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The Art of Jaime Hernandez: The Secrets of Life and Death
posted April 13, 2010
Jaime Hernandez, Todd Hignite, Jordan Crane, Alison Bechdel
Abrams, hardcover, 224 pages, April 2010, $40
9780810995703 (ISBN13), 0810995700 (ISBN10)
Todd Hignite's text for the Abrams' pretty The Art Of Jaime Hernandez
is like the best testimonial ever written for a fancy tribute dinner, the kind of speechifying that makes you tear up a little bit in shared love for the subject of its adoration. One reads a lot of writing about cartoonists, but very little of it makes you want to shake the writer's hand, as is the case here. The love that many comics fans have for the work of Jaime Hernandez may be unique in comics because he's an artist that brings out that emotion in people that I would suggest are largely distrustful if not outright contemptuous of how frequently such feelings are expressed on behalf of so many other artists working in the medium. Jaime is a a comics artist people that find it hard to love artists love. Further, I think that people love Jaime for all the usual reasons one may love a comics artist, and then some folks love him a little more for all the reasons they love a great artist working any medium, and then a few folks love him that much more for being the avatar of a certain kind of relationship to comics, growing in seriousness of intent and human scope just as they were ready to read stories like that.
This book pretty much captures all of that, how great Jaime's material was almost immediately upon Love & Rockets
' creation and yet where the notable shifts in quality and excellence came, how obvious a great cartoonist he is and how from almost the very beginning he was an under-appreciated dialogue man and writer generally. Hignite and Jordan Crane together subtly suggest the extent to which he was influenced by any number of artists working in multiple genres, the way the characters relating in space to one another evokes the Archie comics, for example. There are also a number of gems that I either never knew or forgot: Maggie's initial time-line that saw her disappearing in her mid-'30s, Jaime's involvement as an early teen in lowrider culture and a fascinating attempt at a Speedy/Esther cover in the style of art prominent in that culture, the abortive attempt at a comic that led to that great short story about Terry Downe forcing Hopey to write Maggie a letter, a gorgeous-looking dropped Rena Titanon story page. The complete stories are well-selected: Hignite makes a fascinating case for the New York Times
Maggie story that some criticized, noting nuances in characterization and presentation that I hadn't picked up on before. I also applaud the use of "Spring 1982," which is one of the great comics short stories.
Could I nitpick? Sure. There are different items of emphasis that I think any writer will bring to Jaime -- I expect him to get a very different treatment in Marc Sobel's forthcoming book, if that comes off. I love "Spring 1982" and the little kid stories but I love-love "Tear It Up, Terry Downe" and that glorious sequence of Maggie waking up in one of the Locas stories that felt like being slam-dunked on by Michael Jordan. That kind of thing. Also, the wealth of drawn material and photos from the early days are of such interest they walk off a bit with the book in terms of overall balance. Hignite is a super-smart writer, and mitigates this with such things as starting with the NYT
story, but the lingering memory is of Jaime in a mohawk a little bit more than it is the man he's become, if that makes any sense. I don't know if that's avoidable or not, given how hard those comics hit at that moment within comics. It may be that an art book made this too difficult, but I loved Hignite's point about the elegance of Jaime's narratives, how spare they are and how they're built almost solely from necessary moments, and would have loved a lot more of that. I might quibble with some of the historical analysis. For instance, I think any backlash against Jaime within 1980s comics circles had less to do with deteriorating across-medium solidarity than a push-back by competitive artists against Fantagraphics' ongoing emphasis of how great those comics were. If I weren't as enamored of Jaime's work as Hignite seems to be, as Jordan Crane seems to be in his crisp treatment of the art page to page, as Alison Bechdel seems to be in her introduction, I might have a different set of concerns and some of them might be major. I can't be certain. But as a book about taking into greater consideration an artist for whom you may feel an unexamined fondness? I can't imagine much of a better one than this. Plus you just get to look at the damn thing.