Ladies and gentlemen, you are now leaving Riverdale...
You won't be seeing Betty or Veronica or Archie or Moose on any of the clean cut white bread youngsters once so associated with comic books for readers more interested in ordinary (and not so ordinary) life than superheroes, high adventure, and daring do.
We're on our way to Southern California, and uncharted points beyond America's Southern border.
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Life in Riverdale
It's hard to say that the seminal 80's/90's-era alt comicLove & Rockets is unprecedented. As suggested above, in some regards, it's not as big a leap from Archie comics as one might think — although it is a big one. And over time, as characters have come, gone, grown, and diminished, a more direct line might be drawn to one of America's longest running newspaper strips — Gasoline Alley. But with it's punk rock ethos, a multiethnic, variously sexual, heavily Latino cast of characters, and an odd, sometimes unsettling mix of real life and science fiction, it's also fair to say that Love & Rockets is one of the most groundbreaking and influential serialized comics in the history of the medium.
It's only tangentially related, but probably worth mentioning, that the title was also lifted by former members of the pioneering goth band Bauhaus. Sure, they only had one hot 100 hit, but moving out of the punk/goth milieu, Love & Rockets pretty much set at least one of the goal posts for what would become "alt" or "college rock." That's a simplification, of course, but this is a quick hit blog post and I'm okay with that.
One of the most interesting things about Love & Rockets is how it toys with reader bias and challenges ideas about race and gender. Characters drawn nearly in the style of hyper-sexualized superheroes (but in normal clothes) may elicit eye rolls — until you spend time with the characters' stories, and come to grips with the meaning of these exaggerations. It's complicated, nuanced storytelling that takes place in a fictional America (and not America) where the rules of reality are just a little off — and so right on. Great art, great characters, great storytelling. And the story of the comic is very nearly as compelling as the stories the comic tells.
And guess what? Both brothers behind this fantastic Eisner-winning title will be at the Memphis Cook Convention Center this weekend for the Memphis Comic Expo: Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez.
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Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez
"They have been producing their Love & Rockets comics since 1982 and they were way ahead of the curve," says Expo founder Don Juengling, in an emailed conversation abut the up and coming event. "Gilbert's stories featured a huge cast of characters set in the fictional village of Palomar. Jaime's tended to be set in Los Angeles. The stories featured a diversity of characters previously unseen in comics. These are stories that feature a large Latino cast and they even had gay characters. And often blend magical realism into their dramas. And remember this is an independent comic that started in the early 80's and has managed to survive to this day."
Not only has it stuck around (following some breaks here and there). Love & Rockets, which has mostly been published in the form of graphic novels and collections in recent years, is returning to its original comic book format this week. That's a cool thing if there ever was one.