'Queen of the Ring' Offers Unfettered Access to Jaime Hernandez
We crack into the new Fantagraphics collection and marvel at the cartooning sorcery found within.
When you spend years reading a particular cartoonist, you become locked in a relationship. This romance feels real, even though you've never met your partner. You've dipped into their head, and they've infected yours. Through Love and Rockets, Jaime Hernandez and his brother Gilbert have scrambled many noggins, and we've taken ownership of their stories. We think we know them. We think we know what's going on in their brains. And then Jaime drops a book like Queen of the Ring: Wrestling Drawings from Jaime Hernandez 1980 - 2020 in our laps. And we realize that what we know about Jaime was still somewhat guarded.
Queen of the Ring kicks the door off the hinges. Behind it is unfettered access to a passionate obsession. We all knew Jaime Hernandez appreciated and adored female wrestling, but we now understand how the sport and the celebrity around it run through everything he does. The new Fantagraphics collection swims in kink, and it's hard not to recoil at such honest intimacy. Jaime is putting it all out there, for the first time really, allowing us to consider how these women shaped him as an artist and as a person.
Edited by fellow cartoonist Katie Skelly, Queen of the Ring ties its portraits together using an interview with Jaime conducted in December 2020. He explains his early flirtations with illustration and how his thirteen-year-old self reached deep inside his infatuations to uncover subjects to fashion. Whatever excited him found itself on the page, and naturally, these champions started to appear. And reappear, and reappear.
Since 1980, Jaime Hernandez has scrawled these titans into notebooks, on scraps of paper, and they've popped up in his comics. He can't shake them, nor did he ever try. He cherishes them, and it shows in every line, in every composition. The care found in their expressions is love, and it's hard not to absorb his devotion to them.
I know nothing about wrestling. The women in these pages could be real, or they could be fictional. I have no clue. Wading into Queen of the Ring, I was dubious that the artbook would offer me anything substantial to enjoy. Jaime Hernandez is a genius, but the book seemed like a quick flip that would match my already well-worn appreciation for his art. What insight could it unleash?
Queen of the Ring seems like the purest expression of Jaime Hernandez that we've gotten so far. It's an unapologetic celebration to those wrestlers who inspired him in every way. He discusses the mystery that exudes from them and how it formed his fascination with contrast. These wrestlers were enormous figures in his imagination, but they were also people who, when not in the ring or on a stage, had to accomplish normal human B.S. like the rest of us. The stories he pulled from their grandiose poses informed everything we love about Love and Rockets. His Maggie is very much in this book even though she's not in this book.
What also seems incredibly clear is that he never meant for us to see most of these drawings. These are his thoughts, closely protected, surprisingly freed for consumption. Twenty years ago, or five years ago, Jaime Hernandez was not in a headspace to share, but the cartoonist he is today is not that cartoonist. The barrier has fallen. He's proud of these women and the room they've occupied in his head. He wants us to love them the way he does.
Quickie Review: Queen of the Ring is a private tour through Jaime Hernandez's imagination. As you start your read, you may feel like you don't belong, but by the end, you'll have inched a little closer to his obsession. The collection will enhance your devotion to the Hernandez comics that came before and those that come after. 9/10
Queen of the Ring: Wrestling Drawings by Jaime Hernandez 1980-2020
Artist: Jaime Hernandez
Editor: Katie Skelly
Book Design: Jacob Covey
Scanning: Christina Hwang
On Sale: 8/3/21
Synopsis: For the past 40 years, acclaimed graphic novelist Jaime Hernandez has been creating a Love and Rockets-adjacent world — set in the heyday of 1960s and '70s women's wrestling and lucha libre! — with an entirely separate cast of characters who have aged and evolved: the beautiful and brutal Bettie Rey, the I.F.W. Pacific Women's Champion — a.k.a. Golden Girl — as well as former champions Pantera Negra, Miss Kitty Perez, and many more.
As Hernandez puts it, "It's my Love and Rockets world that's not my Love and Rockets world." This best-of book spotlights the women who are often ignored in pro wrestling in 125 full color illustrations: pin-ups, action shots, fake wrestling magazine covers, all presented in a deluxe paperback that echoes the lucha libre magazines of the 1960s. Hernandez also discusses the work in an interview with fellow cartoonist Katie Skelly.
Despite having created one of the most expansive and remarkable casts of characters of any cartoonist who ever lived (under the umbrella of the ongoing L&R comic book series), acclaimed graphic novelist Jaime Hernandez — Will Eisner Hall of Famer; Eisner, Harvey, Ignatz, and PEN Award winner; L.A. Times Book Prize winner; and on a very short list of contenders for the title of America's Greatest Living Cartoonist — has been privately amassing a body of work that no one else has ever seen for over 40 years. Until now.