The Art of Jaime Hernandez: The Secrets of Life and Death

Posted by on July 22nd, 2010 at 11:48 PM


Sketch ©1984 Jaime Hernandez.


The Art of Jaime Hernandez: The Secrets of Life and Death
Todd Hignite
$40; B&W and color hardcover
ISBN: 9780810995703

The Art of Jaime Hernandez: The Secrets of Life and Death is another gorgeous book from Abrams under its ComicArts imprint. Todd Hignite, comics scholar and founder/editor of Comic Art Magazine, supplies the book’s biography of its subject and a running critical — appreciative — commentary; Alison Bechdel provides an introduction; and Hernandez supplies the rest — photographs and sketches from his youth, model sheets, pencil roughs, finished art (the very first definitive drawing of Maggie and Hopey), spot illos, promotional art, newspaper and magazine clippings, cover of the first self-published issue of the seminal 1981 Love and Rockets, never-before-seen art, and a few complete stories — the 12-page “Spring 1982” from Love and Rockets #31, a couple of one- and two-pagers, and all of an expanded version of “La Maggie La Loca,” serialized in the New York Times Magazine in 2006-07. The book is the customary elegance from Abrams — for instance, the endpapers at the front print the penciled version of the drawing that appears inked as the endpapers at the back of the book. Delicious touches like this are an Abrams hallmark.

And Hignite’s insights are an appropriate accompaniment: “The most immediately striking aspect of Hernandez’s comics is the sheer exuberance of his snappy, spare inking.”

Says Hernandez: “I felt if one line could do the same job as a hundred it would make a far more impressive image.”

Hignite continues: “While evolving in range, his preternatural gift for subtlety within a mastery of traditional comic book techniques has been there from the beginning — not only the shorthand rendering and poignant details, but also pacing and narrative devices — alongside all the old comic book tricks of the masters. …Crucially, characters come alive through facial expressions and telling gestures as much as in dialogue; the play between expertly crafted image and text, his is perfect cartooning, and the elan evident in his drawing is matched only the spirit of his characters.”

Hignite does not delve much into the likelihood, or not, of Dan DeCarlo’s influence on Jaime’s drawing style. He mentions DeCarlo as “the biggest continual influence” on Hernandez but then seems to discount the obvious when he continues: “Of particular impact were the myriad ways in which the characters interacted and the deft subtlety of body language and pacing. The seemingly simple unfolding of a perfectly contained story, loaded with surprising emotional resonance lodged in Hernandez’s mind.”

In short, Hignite makes it appear that Hernandez was most influenced by DeCarlo’s storytelling, not his drawing style. Still, Hernandez, Hignite notes, “has said on many occasions that Maggie and Hopey are his Betty and Veronica” (adding, parenthetically, “or Batman and Robin”).

That seems to sell DeCarlo’s influence a little short. One thing that was most remarked upon when Love and Rockets first tumbled out into fandom was the Betty and Veronica look of Maggie and Hopey. People said things like “Betty and Veronica have grown up and gone punk.” Close inspection pretty quickly revealed that the DeCarlo influence on the visuals was evident mostly in the faces — general shape and lips — and that, even there, Hernandez’s treatment of the eyes was different, more realistic than DeCarlo’s. Still, Hignite’s reference to DeCarlo seems cursory: perhaps he, like me, forgets to remember the impression Hernandez’s work made when it first appeared.

And it’s easy to forget when contemplating this luxurious volume with all its excellences, both the bookmaker’s and Hernandez’s. A career-spanning extravaganza. Beautiful, beautiful.


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