Other people’s pulps: Roco Vargas
I mentioned The Adventures of Roco Vargas as one of my influences in a post back in 2013, a post I closed saying I’d have to write something about the series.
Well, better late than never, right?
Spanish comic book artist Daniel Torres started writing Roco Vargas in 1983. A specialist in “retrofuturist” settings and stories, Torres referenced streamlined design, Bell Geddes architecture and 1940s-1950s style in his stories.
Roco Vargas, the star of the eponymous series, is a science fiction writer, night-club owner, former space pilot and ladies’ man based in the city of Puerto Bahia. Modeled on classic pulp adventurers, Vargas has a mysterious past, snippets of which we discover throughout the series: he was part of a team of science adventurers, together with Saxxon and Panama Kid, working for professor Kowalski, and they were known as the Space Kids.
The Solar System in which Varga operates is heavily influenced by Buck Rogers, Flash Gordon and Captain Future – there is a multitude of alien races, and all the planets have been colonized.
There was a war, akin to the Second World War, that was fought on the Moon and on Mars, and pitched different human factions and their alien allies.
Currently the Earth and the inner system planets form something that looks like a leisure-oriented, late ’40s civilization, with Venus being a sort of Indocine-like decadent world, while the external planets have a more heavily industrial, USSR-style look. The two blocks, it is hinted, will soon be again at each other throat.
What characterizes Roco Vargas’ universe is the fact that the stars have “betrayed” the hero and – in fact – all of humanity: interstellar distances and Einsteinian physics make it impossible for humanity to leave the solar system. Space-pilot Vargas feels trapped in the solar system, hence is blasé attitude, and his decision to stop flying, open a nightclub (the Club Mongo) and write science fiction instead, under the alias of “Armando Mistral”, publishing stories about a Captain Future-like character called “Sam Norton”.
The original 1980s series included four stories
El misterio de Susurro (1985)
La estrella lejana (1987)
That Dark Horse comics translated in English in a gorgeous hardback volume that also includes a lengthy essay by Torres on his universe.
The author returned to the hero in the 2000s with a cycle of five more adventures, expanding and altering both the universe and the main characters
El bosque oscuro (2000)
El juego de los dioses (2004)
Paseando con monstruos (2005)
La balada de Dry Martini (2006)
With a crowded, highly cinematic style that sometimes gives a nod to Moebius, sometimes to Hergé, Rocco Vargas‘ adventures are graphically original, and filled with mysterious strangers, beautiful women, space battles, car chases.
The alternate timeline of teh series – that takes place in the 20th century – leaves enough margin to have green Martian jazz singers, opium dens, and cyborg mercenaries.
Ironic, post-modern, noirish and cynical and still holding a torch for that old sense of wonder, Roco Vargas is well worth a read, both for the stunning graphics, the high-octane stories and the deep setting.
Here’s a small gallery of Torres/Vargas images. Click to enlarge.