Clean Lines, Messy Lives

Tonta

by Jaime Hernandez
Fantagraphics, 100 pp., $19.99
Tonta and her friends Chata and Moses at a performance by her favorite punk band; from Hernandez’s graphic novel Tonta
Jaime Hernandez/Fantagraphics
Tonta and her friends Chata and Moses at a performance by her favorite punk band, Ooot; from Jaime Hernandez’s graphic novel Tonta

Since the comic book Love and Rockets debuted in 1981, Jaime Hernandez has created hundreds of stories about a Chicanx, queer, punk, middle-class Southern California world revolving around Maggie Chascarillo and her off-and-on lover, Hopey Glass. They are, Hernandez has said, his Mexican-American Betty and Veronica, inspired by the Archie Comics he read in his youth, and by the young women he observed in the late 1970s and early 1980s at punk shows in Los Angeles and his nearby hometown of Oxnard. Their sexuality, like that of the other characters in Love and Rockets, is fluid and, like their ethnicity, rarely the subject of any story. Hernandez has portrayed these people and places in crisp black linework verging on a warm cartoon minimalism—a versatile visual language that clearly establishes time, place, and mood without an omniscient off-panel narrator. Hernandez is always showing, never telling.

Maggie is a car-mechanic prodigy, who is romantic but ultimately practical. Hopey, eventually an elementary school teacher, is impulsive, prone to outbursts, and unafraid to hurt her loved ones, confident in her ability to lure them back. Maggie and Hopey have gradually aged perhaps twenty-five years since their introduction nearly forty years ago—they were punks, “it” girls of their scene, and then continued growing into complicated adults, allowing Hernandez and his earliest readers to explore their own lives through and alongside the characters, as with, say, François Truffaut’s Antoine Doinel or Philip Roth’s Nathan Zuckerman. Reading the earlier stories is not required to enjoy the current books, but it deepens the experience.

For the first decade and a half of Love and Rockets, Hernandez brought Maggie, Hopey, and their friends (including the super-heroic aspiring heiress Penny Century, the ageless witch Izzy Reubens, assorted band members, and paramours) through a range of escapades sprung from Hernandez’s obsessions. They explored an eccentric, devil-horned millionaire’s endless mansion; became embroiled in an epic and tragic gang dispute; found notoriety and failure in rock and roll, showbiz, and lucha libre; traveled North America; got stranded in Texas; and finally, by the end of the 1990s, settled back into Southern California and began to make lives for themselves rooted in middle-class adulthood. Hopey trained to be a teacher; Maggie managed an apartment complex. Their lives became disentangled from each other. Gradually, Maggie found her way back to a past boyfriend, Ray Dominguez, while Hopey married her longtime girlfriend, Sadaf, with whom she has a son. The charm of these characters is their fierce individuality, willfulness, humor, and candor across four decades of adventures both wild and mundane. How they’ve changed, together and apart, is the present…


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