Monday, July 09, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #190: The Girl From H.O.P.P.E.R.S. by Jaime Hernandez

The Girl from H.O.P.P.E.R.S. follows immediately on the heels of Maggie the Mechanic: these aren't different stories but more from a long story-cycle that began in the first book. This is a separate book for size and scope reasons, not because they have anything to separate them.

(And, actually, they have been all together, in the giant hardcover Locas.)

So we have the back half of the 1980s here -- these stories originally appeared in the first series of Love and Rockets from 1984 through 1989 -- and the women here could conceivably be a decade older at the end than they were when we first saw them. But Jaime Hernandez didn't let time grab them that quickly, or maybe he didn't start to think about it immediately.

Time does start to pass as these stories go on -- maybe two or three years have gone by since that first "Maggie the Mechanic" story by the end of this book -- but that's the thing about serial fiction. It takes time to tell one story, and then the question is whether the next story will be set immediately after the first (and so further in the past) or "now" (and so there will be a gap of time from the end of one story to the beginning of the next). Mainstream comics traditionally solved that problem by resolutely ignoring it; Hernandez is telling the story of regular people in a regular world, so he doesn't have that option.

He could have gone on telling stories about young punkers, poor and struggling and squabbling, changing the background details each story so they're not stuck in 1981. Or he could have kept telling stories about 1981, moving on only after giving every last detail.

Instead, Maggie and Hopey and the rest started to grow up. They did different things, met other people, had wider lives. They were still stuck in Hoppers most of the time, because they were still young and poor and didn't have much else to do. (The SF elements of the early stories are gone, now -- Rand Race is a mechanic Maggie used to work for, who she doesn't want to see or think about because she still has a crush on him. Maybe he's still in that SFnal world, but she isn't.)

And the real world is tougher and nastier than that SFnal world, with dangers both subtle and overt. Hopey goes on tour with her band, which is disintegrating as they go, and disappears for more than a year. Maggie is dragged off by her aunt Vicki onto the wrestling circuit -- and it's more like the real 350-days-a-year grind of hard athletic/dramatic action here, and less glamorous like Hernandez made it in the first few stories. And we get short, devastating looks deeper into some of the cast and their lives, like "Tear It Up, Terry Downe."

It's a less female world, as well. Two men who will be important for a lot of later Locas stories show up strongly here: Ray Dominguez and Doyle Blackburn. Ray will become Maggie's long-term boyfriend while Hopey is missing, and Hernandez uses Doyle as a lens to see many events from a more outside perspective. And, of course, in the middle here is one of Hernandez's major stories, "Vida Loca: The Death of Speedy Ortiz," all about male posturing and anger and competition -- over women, over territory, over respect, over nothing at all.

This is all strong material; Hernandez distilled Locas down from a more complex mixture in the first book and now is telling the stories he needs to tell about this cast. He's showing rather than telling -- many of the stories here imply vastly more than they say, from small things like scene changes or thematic echoes. So much of modern comics for adults is built on the foundation Jaime Hernandez makes here: the inky blacks, the focus on gesture and body language, the emphasis on the comics language of panel and page for effect, the willingness to change tone radically, the use of real people living ground-level lives, the lack of captions, the way details accumulate over multiple stories over time, the ambiguity and openness to interpretation.

Start with Maggie the Mechanic, obviously. But know that it gets even better, even stronger, very quickly. 

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