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Good and Bad News

Can This Really Be the End?: The Hernandezes contemplate the future.

Cartoonist tax may be voided; Hernandezes end 'Love and Rockets'

By Richard von Busack

The good news and the bad news. The good news is that Johan Klehs, the chairman of the California State Board of Equalization, is ready to recommend the elimination of the new requirement that cartoonists collect sales tax on the sale of their work to publishers. At least, so he says in a recent letter to the editor to the Sacramento Bee.

This decision is probably due to the case of Paul Mavrides, the San Francisco underground cartoonist who has been fighting the board ever since he was slapped with what he felt was an unwarranted tax.

The state taxmen wanted Mavrides to collect a sales tax on the sale of his cartoons (he's best known for his collaboration with Gilbert Shelton on The Fabulous Furry Break Brothers) as if they were pieces of commercial art. Unlike authors who use words--and do not have to collect a sales tax when their manuscripts are delivered to publishers--Mavrides was somehow not worthy of artistic protection, because pictures are (here's the secret word, readers) "incidental" to the writing, as opposed to, say, heavily illustrated matter like children's books, which are just plain books. Confused? You should be. Even Klehs says that the current ruling "lacks common sense."

Mavrides has led a two-year fight against the tax on the grounds that it would tend to be very hazardous to what is already a marginal business that is not in very good financial shape anyway, thanks to the increase in newsprint prices, a business slump and the incipient monopoly of the comics distribution companies owned by the biggest publishers.

A hearing on the matter is scheduled in the next few weeks, and there's cause for optimism, but you never know with these taxmen until it's all over. In the meantime, Mavrides has been wrung financially by his battle, and financial donations to the artist are solicited in care of Last Gasp Publishing, 777 Florida St., San Francisco, 94110. (Don't worry, you'll get it all back with interest 10 years from now with the profits from virgin issues of Robin #1 with the holographic cover.)

Bad news now. Love and Rockets has just published its next-to-last issue. Los Brothers Hernandez--Jaime and Gilbert--are bringing to a close more than 10 years of an internationally beloved comic. Issue #49 ($2.95; Fantagraphics) packs an unusual emotional wallop. What I had eyes for in issue #49 were not those gorgeous, enigmatic, wisecracking locas of Jaime's but instead the half of the issue created by Gilberto, a.k.a. "Beto."

Beto seems to be suffering from the same collective shudder that other people in their mid-30s are getting. Whether it's from having kids, from midlife crisis, from finally settling down, or from being so wrapped up in work that the distractions of life fail to distract anymore--whatever it is, as it is to a lot of my friends, it is bringing childhood memories home in full force.

Beto's stories (collectively titled "My Love Book") begin, like some of David Ware's work in his Acme Novelty Library, with the basic gap between the ever-popular superhero fantasy and the reality of being a slapped-around little kid. The ever-changing child character in "My Love Book" faces different aspects of life with a furious parent.

in "Pig," he's called a pig so much that he grows a snout and a tail. (He prays to God, who tells him: "Well, she's right. You are a pig.") In "Bully," he takes a beating for wetting the bed and passes it on to a younger brother.

This kind of personal storytelling is very moving, and it can't be easy to write; but here's my theory why the shudders are hitting so many people I know right now. We've heard in this year an enormous quantity of unspeakable, vicious nonsense about the lack of moral values and discipline destroying America. Our problem, as explained by paternalist politicians, academics and theologians, is the same one that we had when we were 6. Our problem is not that we're at the mercy of raging authority--the problem is that we're pigs.

The closing down of Love and Rockets may well be a metamorphosis into a new form, as suggested in the issue's opening cartoon, in which the Hernandez brothers depict themselves as muscular can-do engineers out of Ayn Rand's wettest dream: "I wouldn't call it an end by any stretch of the word." "A grand new beginning is more like it!" "But will they see? Will they understand?" "They must! There's no turning back!"

For two such mighty men as Gilberto and Jaime Hernandez, a look backward can only be a moment's respite before leaping into the dazzling bright new future that awaits us all.

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From the Dec. 14-20, 1995 issue of Metro

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