I keep hearing about Love and Rockets, Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez's seminal and megalithic comic series. Begun in the late 80s, it's a franchise that is still going strong today, despite a brief hiatus in the 90s. There are now numerous collections of the work, in various formats and chronologies. So if you're just getting started now, where do you start?
Well, I'm by no means the first person to ask this question. There are numerous beginner's guides to jumping into Love and Rockets. Here are a handful:
How to Read Love and Rockets Fantagraphics, the series' publisher, features a Love and Rockets guide.
The AV Club The Onion's AV Club also offers a guide.
Comic Book Resources This site offers a rebuttal to the AV Club's take.
Omnivoracious at Amazon Omnivoracious does a good job of compiling the guides and offering some counterpoint.
Time's Techland Even Time is in on the action.
And there are more.
Now I'm all of a mind that when you start something it's always a good idea to do so from the beginning. But here's the thing: there is no beginning anymore.
Originally, each issue of Love and Rockets contained stories by both brothers, run in tandem. There are, at this point, several different new compilations of the Hernandez brothers' works, but nowhere in print are the actual issues collected as they were originally released, with stories by both brothers appearing side by side.
There was a time when issues of Love and Rockets were reprinted in compilation books that would contain a block of stories as they originally appeared in comic form (at least I think that's what they were). These books, simply referred to as Love and Rockets Book 1 through 15, appear to be mostly out of print. Maybe they all are. Volume 1, at least, is only available used or for higher than normal prices. It seems to me that getting a complete set of these compilations would be difficult, and that this is not how Fantagraphics thinks you should go about surveying this body of work.
Instead, what Fantagraphics has done with their latest compilations is to organize them around the major storylines of each of the brothers. So there is a series of books that focuses solely Jaime's work, and a series of books that compiles Gilbert's stories. There are also other collections, including coffee table books that contain seminal, if not complete, stories and story arcs for each of the brothers.
Finally, there are no fewer than two box sets. Yes, two! One contains the complete works of Jaime Hernandez's Locas Stories, considered by many the most accessible storyline of the oeuvre, though some of these stories fall outside of the Love and Rockets book as originally published. The other set contains all of the Love and Rockets stories by both brothers, plus some additional, non-Love and Rockets material. The difference is that the first set, called Love and Rockets Library: The Locas Collection, only features work by Jaime; it contains all of the Locas Stories, though, even ones that didn't originally appear in Love and Rockets. The other set, Love and Rockets Library: The Complete Vol. 1, contains everything that appeared in the first incarnation of Love and Rockets, by both brothers, though some storylines, particularly the Locas Stories that were not originally in Love and Rockets, are absent.
Mind you, all this only deals with the original Love and Rockets series. The Hernandez brothers have also recently begun Love and Rockets: New Stories. Also, there were numerous spinoffs as the brothers went off on their own, creating works outside of, though surely related to, the Love and Rockets canon.
Yeah, it's a mess.
Personally, while I'm tempted to try and get the original compilations, I think it's just going to be too much of a pain. Instead, I think I'll start off with Love and Rockets Library: The Complete Vol. 1. It offers the most complete overview of Love and Rockets, featuring work from both brothers as well as the most popular and accessible of the stories. I think such an overview also offers me the best chance at liking Love and Rockets. And if I do like it, I can always go back and fill in the missing bits later.
It's an expensive proposition, to be sure. I hope it works out better than it did with The Sandman compilation that I splurged on but have yet to find enjoyable. But I guess there's only one way to find out.
I think if you just want to get a sampling of work and don't intend to collect everything, the coffee table books might also be a good starting point. As with the box sets, there are ones devoted to each of the brothers work and storylines. Or if you really just want a sample, Book 2 of The Locas Stories compilations is supposed to be where the series really starts to hit its stride. The articles mentioned above also offer some fine suggestions if you're only interested in dipping a toe in.
I'm excited to read the comics. I think I'll like them a lot. If nothing else, the artwork is simply superb.