Sunday, October 28, 2007

Locas: The Maggie and Hopey Stories

I’ve just finished reading Locas: The Maggie and Hopey Stories (Fantagraphics, 2004) by Jaime Hernandez. “Locas” was Jaime’s half of Love and Rockets, and with his brother Gilbert’s Palomar stories in the other half, the two crafted one of the most discussed, debated, and dissected series in comics history. Many, many better reviewers than I have had their say about Locas, but after reading this massive 704-page tome, I have to put in my two bits as well.

I have been aware of Love and Rockets since its inception, and I remember trying one or two of the earliest issues, but it didn’t really grab me. Oh, the artwork was fantastic, pretty much from day one, but the lives and loves of mechanics working on wrecked spaceships for an eccentric billionaire were apparently not of interest at the time. Several years passed, and before trade paperbacks started to catch on in a big way, Fantagraphics was keeping the single issues of Love and Rockets in print, and perpetually available. L&R was a few months away from ending its initial run at about the same time I eventually picked up most of the series for cheap at a big sale at my local comic shop, and wound up with just over two-thirds of the entire series in one swoop.

I took ‘em home with me, and put them away for a while. It wasn’t until one sickday afternoon that I pulled them out and read them all in one achy, hallucinatory sitting. Between my fever, the missing issues, and trying to read both “Palomar” and “Locas” concurrently, well, I can’t think of a much worse Love & Rockets reading experience. By that evening, my head was pounding. Between the missing issues and illness, both stories largely seemed incomprehensible,but I recognized the quality and resolved to revisit both stories again.

Well, with Locas: The Maggie and Hopey Stories, I’ve now completed half of that goal, and the picture is a lot clearer. Locas starts out as the sci-fi and superhero tinted adventures of Maggie the mechanic, but soon evolves into a sort of love story, centered around Maggie Chascarrillo and Hopey Glass. The two are best friends (with benefits) who share a freewheeling punk rock lifestyle with a colorful cast of boyfriends, girlfriends, relatives, and wrestlers. From my memories, I had pretty much expected them to be together throughout, but at about 1/3 of the way through, the two part company when Hopey goes on an extended concert tour with her band.

Though I am fairly familiar with Latino culture through friends and their relatives, and I like some punk music, I think its fair to say that I, a middle-aged white boy, couldn’t be less like these characters, which makes Hernandez’ storytelling that much more impressive. He makes me like and care about people very, very different from myself by simply making them multifaceted and human. Each character really does come off as a complete, real person with a life and history of their own.

After they part ways, Maggie drifts off on her own, reverting to her real name, Perla (Maggie was a nickname) and making some…interesting lifestyle changes in a tiny burg called Chester Square. My first fevered read of this missed this fact entirely, so much confusion cleared when I realized that Maggie and Perla were the same person. Compounding the confusion was the fact that Maggie gains weight and changes hairstyles and hair color throughout the story. You know, kind of like a real person. In fact, part of the artistic brilliance in Locas is in the way everyone changes, ages, and evolves.

Beyond Maggie and Hopey, there is a small army of a supporting cast, populating a slightly off-kilter world. The horned billionaire, his superhero wife, Maggie's wrestler Aunt Vicki and her rival, Rena, Ray, Speedy, Danita, and many, many others all get a life and voice of their own. Dozens of women populate this book, most related to each other and most Latina, so it’s a tribute to Hernandez masterful draftsmanship that they are distinguishable from each other. I still occasionally had trouble remembering who was who, and had to refer to previous pages, but this was largely mitigated by having the whole story in front of me. Most comic artists know how to draw maybe one or two female faces, so this massive cast would have been a bewildering disaster under less skilled hands.

As Locas’ third act brings Maggie and Hopey closer and closer to a reunion, the distance makes them realize how much they need each other. The two keep just barely missing each other before a satisfying and entirely appropriate conclusion. The complete “Locas” makes for a complex, rich and textured graphic novel that stands up next to the best. A truly great work, and one that I’m glad I gave a third chance.


Jack Norris said...

"Between my fever, the missing issues, and trying to read both “Palomar” and “Locas” concurrently, well, I can’t think of a much worse Love & Rockets reading experience."

And I can't think of a more ideal one. Oh well, to each his own.
What did you think of the Gilbert stuff? When I first encountered L&R, I kind of bounced off it a bit and tended to prefer Jaime, but Gilbert's style and characters grew on me more and more over the years until I finally came to slightly prefer him.

Brian Hughes said...

Frankly, I'm going to have to re-read Palomar to answer that. I was similarly impressed with Gilbert's work when I read L&R when sick etc.

Joel Bryan said...

Excellent review of one of my favorite books! Wow, it's huge too.

Swinebread said...

Las Locas are Great!

Anonymous said...

I love 'em both, but I must admit that (over time) Gilbert became my fave too.


Kathie said...

sorry parroting Joel Bryan above. Excellent review!