. Our Band Could Be Your Life. Scenes from the American Indie Underground 1981-1991. Michael Azzerad
  2. Homo Americanus. Raymond Pettibon
  3. The Jaime Hernandez Shoot Interview (SPX 2019) – Cartoonist Kayfabe Youtube Channel.
  4. Turned On. A Biography of Henry Rollins. James Parker
  5. Punk – Black Flag – Art + Music. Documentary which can be viewed here.
  6. Comics Journal 178 – Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez interviewed by Neil Gaiman. July 1995.

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