Love and Rockets has probably been my favorite comic book series for over a decade now. Though it’s been running since the early ’80s, I didn’t discover it until Penny Century #1 came out in the late 90s — I was immediately drawn to the cover art (as seen here), and the story within wasn’t at all what I expected. Of course, I immediately started reading all the collections starting from the beginning, so I could figure out who these characters were and discover their rich backstories.

Love and Rockets is primarily the work of two brothers: Gilbert (“Beto”) and Jaime Hernandez (with a third brother, Mario, sometimes contributing), and each has his own universe of characters that’s well worth exploring. College-age Alicia, reading the early years of the series, would have vociferously argued that Jaime was the better artist and Gilbert the better storyteller—and maybe this was true of the early years. Beto’s stories were more immediately solid, whereas Jaime took a little longer to find his footing (lots of people would disagree with me, but I was never very interested in Jaime’s earlier stuff, which involved lots of rockets and dinosaurs and adventuring—though I did love his characters when they were doing normal stuff, which they eventually started to do full-time, and which was GREAT).

And modern-age Alicia would just as vociferously argue that Jaime’s most recent stuff is the pinnacle of his career, whereas Beto lost my interest a few years back (his recent stuff explores B-movies, kinky sex, and general weirdness—it’s just not my thing).

Anyway, Beto’s works primarily take place in a small Central American town called Palomar, full of various kinds of drama—and ghosts. Eventually a slew of his characters come to America, but I found the small-town environment much more interesting (apparently his upcoming stories, in Love and Rockets New Stories #5, will revisit the town and some of the characters—it’s the first thing of his I’ve looked forward to in a long time).

Jaime’s stories focus on a group of young punk rockers in California—mainly characters named Maggie and Hopey, who are best friends and sometimes lovers. But his characters age in real time, and how Maggie has grown and changed over the years makes for some completely compelling reading. I honestly can’t think of a fictional character I love more.

Actually, I was talking about the Eisners here a couple weeks ago, but, since that column, a lot of comic book bloggers have expressed dismay that Jaime’s recent stories (from Love and Rockets New Stories #4) didn’t get a nomination — something I didn’t even notice at the time. Their dismay is very justified.

As I said, Jaime’s most recent work is by far his best (I’ve read New Stories #3-4 many times and have cried every single time), but I wonder if it’s not as accessible to someone who hasn’t read all of his other stuff. For a fan like me, it was an amazing look into a heretofore unknown piece of the past—and a very hopeful look at the future for two characters I’ve been invested in for over ten years. I’m not sure it’d have as much emotional impact for someone who doesn’t love Maggie as much as I do! It still merited a nomination, though, and I’m annoyed at myself for overlooking it.

If you’re interested in checking this series out, Fantagraphics has a guide put together. I’d personally advise reading Beto’s Heartbreak Soup and Human Diastrophism and then maybe stopping—those early works are his best, in my opinion. For Jaime, Maggie the Mechanic is worth a read for sure, but if sci-fi stuff isn’t your thing, you can probably safely start with The Girl from HOPPERS—and everything from there on gets better and better. But all five Locas books are worth reading—they honestly are my all-time favorite comics!