Back in my first post on Locas: The Maggie and Hopey Stories, I made a passing reference to the way these earliest tales frame their science fiction and fantasy tropes by making them part of something that happens “over there”, and noted that Gilbert abandoned this specific bank of imagery when he stopped making use of “careless tribal tropes”.  Let’s unpack that a little.

While they never go full Tintin, the early Mechanics stories still make use of some of the tropes of those old adventure comics.  There is a pastiched exoticism to these stories, a sense of that we are looking at something familiar through outsider’s eyes.  This is as apparent in the tribal masks, wooden huts that smell of “kaka” and bewildered locals as it is in the deployment of romance comics tropes – the main love interest is a square-jawed, ultra capable hunk called Rand Race, c’mon!

This ironic distance will develop into something more nuanced in later stories, as I’ve already argued in Keep Your Distance #1, but there’s reason to be wary of its deployment here.  At this stage in the narrative Hernandez is largely just replicating these tropes and setting them in contract to his characters’ home lives, and… well, when I mentioned the science fiction elements of the story happening “over there”, this sort of casual distance from the reality of other lives was implied in the framing, right?

We’re talking about a postcard composed almost entirely of second-hand, othering cliches here, a world that exists purely as backdrop to Maggie’s story:

It’s not always great.

One of the most quietly compelling aspects of these early experiments in genre is the way they foreground the distorting effects of money, how much chaos extractionist living creates in places we (which “we”?) don’t truly believe in.  It’s just a shame that these early stories don’t make any efforts to convince us of the reality of “over there” along the way.

A curious addendum to all of the above comes in the form of the strip Jaime Hernandez drew for the New York Times,  ’La Maggie La Loca’, which revisits these old adventures with tired eyes and asks what might be implied by them.  Rena Titanion, a wrestling legend and adventurer when we first met her, is now retired and living in isolation on “some remote island”.  The story frames her status as a figurehead for “upheaval and revolt” in Latin America as being liberatory, but by this stage in the game enough of a sense of reality has crept in to acknowledge that you could never trust that everyone else would agree with this assessment.

More importantly, the story reunites Maggie with Tse Tse, who appeared in these early stories as an unreconstructed innocent – another sampled cliche, basically.  It’s not just that ‘La Maggie La Loca’ shows Tse Tse as a successful woman with a career that lets her travel the world on her own terms, it’s that in doing so it suggests a novel tension.

Is Tse Tse an old friend who’s come to visit Maggie, or is Maggie a fondly remembered guest in the new Tse Tse comic?  The narration points one way but the other story seems plausible despite the burden of learned perspective.

The islanders Maggie interacts with have a jaggedness to them that is equally convincing, and the idea that the island itself might serve as a background to an outsider’s story is explored with double-edged irony:

You see during this particular reunion Rena thinks everyone’s living in her story, while Maggie is convinced they’re all stuck in their own.  Neither of these perspectives matches what we see in the comic itself – that narration again – but the easy acknowledgement of these difficulties is yet another distance travelled in these pages.

***

Another thing about ‘La Maggie La Loca’: on both of the occasions where Fantagraphics have republished it, they’ve presented it together with another strip about an incident from Maggie’s earliest years, ‘Gold Diggers of 1969′.

In Keep Your Distance #1 I argued that “The one thing that doesn’t stick around in any form from those early strips is the playfulness with page layouts”, and wondered how Hernandez’s use of  this technique might have developed over time.   Looking at the way these two separate strips are folded together, you get some idea of what might have happened if Hernandez had continued to work in this style, supposing he had also drawn from some of the other trends in US art comics along the way:

The results are predictably unsettled, amounting to a different way of collaging history than we usually find in Hernandez’s work.  Here, the reader is asked to make an awkward decision about how to read these two strips: do they take in the entirety of ‘Gold Diggers of 1969′ in its moment-to-moment glory, or do they allow its pace to become subordinate to the slower, more episodic ‘La Maggie La Loca’?  There’s no right answer to this, though for my part I did a bit of both, reading the faster paced ‘Gold Diggers’ in quick bursts then re-reading it as I made my way through ‘La Maggie La Loca’.

The end result is less effective than Hernandez’s usual techniques for bringing together unseen past and unfolding present, if undeniably novel in his body of work.  At the very least there’s real pleasure to be had in watching these two variations on Hernandez’s art style sitting discretely beside each other.

‘Gold Diggers’ adopts the shorthand Hernandez uses when he wants to invoke a certain sort of childhood experience in his comics.  It’s his Charles Schulz/Hank Ketchman style, all round heads, short bodies and distant buildings.  Events and people come and go quickly in this mode, whereas events in ‘La Maggie La Loca’ feel like they want contemplation – everything is narrated, everyone has lines on their face, every location feels like it trails off in a half dozen directions, and every event seems to carry the weight of a thousand moments that came before it.

As I’ve already argued, there are aspects of this approach that show the development of Hernandez’s worldview.  There are also moments that seem to frame the essence of these characters in a way that is useful 0 here’s Maggie, always out at sea, and Rena, always wrestling with some immovable object.

Still, for all that, it’s the moment-to-moment panic of ‘Gold Diggers of 1969′ that is ultimately more energising.  The contrast serves it well, emphasising the fact that it is providing the reader with new information on Maggie’s story where the other strip is drawing new details out of old events.

It’s a harried little story, ‘Gold Diggers of 1969′.  Making a cute comic feel stressful isn’t a new gimmick, but as with the reformatted adventure comic tropes of ‘La Maggie La Loca’ this is a development rather than subversion of the form – the pace of this kids’ comic format and its suggestion of events outside of the panels are developed to a point that anticipates the half-understood, reality-wrecking violence of ‘Browntown’.

We’ll come to that strip, and to The Love Bunglers, in due time of course.  For now I’ll merely note that again, as always, Hernandez is at his most forward looking when he seems to be revealing information about his characters’ pasts.

Remember.  The past is never stable.  The past is never done.  With you.

2 Responses to “Keep Your Distance #1.75 – Over There”

  1. plok Says:

    It’s taken a while, but I’m here. ALL the way here, for a discussion of Locas, the universality of Maggie, the unglued reality of Hopey. I won’t say much now, because the next thing is 100 Rooms, my first introduction to it all, but…

    I’m glad you’re doing this. Here’s the thing? In my view, we’re always confronted with a complicated text, whose sources of uneasiness gets resolved — well, not “resolved”? — by the pictures. Maybe, “collided by” the pictures? Maggie herself is a creature of the page not the panel, I figure. Does she even know what she is?

    Apologies: commenting while dronk on a Mindless Ones post, why what is this, 2013?

    MORE LATER

  2. plok Says:

    Apologies, apologies! There was a pandemic.

    You heard about that, right?

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