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.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Jigsaw Puzzled (Part 1)

Collecting comics can be a real pain in the ass. They're bulky, heavy by the hundreds, and they have to be sorted and filed eventually, which is a logistical nightmare. A situation that is not fucking helped when publishers do shit like plaster “Big Hero Adventures” across the top of their actually-titled-per-the-indicia Jigsaw #1 comic book. All of which I mention only because my treasured copy of Jigsaw #1 long filed under “Big Hero” at some point has been found at long last, and mocking its awfulness is GO.

And good lord, is it awful.

The story begins with hero astronaut Gary Jason on an ill-defined mission to, I guess, look around? In space? Whatever he’s doing, he’s got him some telescopes, and they’re a-probin’. His mission is about to take a turn for the worse as he experiences “A Nightmare in Space”:

The raptures of space? That sounds either sexy or churchy, but it is neither; it just (literally) sucks. Somehow, despite his flight path leading past and beyond the cone, Col. Jason gets caught in the vortex and horribly maimed by whirling debris:

Damn. You know that’s comin’ out of his paycheck. Alls I know is you’ve got to be one piss-poor driver to wrap your ride around a tree in outer space. Meh, it’ll buff out.

Soon, Gary, debris, rocks, and a bear are drawn via vacuum power into the moon itself! It seems that goofy looking space robots have been screwing around with the Earth, picking up specimens. We’ll politely decline to mention that among the “specimens” are several big-screen TVs, a pimped out Caddy, mind-boggling amounts of porn, and tons of fine, fine Columbian blow.

I need to know what happened to that bear, by the way. We never see him again, but I like to think that if this series had been a hit, Jigsaw would have had an ursine crime-fighting companion in time. This book could have used any help it could get, especially Jigsaw Bear!

So the aliens decide they’d better put the shredded Earthman back together. It wasn’t enough to mutilate the poor guy, but our poor man’s Crow T. Robot has no qualms about digging around in his brain a bit, too:

Looks like our beaky metal chum is about to get even more of that porn he so desperately craves, doesn’t it?

Okay, now here’s the part that just pisses me off. So these robot/alien whatevers have created a hidden base on the moon, right? They’re sucking up trees, rocks, and who-knows-what other goodies from Earth, right? But, Oh! They’re friendly. Really, Goofus McCrapbot himself sez so!

At about this point, I’d be more “content” asking this freak some seriously pointed questions about who they are, why I was torn apart, what are these weirdoes up to, and, oh yeah, who is gonna be the first to get his shiny metal ass kicked?!?

But our bland, gullible astronaut, seems content to take Si-Krell at his word. National Securi-what now? Col. Jason then learns that the operation didn’t go completely as planned:

Yeah, you may want to hold off on the effusive thanks, dude. This is, after all, the alien freak who set up a base on your moon, destroyed your space capsule, mangled your body, then did a Tijuana patch job on ya.

I’m pretty sure he scrambled your brain, too:

I love this panel: I’m lucky to be alive… I guess…” No thanks to bedpan face, there!

“Hey, dude, I don’t know nothin’ about human phys…fizzy…body stuff? So you’re packed full of bungee cords instead, m’kay?”

A rattling bag of broken bits held together with rubber bands and duct tape, Col. Jason has become a Jigsaw Man. Si-Krell, the patronizing bucket of bolts sends him packing back to Earth, where moping and alienation is imminent:

Chapter one covered that old reliable standby of an origin story; “Earthman reassembled by aliens who don’t know human biology, so they put him back together wrong, but he gets powers instead of just being crippled for life which is probably what would actually happen.”

That happens a lot in comics.

What next? Well, I’ve got a lot more to say about chapters 2 and 3, so its only fitting that the jacked-up journey of Jigsaw should be “pieced together” over more than one article! Come back soon for part, er, piece two of the Jigsaw puzzle!

Beyond Humanity Lies...The Hypernaut!

I’ve already talked about 1963, the Alan Moore helmed, mid-90’s Image comics series and I wanted to share one of my favorite chapters, the mind-blowing, reality-bending “It Came From Inner Space!” from 1963 Book Three: Tales of the Uncanny. Tales of the Uncanny was basically a riff on Marvel’s classic Tales Of Suspense, with U.S.A. the Ultimate Secret Agent in the Captain America slot, and Hypernaut serving as the Iron Man stand-in. Hypernaut is a far weirder character though, and owes as much to Green Lantern and Legionnaire Wildfire, as you’re about to see. This story also represents the first and only(?) artistic pairing of Sturdy Steve Bissette (Swamp Thing, Tyrant) and charmin’ Chester Brown (Yummy Fur), an unusual but inspired choice. I like both artists separately, but I really liked this collaboration. I’ve always especially enjoyed this story for its surreal weirdness and playful subversion of dimensional physics. As with most of my reprints, this is long out of print, and as far as I know, there are no plans to reprint. And if they do reprint 1963, you should totally buy it anyway, as it is great, great stuff.

1963 is copyright Alan Moore, Rick Veitch and Stephen R. Bissette.
The Hypernaut, The Fury and N-Man are copyright and trademark Stephen R. Bissette.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Namor's Enormous Knockers

I can't imagine this horrifyingly hilarious Johnny Ryan strip making it to final publication in the upcoming 'Marvel Underground' title, so I snagged it up for Again With the Comics, just in case. Sub Mariner's breast implants aside, I love the expression on Doctor Strange's face up there. Like he's all "hardcore" an' shit. I'm going to give this anthology a try when it comes out, but Marvel's had a history of being kinda skittish about this sort of thing, so I'd be surprised to see this strip come out unaltered, or even at all.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Doiby Dickles Has a Wrench!

At first, Green Lantern (a.k.a. Alan Scott) found having a sidekick fun enough, in it's cornpone, vaudevillian way. For whatever reason -Alan certainly couldn’t remember- it had become fashionable among the Mystery Man set to adopt a dimwit or a retard to liven up the whole "nightly patrol" routine. Was it Diana who had started with that roly-poly little doughball of hers? The Flash was stuck with three of them, for God's sake, who had quickly become more trouble than they were worth. He was lucky, though with Doiby. Ridiculous to look at, with an equally ridiculous accent, Doiby was relatively harmless, and even enjoyable, in his dim-witted, tough-talking blue-collar way. He at least made a tolerable drinking companion.

Alan was quite sure that Noddy, of Jay’s Three Dimwits, was some sort of pervert or fruit.

Then Doiby started up with the wrench. At first Green lantern enjoyed the fat man’s zany antics, but the little man became increasingly violent and inventive in his assaults, and Green Lantern knew that even criminals had the right to not be brutalized

The heavy, leaden pipe fitter’s wrench came down again.

THWOK - schtk!

This time, it came back wet with fresh blood. A small triangular piece of a man’s scalp, holding exactly seven black hairs was now dangling obscenely from the lower jaw of the tool.

Hearing the noise, Green Lantern turned from the three tough con-men he’d been fighting. In horror, he shouts: “Doiby! For God’s sake, STOP man! Can’t you see he’s had enough?”

Doiby Dickles: “Chee, Lantrin’, I guess I just got carried away. When I saw they was swindlin’ them old folks outta their war bonds, well, I just sawr red, I guess I did!


...Say! Youse ain’t one o’ them bleedin' hearts, is ya?”

Green Lantern knew that something had to be done. The crook died as GL flew him to the hospital, and Doiby was to be arrested for murder. Green Lantern knew that the fat, silly little man would find many very angry men with lumps and grudges waiting for him in prison. Prison would be hell for Doiby, that is if he didn’t get the chair

Green Lantern: "Doiby, I called you here to congratulate you and welcome you to the ranks of the Green Lantern Society. We have a Green Lantern from Mars, Venus, Pluto, and all the rest of the planets. Now with you, Earth has two Green Lanterns! We're going to have a big induction ceremony and an honorary feast for you in our Green Lantern Palace on the Moon! That is, if you want the job...?"

Doiby: (Blubbering) Ch-chee...Chee, mistah Lantrin' I ain't got de woids fer this... Yeah, I'll do it! I'll be Doiby Dickles: Green Lantrin' fer ya, from now on, pal!

...Can I brings me wrench?"

Green Lantern: (Sadly) "Of course you can, Doiby, Of course you can."

It had been the greatest day of Doiby's meager life, that final day. First the Green Lantern and Doiby fought some crooks, just like old times. Lantrin' didn't even say nothin' when Doiby cracked that kraut a good one with ol' wrenchy. Then it was off to the Moon for Doiby’s induction into the Green Lantern Society as Earth Green Lantrin' #2. During the Emerald Express train ride to the Moon, Green Lantrin' was real quiet, but Doiby was so excited he hardly noticed. A towering emerald city awaited them, a city that surprisingly looked like Doiby’s beloved Brooklyn, in its strange, futuristic way. It felt like home: warm, inviting, and so, so green. The other Green Lanterns were clapping him on the back now, welcoming him. If it struck his dim brain that something was wrong he took no action, and then they entered the banquet hall, where a lavish feast was being held in his honor, and all suspicions evaporated in hunger. As he ate the finest foods, and celebrated a new life, his joy was only marred by the cold. It was suddenly, rapidly getting cold. So cold. Couldn't they notice?, he thought.

So cold..that, and the bright, bright green light…brighter...

So bright cant breathe


On the surface of the moon, Green Lantern buried his friend and comedy relief. The tombstone is still up there, and it reads:

Doiby Dickles
Insane Simpleton With A Wrench

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Best Wishes to Marie Severin

We're sending out our best wishes to Marie Severin, a staple of our Marvel-filled youth. A pioneering female cartoonist and a fantastic artist in her own right, Marie was a mainstay at EC and Marvel back when there were even fewer women in comics than there are now. She suffered a stroke last week, but is currently recovering in the hospital with the worst hopefully past. More details can be found here. Get well soon, Marie!

Hail Hembeck!

I was recently going through my magazines looking for my copies of Fantaco’s Hembeck series so that I could do the following piece, and was disappointed to find only two of the seven or so issues I used to have. That's why the upcoming publication of The Nearly Complete Essential Hembeck Archives Omnibus is welcome news indeed. I'm definitely on board, and you can consider these strips a preview of the Omnibus, as they should all be included in its 900-plus pages. All pages are from Hembeck:The Best of Dateline @!!?# (1980 Fantaco, 2nd printing)

Fellow comic bloggers, I'm gonna propose that Fred G Hembeck is the Founding Father of Whatever It Is We're Doing Here. Fred was basically blogging comics long before there were blogs or indeed, an Internet. I’ve been enjoying Fred’s work on Dateline:@#$% for over 27 years(!), and I think it’s fair to say that he was a trailblazing pioneer in the demanding field of mocking goofy old funnybook covers. Long before there was an Internet or a Grand Comic Database, Fred was goofing on Jimmy Olsen's Gorilla Wedding and Superman's Krypton Crawl, redrawing the covers in his own inimitable, squiggly-elbowed cartoon style:

Long before Fangirls Attacked, Fred decried the Shabby, cruel mistreatment of Lois Lane in Lois Lane #59. Fred always came off as a decent, thoughtful guy, and these strips occasionally showed his own take on many of the same issues bloggers talk about today:

Note his dead-on prophetic words in the last panel about degradation to women becoming a chic movement in fandom.

I've certainly enjoyed reintroducing my audience to obscure lame old superheroes, as have many other bloggers, but we have it easy with our scanners. Again, Fred Hembeck was out there goin' it alone long, long before anyone else. All by hand, hand lettered (and a lot of lettering, as you can see), with a fun and distinctive cartooning style. I never would have known to seek out some of the goofiest silver age comics I've purchased over the years had I not first read about it from Hembeck:

Fred Hembeck was sharing his love of his favorite back issues and artists long before the most senior of us computer guys. He was extolling the sublime appeal of Ditko's Doctor Strange way back before it was even possible for Neilalien to land online:

So let's take a moment and hail Fred Hembeck: Founding Father of Blathering About Old Comics!

Monday, October 15, 2007

Forgotten Kirby: I Found the City Under the Sea

I got nothin’ today. Nothin’ but this rarely seen Jack Kirby tale from My Greatest Adventure #15 (1957). The 1950’s were an underrated period for the master cartoonist, and one marked primarily by sci-fi and horror stories for both DC and Atlas. I originally scanned this a few months back with mockery in mind, but I couldn’t find much to mock in Kirby’s always-impressive work, and the story wasn’t all that funny, so I dropped it. In the spirit of “never waste anything” enjoy “I Found the City under the Sea” a forgotten Kirby gem:

Friday, October 12, 2007

That 70's Planet

Dig the swingin' bachelor pad, sideburns, and checkered jacket on this far-out '70's update of "The World At My Doorstep", recently featured here in a look at an Earth in peril. Marvel and DC routinely reprinted material from the 50's and 60's during their rapid growth in the 1970's, so this wasn't the first swinger to replace an uptight square on a re-purposed cover, nor would he be the last. Note that 70's guy is a little quicker to drop his briefcase, to lose his cool than uptight, rational 50's guy. Just another example of the ongoing erosion of America's moral fiber, obviously. Today's version would no doubt have our bewildered businessman handing his briefcase over for inspection to the harried, officious globe, for reasons unknown to both.