Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Book-A-Day #76 (10/1): Ghost of Hoppers by Jaime Hernandez

I get schizophrenic when it comes to the Hernandez Brothers -- whichever one of them I've read more recently is clearly the greater artist. So I've spent the last month (well, 26 days) with Gilbert in my head as the superior Hernandez (since I read Sloth), and now I've read a Jaime book, so everything has to change.

Maybe I can be a bit more even-handed this time. I still think Gilbert is the more formally exciting; he tries bigger, odder things and makes them work most of the time. But Jaime is a bit better at drawing, and his characters have more life and energy to them. (Or maybe I just mean that Gilbert has huge casts, so I don't get to know any of his people as well as I do Jaime's central characters.) There's also something a bit cold about Gilbert's work; he's seeing his people from outside. Jaime's people feel more emotionally present to me.

Anyway, Ghost of Hoppers is Volume 22 of the Complete Love & Rockets, which makes it sound like a horrible place to begin. Actually, it's a pretty good introduction to Jaime's half of the book -- it focuses mostly on Maggie, his long-running central character, and you don't need to know anything about her or her world to read this. (In fact, it's probably best to start reading Love & Rockets with one of the current collections; the beginning is quite different from the way it ended up.) Maggie is fortyish and managing an apartment complex in LA; when the series started, she was a teenaged punk (and, intermittently, a "pro-solar mechanic" in the more SFnal stories). I find it hard to describe these stories; they're neither slice-of-life (in the Harvey Pekar sense) nor are they exactly part of a larger narrative. They're just stories, some longer than others, all of which do add up to a larger story (this book) and are also part of an even longer, more intricate story (the whole of Jaime's Love & Rockets work to date).

I'm explaining all of this badly, but both of the Hernandez Brothers are among the very best artists and writers in modern comics. Their stories have been consistently strong, and the collected Love & Rockets stands as one of the towing achievements in the field: a major, sustained work that's both personal and accessible, specific and universal. Ghost of Hoppers is one good door into that world for people who've never been there before.

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