Sunday, April 27, 2008

Maggie the Mechanic
by Jaime Hernandez

The earlier stories in this collection don't feel very focused, but they are still fun, and by the end of this book the world and characters are in sharp relief. Even secondary characters get fleshed out with backgrounds, complex motivations, etc.

Maggie and Hopey are two young women living in Southern California. In many ways their world reflects the real world of the early/mid eighties, when these stories were created. Mexican-American and punk/hardcore elements are most evident. There are also many invented and fantastic elements, too. There are countries like Zymbodia, there are dinosaurs, rocketships, etc. These elements never take the focus off the characters.

Maggie is a mechanic. Having grown bored with fixing cars and such, she's landed a job fixing rockets and robots. She's the assistant to famed "prosolar mechanic" Rand Race, for whom she quickly falls. (These stories originally appeared in the periodical "Love & Rockets", which Jaime shared with his brothers, and here we've got both love and rockets.) This job takes her to exotic foreign lands and introduces her to many strange and entertaining individuals.

Hopey plays bass in a punk band. Physically she's the "pixie" type, tiny and pretty, but she's the biggest hellraiser of her circle, and the most emotionally jaded/guarded. She'll tell off people several times her size or throw a bottle at a cop, but she keeps most non-violent feelings close to her chest.

Other characters include Hopey's bandmates, their older and disturbed friend Izzy, Daffy the flighty Japanese girl, Izzy's brother and Maggie's crush Speedy, bombshell Penny Century, horned billionaire H.R. Costigan, and many many more. In fact, one of the back pages has a cast of characters with 63 portraits.

The stories range from short, comedic slice-of-life vignettes to adventure yarns to intimate character portraits. Jaime Hernandez does all of these well, and you reading them you understand why this series has remained popular and influential for decades.

Jaime's art style is clean and smooth, though he sometimes uses a lot of fine lines and crosshatching, esp. to convey grittiness. I can see the influence of Ditko and Mobius, which are both good things IMO. He draws a wide variety of people. Most of his women are attractive, but they're different. He also draws places and things very well. You have no problem recognizing Maggie & Hopey's neighborhood as a sunny, urban, aging locale. The level of detail is just right.