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Love & Rockets: The Great American Comic Book

[2022] A few notes about how Dignicraft approached the making of the documentary “Love & Rockets: The Great American Comic Book” and what we enjoyed the most about collaborating with the Hernandez brothers, Gilbert & Jaime.

By Omar Foglio

“Love & Rockets: The Great American Comic Book” is the title of the film we made as Dignicraft, co-produced with Kcet for the television series Artbound. The film revolves around the comic book “Love and Rockets” and its creators, the Hernandez brothers, Gilbert and Jaime who made the stories, drawings, inking, dialogues and covers for more than 40 years.

In 2013, Artbound founder, Juan Devis, interviewed Jaime Hernandez and since that time he was left with the idea of creating something about Love and Rockets (L&R).

Nine years later, the stars aligned and Juan, as the network Chief Creative Officer (CCO), along with the Kcet production team invited Dignicraft to direct and co-produce the documentary.

In the early 90s, my sister’s boyfriend lent us some anthologies of the comic book and that became my introduction to L&R. The stories that dawn on me hard were Jaime’s “The Death of Speedy” and “Human Dyastrophism” by Gilbert. When Juan invited us to work together and said the words “Love & Rockets” during our first project meeting it felt unbelievable.

The Love and Rockets Companion

Since that moment our priority was to read the comic, which is quite a venture because the body of work is huge and if you don't know where to start, you get overwhelmed. What helped us a lot to dive into L&R was the generous support of the publisher Fantagraphics facilitating us the printed books, specially “The Love and Rockets Companion” which includes a series of extensive interviews with the Hernandez brothers; along with the anthology series “The Love and Rockets Library” and the guide available online that suggests a reading order.

Gilbert and Jaime’s thoughts on how they would like to be represented in the documentary were very important for us. And from the conversations we had before the filming, we decided to give relevance to the influence that punk, both music lifestyle, had on their lives and work, as well as to focus on the origins and early years of Love and Rockets.

(Left to right) Eric Waldron, Director of Photography; Ana Paola Rodríguez from Dignicraft and Luis de la Parra of Kcet, during the film production.

Details from the recording session in the studio when Jaime Hernandez made a drawing of his Love & Rockets emblematic character, Maggie.

Another important thing for us was to honor the craft of the cartoonist. And one way to accomplish that was avoiding the use of motion graphics in the documentary, in such a way that all the L&R material featured on screen was done by filming the physical books, using manual camera movements, with the purpose of highlighting the textures of the ink and the paper, the folded and worn pages, and the fact that the Hernandez brothers do all their work by hand, in other words, every line, shadow, and letter on the sheets of paper were made by Jaime and Gilbert.

The production crew for this documentary included colleagues with whom we have made our most recent projects such as: “El Ojo de Agua de los Gálvez” and “187: The Rise of the Latino Vote”, including Eric Waldron as Director of Photography, Alejandro Loera as editor and Luis Parody for original music, among other people. We worked in Los Angeles, Tijuana and Mexico City.

The people interviewed in the film are experts in comics and/or could make a critical reading of the comic, highlighting its formal and technical aspects; and the representation of Los Angeles and Southern California on its pages; as well as cultural and gender diversity. On screen we see Justin Hall, cartoonist and professor of the California College of the Arts; Frederick Luis Aldama, researcher and professor of the University of Texas in Austin; and Carolina Miranda, journalist for the Los Angeles Times on art and cultural affairs, among others. Also, the co-founder and president of Fantagraphics, Gary Groth; and Eric Reynolds, the vice president and editor.

The recorded material is made up of interviews, readings of the comic and details of the books along with some interventions in vérité of the brothers doing a sketch, working on the comic and visiting places in town that were relevant in their career, like the Whisky a Go Go and the Hong Kong Café, two key venues for the history of the Los Angeles punk scene.

We used anamorphic lenses to display a look that evoked the craft of film-making and a dreamlike environment when looking closely at the art of L&R, but also to give the audience an immersive experience when our characters were reading the comic and/or allow them more space to express themselves during the interviews.

(Left to right) José Luis Figueroa and Omar Foglio from Dignicraft, with Jaime Hernández during the film production.

José Luis Figueroa of Dignicraft and Eric Waldron, Director of Photography, take a shot of Jaime Hernandez while he was preparing his drawing sheets.

The core of the filming took place in Kcet during April, 2022. There was a celebratory feeling because for many of us, it was the first time that we saw each other in the studio since the Covid-19 pandemic began. Later we filmed at the Comic Con International that took place in San Diego during the month of July. The process of creating the documentary lasted about 8 months, which is not long for the amount of work involved.

The hardest part of the process came during post production, since the quality of the recorded material was really good, both because of the way in which the participants expressed themselves and how interesting the overhead readings of the comic turned out. The first cut of the documentary lasted almost three hours and was difficult to cut down until reaching the final duration of 56:43 minutes.

Gilbert Hernandez in the Kcet studio before signing the drawing he made of his emblematic Love & Rockets character, Luba.

A key person for the project was Carol Kovinick Hernández, photographer and Gilbert's wife, who met the Hernández brothers in 1979 during The Clash's first concert in Los Angeles. Carol dedicated a great amount of time and energy digitizing unpublished photos from her personal and family archives. Besides, she agreed to do a special photo shoot with Jaime and Gilbert just for the documentary.

(Left to right) Carol Kovinick, Natalia Hernandez, Gilbert Hernandez, Jaime Hernandez & Eric Waldron during the shooting in front of the place that was the Hong Kong Cafe in LA’s Chinatown.

Additionally, cartoonist Katie Skelley did a special episode of the “Thick Lines” podcast, which we also recorded, interviewing Jaime and Gilbert as part of the 40th anniversary of Love & Rockets. Once in the process of editing the documentary it made sense for us to include only the audio of this recording, and it worked perfectly. We used two audio clips right at the beginning of the film that help set the tone for the rest of the story.

The thing we enjoyed the most from the experience of making this documentary was the sense of inspiration felt on time spent with the Hernandez brothers. First of all, their work ethic. Both Jaime and Gilbert have been true to themselves and their work for a long time. Second, we got a glimpse of their creative process and it’s incredible, the way they work is non-linear. They go from writing stories to drawing, writing dialogue, inking and editing their work in a way that we believe only they can. Third, to see how the spirit of punk rock is present not only in their stories but in everything they do, like their way of approaching the craft, and not having sold out when the big corporations tried to recruit them, etc. All of this inspires us to keep on going.

Finally, there was a detail that really caught our attention which was very recurrent during the production of the film. Despite how big they are within the world of comics and the huge effort Fantagraphics has done to distribute the work of the Hernandez brothers and tell the story behind L&R; we sensed a feeling among those who participated in the project that Gilbert and Jaime have not received the recognition they deserve. We hope that “Love & Rockets: The Great American Comic Book” helps spread the word about how valuable they are as artists and invite more people to read the comic.

Details from the photo shoot that Carol Kovinick and Natalia Hernandez made of the brothers Gilbert and Jaime outside of the Whisky a Go Go.

Love & Rockets: The Great American Comic Book (Amor y Cohetes: El Gran Cómic Americano)

Love and Rockets wowed the alternative comic scene and gained a worldwide fan base by pushing storytelling through graphic art. Originally published by the Hernandez brothers, Love and Rockets has been praised for its diversity and nuances. Their stories have evolved during the past 40 years with characters that grow old, and scenes that unfold in real time. Directed and produced by Dignicraft.


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