Gilbert Hernandez’s work in indie comic sensation Love and Rockets is often described as magical realism. Although he focuses on everyday stories of everyday folk, it’s set in a world where magic and spirits might be unusual, but they’re also ever-present, like a common religious belief. Gilbert’s brother Jaime’s stories, also originally published in Love and Rockets, take a similar path in this first volume of collected stories, but the magic is replaced with science fiction-style futurism. While the characters are raw and real, and the world they live in is far from an idyllic fantasy, we still run into spaceships and dinosaurs as we make our way through the pages.
In fact, this SF realism didn’t last much further than the pages of this book in terms of Jaime’s Love and Rockets work, and it’s been skipped past somewhat in previous collections, like Locas, which cut about a quarter from this volume’s 270 pages. But this unabridged collection reminds us exactly how much time Hernandez spent fleshing out this fantasy world. While it’s quite fair to say that there’s better to come in later volumes, don’t let that put you off starting here, at the beginning, where the characters are built up and relationships are cemented.
Maggie is a listless young woman, taken with the punk music scene of the small south Californian town she lives in. When she’s not going to gigs with girlfriend Hopey, she works as a mechanic. However, she hasn’t got just any old mechanic job: she’s the assistant of mechanic superstar Rand Race, whose film-star looks and technical ability have elevated him to A-list celebrity status.
A mostly platonic love affair is started, with their eyes meeting across the oily parts of a broken spaceship, crashed in the jungle. But danger and adventure is never too far behind the grease monkeys and a number of elements get in the way of them doing much about it.
This volume focuses on these international adventures quite heavily, but Hernandez also takes the time to introduce a swathe of friends back home, living more normal (though still sometimes extraordinary) lives. It’s these dioramas of young domesticity that are more like the stories to come and they serve the story well, adding emotional depth to the superficial adventures of the mechanics.
Maggie’s adventures can seem a bit slow and convoluted at times, as she writes letters home to girlfriend Hopey and gets into fixes both big and small. But Hernandez is sowing the seeds of a superior comic here, catching a youthful vibe with energy and wit, and creating characters that will stay with you forever. He draws beautifully, with an economy and clarity that is, in our minds, virtually unsurpassed, especially as this book gathers pace and Hernandez gets into his stride.
This book is the foundation stone of one of comics’ true classics, and is truly worthy of being brought into print in this unabridged and superb value for money format.
Other titles from Love and Rockets: