Writer & Artist: Jaime Hernandez
Release Date: April 22, 2014
Where his brother Gilbert has cast a wide net exploring the comics form and its myriad genres (see Fatima: The Blood Spinners for one example), Jaime Hernandez has moved in the opposite direction, choosing to refine his craft and his focus ever more. Instead of attempting to sample everything the big world of comics has to offer, he’s painstakingly filled in the backgrounds of the characters he created 33 years ago.
As the cover for this compilation reveals, The Love Bunglers focuses its magnifying glass on Maggie Chascarillo and Ray Dominguez, but the book also allows time for Hopey Glass, Vivian “Frogmouth” Solis, Reno Banks and Angel Rivera. Much like Ghost of Hoppers, Hernandez’s last book of this size that also featured Maggie as its primary character, this one devotes its attention to backstory, specifically Maggie’s pre-teen years spent in suburban Cadezza. Isolated from her friends back in Huerta, the neighborhood where she grew up, she finds herself responsible for her three younger siblings, more vulnerable than usual as her knowledge of the world grows and her support system evaporates. It’s ostensibly a safer environment, but terrible things still happen; they’re just suppressed, and the lack of a tight-knit social environment causes them to remain buried.
The mingling of this flashback material with the modern take on Maggie and Ray’s fragile relationship as two disillusioned, yet sensitive, middle-aged people fits surprisingly well. Hernandez draws no obvious connections between the two narratives, but he doesn’t have to. He’s able to enfold a world of meaning in a few pen strokes, and the same expressions flit across Maggie’s face whether she’s 10 or 40: embarrassment, resignation, hope, desire, nervousness. These visual cues alone should make the underlying theme fairly obvious: who we are as children shapes who we become as adults, and there’s little we can do about it.
Hernandez’s Locas storyline has drawn comparisons to John Updike’s Rabbit series of four novels, but it may be just as accurate to compare this work to Proust. While Updike sticks to a fairly steady and predictable path, per the nature of his American exceptionalism theme, Proust and Hernandez have a tendency to meander. This straying can be frustrating, especially when it highlights secondary characters, but the realization that you have to surrender to the author’s judgment and direction is liberating. These digressions are a crucial part of the full picture being painted; if you are patient, you will be rewarded with gloriousness. Hernandez is clearly in the home stretch, as the end of The Love Bunglers makes clear, and his books display more depth, filled with both light and darkness, as time marches on. In other words, they’re only getting better.