Why You Should Read This: ‘Maggie the Mechanic’

Jaime Hernandez’s collected early contributions to Love and Rockets is the California Book Club’s January 2023 selection.

maggie the mechanic, jaime hernandez
Fantagraphics Books

How to assess Jaime Hernandez’s Maggie the Mechanic? The collection, which gathers the artist’s early contributions to the long-running comic series Love and Rockets, is both exemplar and time machine. As for the former, Love and Rockets was (and remains) a groundbreaking collaborative masterpiece; featuring work by Hernandez and his brothers Gilbert and Mario, it reimagines Latinx life in Southern California and in Central America, not infrequently interposing extra-realist elements. As for the latter, these particular stories grow out of the punk scene of the 1980s, which in Greater Los Angeles, at any rate, was a cultural force.

This article appears in Issue 22 of Alta Journal.

For Hernandez, this represents inspiration and opportunity. His Maggie the Mechanic stories unfold in the fictional town of Hoppers (or Huerta), which is based on Oxnard, where he and his brothers were raised. The main characters are Maggie and her friend Hopey, who plays bass. There are touches of romance, but Hernandez is too nuanced to let it go at that. Rather, he moves in a couple of overlapping traditions. Some of his narratives occupy a science-fictional or fantasy universe; in one sequence, Maggie encounters both a dinosaur and a derelict spaceship, while in a second, she aspires to be a superhero’s sidekick. But there is also a gritty sort of realism at work in his portrayal of Hopey.

Hernandez draws in black and white, and his style recalls traditional newspaper strips. But his main achievement is the creation of a world. We’re long past the point when graphic literature was considered disposable and frivolous. Rather, in the nearly six decades since the rise of underground comics as an essential reflection of the counterculture, we have seen the form take shape in countless ways. There’s the innovative novelistic work of Will Eisner’s A Contract with God and the offhand observations of Harvey Pekar’s American Splendor. Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis explores her own early life in Iran, while Art Spiegelman’s Pulitzer Prize–winning Maus reframes the Holocaust.

The Hernandez brothers are in a similar territory.

At the same time, Maggie the Mechanic is doing something else, which is to portray Southern California as it is. That may seem like a big claim, but these stories are as essential as any about the region during the past 40 years. Since 1981, Hernandez has been writing and drawing from the ground up—not Los Angeles, but the communities often regarded as being on the periphery. In this sense, his work is of a piece with that of Carribean Fragoza and Romeo Guzmán, who bring a like attention to El Monte, or Mary Helen Ponce, whose memoir, Hoyt Street, recalls Pacoima in the 1940s.

It represents, in other words, the story of who we are and how we live.•

Fantagraphics Books


Fantagraphics Books Bookshop.org

David L Ulin is Alta Journal’s books editor.
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