Love & Rockets – An Ode to Women
Today is International Women’s Day (IWD). I started the day by making tea and breakfast for my partner like you do on Mother’s Day but I’m not sure this ties into the themes of the day. Today is about the empowerment of women and awareness of the political rights of women around the world which you’d hope in 2013 would be significantly different from when this was started in 1909. Sadly it’s not and after 2012 with the news in Delhi and more recently with Liberian sex degrees, media backlash at Hilary Mantel and even the highlighting of women’s stature at the Oscars it does appear we’re not much further on after a hundred years. I’m not sure if there’s a signature dish for today like on Shrove Tuesday or if there is a particular vegetable you wear in your buttonhole like on St. David’s Day so I’ve done the only thing that made sense to me, I read Love & Rockets.
Love & Rockets is written by two men, Gilbert & Jaime Hernandez, it’s a stark, funny and poignant series that spans five decades which means the characters, plots and storylines are so detailed you’ll know more about them than you do your own family. The artwork is simple, black and white style but conveys so much emotion not only because it harks back to nostalgic classics like ‘Peanuts‘ and R.Crumb but also, despite it’s perceived simplicity you can still manage to differentiate every character throughout the series (no mean feat when you’re dealing with 6 generations of the same family). It’s a beautiful comic that deals with such a range of emotions, politics and situations but despite some harrowing content and sickening truths it’s always fast-paced, intelligent, satirical and bizarrely fun. Now I’m not describing miscarriage or rape as fun, it’s presented as horrifying but because of the serial nature and the connection you have with these characters when something horrific does happen the character is bolstered by their tight knit, Latino community and life goes on. The longevity of the piece means that you see the ramifications of ill deeds, you see the psychological damage or heroic strengths of a character who has suffered, you feel the pain and joy and heartache and beauty of life because it shows just that, life. I’ve never visited Palomar, or South America even, but because the characters are drawn (literally) from reality you can relate to the raw power of humans existing together. The depiction of life from the Hernandez brothers is impressive but it’s the women who leap out from the page, it’s the women who will stick in your brain, from Luba and Chelos to little Carmen and one-armed Casimira, it’s the women who run the world.
Some might take umbrage with the fact that I’m discussing Women’s rights and talking about male written depictions of women but that’s the most impressive thing about Love & Rockets, the female characters are the backbone, the brain, the brawn and the balls of the series. The men are merely various shades of black, white and grey penile shafts who clumsily traipse through storylines and the women’s lives acting, most of the time, like dicks. This isn’t a feminist propaganda piece, it’s magical realism, the way the men act is, unfortunately, quite close to the truth, with an elevated opinion of themselves whilst being slave to raging hormones within them and the constant, irrepressible rush of blood to the cock. We are a strange bunch and as Louis CK so eloquently and ashamedly points out, “For men sex is such a constant thing it’s not even sex to us, it’s just pussy! It has nothing to do with women”. The women in the town of Palomar are Mayor, Sheriff, Mother, Maiden, Nurse, Business Women, Physiatrist, Projectionist, Genius, Scientist, TV presenter, Activist and every other true depiction of women in society that is rarely portrayed in comics or the media in general. Marvel may have a roster of female superheroes but they always seem to need the “big guns” help when there’s a real threat and any of the supporting characters like Betty Brant are woefully under represented or usually bought in as a “love interest”. In the community of Palomar this couldn’t be further from the truth, everyone is represented as human with foibles and everything else that comes with being a person. Then there’s the sexuality, the women in Love & Rockets are masters (is there a female equivalent of the word master?) of their own bodies and rather than just using it as a way to have power over men it’s shown as being something that a woman can actually want or need in their own way, dare I say it, for themselves.
It’s Friday 8th March 2013, I could go on for hours but I think I’ve taken enough of your time already when you should be out there raising awareness for IWD but I’ll just say two more things because you’ve got a few minutes left of your lunch break. Firstly, Love & Rockets is a sublime work of art, it’s a beautiful work of fiction filled with magical mishaps and fantastical fantasies but anchored by unflinching and unbiased portrayals of real people. Secondly, Love & Rockets is, in my opinion, one of the most brilliant portrayals of women in mainstream comics, it dares to do the one thing which so many pro-feminine works of fiction don’t, it portrays the women as individuals. I count myself as a feminist and the only way that feminism is going to achieve it’s goals is if it works towards equality which means getting men, women and children involved and unfortunately some feminist novels can alienate male audiences. To be honest that’s fair after years of having to write under pseudonyms and persecution at the hands of religions, publishers and governments so there’s room to write material for women only but to make a difference it has to be across gender, across nations and across all art forms that the message is heard.
Read Comics, Respect Women! that’s pretty much it for today, let’s make sure in a hundred years time we’ve moved on a bit. See you in 2113 xx