April 2005

Karin L. Kross

fiction

Locas by Jaime Hernandez

Locas is a massive volume, and the story it contains is at once intimate and epic. The tale of Maggie Chascarrillo and her best friend and lover Hopey Glass originally appeared as a series of shorts in the pages of Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez's long-running comics series Love and Rockets over the course of fifteen years, starting in 1981. Now, in one book, the Locas stories can be read as they deserve: as a great, sprawling novel.

The early Maggie stories were something else altogether: letters written to her friend Hopey, chronicling her exploits as a "prosolar mechanic," fixing rocketships for the rich and powerful in far-off locales around the globe. It wasn't long before Jaime Hernandez dropped most of the science fiction elements from the tale -- retaining the few that remained in the characters of the rich and powerful, like the devil-horned, mysterious billionaire H.R. Costigan -- and shifted full focus to the lives of Maggie and Hopey and their friends in the L.A. barrio of Hoppers. Maggie leaves the mechanic life behind and drifts through a series of dead-end jobs, small humiliations, struggles with her weight, an almost-romance with her old friend Ray Dominguez, and barrio strife, eventually ending up in Texas at the wrestling training camp run by her aunt Vicki Gloria. Hopey, meanwhile, tours with her band (called variously, "Missiles of October" and "La Llorona," among many other names), on a journey through high and low society that takes her in and out of Maggie's life. Whether they acknowledge it or not, though, Maggie and Hopey's bond is stronger than any of their trials and tribulations, a fact only underscored by the glimpses of their punk youth that Hernandez offers in flashbacks. It's not long before you're as invested in their happiness as their own friends and family.

The other characters, however large or small their role, are drawn and written with outstanding complexity as well. Maggie's aunt Vicki Gloria and Vicki's longtime wrestling rival Rena Titañon are the two powerful women who shape Maggie's life and who see themselves as rivals for her loyalty. Daphne Matsumoto is the Japanese-American middle-class girl who, as a teen, latched on to Maggie and Hopey through the L.A. punk scene. The damaged, possibly-insane, possibly-visionary Izzy Ortiz is called "the witch lady" by the neighborhood kids, and her concern for Maggie and Hopey keeps drawing her back into their lives. Izzy also loses her brother, Eulalio "Speedy" Ortiz, when he dates Maggie's sister Esther, who happens to be the girlfriend of a rival. Ray Dominguez is an old friend of Maggie's and briefly her lover, a frustrated artist heading dangerously close to a dead end. And then there's Penny Century, née Beatríz Garcia, who gets out of the barrio by becoming Costigan's kept woman, then his wife, a position in which she as often as not provides a safety net for Maggie and Hopey.

The vividness of the characters is beautifully expressed in Jaime Hernandez's elegant artwork. The clean lines and the spot-on panel framing bring the characters and their world to life, and subtleties of expression shine throughout. There is a little bit of clunkiness in the writing and the word-to-picture ratio in the early pages, but that's almost to be expected, and is eminently forgivable -- Hernandez hits his stride quickly after that, and his ear for dialogue is pitch-perfect. All of these factors work together to create one of the warmest, most believable casts of characters -- male or female -- in comics.

It's probably fair to say that the Love and Rockets series is one of the great milestones in comics history; these books have been hugely influential in the evolution of the black-and-white indie comic over the last two and a half decades. With the 2003 publication of Palomar, and now Locas, it's easy to see why the work of Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez continues to resonate.

Locas by Jaime Hernandez
Fantagraphics
ISBN: 156097611X
780 Pages