For Jaime Hernandez, Love and Rockets is everything

Love and Rockets co-creator Jaime Hernandez is a guest at Emerald City Comic Con this weekend, but he can't visit Seattle without a visit to his lifelong publisher, Fantagraphics Books. This Saturday at 7 pm, Hernandez will be signing books and talking with fans at a free event in the Fantagraphics Bookstore and Gallery in Georgetown to celebrate the release of a deluxe artist edition portfolio highlighting his creative process as a cartoonist.

Hernandez's latest Love and Rockets collection, Angels and Magpies, continues the story of the popular characters he's been writing and drawing since 1981, but it also brings something new to the equation. Hernandez spends an extended sequence in the book on a superhero adventure with all the trappings - spandex, capes, fistfights, creepy demons, powers, the works.

"The superhero story came about because we had changed formats," Hernandez tells me over the phone. "We changed the size of [Love and Rockets] and I needed to fill 50 pages in a year. I had never done it all at once, before," he said. The superhero comic was originally intended to be "just a side project," he says, but he worked it into the larger Love and Rockets story.

Hernandez's enthusiasm for the story is apparent on every single page of the book. "It kind of wrote itself," Hernandez says. "I was having a lot of fun. I guess you could say it was kind of a new approach."

When I ask if Gary Groth - Fantagraphics Books' publisher and an avowed hater of mainstream superhero comics - would have published these superhero strips back in the 1990s, when Groth was most avidly raging against the machine, Hernandez laughs. "I think he would, yeah," he says. Groth, Hernandez says, has always given Hernandez and his brother Gilbert a wide berth in their Love and Rockets work. Groth "doesn't step on our toes that way. If we do something a little oddball and he doesn't like it, I just don't hear from him for a couple years."

Is Hernandez content to keep working on Love and Rockets comics? I bring up Peter Bagge, a contemporary of the Hernandez brothers who has found a successful and surprising second act as a biographer of important women in history. Does Hernandez have any books that he'd like to work on outside of the world he's created?

"I prefer to stay in my little universe and help the characters grow old," he tells me. "If there's anything I want to tackle, it usually will fit in there. I'm getting older, you know, and I just want to see what happens with my characters. And so I concentrate on them as real people and try to figure out, 'okay, what are you going to be at 60?'"

Hernandez says he's fully committed to his characters, but he still experiences a lot of doubt as an artist. "Every issue I draw, I have to have a hate period in there where I can't get through it. I have to argue with myself: 'is this worth it? Is this worth everyone's time? Is this worth my time? Is this good art?' And part of me is going, 'no it ain't, old man.'"

In the end, Hernandez says, "I come to this compromise with the five people in my head and then I say, 'okay, it's good enough - or good enough for now."

"Next time I'll get it right," he says.