It was so crowded at the Fantagraphics Bookstore and Gallery that when I wanted to take off my coat, I had to duck into the nook where they keep the smutty stuff just to get enough elbow room. The line for signatures coiled around the space for more than two hours, with high school girls comparing their cosplay costumes next to grizzled old men who'd stationed themselves by the keg. I talked to Fantagraphics' associate publisher, Eric Reynolds, born in 1971, who started reading Love and Rockets when he was 15. I met a kid who discovered Love and Rockets only a couple years ago but has read all three decades' worth of comics. And I met a Norwegian fan who first picked up the series while she was still living in Norway, and LA and South America both seemed unprecedentedly exotic.
It would be hard to overstate how much Love and Rockets means to these people. When Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez first started the series 30 years ago, it was a sea change for comics. The brothers came of age in 1980s Los Angeles as members of the Chicano community and the emerging punk scene, and their early comics represented this background at a time when there wasn't really anyone else in the industry speaking to it. It was one of the very first comics to include LGBT characters and people of color, to draw from an underground urban demographic, and to have kick-ass female leads. Fantagraphics curator Larry Reid said that Love and Rockets, without being overtly political or didactic, "foreshadowed the contemporary multicultural society."
After the line died down, Jaime Hernandez told me about a man who frequented his signings. The man started bringing a woman with him. She soon became that man's wife, and more and more it was the wife coming up to the brothers holding their books while her husband lingered in the background. One day, they brought their baby daughter to an event. A number of years later, that girl showed up on her own. She said her mom couldn't make it, and then rolled up her sleeve to show Jaime her Love and Rockets tattoo.
Like its readership, the characters in Love and Rockets age and change. Many comic and cartoon series, from Peanuts to The Simpsons, keep their characters frozen in time, but Love and Rockets, despite instances of magical realism and science fiction, are part of the living, breathing world. In the first issue, there's a character who is 15. He's 45 now. Children grow up, people die, relationships begin and end, and these changes serve as crucial meaning-making devices in the series, just as they do IRL.
Perhaps the longevity of Love and Rockets is due in part to how the brothers, like their fans, have grown up alongside these characters. Jaime said, "I'll look back at the older issues and think, 'We were all so young!'" Jaime is able to base their lives and milestones on his own, which keeps the series interesting, for him and for the readers.
One of the longtime fans in the crowd also performed that evening. Geneviève Castrée, of the musical project Ô Paon, is a comic creator in her own right, and between her songs of self-looping guitar and haunting vocals, Castrée discussed her devotion to Fantagraphics. "I always thought of needing to pee when I thought of Fantagraphics," she told the crowd. When she was a kid, she said, she'd spend all her money on comics from Fantagraphics and then take a long bus ride home. She couldn't read on the bus, and after her long commute, she would always need to pee. She'd be so excited about reading the books that she would wait to go to the bathroom until after she'd finished them.
Castrée's excitement for comics, Fantagraphics, and Love and Rockets seems to have dimmed about as much Jaime and Gilbert's own. When I asked Gilbert if he plans on continuing the series, he said, "As long my arms and my hands and my head hold up."