Maggie the Mechanic: The Love & Rockets Library — Locas Book 1 by Jaime Hernandez
Love and Rockets is a series of comics that started in the 1980s. It was written by three brothers: Gilbert, Jaime, and Mario Hernandez, and the brothers each created their own storylines, tracing a set of characters over a period of time, even allowing their characters to age and develop and change appearance, a too-rare technique employed in the world of comics, where most characters are ageless and timeless.
The first run on the series lasted fifty issues and ran from September 1982 to 1996. The series featured two main sets of stories: Gilbert’s Palomar stories, which take place in a fictional city in Latin America, and Jaime’s stories, which take place in the fictional Hoppers, California (based on Oxnard, California where the Hernandez brothers grew up). The Hoppers 13 stories, as they are sometimes called, focus on a set of chicano friends, but it centers on the lives of long-time friends Maggie and Hopey. Recently the stories of Palomar and Hoppers 13, sometimes referred to as the Locas stories, have been published in separate volumes so that readers can follow either the Palomar characters OR the Locas characters. However, there are six, 100-page volumes of New Stories out so far that once again place the stories of Palomar and Locas side-by-side. These come out about once a year.
Maggie the Mechanic is the first volume of Locas stories, and as the title indicates, it focuses on Maggie. The first story arc about Maggie and Rand Race is an unusual one in the series because it has minor science fiction elements. Maggie, as a mechanic, goes to work for Rand Race, a famous, very good-looking “pro-solar” mechanic. They travel to exotic locations, and the longest story involves their working in an obscure small village that, for some unexplained reason, has a dinosaur that is right next to the crashed rocket ship that Maggie and Rand have been sent to work on! At first, the mix of realism with elements of the fantastic, I have to admit, did NOT appeal to me in this particular work; however, once I pushed through long enough to become invested in the characters, I was hooked in a way I’ve rarely been hooked by ANY fictional narrative in a comic book series or novel.
The first three volumes in this series are now three of my all-time favorite books. There are several reasons. Primarily, I fell in love with Maggie and her friend Hopey, who soon replaces Rand as Maggie’s primary focus. Much of the series focuses on the sexual tension between Hopey and Maggie, but it does so in a very real way. Hopey, who is lesbian, is desperately in love with the primarily heterosexual Maggie, and she makes it clear to Maggie that she’s always there for her. They live together and share a bed, but their relationship is largely platonic. In fact, Maggie, while devoted to Hopey as her strongest supporter and best friend, is usually seen mooning over the various guys in the story, particularly Rand Race and Speedy Ortiz. She doesn’t hide her crushes from Hopey, and Hopey just gets exasperated, but doesn’t dwell on it. Most of the time, the stories just focus on the antics of Hopey and Maggie. And it’s fun to be with them, no matter what they do.
The second reason I love these stories is that I find Jaime Hernandez’s art style appealing and his artistic techniques subtle but masterful. The book is in black-and-white, and I would like it less if it were colored: I often find the panels so bold and perfect in catching a character’s expressing a particular feeling that I take a “screen shot” to view on my table later on. When I say his artistic techniques are subtle but masterful, I’m primarily referring to the way in which he uses his art to reveal the backstories of characters: Without warning, he often jumps back in time and space, giving us flashbacks of characters in either single panels that communicate a lot of information or in a short series of panels that let us know what the characters in the present are thinking about in their mutually shared histories. So, as we read these stories and the characters age, moving forward in time, we also find out more about their past childhoods through these flashbacks.
So, how do I relate to characters who are so different from me in background, language, gender, and sexual persuasion? I guess that’s what makes Jaime Hernandez so good: He makes me relate to the pining love of Hopey and multiple crushes of Maggie. Who has not had both experiences? Jaime Hernandez allows us to relate to these characters so well, I could not stop thinking about them when I was away from the books.
I’ve heard about Love and Rockets for years, and I even tried to read Maggie the Mechanic a few times and just couldn’t get into it. But now I understand that this underground hit that keeps coming back into print truly is one of the great works of sequential art. I’ve barely scratched the surface of what’s done in these books. Mainly, I’ve failed to talk about all the characters that are developed in the stories. The series is about a community, and that community, even more than Maggie, is the main character. These are the Hoppers 13 stories more than they are the Maggie, or even Maggie and Hopey, stories. In later books, Maggie and Hopey go in different directions, and we follow them along their separate paths. We also follow other characters, some of whom die in heartbreaking ways (though we know we will see them again in flashbacks, and knowing they are dead in the present gives even greater poignancy to those flashbacks). Hernandez brings humanity to gang life, allowing us to see that a “gang” is often merely a product of caring for the people with whom you grow up, something we all do; however, he has certain characters within the community trying to divert the violent energy that emerges every so often. These stories are character driven, and if you give these books a chance, you’ll want to read, at the very least, the first three volumes of Locas in the Love and Rockets Library. And though I give the first volume, and perhaps the third volume, 4 ½ starts, I think the second volume, and the first three volumes as a whole, are undoubtedly 5-star works of genius.