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Sunday, 22 August 2010

Maggie the Mechanic. A Love and Rockets book

written and drawn by Jaime Hernandez

What’s It About?
The thing about siblings is you love them but at the same time you need space from them. When Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez decided to start a comicbook together they neatly solved this problem by taking half the book each. In his half Gilbert created the village of Palomar (reviewed here) and in his half Jaime created Las Locas.

The Locas are a largely female, largely Mexican-American cast living around the early-80s LA punk scene. Jaime Hernandez tried to inject some reality into communities and peoples he had too often seen portrayed in the media only through stereotype and cliché: the punk scene, homosexual relationships, bisexuality and his own Mexican-American background. Added to this realism was a touch of science-fiction and so Maggie the Mechanic, Mexican-American bisexual punkette, also ends up travelling the world fixing up spaceships and armies of robots, riding a hover-scooter and teaming up with professional wrestler/revolutionary agitator Rena Titanon between adventures at home with a large, varied and endearing cast of friends.

Now Fantagraphics are publishing a series of collections bringing together the complete canon of Las Locas stories in strict chronological order of publication, starting with Maggie The Mechanic.

What’s Good About It?
For ten pounds Maggie The Mechanic includes the two full-length graphic novels Mechanics and Las Mujeres Perdidas as well as twenty-four other short stories representing the first five years of the Locas stories. Within these stories there is a huge amount of variety as Hernandez explores a world that is both very much rooted in reality while containing many fantastic and sci-fi elements. Some stories are about the purely mundane reality of being young and skint: househunting; scrapping together enough cash for a little luxury once in a while; garage bands; crowded gigs; and friends who don’t all get on. On the other hand we have stories about a female professional wrestler who starts revolutions; a multi-millionaire with horns and his girlfriend who wants him to make her into a superhero; or fixing up a crashed spaceship in a dinosaur-infested jungle.

The relationship between Maggie and Hopey is interesting in that neither of them yet seem sure what it actually is. Across the Locas stories (in this book and in later volumes) their relationship changes as they work out what their needs and desires are and what level of commitment they are willing to get into. Their relationship here in the first book is hardly exclusive and a large part of their emotional development is how Hopey reacts to Maggie’s other relationships and crushes. Its interesting because it falls outside the usual stages fictional relationships tend to occupy, a straight through line from attraction to dating to permanent commitment. Its more ambiguous than that and more real for it because part of being young is not knowing what you want just as much as not having the money for anything you want.

As well as relationship drama and surreal science-fiction trappings there’s also a strong political side to some of the stories. Of course, since these stories were published in the 1980s and in the US some of it isn’t as relevant here and now as it was there and then but some issues such as corporations practically owning developing nations still have resonance today.

Across the five years worth of material collection here Jaime Hernandez creates and develops a large cast of characters. As much as I’ve concentrated on extolling the virtues of Maggie and Hopey, Hernandez’s principal and best-realized characters, the writer spends a great deal of time developing the backstory and character of his other creations: wannabe superhero Penny Century, goth and mystic Izzy, horned billionaire HR Costigan and former women’s world wrestling champion Rena Titanon. Each new story brings new layers to these characters and explains a little of who they are and why they relate to each other the way they do. This is certainly a series for those who enjoy reading well-crafted, multi-layered characters.

What’s Bad About it?
As with any short story collection there will be some entries that work better than others. How To Kill A is visually interesting but I have absolutely no clue what the bloody hell is meant to be going on in it. Some explanation comes later in the book when the background of the character Izzy is revealed but even then I feel I’m missing the point. As it is only the second Locas story I think it might be an angle Jaime Hernandez abandoned when he had more of an idea what he wanted to achieve, included here only out of completeness. Similarly, superhero pastiche Maggie Vs. Maniakk is full of in-jokes about superhero comics that will probably fall flat if you aren’t already a fan of that genre.

There are also references to recreational drug use with little if any emphasis given to negative experiences or side-effects.

What’s the Art Like?Being the low budget production that Love and Rockets was ,every single thing you see set down on the page in this book: writing, art and lettering, was the work of Jaime Hernandez. As a consequence the art is black and white and professionally simple.

Here we have an example of how varied the characters in Las Locas can be. This surreal collection of individuals are all together at a party being held by Penny Century’s rich beau HR Costigan. Yet against this bizarre background we have Maggie and Hopey arguing: the surreal and the everyday standing side by side. It’s that very incongruity that gives the Locas stories their charm.
Now to move on to the purely mundane side of Locas with this domestic scene: normal human figures, normal expressions, nothing out of the ordinary. What we have to draw our eye here are backgrounds crammed with detail and two women drawn with poses and expressions that accurately convey their emotions. Locas is essentially a very emotional story about the relationships between its characters and so you can imagine how important it is for Hernandez to show exactly what his characters are feeling at any given time.
Implied movement is a big thing in Hernandez’s work. Look here at the man trying to thumb a lift. In the forth and fifth panels the house behind him stretches from one panel to the next and as the eye moves across the page we have the implied movement of the man walking between the panels. On a smaller scale, the man is standing in much the same pose in the fifth and sixth panels against the same background but there’s a dust cloud and he’s facing in the opposite direction: implied movement to suggest a car has passed him. It’s a technique not unlike a flip book where you flick the pages to make the little stick man appear to be walking. Its an effective way of filling in the “gaps” between the snapshots the panels represent.

Other Information
Maggie the Mechanic (ISBN 1-84576-520-6) retails for £9.99 and is available from Amazon here. As previously noted in our Heartbreak Soup review if you end up following the Locas stories through subsequent Love And Rockets anthologies do check the creator’s credit is Jaime Hernandez rather than his brother Gilbert before you order.

Editor's note - this review was crossposted at Prism Comics.  Prism Comics is a website dedicated to bringing news and review of LGBT comics.  Check them out.


  1. I'm new to Los Bros. Hdz., but I just read Love and Rockets vol. 1 and 2. It reminded me a number of things from Gaiman, 90s and 00s Moore and from Cooke. They feel like a reinterpretation of the silver age, only from a more casual and human perspective. Like The New Frontier meets Ghost World.

    Are those volumes all there is about Angel and the Ti-girls?

    It's going to be a while until I can get more volumes.

    Have you read The Tale of One Bad Rat??

  2. I made a full review about it:

    It's the "New Stories" vol 1 and 2. I didn't know that.

  3. Hi Rafa. I have asked the reveiwer of this book, james, to get back to you regarding your comments.

    Btw, you have a great Elongated Man blog!

    - Saranga
    (not logged into comment because my work pcs are dodgy)

  4. Hi, Rafa

    Okay, as far as I'm aware Angel and the Ti-Girls were new charaters created for the New Stories but I could be wrong, I've not yet read some of the later vbooks of Volume 1.

    And thanks for recommending One Bad Rat, I'll be sure to check it out.