zine, [zeen] noun. 1. abbr. of fanzine; 2. any amateurly-published periodical. Oxford Reference


Saturday, June 28, 2008

Jaime Hernandez, The Education of Hopey Glass: The PrettyFakes Review


via PrettyFakes by Professor Fury on 6/26/08

Jaime Hernandez. The Education of Hopey Glass. Fantagraphics, 2008.

I have to admit that when I read (many of) these stories in serial format, they felt the slightest bit minor. Not that they weren't good stories, engaging and beautifully cartooned. But while I was glad to see what Hopey and Ray were up to, I wasn't sure there was much to the stories beyond Jaime Hernandez's loving depiction of his characters' everyday lives.

But now brought together in this volume – the final Jaime collection from Love and Rockets volume II, with volume III set to begin as a series of annuals this year – it's clear that Hernandez was up to something more complicated all along. True, Education is a lower-key affair than last year's Ghost of Hoppers, a collection which built to a tour-de-force of visual storytelling that deserves to be counted among Hernandez's best work. This volume features nothing quite so immediately stunning and goes much lighter on the magical realism than Ghost—no giants or hellhounds or devil-children here. But Hernandez's subtler storytelling skills come to the fore in two stories only tenuously related in terms of plot but closely connected in terms of theme, as Hopey Glass and Ray Dominguez each individually face (or refuse to face) the adulthood they've resolutely posptponed for a couple of extra decades now.

To my surprise, I found Ray's story the more compelling of the two; I suppose that might be a gendered reaction, though it may also have to do with a certain wariness at the one-shade-too-obvious conceit of Hopey's new glasses giving her a new perspective on life. ("Everybody's old! . . . We all got cracks in our faces!"). Despite my qualms, Hernandez carries it off by playing it for gentle laughs instead of solemn nods, though he adeptly switches to a more serious register when Hopey is nearly overwhelmed by the stresses of her new job as a teacher's assistant. It's the perfect job to suggest Hopey's in-between situation: She's stranded between childhood and adulthood, and while she at first basks in the adulation of her charges (basking comes naturally to Hopey), she also finds herself being treated like a child when she misbehaves.

(I would love to hear Hernandez describe how he came up with the character design for the know-it-all woman in the last panel, who pops up a couple of other times—it's hilarious and almost gag-strippish while managing not to look out of place among the other "realist" characters.) As one story near the end of the Hopey section makes clear, Hopey is evolving beyond her fire-cracking, hell-raising origins, but not so much that she becomes unrecognizable – to her longtime friend/sometime lover Maggie's relief.

Ray Dominguez, on the other hand: It's a testament to Hernandez's storytelling skill that Ray is still such a sympathetic and even attractive character at the same time that he's so utterly passive and disengaged from the world around him. In the opening chapters of this collection, Ray seems downright cool. Frequently half in shadow, with his rumpled suit (the jacket and pants don't match) and his cigarettes and his voice-over narration, Ray could almost pass for a classic L.A.-noir gumshoe. Or at least The Everyman Who Gets Caught Up in Events Beyond His Control Because He's in the Wrong Place at the Wrong Time.

There's even a genuine underworld murder and a femme fatale – Vivian "Frogmouth" Solis, blessed with a perfect body and cursed with a "foghorn" of a voice. (Viv originated in the last volume as a sort of bodacious monkeywrench. Here, though, she here reveals traces of a much more complex inner life – yet one that we only ever see through someone else's perspective.) Yet Ray is nearly always but a spectator to brutal beatings, skinny dipping, and everything else that goes on around him. Sure, he's happy to have sex if someone wants to jump his bones. But even when he dreams of solving mysteries he merely lurks on the periphery, never central to the action. If Hopey is evolving, Ray is stagnating – something Hernandez humorously suggests by having Ray grow a scraggly mustache that resembles nothing so much as moss on an unrolling stone.

It's not clear if there's hope for Ray. He's still pining for Maggie, but even the staunchest Ray fan would have trouble pulling for that reunion after this story. By the end of the collection, he has at least realized his plight and makes noises about becoming an adult, about taking a position of greater responsibility at his job. (Nothing about the art he was once so passionate about, though.) But Hernandez undercuts the slim optimism of Ray's ruminations by juxtaposing them with images of Ray sitting slumped in a chair, watching two women swim naked and not even considering participating (even to the extent of surreptitiously filming them like the neighbor kid is). Then later he sleeps through most of the bi-curious wrestling match/near-hookup happening behind him. Whatever your position on bi-curious wrestling match/hookups in general, they are not things that one generally sleeps through.

Still, so deft is Jaime Hernandez's cartooning that all of his characters—whether morose and internally wounded as Ray or physically scarred and wobbly as Ray's old pal Doyle, who with each appearance seems one step closer to finally collapsing in a heap of stringy hair and blood-soaked western-style shirts—are nevertheless beautiful. You can't give up on them because they're nearly real, and like real people, they still have the capacity to surprise you—or at least to inspire the hope that they might.

Maggie and Hopey spy on Alarma

How to Read Love and Rockets.
Salon.com interview with Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez on L&R v2.
Mark Sobel's issue-by-issue retrospective for L&R vol 1.

Do you know what we welcome? Sunny days. Old friends. The opportunity for bloody vengeance, vengeance after all these years. And review copies. Contact us at prettyfakes at gmail dot com for info.


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