Ghost of Hoppers
(Love and Rockets Book 22)
Jaime Hernandez, writer/artist
120 pages, hardcover
Jaime Hernandez has long displayed an infrequently utilized but alarming alacrity for horror. The Locas comics’ outbursts of genuine violence have been scary–I’ll never forget Hopey getting stomped on in the bathtub and staggering out, leaning naked against the door frame, or Speedy half-lit by the streetlight, a portrait of a young man at the very moment he hits rock bottom that chills me to my very soul. But in general the real terror, the real exercises in creating and sustaining horror imagery, emanate from Izzy Ruebens. Maggie and Hopey’s long-suffering, eccentric mentor has slowly withered, almost, over the years, from the semi-comical parasol-wielding goth of the strip’s early, punky days to the stoic, emaciated, frequently naked presence we’ve seen in Penny Century and now Ghost of Hoppers. Whether she’s simply mentally ill or genuinely haunted (and the two aren’t mutually exclusive possibilities, to be sure) is almost immaterial. In either case, the danger comes simply from seeing what she sees. The shadows, the stains, the shattered and inverted crucifixes, the black dog, the flies on the ceiling–these are monumental horror-images, frightening not because of some physical threat they present but the violation of reality they represent. They’re frightening by virtue of their very existence. Something is wrong with them. All of the damage they’ve caused–and based on what we know of Izzy’s guilt over her abortions and suicide attempts, the damage that caused them–has been self-inflicted.
At first I struggled with why Jaime would choose this particular storyline–Maggie Realizes She’s All Grown Up, basically–to delve deeper than ever into this aspect of the Locas world. I mean, this thing becomes a horror comic toward the end, easily the most sustained such work in the whole Locas oeuvre. What does any of it have to do with the misadventures of Maggie, the story’s protagonist? But then it clicked: She, too, is threatened here by the violation of her conception of reality. Is she the badass punker she always thought she was, or has she grown up to be a square like everyone else? Is she basically just a fun-loving straight girl with one exception that proves the rule, or might she be physically and emotionally attracted to other women after all? Is she okay with the friends-with-benefits relationship she’s had with Hopey since time immemorial, or does she want something more? Were she and Hopey really the center of the universe, or were there equally vibrant and vital relationships that continued on without them? Can she maintain her self-image as a troublemaker when she’s at a place where she really kind of hates trouble? Does Hoppers–her neighborhood, her hometown, her group of friends and fellow travelers–still exist in her mind as a screwed-up but happy place to visit, or has the passage of time rendered that all a lie? No wonder the black dog chooses now to pay her a visit. She had so much to be frightened of already. Thank goodness that life sometimes grants even hapless Locas an exorcism or two on the house.