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The Education of Hopey Glass
posted February 13, 2008
Fantagraphics, hardcover, 144 pages, March 2008, $19.99
It may sound silly to say out loud giving the honors and plaudits that have gone to Jaime Hernandez since he first appear in 1982 as the alt-comics prodigy against which all future precocious alternative comix cartoonists would be measured, but it may be that he's never been given his full due. The art in The Education of Hopey Glass
is as impressive and as frequently stunning as any work he's done. Every single panel can be pulled out and blown up into an arresting visual image worthy of the inside covers of any book out there, but it's the use to which they're put that separates the cartoonist from equally-lauded craftsmen. Much has been made of Hernandez's ability with "jump cuts" or breaks in the linear narrative via flashbacks, which not only challenges the reader to make the connections but underlines his stories' frequent thematic treatment of how much we're influenced by memory and regret. I think it's deserved praise, and works like 1988's "Tear It Up, Terry Downe" stand among the best short stories in 20th Century comics. Here those same skills are applied to a more standard narrative progression, a continuity in body language and incremental details that hold together storylines where very little happens in terms of overt action.
The Education of Hopey Glass
holds two extended serials, both of which turn on highly subtle considerations of time and self-examination. In the title story, Hernandez's great unknowable character Hopey adjusts slightly but significantly to getting a job as a teacher's assistant, a career move so essentially adult that it seems to stun those around her. The most poignant moments arise out of Hopey's growing suspicion that such a move may have come at the right time, as her fragile array of relationships re-align themselves, her depressed economic circumstance begins to reveal itself in subtle and not always pleasant fashion, and she's not even cool enough to get in backstage at a concert she wants to attend. That the context in which she's received has altered itself almost imperceptibly around Hopey at the same time she's changed in equally tiny increments to more graciously process feelings expressed towards her doesn't sound like much to drive a story, let alone an extended, frequently funny and ultimately sweet narrative about personal fragility and change. The emotional impact of these small events feels genuine and testifies to Hernandez's great ability to inform psychological truth through elements of romance and the fantastic.
The second story in the volume deals with Ray Dominguez and his deepening relationship with Vivian "Frogmouth" Solis, which Ray processes through an unlikely source: his two-year relationship with Maggie Chascarillo and his continuing to run into her. Maggie binds Ray to Hopey in terms of common circumstance, and we find out that Ray is going through much the same kind of situation as Hopey, taking a management job in part, he admits, to grow up a bit. His connection to the Frogmouth is key because without it, very little would probably happen to Ray; his reticence to being pushy or proactive has become an even more guarded refusal to manifest emotion or opinion even when pushed. He provides a complement to the Frogmouth -- and, to a lesser extent, Doyle Blackburn -- by sort of just being there and not being shoved into circumstances any more embarrassing than he can manage. In his part of the book's best moment, he and the Frogmouth share a quiet moment that he recognizes and appreciates as such. Very few cartoonists could get at these kind of unnamed emotions from the outside in. Jaime Hernandez continues to be one of comics' great treasures.