The Sci-Fi angle in Love&Rockets

One of my favorite graphic novel series lately is "Love&Rockets" by Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez. More specifically, it's Jaime's Hoppers 13 which gets me all hopped up. It basically tells the story of a group of chicano girlz in their teenage years (Margarita Luisa "Maggie" Chascarrillo and Esperanza "Hopey" Leticia Glass as well as tremendous quantity of secondary characters) in the SoCal punk-rock scene.

An interesting aspect consist in the mix of science-fiction elements at the beginning of the series, especially in Maggie the Mechanic, surely on of my favorite comic-book. The SoCal world is mixed with sci-fi fantasies that some folks referred to as "window dressing"... which I disagree with. Although this futuristic twist is sort of left out of the pictures afterwards in the comic series, I found it highly intriguing.

"Maggie the Mechanic" is about Chascarillo's adventures as a world-travelling "prosolar mechanic" (working on space-rockets) with Rand Race (a famous prosolar mechanic who becomes Maggie's love interest). The plot revolveds around Maggie and Race who get a job in Rio Frio (an island in the Pacific) where the weird Dr. Beaky wants them to fix robots on the isle of Chepan, so he can say he's employing Race to his rival H.R. Costigan (more about it here if you're lazy). Let's have a look at sci-fi ingredients in there.

The first thing that struck me as fascinating was the general aesthetic: parts of a broken spaceship crashed in the jungle, a bunch of old robots that need to be fixed, dinosaur-encounters after fixing a spaceship. There is a sense of fascinating "retro-futurism" in there through a mix of "almost-space-opera" and mexican wrestlers. Written in 1984, technology is definitely not digital as it's mostly all about mechanical engineering. The idioms are curious too, starting with this "pro-solar mechanic" job title or the presence of "hover-bikes" and "mini-tram". Even the french translation that I had a glance at kept these good memes. The beautiful drawings of Hernandez, as well as the writings make the whole atmosphere very special. For example, the tone (see the panel above) is both humorous and casual while describing fantastic situations.

And the second aspect that I found important was that how science-fiction characteristics are only depicted as background elements, with a strong plot around it. They just fade in the background and are then taken for granted. You can find broken robots, odd animals such as dinosaurs or awkward spaceship but you never really see where they can bring you to. It's just part of the ambience and it's fine. The emphasis in the graphic novel is clearly on relationships, not on weird and crazy technological items. As Jaime's brother claimed:

"What's very interesting about the science fiction stuff is that the question we get asked the most, at least out loud, is "Where is the rocket? That's the real Love and Rockets." Oddly, that's the smaller segment of the audience--they're just more vocal. The real audience is the one who followed Maggie and Hopey's adventures as real girls, so to speak, and the Palomar stories. That is the real Love and Rockets reader. But for some reason we have the most outspoken ones saying, "When are you going to do the rockets? It's called Love and Rockets!" That's fine, we love doing rocket stuff, but the real Love and Rockets is what we are famous for."

Why do I blog this? saturday afternoon musing about interesting cultural items sitting on my desk. Tried to rationalize a bit why I found this piece intriguing. What I find important here, and perhaps as a take-away in my work, is that science-fiction bricks and components should not be fetishized, instead they can act as "hooks" to create a certain atmosphere. Perhaps this atmosphere allows to create an interesting imaginary realm where new ideas about more abstract maters can take place. The parallel I draw here concerns the role of sci-fi items in design and foresight: the items are not the most important part, it's the implications and what people do around/with them that counts.