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The Education of Hopey Glass 

Graphic novel by Jaime Hernandez.
Fantagraphics.

It's a commonplace claim that comic books (pardon me, Graphic Novels) are now literature. Jaime Hernandez's latest graphic novel is typically engrossing, and may very well be literature, but it's also a lot more fun to read than most "real" novels. The Education of Hopey Glass is as character-driven as the best novels, but it can't really be imagined in any other medium than comics. It's both playful and realistic, glamorous and gritty.

In the '80s, Oxnard-based Jaime Hernandez and his brother Gilbert created the indie alternative comic book Love and Rockets (they were initially joined by their older brother Mario, who by his own admission didn't possess the skill of his younger brothers). Jaime's art and stories attracted much attention for the way he skillfully synthesized such disparate elements as California punk rock culture, Archie comics and the earlier work of singular cartoonists such as Alex Toth and Steve Ditko, along with the iconography of Mexican wrestling. His economical chiaroscuro line work, skill at drawing (and writing about) women and cinematic storytelling helped him become one of the finest practitioners of the art of comics ever. His stories are incidental, with a loose-limned improvisatory flow that always favors character over any rigid plot.

Jaime devoted much of his time in the past few decades creating the "Locas" cycle, a densely populated series of stories centering on Margarita "Maggie" Chascarrillo and Esperanza "Hopey" Glass, two friends (and sometime lovers) known as Barrio Hoppers in a Southern California Latino neighborhood. If Maggie was the salt-of-the-earth everywoman, Hopey was the feisty rebel, first seen as a young teen punk graffiti-ing walls and later on the road playing bass with her band, The Missiles Of October. Hernandez flashes back in time often, so even minor characters are seen at various stages in their lives, from raucous punk rock youth to middle age compromise. This gives the stories a real complexity and lived history that's rare in any medium.

Which brings us to the current installment of the Locas saga. Hopey is bartending by night, having problems with her girlfriend Rosie, and working as a teacher's assistant in the day (ironic, considering her own hell-raising youth). Ray, another of Maggie's former lovers, is involved with the gorgeous Vivian, also known as Frogmouth, but still thinks about Maggie all the time.

Not a whole lot happens in a strict plot sense. Much of the art of comics happens in the rhythm of the telling, and here the precisely rendered visual gestures of Jaime's art express a lion's share of the meaning. He conveys much with just a single raised eyebrow, and is equally skilled at scene setting.

There's just one minor complaint: Maggie is hardly seen in this volume, and she's missed. She's usually the heart of Jaime's stories, and this book suffers slightly without her presence. Both her former lovers Ray and Hopey pine over her at various points in the book, so perhaps that's intentional. A little too much time is also given to new characters who aren't quite as compelling. His resistance to making just one character the center of attention is ultimately admirable, though, and adds to the Altmanesque sprawl of his fictional world. This book's maybe not the first place to dive into Jaime Hernandez' fictional world, but it's yet another fine example of his crafty accessible art.

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Jay Aubrey-Herzog

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