Earlier this year, Fantagraphics Books re-launched their Love and Rockets book collections as a series of compact, mass-market volumes that also have a low cover price ($14.95). Love and Rockets is the long-running comic book series created by brothers Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez with another brother, Mario, sometimes participating. Fantagraphics has thus far released two new format volumes collecting Gilbert Hernandez's L&R comics (Heartbreak Soup and Human Diastrophism).
The Girl from H.O.P.P.E.R.S. is the second new format collection of Jaime’s L&R comics ( Maggie the Mechanic being the first). By the end of the stories in Maggie the Mechanic, almost all of the sci-fi trappings of Jaime’s earliest stories are gone. For all intents and purposes, The Girl from H.O.P.P.E.R.S. takes it to the next step and obliterates Jaime’s early B-movie trappings. In fact, “The Adventures of Maggie the Mechanic,” a two-pager that appears in the middle of The Girl from H.O.P.P.E.R.S., casually dismisses a staple of early Jaime – the idea of romantic B-movie adventures in which lovelorn girls and hunky men fix robots and rockets.
Taking a more naturalistic approach for the stories reprinted here, Jaime focused on Hoppers, his fictional Los Angeles barrio, and lives of the mostly-young Mexican-Americans and punk rockers who live there. The central figures are Jaime’s signature characters, two young women and live-long friends/sometime lovers, Maggie Chascarrillo and Hopey Glass. Using the duo as a sort of nexus, Jaime expanded his cast to include a number of supporting characters who often became the leads in their own short stories. This includes Ray Dominguez, a childhood acquaintance of Maggie’s who becomes her lover; Maggie’s aunt, the wrestler Vicki Glory; Vicki’s former partner and now rival, “Queen” Rena Titañon AKA La Toña; Ray’s homie, Doyle Black; the amazing Penny Century; and Isabel “Izzy” Ortiz.
The bulk of these stories were published from 1985 to 1989, a time of great change and increased mass media attention for comics – mostly for titles available only in the Direct Market. Although Love and Rockets received acclaim from a small group of readers and fans and some comics creators (Will Eisner and Alan Moore, among them), the title seemed to get lost in the shuffle as the 80’s slipped into an avalanche of Batman hysteria and a deluge of Marvel titles.
Thus, it was easy to miss Jaime Hernandez quietly creating his own brand of contemporary fiction (then, a rarity in American comics), especially since so many people saw him only as the really good L&R artist (while his brother Gilbert was the really good L&R writer). True, Jaime is an exceptional artist, probably the best artist/cartoonist working in North American comics. The black and white comics art reprinted in The Girl from H.O.P.P.E.R.S. was and remains the best black and white material to appear, probably since Alex Toth.
However, beyond the pretty pictures were comix as contemporary fiction. These were stories that were of their time and also universal – stories about change. All the characters in this tale, young and old, must face moving on with their lives even as their pasts hold firmly to them. They must cast aside the frivolities of teen life and face adult responsibilities, and that’s so difficult because in many ways they still see the world as a juvenile does. It’s a change or die situation, which is reflected in one of the key stories here, “The Death of Speedy Ortiz.”
Speedy Ortiz embodies this volume’s themes of painful transformation and of the difficult transition from idle youth to adulthood, when they have to stop playing around because life… is for real – so to speak. Even when Speedy is not present in the story named for him, his problems hang over the other characters, who are struggling to accept that they are getting older and have to move on with their lives.
Speedy is doomed, but the story of his demise and many of the other stories in The Girl from H.O.P.P.E.R.S. set the stage for Jaime Hernandez to move on from being a guy who drew punky, underground-type comix to becoming an author of contemporary fiction, stories that examine how people live and relate to one another in the modern world of the here and now.