Review – Queen of the Ring – Wrestling Drawings by Jaime Hernandez 1980-2020

Whoa, Jaime!

Queen of the Ring by Jaime Hernandez
Queen of the Ring by Jaime Hernandez

When I first discovered Love and Rockets in the late Eighties with its depiction of latinx punks in California and the wider society around them, I was entranced. The Hernandez brothers were just depicting their everyday world but to me in faraway, provincial Scotland it was a wonderland. The fashion, both punk and ‘cholo’ – the cars, the music, the expressions. I spent many an hour at local Americana vintage store ‘Flip of Hollywood’ trying to find the perfect bowling shirt or jacket. Somehow it never quite worked out.

Among the cultural markers revealed to me was the world of wrestling. Wrestling appeared in various forms, Mexican luchadores with their colourful masks could be seen in crowd scenes. But it was the world of women wrestlers that seemed to be an especial interest for Jaime in particular. For me, wrestling only existed in the form of Big Daddy and Giant Haystacks going toe to toe on a Saturday afternoon on ‘World of Sport’. Women wrestlers? With cool names and hairdos? This was something new.

Wrestling cast of characters, from Whoa, Nellie!
Wrestling cast of characters, from Whoa, Nellie!

Rena Titañon was an early character in the Locas stories, and she also happened to be a wrestling champ. The early stories focus more on her exploits as a revolutionary but her history as a wrestler begins to be sketched out in later issues. Indeed it is when we meet her arch-rival Vicki Glori that wrestling world drama truly comes to the fore.

Vicki Glori, or Vicki Chascarillo is Maggie’s aunt. She defeated Queen Rena to take the title. But as she is constantly reminded she “used the ropes” – she cheated. In the ‘Valley of the Polar Bears’ story arc Maggie goes on tour with her aunt and gets deeper into the world of wrestling.

Queen of the Ring, by Jaime Hernandez
Queen of the Ring, by Jaime Hernandez

But why was wrestling so important to Jaime? In Love and Rockets wrestling is almost an alternative genre to superheroes and in addition is one with roots in cross-border latinx culture. Enrique Garcia points out in The Hernandez Brothers – Love, Rockets and Alternative Comics “As Penny and her superhero obsessions represent the predominant genre trend in Anglophone comics, the Latino narrative and its political implications is represented by her mentor Rena Titañon”(1)

Furthermore, despite the fact that male wrestlers are normally far more prominent, Jaime puts the focus on the female athletes. As Enrique Garcia notes  “Just like he did with ‘The Return of the Ti-Girls’, Jaime features predominantly Latino and Latin American female wrestlers in Locas, thus making it a woman-centric narrative.”(2)

Queen of the Ring, by Jaime Hernandez
Queen of the Ring, by Jaime Hernandez

Jaime Hernandez always gives us an outsider perspective. Whether that is as a Latino who is an outsider in Anglo society, or the punk who is an outsider within their own community. Womens wrestling, especially latinx women, is another example.

Jaime first encountered Mexican wrestling via the 1962 film Samson vs the Vampire Women, starring the wrestler Santo. He said “ This guy’s a wrestler, a superhero, and he fights monsters. This was everything we ever wanted in one movie!”(3). The sport provided an early dose of Mexican culture which he found fascinating. He loved the combination of drama and silliness that wrestling offered. It became part of his pop culture lexicon.

Characters like Queen Rena Titañon would become the Love and Rockets equivalent of those early movie heroes, the wrestler turned superhero and revolutionary. In the early Love and Rockets issues the wrestlers joined with sci-fi, rock and roll/punk, low-rider cars and bug-eyed monsters in a pop culture explosion. 

In 1996 Jaime delved deeper into wrestling lore with the three part series Whoa, Nellie! which told the story of tag-team Xochitl and Gina. This series presented very relatable latinx women as the heroes of the ring – and explicitly connects the colourful costumed wrestlers with their wild stage names to superheroes.

Whoa, Nellie!
Wrestler as superhero. From Whoa, Nellie!

Queen of the Ring presents unseen illustrations of women wrestlers created by Jaime throughout his career. It also features a fascinating interview outlining the evolution of his lifelong obsession.

Jaime would watch wrestling matches on TV as a kid  “pretty soon, the women wrestlers took my full attention, and I didn’t care about the male ones” (4). He went on to read wrestling magazines, courtesy of older kids who would use them to hide their girly mags. The crazy narratives of those magazines with their faces and heels sparked his imagination. 

The book contains Jaime’s own imaginary narratives for his cast of wrestling characters. Not Queen Rena, Bull Marie or Vicki Glori but others, who admittedly are not a million miles from the wrestlers in Love and Rockets. These are not stories but sketches, imaginary magazine covers and articles as well as some beautiful full colour images.

What is most striking about the illustrations is Jaime’s mastery of the human figure. How bodies move, how they work together, what they look like when they are grappling, choking and bouncing off the ropes. These are not slender models either, they are muscular heavy-built female wrestlers, often with amazing hair into the bargain.

Queen of the Ring by Jaime Hernandez
Queen of the Ring by Jaime Hernandez

Tightening muscles, facial expressions and flailing limbs tell a story. Where will that kick land? You can almost hear the thud on the canvas as the bodies fall. Jaime is the master of negative space. The audience, the background, is blacked out. We imagine them. The focus falls on the bodies in the ring. What Jaime doesn’t draw is almost as important as what he does.

Textures and clothing are important as well. Wrestling boots shine, wired bodysuits shape the form of the wrestlers. We can also see how Jaime perfects his style over the years, often drawing the same scenes again and again.

This is a beautiful book to pore over and admire. If you are a fan of Jaime but have been unsure about picking it up, well, it’s time to tap out. The champ looks like holding on to the belt for a while yet.


Notes

  1. Enrique Garcia The Hernandez Brothers – Love, Rockets and Alternative Comics pg 109
  2. Ibid page 109
  3. Todd Hignite The Art of Jaime Hernandez – The Secret of Life and Death page 59
  4. Jaime Hernandez Queen of the Ring. Wrestling Drawings by Jaime Hernandez 1980-2020 pg 31

Queen of the Ring – Wrestling Drawings by Jaime Hernandez 1980-2020 is out now from publishers Fantagraphics and book shops everywhere.

Check out my previous ramblings about Los Bros and punk rock – Love and Rockets – Punk, Pettibon and the Birth of the Cool.

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