“The Death of Speedy Ortiz” by Jaime Hernandez

In honor of Valentine’s Day, I thought it would be fun to look back on a work that happens to have “love” right there in the title: Love and Rockets. Specifically, I’m revisiting “The Death of Speedy Ortiz” storyline by Jaime Hernandez, an article originally published on the Pronto site over a decade ago, with a few minor edits and additions, along with some present-day perspective afterward.

Love Sans Rockets

Once upon a time there were three brothers named Hernandez who wanted to publish a comic book. And they did. It was called Love and Rockets.

Originally self-published and distributed by the three brothers in 1981, it caught the eye of Gary Groth, head of Fantagraphics and publisher of The Comics Journal. Groth was so taken by the work, he struck a deal with the brothers (“Los Bros,” as they later came to be known) to publish their magazine. Ever since, from 1982 to the present, Fantagraphics has been the publisher of Love and Rockets.

If you only came to know the strip in its later years, you might be surprised to see it in its original form in those first few issues. There was sci-fi. There was horror. There was also a brother named Mario who contributed to the magazine. All of these things disappeared (some more quickly; some more slowly) until we were basically left with two separate strips by two of the brothers: The Palomar stories by Gilbert Hernandez and the Locas stories by Jaime Hernandez. For anyone arriving late to the party, these two strips would likely be all they know of Love and Rockets.

Illustratively, Gilbert and Jaime’s styles are similar yet distinct. There seems to be a lot of Alex Toth and Milt Caniff in both, but Gilbert seems to have just a touch of Kurtzman in his style while Jaime’s got more of classic Archie in his. (Some identify the Archie influence as Dan DeCarlo, specifically; I see a lot more Harry Lucey, myself.) Early on, Jaime liked to indulge in excessive feathering, hatching, and cross-hatching. Before long though, he took on his brother’s slicker style of more straight-up black & white.

From a literary standpoint, Gabriel García Márquez and Anton Chekhov are the names that seem to pop up as influences for both of them as writers. The most obvious reason for this is that both Palomar and Locas have extremely large casts of characters. The cast of Locas is a tad less sprawling than that of Palomar, plus it’s set in the present-day U.S., which is why it possesses a slightly broader appeal, at least here in the States. Palomar was set in a fictional village of the same name in South America, seemingly set in the early 1970s at its start. The storyline would eventually catch up to the present and move to the U. S., but this would take many years of real time.

While all of the primary Locas characters (Maggie, Hopey, Izzy, Penny) are there in the very first issue of Love and Rockets, they’re still a work in progress. In “Mechan-X,” Maggie is hired to work with the “pro-solar mechanic” Rand Race, rides to work on a “hover cycle,” and is attacked by robots. She also has blonde hair.

Gilbert’s signature character of Luba does sort of appear in the first-issue story “BEM,” but even though she’s similarly drawn and has the same name, it’s really not the same character we would meet later in issue #3. That issue (dated Summer 1983) featured the first chapter of “Sopa de Gran Pena” (“Heartbreak Soup”) and introduced us to the Luba character we all know today, along with nearly two dozen other characters that will serve as the foundation of the Palomar stories going forward. The strip arrived more fully formed, with the characters, their backgrounds, and the overall tone of the series pretty much set from the very first page.

Locas, on the other hand, started out featuring everything from the aforementioned pro-solar mechanics and hover cycles, to robots to dinosaurs to super heroes to professional wrestlers. It’s like Jaime took everything he loved and/or was influenced by—including sci-fi, punk rock, pro wrestling (both North American and Lucha styles) and, of course, every genre of comics—put ’em all in a jar, shook it up, and just spilled the contents all over the pages. Personally, I find it to be a glorious polyglot mess. It probably helps that I’m a huge fan of comics, punk rock and wrestling, but it’s probably not for everyone. Even if you’re a fan of the mature and fully-evolved Locas strip, that’s no guarantee you’ll like this early, more formative stuff.

Artistically, Gilbert’s Palomar might be the better strip overall, but the single best Love and Rockets arc ever, in my opinion, is Jaime’s “The Death of Speedy Ortiz.” For anyone looking to sample Locas (or Love and Rockets in general) for the first time, I would suggest starting here.

Now this suggestion might sound strange to other hardcore fans, because the bulk of Locas is about the relationship between Maggie and Hopey, and the two characters are separated for the length of this arc (and beyond). I still stand by my suggestion because, first, it’s Jaime’s best work, and second, it sets the tone of Locas for the next quarter century of its publication. And even though the two characters are separated, we still get several flashbacks where we see Maggie and Hopey together. In fact, these are fairly important flashbacks, revealing much of the characters’ backstory, including when and how their friendship became sexual.

“The Death of Speedy Ortiz” (and its aftermath, “In the Valley of the Polar Bears”) were worked on by Jaime from 1986–1987, and released sporadically from 1987 to 1988 in Love and Rockets #20–27 (Apr. 1987-Aug. 1988). The story begins just as Hopey has run off on an impromptu tour with her band, leaving Maggie behind in Hoppers, the Los Angeles barrio where they reside. Maggie is very upset by this—more upset than one would expect a mere friend to be.

In their very first panel together, Maggie and Hopey were shown sharing a bed. This didn’t mean they were having sex, necessarily, but it was something that had been hinted at, danced around, and joked about by the supporting characters for quite a while. But at the same time, we also saw Maggie pining over Rand Race and crushing on Speedy like mad. There was even one panel where Hopey was shown in bed with a guy. The truth was hardly clear.

Finally, just before this “Speedy” storyline got started, it was revealed that the two had indeed slept together—a fact that was still slightly shocking to the comics audience in 1986. Still, it wasn’t certain what this might mean. Were they just messing around with each other for fun, between boyfriends, or could there have been something deeper between them?

Maggie’s reaction to her abandonment seems to suggest the deeper attachment. As fate would have it, just as she’s dealing with the loss of Hopey, Speedy Ortiz finally starts showing an interest in her. The timing could not be worse, of course. She angrily rebuffs his advances, which leaves the door open for him to hook up with her younger sister, Esther, who happens to be visiting from Dairytown. Hoppers and Dairytown are the home bases of two rival gangs. You don’t have to be a fortuneteller to see where this is headed.

In the midst of all this, Ray Dominguez has just returned to Hoppers. Ray was a couple years ahead of Maggie in high school and was one of her earliest crushes, though he barely noticed her at the time. He certainly notices her upon his return after a few years back east, however. This sets up a classic triangle where Maggie is torn between the good boy, Ray, and the bad boy, Speedy.

This may sound like a soap opera, and it is in many ways, but Jaime makes all the characters feel so very real and recognizable that the emotions, the motivations, the behaviors all ring true. It’s not the cheap drama that most soap operas offer; it’s the true emotional release that great literature offers.

While the other guys in Hoppers still seem trapped in high school, Ray is able to bring a fresh perspective: “Hoppers hasn’t changed a bit since I was gone,” he observes. “These guys would kill their best friend over a girl . . . or drugs. Whichever is more important to them.” Anyone who grew up in or around an urban area during this era (the time of the original crack epidemic) will recognize the real-world atmosphere that is evoked here all too well.

Ray has clearly reached the point where he’s starting to put things together. He’s grown past mindless, adolescent skirt chasing and appears to have never had a taste for violence to begin with. Conversely, Speedy is completely immature, only interested in getting laid, getting high, and getting into fights. We all know Ray is the guy Maggie should choose; just as surely as we know Speedy is the guy she inevitably will choose.

Maggie is a bundle of insecurities. She’s a beautiful girl who doesn’t realize how beautiful she is—a condition exacerbated by both Hopey’s leaving and the fact that she’s put on some weight recently. By the story’s end, Speedy’s pushed her past her breaking point. She explodes at first, then quickly surrenders to her every doubt and fear. When the explosion happens, Jaime gives Maggie a demon face and makes steam shoot out of her head. This cartooning should break the tension but somehow it does not. Like so many other flourishes we get treated to over the course of this story, it’s the perfect melding of both literary and cartooning tropes. It’s also quite cinematic at times.

The jump cuts between the flashbacks and the present can be dizzying. Then there are the one-panel interstitials like Izzy noticing some Dairytown grafitti and ominously remarking, “Time to put up the bullet proof window screens.” Some of these one-panels function as a modern Greek chorus—one has a pair of dogs commenting on the action; another features a random woman watering her flowers. Early on we have old man Chucho, a Shakespearean figure who prophesizes Maggie’s fate like the witches at the beginning of Macbeth.

What we’re seeing here is a comics master at the height of his powers. It’s Jaime Hernandez at his best and it’s a wondrous thing to behold.

You can find the whole storyline in Love & Rockets Volume 7: The Death of Speedy, which is out of print but still available relatively cheap on eBay or used-book sites; or you can take the plunge and buy the 700-page Locas hardcover. Whichever route you choose, I’m confident you will not be disappointed.

Originally published on August 19, 2013

Back to Now

Welp, there are other options for finding this story nowadays. Best place to start looking is the Fantagraphics site or, for a broader overview of the whole Love and Rockets series, check their blog here.

When originally posted over a decade ago, I neglected to get too deep into the publishing history of Love and Rockets, which was a mistake on my part, as it gets complicated and some background would likely be useful for new readers and potential collectors. As I touched on in 2013, the comic started out as a magazine-sized one-shot that the brothers paid to be printed. They began distributing the magazine themselves (selling most of them at comic conventions for a buck) in 1981. They sent a copy to The Comics Journal for review and editor/publisher Gary Groth loved it, offering to publish and distribute the magazine for them. Los Bros agreed and Fantagraphics reissued Love and Rockets #1 in 1982 with a new color cover. They would go on to publish the title through issue #50 in 1996.

At this point, Los Bros split into different projects in more traditional trim-sized comics. Jaime gave us Whoa, Nellie! (1996), Penny Century (1997–2000), and the Maggie and Hopey Color Special (Apr. 1997) one shot. Gilbert did New Love 1–6 (1996–1997) and Luba (1998–2004). By this point, Gilbert’s Luba stories had come to include (and often emphasize) Luba’s extended family in the U.S., particularly her half-sisters, Petra and Fritz. Gilbert also worked on an all-ages comic called Measles from 1998 to 2001, which featured Petra’s daughter Venus.

Los Bros then reunited for a new iteration of Love and Rockets in the comic trim size that lasted from issues 1–20 (2001–2007). This comic featured both Jaime’s Maggie and Hopey characters along with Gilbert’s Luba-related characters. Then the brothers shifted to a paperback format with Love and Rockets New Stories 1–8 (2008–2016), published about once a year. (This was the series format at the time of my original, 2013 post.) Finally, Los Bros returned once more to the magazine format with Love and Rockets #1 in 2016 and have continued in this form until the present day, with the latest issue being #14 (Nov. 2023).

Gilbert also did other work related to Love and Rockets. He did a series of original graphic novels that featured Fritz’s work as an actress in B movies, including Chance in Hell (2007), The Troublemakers (2009), and Love from the Shadows (2011). Then there was Maria M. Vol. 1 (2013), in which Fritz played her (and Luba’s) mother in a biopic. (In 2019, Fantagraphics released Maria M., which contained the concluding volume together with volume 1.) In 2020, Psychodrama Illustrated was published, a four-issue series that once again focused on Fritz and her film career.

Nearly all the work of Los Bros has been packaged together in various trade reprint forms. Check those Fantagraphics links I provided a couple paragraphs up to consider your options if you’re interested in making any purchases.

In August 2022, “Love and Rockets: The Great American Comic Book!” served as the premiere episode of the thirteenth season of PBS’s Artbound series. It can be viewed here. Also available on YouTube here.

Love and Rockets Today

The most recent issue of L&R, the aforementioned Love and Rockets #14 (Nov. 2023), was published just a few months back and featured a rather monumental event. For anyone wishing to avoid spoilers, scroll no further.




















After thirty-six years of running around in circles, Maggie and Ray D. finally got hitched. Hopey and her partner, Sadaf, stood as witnesses. Maggie even took his name—she is now Perla “Maggie” Dominguez.

All these years later, they’re finally together for good (fingers crossed).

The Great American Comic Book

That episode of Artbound was well titled. Love and Rockets is a mix of so many different things, it’s a melting pot just like America itself.  How does this mixture of punk rock, pro wrestling, kiddie/humor comics, human sexuality, romance, and Latino culture combine to produce anything remotely coherent? Yet it does, and it is more than merely coherent, it is a work of genius. It is the most punk rock (particularly in spirit) of any comic ever published. In fact, it’s more punk than most so-called punk rock music.

And it’s literary. Perhaps the greatest work(s) of literature to be published in the comic book form; a great work of literature in any form. And its serial narrative has run in real time for forty years now. How many other comics have successfully pulled this off for any significant length of time? Only Gasoline Alley comes to my own mind—can anyone suggest any other comic strip that I may have forgotten? Or any other serial media (besides television soap operas)?

It’s quite an impressive work on every level—and I’ve only covered one brother! One of these days I’ve got to get around to Gilbert’s “Heartbreak Soup.” Consider it placed on the to-do list. But for now, belated congrats to Maggie and Ray and Happy Valentine’s Day to all.

One thought on ““The Death of Speedy Ortiz” by Jaime Hernandez”

  1. I got into Love & Rockets in the late ’90s and got all the collections available in the early ’00s but haven’t kept up with more recent releases. Great series, love both Jaime’s & Gil’s works, both excellent, distinct storytellers and artists.

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