Jessica Alba’s break into the comics big time came with La Perdida, the story of a young woman called Carla’s lost year in Mexico. Starting out as a fresh-faced young American traveller, she finds herself reigniting a crappy relationship with ex-boyfriend Harry simply because he has an apartment in Mexico City. While she fulfils her touristic fetish for exploring all things Frida Kahlo, he dreams of following in the footsteps of William Burroughs and becoming a writer.
Once her tourist visa runs out, however, she tires of his ex-pat friends and longs to go native for a more authentic Mexico experience. Teaching English and learning Spanish, she scrapes together enough cash to rent a place of her own and falls in with a small group of idle locals with time on their hands – a communist revolutionary and a small-time pot dealer with family connections to organised crime. Although this feels right at the time, she soon wonders whether she’s bitten off more than she can chew as she sinks further away from her idealistic, middle-class bohemian view of Mexico, and into the harsh reality of poverty and crime.
Alba’s clear-line drawing style suits the setting and characters well, giving the piece a visual look that sits somewhere between the styles of Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez. There’s no magical realism to the script though, as what starts out as an extended back-packer’s adventure eventually descends into nightmare.
La Perdida is difficult to pigeon-hole, which is no bad thing in our view. It’s a fiction with strong emphasis on travel, pulling from Abel’s own Mexican adventures, though there’s nothing autobiographical in Carla. And while she’s a strong female lead, it’s often difficult to find empathy for her. It could be construed as a cautionary tale except that circumstances and perhaps apathy and ignorance, rather than deliberate decisions, seem to lead Carla along the path to her downfall. Or perhaps it’s an attack on the arrogance and ignorance of the American traveller abroad, though even this element is handled with a certain gentility. Not pacey enough to be a thriller but a bit too scary towards the end to be a travelogue, it nevertheless makes a great read for those looking for a decent story with strong personality.
Other titles by Jessica Abel: