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Sunday, July 02, 2006

GHOST OF HOPPERS by Jaime Hernandez. Ghost of Hoppers -- Like most right-thinking comics readers of all ages, genders and sexual orientations, I've had a crush on Maggie Chascarrillo for as far back as I can remember. We've both changed a lot over the years, but as is often the case, catching up can be a wonderous thing. Ghost of Hoppers is a wondrous thing.

As much as I love the giant slabs of collected Love and Rockets graphic novels Palomar (by Gilbert) and Locas (by Jaime, author of Ghost of Hoppers), it's good to remember just how effective the work of Los Bros can be in smaller packages. Ghost of Hoppers runs 116 pages (plus gorgeous cover gallery), and contains just one story; through the obnoxious, vivacious character Vivian, Jaime Hernandez takes Maggie on a walking and driving tour of her life. The story is, in turns, sweet, funny, sad, sexy and terrifying. Jaime even approaches the magical realism territory of his brother Gilbert, in a breathtaking sequence that sees the eras of Maggie's life touch in some mystical way, for just a moment. It's the kind of thing that most people experience at least once in their life and wonder about the rest of their days, but Hernandez makes it so organic -- and inevitable -- that we simply nod, and continue.

There's plenty of flirting and (mostly off-panel) sex here, but the heart of the story (originally serialized over many issues of the current L&R series, far more effective here under one cover), as always, is Maggie and her lifelong orbit around her soulmate Hopey. Hopey is devastating in Ghost of Hoppers, seen as that one lover that is always closest to you, even when you're involved with others; most powerfully of all, Hernandez cannily keeps her mostly off the page. She's in one or two key (and I mean key) scenes, but with Jaime's masterful control of his characters, his story, and his art, she's all the more influential for her absence from the bulk of the story. Her most important scenes are actually seen only from Maggie's point of view, as the two longtime lovers talk on the phone. Just thinking back to the pacing and depiction of those moments makes me want to read the entire book again, as they argue mightily for Jaime Hernandez as one of the best storytellers alive today on the planet. Who hasn't had their heart broken -- or their life affirmed -- by a distant utterance on a static-filled phone line?

There's so much more to tell you about Ghost of Hoppers; Izzy is back, and so are the flies, but they'e not on the ceiling this time. I want to tell you how convincingly Hernandez can create whole worlds through elegant, economical suggestion: Who could read this and not imagine an entire other twenty-year series of stories about Maggie's sister? What other creator could so easily depict the tumult of human emotion right on the page, as in the single panel that signals the end of Maggie's infatuation with Vivian -- Maggie looks agonized, resigned and relieved all in the space of a single image. We know it hurts, we know Maggie's been here before, we know Vivian's words hurt her -- but we also know Viv is no Hopey. And yet Viv and Maggie's brief flirtation felt so real, and so filled with possibility, just a little earlier. Just another moment from a life, Maggie's life; perhaps the most genuine, astonishing life ever lived entirely in the pages of a comic book. Shine on forever, Maggie. Shine on.



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