The Final ’80s Countdown, Part Twenty-Seven.

§ February 28th, 2024 § Filed under final countdown § 14 Comments

And here we are, at long last, with the final part of the ’80s Countdown, where I tallied up your votes for your favorite 1980s indie book and presented the winners, in ascending order, over a particularly extended period of time. But we’ve reached the conclusion, with the top vote getter, including my own vote, and it should be no surprise which title it is.

Love and Rockets (Fantagraphics 1982-1996)

For over forty years, the Hernandez Brothers (Jaime, Gilbert, and occasionally Mario) have been gifting the comics world with some of the best cartooning and most realized worlds and characters to have ever graced the medium. It’s hard to believe it’s been that long, as you look at the work being produced and you can see no decline, no lessening of their powers — only an ever-continuing evolution and refinement of their craft. The stories remain as entertaining and compelling as they ever were, the artwork perfectly expressive. Every new comic from them is a master class in How To Do Comics and we are lucky to get them.

Did I oversell it yet? Honestly, I don’t think I have.

Reams have been written on Love and Rockets and its ancillary works and I’m honestly not sure what else I can add to it. I can say this series has special meaning to me, in that the brothers hail from Oxnard, CA, as do I, and I can often recognize references to the area in their works. Especially when they just straight up put my previous place of employment in the background:

In full disclosure, I should mention that I’ve known the brothers for…well, about as long as I’ve been in the comics business, currently 35 years and counting. They were already friends with my former boss, Ralph, when I started working for him…they had even helped move his store when he upgraded from one tiny hole-in-the-wall to a slightly larger hole-in-the-wall. Ralph was, in fact, the first comics retailer to carry their original self-published version of Love and Rockets #1 (often referred to as the “black and white” edition), which I will show you here scanned from my own personal collection, he bragged:

But before I met them in person, I was already a fan. I kinda knew Jaime and Gilbert’s work already, in that their art would adorn stickers and fliers for various local punk rock bands…somewhere I think I still have a sticker or two by Jaime from ye olden tymes. But getting a whole magazine filled with their work…well, that was pretty great. And coincided with my specific attraction at the time to independently-produced comics outside the worlds of Marvel and DC. Not that I didn’t still love reading those, but getting to read different, “weird,” and personal comics scratched an itch that the four-color super books didn’t.

And Jaime and Gilbert (and sometimes Mario, who once drew my old boss Ralph into an issue!) have continued to scratch that itch over the decades, with ever-wonderful and innovative work. Jaime’s stories generally focus on the inhabitants of Hoppers 13 (essentially Oxnard), primarily Maggie and Hopey and their assorted friends, enemies, and frenemies. Gilbert’s focus is mostly on the Latin America town of Palomar, a generational saga based around Luba and her family, plus other inhabitants. Which isn’t to say there aren’t other unrelated stories and gags that appear during the run, but those are the biggies. And following these comics for forty years, watching the characters age and change, is a rare and rewarding experience in comics.

There have been five iterations of Love and Rockets over the years, starting with the self-published issue I scanned above. This was followed by the 50 issue run published by Fantagraphics from ’82 to ’96, which then published a twenty issue run in a standard comic book format (as opposed to the previous magazine-sized issues) from 2001 to 2007. This was followed by Love and Rockets: New Stories, publishing eight annual issues from 2008 to 2016 as squarebound graphic novels. Then Love and Rockets returned in 2016 in its original magazine format, and continues publication to this day.

Amongst those various L&Rs, Jaime and Gilbert released many minis and one-shots that, mostly, to various degrees, tied into their ongoing sagas. Of note was Gilbert’s Luba’s Comics and Stories (running eight issues from 2000-2006), Penny Century by Jaime (seven issues, 1997-2000), and Whoa, Nellie! also by Jaime (three issues in 1996).

The comics are usually in black and white, but there are been the rare color editions, such as the Mechanics mini in 1985, mostly reprinting some of aime’s work from the earlier issues with some new material. There was also the Maggie and Hopey Color Special in 1997, with new material by Jaime.

Gilbert has produced, and is still producing, several standalone graphic novels, tangentially related to the L&R Universe, featuring the character Fritzi in her various movies. Proof That The Devil Loves You is probably a good place to start with these.

And just so we’re clear, this doesn’t even cover all of the L&R material that has been put into the world. Usually in this series of posts I like to list the various reprintings of the comics being discussed, but boy howdy are there a lot of options here. A brief glace at the Fantagraphics catalog gives you an idea of what’s available. There are paperbacks devoted to either Jaime or Gilbert, reprinting their stories from the magazines and comics. Some comics have been reformatted into standalone graphic novels. For the adventurous among you, you can get the collection of the first fifty issues.

At any rate, there’s a lot of material here, and it’s hard to tell you where to start, other than “the beginning,” so maybe that “first 50” collection isn’t such a bad idea after all. But aside from just jumping onto the newest issue and hoping for the best, I’d probably recommend the collection Heartbreak Soup for Gilbert, and “The Death of Speedy” by Jaime (reprinted here). I mean, those are the obvious ones, but any given issue of the current series would probably give you an idea if these comics are for you. And I certainly hope they are, because they’re great.

• • •

And here we are, finally at the end of this series of posts that took, oh, only about ten months to finish. It was fun, though, looking back at all these indies and seeing what you folks liked and reminding myself of why I liked many of them. Thanks for participating in the poll, and…will I do another poll like this for 1990s indies? I don’t know, let me recover from this one first!

14 Responses to “The Final ’80s Countdown, Part Twenty-Seven.”

  • Oliver says:

    A very deserving winner.

  • philfromgermany says:

    A worthy winner!

  • Garrie says:

    Yes! Viva Los Bros Hernandez! I’m only (compared to you) a newcomer to the series, didn’t start picking it up until issue 7 in 1984. Are there any other creators from those days still publishing a regular book, let alone a regular book with the same characters they started 40 years before?

  • Cassandra Miller says:

    I love their art (I even have a Jaime sketch in one of my books!), but I have been intimidated from starting L&R for literally decades. (Ever since I got a bag with my weekly comics that had an ad for “The Mechanics” on it.) There are just so many threads, and so many collections.

    I really need to just get that first 50 collection and start.

  • Michael Grabowski says:

    Garrie, Stan Sakai’s Usagi Yojimbo was introduced in 1984 (according to the 40th year branding on Dark Horse’s most recent issues) and Sergio Aragones’s Groo The Wanderer came along a year or two earlier, and like L & R both have been steadily published, with various hiatuses (hiati?) ever since. UY is up to about #275 according to legacy numbering that has recently appeared, and I bet Groo is near the 200s.

    I’ve been reading L & R steadily since the original #17, so it wasn’t too hard to catch up with the early issues thanks to Fantagraphics full-sized trade editions collecting something like 4 issues each. It works on so many levels. Cover design is consistently awesome. The sci-fi mix early on was really cool and I wish that could have been kept a more consistent minor feature. It recurs from time to time, like Children of Palomar, Ti-Girls, and some of Fritzi’s movies, and that’s welcome. I don’t love Gilbert’s Luba in America focus of the last 20+ years so much or the L & R Extended Universe in general. A lot of that feels too Archie Bunker’s Place/After-MASHy to me (or nuFrazier to you kids). They are still great comics. More of Mario is needed, for sure.

    I will say that for me, the series is weakest with long serials with each chapter separated by months between publication. Human Diastrophism, Poison River, Wigwam Bam, Love and Rockets X,… these were all tough to follow and appreciate during the original run, but all make incredible reads in collected form.

    Also, these days, happily married and with two teen daughters, I long ago had to get rid of my physical copies of the mags, comics, and books (including the absolutely stunning Palomar and Locas hardcovers) because I couldn’t honestly justify all the nudity. “But I’m only reading it for the stories, I promise! Look at all this slice of life character interaction, so many beautiful, voluptuous… slices of life!” Or for that matter the more grotesque sexual elements also occasionally portrayed. Just not something I need on a shelf in my house for my family to find and misunderstand. (So I read them discreetly on my tablet, which still feels creepy.)

    As far as that goes, Los Bros deserve real credit for frankly exploring nonstandard sexualities in their characters throughout the run, decades ahead of our time and culture, and in a manner that’s nothing like the underground comix creators before them attempted.

    I also love the conceit that most of the stories are taking place in Spanish and that the word balloons occsionally feature to set off dialogue that the characters speak in English.

    Great, great, great series. Best comics series ever? Tom Spurgeon said so about the original 1 – 50. Tough to argue against that opinion.

  • Tom W says:

    Ah, L&R. I remember flicking through an early issue, as a callow 14-year-old, and complaining that nobody needed these boring black-and-white non-superhero comics. I was so, so wrong. Never knew that first B&W issue even existed…

    Agree that the Beto half lost focus when it moved north, though, and especially with the introduction of Fritz. The magic of Luba in Palomar was that while she might be a promiscuous huge-boobed fantasy figure she was real, she had a character and problems and hopes and all the rest of it. Fritz appears – and I’ve not read everything – to be fantasy first and character only as a secondary concern. Which has its place but means the comics in the Luba hardback are way below the comics in the Palomar one.

    Which leads me to my last concern: I’ve got the big Palomar, Luba, Locas and Locas II hardbacks and there I’ve stopped because it’s not clear what comes next. I only really want to carry on with Xaime’s side, sorry Beto. Does anyone know what books follow on from Locas II?

  • Mike Loughlin says:

    I didn’t read any Love & Rockets until the Palomar & Locas hardcovers were released. Instantly, Palomar became my favorite comic story ever. I was shocked by how much I cared about characters that showed up for a handful of panels, Beto’s that good at world-building and dialogue. I think Xaime’s main story took a little longer to gel, but has become one of the strongest ongoing narratives in the medium. He’s also one of the best artists in the business. I encourage anyone curious who hasn’t read the comics yet to take a look, we’re lucky that our favorite medium has L&R.

  • Garrie says:

    Thanks for the reminder of Stan Sakai’s Usagi, Michael! Digging further I’m thinking Aragones & Evanier’s Groo is probably another contender for publishing span, as well, with the first appearance in ‘82 and the Pacific series coming out soon after. Should be noted that Groo’s letterer is Stan Sakai…

    I hear you about the longer L&R storylines being hurt by occasionally sporadic publishing, but it also gave me more time to re-read chapters in prep for a new issue, so in the long run I might have ended up with a better understanding of the stuff.

  • Michael Grabowski says:

    Tom, I don’t recall where Locas II left off (it’s probably about time for another such omnibus) but there are a bunch of smaller trades to look for, such as Dicks & Dee Dees, Ghost of Hoppers*, The Education of Hopey Glass*, Gods & Science, Love Bunglers*, Is This How You See Me?*, and Tonta. There may be more. The * is for the ones that are more Maggie/Hopey-focused but D & D elevates Ray’s part of the story. I don’t think any trades have caught up with whatever is in the current series.

  • Thom H. says:

    I collected the second half of the first 50, and I’ve dipped in and out of the Hernandez-verse since then. It’s always fun to see what Maggie is up to, especially. And Jaime’s art is some of the best in the business. Maybe once I’m retired, I’ll sit down and read the whole shebang from beginning to end.

  • Sean Mageean says:

    It makes sense that Love and Rockets would be considered the best independent comic–or comic, period–to emerge from the ’80s.

    I got into it a bit late, starting with issue 11–featuring Beto’s great Errata Stigmata cover. And then I hunted down as many of the back issues as I could find. I stopped reading it around issue 38, as that was when I pretty much dipped out of comics altogether, until getting back into the medium circa 2011. So, at some point I need to track down issues 39 to 50. I’ve found and bought a few of the comics-sized issues and have been purchasing the new series. Definitely Beto’s “Heartbreak Soup/Palomar” stories are the best written comics I read during the ’80s, but Jaime’s Locas was probably the best drawn comics of that era–with the exception of Dave Stevens’ Rocketeer…sorry, but to me Dave Stevens is the finest comics artist of the ’80s. But the Locas stories had Maggie and Hopey and such great character development, and “The Death of Speedy Ortiz” was a pivotal
    moment. Seeing as Maggie and Hopey were only a few years older than me, and Hoppers/Oxnard wasn’t that far away from Santa Barbara, teenage me related to Jaime’s characters quite well–especially when I got into punk rock.

    As far as the latest iteration of Love and Rockets, I still find Jaime’s stories quite interesting, seeing young Tonta and her circle of friends juxtaposed with middle-aged Maggie, Hopey, Ray, etc al.–and it was nice to see Maggie and Ray tie the knot, but Beto’s latest work doesn’t grab me the way that the Palomar stories did. The whole Fritz and her daughters stuff seems lacking…maybe it is just Beto’s commentary on current American culture and the narcissism of Gen Z. …I don’t know…but I’d rather read untold tales or Errata Stigmata, Bang and Inez, or Castle Radium…more BEM and less Fritz. Or, something entirely new.

  • Micheal Grabowski pretty much matches my experience with the series, starting with beginning with issue 17. The lead story was unlike anything I’d read, but also exactly matched my life as a 16 year old in Louisville’s punk scene. Beto knocked me out too. The atmosphere of his work really captured my attention.

    In the early 90s I worked in public radio and interviewed Gilbert and Jaime by phone for the station during their tenth anniversary tour. As a result I ended up going to dinner with them after the signing and had a really nice evening with them and two of my best friends. We got a shout out in the back of issue 40 which was exciting.

  • Tom W says:

    Mike G: Thank you for that. Going back and forth between the hardback and various internet sources, including Fantagraphics’ own site, it seems Locas II contains stories up to the end of The Education of Hopey Glass. Though apparently not all, just the ‘Maggie, Hopey and Ray’ stories as it’s subtitled.

    Everything from Gods & Science onwards isn’t included. So I could get the Angels and Magpies trade containing that and The Love Bunglers, or I could hold off for a Locas III collection – looks like there’s enough now…

  • Snark Shark says:


    Ttat looked pretty damn good in color! (I also like dthe SF element in that one).

    Maggie & Hopey = best L&R characters!

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