Thursday, May 29, 2008

"The Education of Hopey Glass:" A Comic Review!

The Education of Hopey Glass
Publisher: Fantagraphics
Writer/Artist: Jaime Hernandez

I'm including this because 1) I'm proud of it and 2) Love & Rockets began back in the days of my teenybopper comics addiction. Has it been 26 years since the Locas made the scene? They were in their late teens then, which makes them in their middle 40s now. And Hopey, the seemingly ageless punk rocker deals with issues of responsibility and getting older in the latest collection of Jaime’s stories from Los Bros Hernandez’ Love & Rockets volume 2.

In "Day by Day with Hopey," Jaime Hernandez details a week in Hopey's life as she prepares for her new job as an assistant teacher and contributes to the dissolution of her latest relationship. Hopey’s new glasses become a visual metaphor for the changes she’s gone through in her life, a reading further reinforced by the book’s reproduction of an L&R back cover featuring various snapshots of La Hopita from her innocent toddler days through her emotionally troubled pubescence to her “boy-looking peesashit” period, complete with tuxedo.

While Maggie and Ray Dominguez have most obviously visually aged, with Maggie becoming voluptuously heavy during the series’ first run and Ray eventually taking on middle-aged heft, Hopey has remained curiously youthful. Good genetics, I suppose. Some people just age well. Where Jaime most reveals the years and mileage on Hopey’s petite frame are in the scenes where she’s showering or having sex. He shows her nude form as vulnerably tiny and visibly sagging. And it adds a welcome humanizing touch…

As does her mystifying new career. Hopey as a teacher, even an assistant one? How will the kids survive her temper and self-absorption?

Hopey has always been the least self-reflective of Jaime’s characters, yet one of the most charismatic. She’s an unrepentant flirt with the almost unerring ability to pull almost any woman she wants, possessed of a checkered career including stints in punk bands, homelessness, various run-ins with the law, an existence pinballing from one relationship to the next, various low rent or temp jobs including her current gig as a bartender at a club that’s seen better days (Charles Mingus once sat in on a jam there, according to Honest Joe, the ancient regular who trades jibes with Hopey on her final shift).

In Education's penultimate installment, "Monday is Attila the Hun Day," Jaime transposes a hilarious and poignant flashback to Hopey’s elementary school days with her current daily life to depict an early development in the Hopeymonster growth process as she belatedly assumes adult responsibilities, and not without trepidation. While it’s definitely possible Hopey’s had conflicted feelings about almost every mishap she’s caused herself, her lovers and friends over the years, never have they been so blatant. Characteristically, she expresses them externally. While Ray gets narrative captions and Maggie gets thought balloons, Hopey has never had an obvious internal monologue; almost all her character development has been through action or dialogue. Her surface motives are usually extremely transparent, even hilariously so, as depicted in the Maggie and Hopey Color Fun (collected in the essential yet seemingly out-of-print Locas in Love trade) sequence where she blatantly attempts to seduce her brother’s fiancĂ©e. And her various mouthy utterances. She’s not shy, and she’s pretty fearless. But the Jaime's deliberate withholding of her thought processes and clarifying captions have left her inner life delightfully obscure.

Education is no different, but now she’s willing to share her anxieties with others (Hopey has anxieties? Wow, now I don’t feel so bad!), and her concerns are a bit deeper than getting’ some. But not to worry… she’s not going soft, as Maggie discovers.

Ah, Hopey. Still breaking hearts after all these years.

The second part of Education deals with Ray Dominguez’ romantic misadventures with Vivian the Frogmouth, a gorgeously curvy stripper/would-be actor he's sexually obsessed with. Ray is Jaime’s most sympathetic and fully-dimensional male character. Usually Jaime’s stores are given over to the trials and travails of Maggie, but he’s occasionally slipped in a bit of Ray here and there through the years. Finally, Ray gets his turn in the spotlight, and makes the most of it with a self-lacerating, almost nourish look at his nocturnal urban existence and constant search for love. Or at least lovin'.

It's a semi-sordid tale of casual violence, taking place in seedy locales. And the occasional audition. It also displays Jaime's amazing ability to draw fascinating women in all shapes and sizes and body types. Frequently and dazzingly nude. To read this story is to become Ray.

Also of note are "Angel of Tarzana" and "Angels of Tarzana," in which Jaime presents Angel Rivera, Maggie's roommate at the apartment complex she manages. Angel is a Star Wars-loving athlete who eventually crosses over into Ray's world to share a late-night skinny dip with Vivian. She once again demonstrates Jaime's unerring ability to limn a memorable, sympathetic character with just a few telling vignettes. Angel experiences all the pains of being a young jock but never lets it get her down.

It's a helluva a book, gorgeously illustrated (Jaime's slick art makes me happily high), written with humanity and insight into all the shadowy recesses of the human heart. It's also hardcover, with a real heft. It's a bookshelf type of book and you need it on YOURS. Hopey Glass expects no less!

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