This week: It’s all about what I read. And what did I read? Lots of “Locas,” and a little of some other things.
The “LOCAS” BINGE
- Locas in Love
- Dicks and Deedees
- Ghosts of Hoppers
- The Education of Hopey Glass
- “La Maggie La Loca” and “Gold Diggers of 1969” from Love and Rockets vol. II #20
THE THING THAT I LOVE ABOUT both Jaime Hernandez’s “Locas” stories and Gilbert Hernandez’s “Palomar” (y’know, aside from the stunning artwork, real-feeling characters, great comedy, ever-expanding worlds and moving storylines) is the power of accumulation in serial fiction.
Accumulation is something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately, and I mentioned it briefly last week in reference to discussing The Invisibles with my uncle, who is reading that series for the first time. It’s also on my mind in relation to the 40th anniversary of Doonesbury, a strip that’s been important to me since I discovered The Doonesbury Chronicles as a kid. I was too young to really understand most of the politics—especially since the book only covers through the early 1970s, nearly ten years before I was born—but I was taken with the characters, who rang true despite the vast difference between college life in the ’70s and childhood in the ’90s.
As I shifted my focus to the modern incarnation of the strip, I found that the characters had changed considerably, but were still rooted in who they had been in that old book I found in my parents’ house (and which has since become a prized possession in mine; I’m pretty sure they’re aware of this). It was my first exposure to a long-running serialized story, and I remain amazed at how Garry Trudeau balances of-the-moment political satire with a cast of characters who have aged in real time and whose shared histories added so much weight to more storylines than I can list.
I came to Love and Rockets much more recently (at the time I latched onto Doonesbury I was a comic-strip devotee but hadn’t discovered comic books yet), but it doesn’t take long to see the same dynamic at play. I think these four collections and one single issue make up all of the “Locas” stories from Penny Century and L&R vol. II, and they depict a Maggie and Hopey dramatically different from those of the early stories, but like latter-day Mike Doonesbury, Mark Slackmeyer and B.D., traces of their younger selves are still evident in their appearances and personalities. No longer young punks, they are now in middle age, with Hopey beginning to settle down and in the midst of a belated maturity and career change, and Maggie is now the superintendent of an LA apartment complex and regretting how little she has to show for her life.
These are stories that could be told without the baggage that the characters’ long publication histories bring with them, but ones that are so much richer for having that background. When we see how worn out and sad Maggie seems, it is with not just the knowledge that she used to be happier, but with a host of shared memories, years of time spent with the character that makes a reader, even one who read those stories only two or three years ago instead of 20, feel the diminishment of energy that plagues her. While it’s not all so sad, the bulk of these volumes has the feeling of sticking around long after other stories would have ended, focusing on what remains when life doesn’t go as planned, or develops a second act, or simply has to continue when one part of it is over.
That last part is particularly in play in the Ray D. sections. Ray is in a position that most of us have been at some point: he was in a relationship (with Maggie) that he probably could have been content to make a life out of, and now that it’s over he has to figure out how to try to be with someone else. His encounters with the “Frogmouth”—so named for her nails-on-chalkboard voice—perfectly captures the struggle of figuring out how to reenter the dating world and try to let a new person inhabit a part of your life that used to belong to someone else, even as you intermittently miss that person. Again, it’s so effective in part (I want to make sure I don’t discount Hernandez’s incredible “acting” and characterization skills in making these stories work) because we have seen and remember Maggie and Ray’s time together, and how in love he was, as well as rough parts that he is probably choosing to forget in his pining for her.
Along with the moments that draw their power from readers’ knowledge of the past, Hernandez is also a master of the well-placed flashback. Details are often filled in as needed, but organically enough that it never feels like he’s just thought of them. In fact, including information as-needed is a staple of these stories, as new situations are introduced (Maggie’s marriage, Hopey’s eyepatch) and several chapters will pass before we learn what has actually happened. Hernandez has used this particular tool often enough that he knows we’ll understand to wait to be filled in rather than thinking we’ve missed something, and he rewards that patience by holding the answers until it is most dramatic to answer them, and somehow always manages to pair that moment with a reveal that comes naturally in conversation rather than feeling like forced exposition.
Each element of the story is strengthened immensely by Hernandez’s art, which is essentially perfect. The compositions and the balance of black and white always impress, and the body language and facial expressions show incredible versatility, broad when necessary for comic effect, but subtle and devastating in emotional moments. The gist of stories is completely clear without dialogue. Hernandez’s style is not at all showy, and it doesn’t need to be, though there are also no shortcuts. The panel-to-panel storytelling is crystal clear, but a little examination shows that angles aren’t repeated unless necessary; Hernandez keeps each page as visually interesting as possible without the artistry ever intruding upon the story.
The difference in appearance of each character from earlier versions completely sells the passage of time, and in ways unique to each character. It was a huge moment years ago when Hernandez jumped forward a bit in his story and began drawing a heavier Maggie, but middle-aged Maggie is an equally perfect transformation. She hasn’t gotten any larger, but over time the weight has moved, now more in her neck and arms, while thanks to Hernandez’s talent for capturing the female form, she remains beautiful, and Ray’s continued lust for her is clearly more than nostalgia. Hopey is still rail-thin, but subtle adjustments to her body language, dress and hair communicate her advancing age, and giving her glasses changes everything. And when Hernandez puts in a flashback to the days of the young Maggie and Hopey, as when he reveals how Maggie and her husband met, he flawlessly recaptures their old looks, with the details to place the new story onto the timeline with the older ones carefully considered.
Hernandez’s world is so complete, with such a large and complex cast, that it’s possible to forget that it resembles, most of the time, the real world. When politics or social satire enters, as they occasionally do, it’s momentarily jarring, but the world of “Locas” is broad enough that it feels capable of absorbing anything. Suddenly those politics and satire reflect our world, but they’re also an organic part of the world on the page, and the antics of Election Day, on which Hopey serves as a poll worker, mirrors the chaos of Maggie and Hopey’s lives. Similarly, this series that began in a decidedly sci-fi vein is able to integrate fantastic elements just as easily. Not only does “La Maggie La Loca” explicitly reference some of those earlier stories and confirm that, while Hernandez may have moved away from that milieu, he hasn’t disowned it, but these volumes are where the superheroes that will briefly take over in Love and Rockets New Stories #1 and #2 start to appear. In one memorable scene, Maggie and Hopey watch the apartment of a tenant Maggie suspects of being a superhero, and share a triumphant whoop when they spot her returning home via rooftops. Now I’m going to have to reread the superhero arc to remind myself how each of the figures introduced in these pages plays in.
I’m as excited as anyone that the graphic novel is gradually becoming the standard model of the modern comic book, but among its many virtues, the fact that Love and Rockets has always been presented as a series is important. This is the comic book that elevated the serial format of comics from soap opera to serialized literature. It’s hard to wait between the annual installments, but it’s worth it to check in with old friends, and whatever else he does with the rest of his creativity, I’m happy that Hernandez always finds time to keep up with the “Locas” world.
READ THIS WEEK:
- Atelier by Fábio Moon & Gabriel Bá
This is sort of twins Moon and Bá’s Comics Anti-Manifesto. It’s not about why someone should make comics, or how they should make them, but instead about how it feels for the two of them to make comics. The title means “an artist’s studio or workroom,” and looking around their studio is the impression Moon and Bá want to give you. In a nod toward universality, the text is in four languages, but it’s the drawings that really carry the weight, with short, wordless chapters showing the twins growing up making pictures, and a joyous exploration of some of the things ink on paper can create. Beautiful stuff that definitely induces a smile for the few minutes it takes to go through it once and then pore over it more carefully a second time.
- Batman and Robin #15 by Grant Morrison & Frazier Irving
On first read, this seemed like it was marking time until the next issue, Morrison’s final, in which the original Batman will return to defeat Dr. Hurt and explain how everything ties together. Thinking about it more later, it occurred to me that this might actually be the most important issue of the Batman and Robin portion of Morrison’s ongoing Batman cycle, as it features Hurt tempting Damian to sell his soul and serve him in return for sparing Dick Grayson, the current Batman. Those circumstances aren’t all that different from the ones described in Batman #666’s origin of Damian-as-future-Batman. It may be that Damian rebuffing Hurt in this issue is the action that prevents that future, in which Professor Pyg and his addiction plague have ravaged Gotham. I also appreciated the “Gotcha” note Batman left in the box reflecting his line to Darkseid in Final Crisis, even if the “Looks like the villain’s won until they get to the last step of their plan and discover Batman’s beaten them to it” plot beat is a familiar one from Morrison’s handling of the character. And I enjoyed Frazier Irving’s artwork on these three issues much more than his muddy contribution to Return of Bruce Wayne. This is the weirdest and most deranged-looking Batman comic in some time, and it’s a perfect look for this storyline.
- Doom Patrol #15 by Keith Giffen, Matthew Clark, Ron Randall & John Livesay
- Gantz vol. 12 by Hiroya Oku
- Invincible Iron Man vol. 4: Stark Disassembled by Matt Fraction & Salvador Larroca (library)
I was completely immersed in the first three volumes of this series, but this felt like a letdown after them, an entire volume devoted to “rebooting” a Tony Stark whose memory has been erased, and who nonetheless somehow has to fight his way through a dream reality in an adventure mirroring the real-world struggle of his allies to revive him. It feels like a desperate attempt to compensate for a lack of action in the main storyline and serves to drag out the whole incident without greatly deepening it. I’m willing to treat this as a blip, and already have the next volume on hold from the library, but this really felt like a lot of hand-wringing in place of a next chapter.
Images of Ghost of Hoppers © Jaime Hernandez. Images of Batman and Robin © DC Comics.