Hignite on Jaime Hernandez
by Jeet Heer
Thursday, December 2, 2010
I recently read some fairly depressing essays about the Hernandez Brothers, pieces that were so ill-informed that I despaired of “comics criticism” as a valid activity. To cheer myself up I went back to Todd Hignite’s The Art of Jaime Henandez: The Secrets of Life and Death. Beautifully designed by Jordon Crane, filled to the gill with original art and photographs, this has been justly celebrated as an art book. But I’m not sure that Hignite’s writing has received the praise it deserves.
Taken just by itself, Hignite’s text is a wonderfully compact monograph which manages to compress many insights into a small package. The book covers, among other things, Jaime’s family background, the influence of classic commercial comics on his art, his interactions with punk music and lowrider culture, the context of the direct market, and the evolution of Jaime’s art and storytelling.
As I’ve said before, I’m not sure if fannish knowledge of commercial comics is essential for appreciating Jaime’s work (or Gilbert’s work) but it certainly helps in terms of analyzing it, especially in visual terms. Hignite is very good on Jaime’s debt to artists like Lucey, Ditko, and Moebius. To pick one example of many, here’s what Hignite says about Jaime’s first Locas story, “Mechan-X”: “the Moebius-like hatching in the clouds throughout ‘Mechan-X’.” That’s very nicely observed. It’s impossible to see the clouds in this story and not think of Moebius (who also inflects the hovering scooter Maggie rides on as well as the bird’s eye view perspective in some of the panels). This sort of attention to Jaime’s visual ancestors isn’t just an example of source-hunting, it also informs us of Jaime’s larger project, which is to use as raw material the vernacular culture that surrounded him as a young man (not just comics but also wrestling, television, lowrider culture and punk music) and by some mysterious alchemy mix and blend these elements in order to create something wholly new: comics that show us a world we could have hardly guess existed. It’s almost impossible, I suspect, for a critic to do justice to Jaime’s work. Hignite comes as close as anyone has, and for that he deserves to be singled out for praise.