Tuesday, April 4, 2006

Love & Rockets Introduction

Twenty-five years ago, in 1981, Love & Rockets began, rather surreptitiously, as a black and white, 32-page, self-published fanzine.

At the time, I was only eight years old, hardly aware of the potential for mature, literate storytelling that is so prevalent in the comics industry of today. Rather, as the first issue hit the stands, I was undoubtedly reading Detective Comics, the Amazing Spider-Man, Fantastic Four and Star Wars (the Marvel Comics version). A comic like Love & Rockets, if I even saw it, would have had no impact on my young, superhero-addled mind. But, as time passed, and I grew up, my love for comics deepened, and my tastes changed. Today, I tend to read graphic novels, comic books published for adults by alternative publishers such as Drawn & Quarterly, NBM, Top Shelf and Fantagraphics.

But, despite my changed perspective, I never went back and read Love & Rockets. It wasn't that I didn't want to, it just seemed like such a daunting a task. For one thing, the issues were hard to track down. The trades were an option, but I wasn't sure where to start, and the few times I scanned them at the comics shop, I ended up feeling intimidated. Also, there's so much history to the series; I wasn't sure it was worth investing the amount of time it would undoubtedly take to go through all those stories. So, even though I had an inkling that I would love this series, I procrastinated and made excuses, while in the meantime, others, whose opinions I respect, raved and praised the series that opened the door for so many of today's alternative cartoonists, hailing it as one of the most significant and influential works in the history of comics.

The first volume of Love & Rockets ran 50 issues, ending in 1996, with a brief respite before Los Bros Hernandez, as Jaime and Gilbert (as well as older brother and occasional contributor Mario) refer to themselves, picked up their pencils and began a whole new era in the lives of their most recognizable characters. While the brothers are showing no signs of slowing down, it is their work on the first volume which has inspired an entire generation of alternative cartoonists seeking to find their voices through the language of sequential storytelling.

Now, thanks to the fine crew here at Sequart, I am excited to finally dive into the series that started the alternative comics renaissance. Shelf Life will be my most ambitious, long-term comics journalism project yet. I'm going to review all fifty issues of the first volume, and I'm going to try to put the series into context.

Now, you might be thinking, is this really necessary? Don't we already know how good Love & Rockets is? What's the point of reviewing comics that came out twenty-five years ago? For those familiar with my weekly column over at Comic Book Galaxy, I'm not approaching this project in the same way that I would my typical reviews. There'll be no grading or comments about what to buy or how to get it. It's true that these books have been around for a while, and their excellence is generally well-known. My goal here, instead, is to answer the question: what makes Love & Rockets such an enduring classic of the artform? I'm approaching this project as if I were writing a book, unfolding online one chapter at a time. If you're a longtime fan of Love & Rockets, I hope you'll enjoy reading my critical analysis as I experience these books for the first time. If, like me, you've never read them, I hope my writing will inspire you to, as Alan Moore puts it "…stop being such gutless and ineffectual wimps and go and do so immediately."

So how's this going to work?

Well, I just got the entire run of volume one off E-Bay (god bless Internet capitalism!), so my plan is to go through the series, issue by issue. I'm not going to skip around and read complete storylines, at least not the first time through. I'd rather experience each issue as they were originally published. I also make no promises how long this will take, or even if I'll make it to the end (though I can't see why I wouldn't), but I will say that my goal is to review somewhere in the range of two to three issues a month.

So you might be thinking, why the individual issues, and not the massive hardcover Love & Rockets tablets, Locas and Palomar? Well, three reasons:

  1. Convenience - According to Amazon.com, Palomar and Locas weigh 5.2 pounds each, not to mention the oversized dimensions. The single issues are far easier to read in bed, on the train or anywhere, really.
  2. Extras - There's always the little extra stuff that gets cut in reprint collections – letter columns, introductions, one-off strips, etc. and though it's often for the best, like trimming the fat off a turkey, I want to really experience these books as they were originally released. Plus, not every story was included in these latest collections.
  3. Covers - Both Locas and Palomar don't include the original color covers (front or back) that graced the original issues.
I just finished reading the first issue, so I hope to have the first review up next week, so please tell all your friends who are into Love & Rockets to direct their hate mail to marcsobel@hotmail.com. Actually, all kidding aside, I whole-heartedly welcome any and all feedback from my readers. If you like what I'm doing here, please feel free to let me know. If you think I'm missing something, or just plain don't agree with something I write, I'd love to hear it. Really!

I hope, above all, that this will be fun. There's quite a lot of material to cover, and I hope you'll enjoy riding shotgun with me as I explore, for the first time, what many consider one of the greatest comics series ever published.