Friday, October 9, 2015

Thirty Days of Short Reviews #9: Lowriders In Space

Cathy Camper and illustrator Raul the Third have created a wonderfully weird children's book in Lowriders In Space. The structure and character design, along with the wonderful sense of glee on every page, reminds me a bit of the late, lamented YEAH!, a series by Peter Bagge and Gilbert Hernandez. With a three-person group, an interstellar car competition and triumphing over meager beginnings, the team of Lupe Impala, El Chavo Flapjack Octopus, and Elirio Malaria have similar sorts of adventures and hijinks as the gang from YEAH!. The anthropomorphic character design is markedly different from that other book, and it's one of the chief draws of the book. Camper and Raul put their characters front and center on nearly every page, emphasizing the animal qualities of each in clever ways. For example, Elirio is a car painter and detailer, and makes great use of his long proboscis in his work. Flapjack uses his eight arms as an ace polisher. Lupi Impala is the Maggie Chascarillo (from Love & Rockets) figure in this book, as a talented young mechanic who happens to be a young woman.

That's not the only similarity to Love and Rockets that this book has, however. The book is all about lowrider cars and their importance in Latino culture. These "low and slow" cars known for using a suspension system that allows the cars to bounce. Camper peppers the book with a mix of English and Spanish, translating some phrases and allowing context to define others. Combining this mix of the familiar and the specific to something fantastic and whimsical is a clever idea. It's asking the reader to immerse themselves in what is potentially a different cultural experience while still delivering a fanciful but still easily relatable experience. That the characters are Latinos isn't directly discussed; it's simply part of the understood background of the story.

That said, what sets this book apart is the work of Raul the Third and the overall design of the book. Printed on thick, pulpy paper that looks like it's been intentionally discolored, it only adds to the sense that this book is an artifact of sorts. The rock-solid character designs are animation-cute without being cloying, but it's the spot coloring (in reds and blues) that again gives the book that artifact look, as though someone took a black and white book and colored in it. It's yet another factor that gives the book its most quality: warmth. The panel-to-panel transitions, page design and overall fluidity of the narrative ensure that this is not a stiff or slick comic. This is a deeply welcoming, cheerful book that takes the reader along its swooping journeys into space. It celebrates Latino culture and invites the reader to celebrate along with its characters.

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