While bonding with my (then) new dog Quincy, I finished reading Locas finally, despite the urging of NaNoWriMo (I’ve been wanting to write this for a few weeks, but couldn’t due to the damn word count).
Locas by Jamie Hernandez. Wow. It is a whopping 704 pages, collecting all of the Locas stories into one giant volume from Love & Rockets, one of the most influential comic series ever. First, some background: Love & Rockets is a comic by Los Bros. Hernandez, three brothers who showcased their work in this comic from the early 80s. Gilbert is known for his Palomar series of stories (which I will be purchasing shortly also in its completed giant volume), and Jamie was known for Locas – the story of Maggie and her sometimes lover Hopey as they travel through love and life in Hoppers, their barrio, and around the world.
Love & Rockets, to me, was always one of those works that I wanted to read, but didn’t know where to start. Until this collection came out, I was oblivious on where to begin. I didn’t know much about it; just that it was about two girls into punk rock which were written and drawn by two brothers (I was unaware of Palomar completely – I just thought the whole thing was about Maggie and Hopey). When I read that they were collecting the Locas stories together in one volume, I decided I had to get it, 50 dollars or not.
First of all, not even talking about the story and gorgeous art, 50 dollars is well worth the price of this book. Fantagraphics knocked one out of the park with this hardcover; they are quickly becoming known for their high production values, and I can see why. This book could easily sit out on your coffee table. It has a wonderful matte finish dust jacket and glossy pages which make it feel like an Art History book.
Onto the story. The best way I can describe it is “Archie for Grown-ups,” and I don’t mean that in a negative way at all. The story starts obviously being influenced by a fusion of punk rock and Heavy Metal sci-fi fantasy (Maggie is a rocket mechanic), to more of a modern-day literary drama that has a lot of fun along the way. The storytelling is solid and straightforward, no fancy panels or visual abstraction otherwise. Hernandez expects a lot from the reader though. For instance, in the “Death of Speedy” arc, you never actually see Speedy die, but you are given panels that let you move naturally to that conclusion. Very much a master of “showing and not telling,” Hernandez masters these moments and utilizes them again and again throughout, sometimes turning it on its head for shock value. Specifically, I’m thinking of how it is hinted that Maggie and Hopey are lovers, but you aren’t sure until your given a brief glimpse into a coital session between the two.
On the art, as I said earlier, Locas started out very much a product of its time – so Hernandez’s art is reminiscent of Neal Adams, 70s realism. Eventually it moves towards a Neo-Archie streamlined look all of its own, with definite moments of Hank Ketchum (the creator of Dennis the Menace, one of the Hernadez Brothers’ favorite cartoonists). By the end of the book, you are looking at a master cartoonist who is able to make tough compositional choices look easy. Hernandez fully explores and masters the use of black on the pages; his characters are never detailed with shadow, just basic lines. However, his backgrounds use heavy black to ground his figures into a real world of depth. It is amazing how he gets the two extremes to work so well together. As an artist, the lightbulbs were clicking on everywhere in my head – this approach, this method of flat, graphic, black and white storytelling just made so much sense to me. I’ve been pouring over it for the last few weeks, just amazed at some of the simple things that I had been looking for in my own art and missing completely until I read this book!
And that is pretty much why the book is so great – the reader gets to see the maturation of an amazing talent over a period of 15 years! What a groundbreaking work in 15 years. This is a comic of firsts: you have an overweight, Hispanic-American, mature, bi-sexual protagonist (who is also a mechanic) and the material deals with punk rock (as it was happening!), barrio life, and female wrestling. How much cooler can you get really?!
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