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Ghost of Hoppers
posted January 31, 2006
Fantagraphics, 128 pages, $18.95, 2006
Jaime Hernandez is such a magnificent cartoon artist it's easy to rhapsodize for paragraphs at a time over the smallest touches of layout, figure drawing and character design that he brings to every project, the way he spots blocks to balance panel and page, the way those blacks also move your eye across the page and help control the pacing of the story, the way a single character design element from a slightly oversized nose to an oddly shaped head makes you blink twice every time you see a certain character the way you might in real life, the way beautiful, dessicated people maintain their energy so that you see them th way those around them do even if you don't share that memory, the way his characters carry tension in their shoulders or feel uncomfortable in their clothes. A lot of people who read comics tend to drive these effects into the background in favor of an impression of story, a way of processing comics that drives out the visual element or simply mistrusts it. One not only gets pleasure out of looking at Jaime Hernandez's art, much of his thematic work comes from the effects only he and a few others can squeeze out of a drawing.
In Ghosts of Hoppers, we follow Maggie Chascarillo as she travels through a landscape familiar to readers of Heranandez's work: an aimless present that bleeds into an idealized past. In this case, the throughline is several terrifying memories that circulate around Izzy Ortiz's house and its former tenant Mrs. Galindo. She bounces back and forth between these unnerving experiences and, in increasingly obvious fashion, trying to find that same sense of connection she felt during those times, just this time with someone -- the Frogmouth -- who resists that kind of thing with every ounce of her character. Maggie's getting older, and the disturbing part of getting older is the loss of those connections, the way the present assaults their significance and meaning, and the notion that they might not get replaced by anything better, anything at all. Maggie escapes being consumed (almost literally) by this experience by seeing past her own experience and coming to grips with the impact she has on other people's lives -- not the grand way Izzy suggests in an early chapter, but by realizing the way she must exist in other peoples' memories, the way she's been snatched at and built into worlds of meaning that was as out of her control as these unbidden images of the past. In this way, Ghosts of Hoppers
also acts as a wonderful coda to Wig Wam Bam
if not the entire second half of Locas
, where characters scramble to understand each other only when they're no longer in the same place, literally and figuratively. Anyone who felt a connection to Maggie when they were 19 years old and lonely and drunk and running through sprinklers can find something in Ghosts of Hoppers
to reconnect with the character, and to put her story into deeper perspective. No one is comics has ever used the comics longform, the number of pages and the years between books, to such beautiful effect.
The happy ending of Ghosts of Hoppers
comes as a surprise, a thematic add-in, and proves as sweet as it is unexpected to Maggie herself. Jaime Hernandez is comics' poet laureate of memory and meaning.