When Jaime Hernandez started out with Love & Rockets, with his brothers Gilbert and Mario in 1982, his drawing was very detailed and the stories fantastical. “Mechanics,” his first installment, featured riot-torn villages, giant sea creatures (“Wow!” says one character. “That’s the stuff comics are made of!”), and a quest to repair a top-secret rocketship that’s crashed in the jungle. The book was titled Love & Rockets, after all.
But over time, Hernandez’s illustration became less detailed, focusing only the more important elements, using deep blacks and lots of white space. And the stories, as we can see in the giant collection Locas: The Maggie and Hopey Stories (from L&R issues 1982 through 1988), while still occasionally dallying with would-be super heroes and fading female pro wrestlers, evolved into tales of gang wars, broken hearts and desperation. Mexican-American Maggie Chascarrillo and Hopey Glass get on with their lives, together and separately, in southern California. More love, less rockets.
By the time we get to “Vida Loca: The Death of Speedy Ortiz,” about three-quarters into this book, life for our protagonists is not as much a fun-filled adventure as they are painted with real-life sadness and tragedy.
Ne’er-do-well Speedy, on whom Maggie has a longtime crush, desperately tries to talk to her about how things have gone terribly wrong for him:
“I’ve just about ****** over everybody that ever meant anything to me, you’re all I’ve got left …. And if I ever lost you, I don’t know what I’d do. I need you, Maggie, I need you bad. I never really wanted Esther or Blanca or …. You’re the one I’ve want for a long ol’ time. You knew that. You did. Please, Maggie, keep me going. Only you can do it for me. I love you.”
Whereupon long-suffering Maggie justifiably loses her temper. “Don’t you dare put this on me!” she shouts. “… I can’t do it any more. It hurts too much.”
What follows is still, for me, the most touching sequence of final panels in graphic novels. You really need to read it.