The Education of Hopey Glass
by Jaime Hernandez
Fantagraphics Books, 128 pages, $19.99.
The Education of Hopey Glass is about two people entering middle age and realizing that the come-what-may method of stumbling through life simply won’t cut it any more. One character attempts to give herself a direction or at least a goal, though she still finds herself leaving hurt feelings and failed relationships in her wake. The other character is perhaps even less successful, hung up on a former love while finding himself getting involved with a woman who spells trouble regardless of which alphabet you use.
The first half of the book concerns titular character Esperanza Glass, aka Hopey, Maggie’s longtime best friend/lover/confidante. Hopey has always been the pixie in Jaime’s stable of characters, a veritable force of nature who instigated more often than reacted to events. Reading the first half of Jaime’s justly famous Locas stories, one gets the feeling she’s the type of person who rarely gives thought to anything beyond the spur of the moment. It’s a personality trait that slowly turns from puckish to problematic as Maggie and Hopey’s relationship becomes more complex and troubled.
Education finds Hopey about to begin a new career — really perhaps her first actual career — as a teacher’s assistant. She’s uncharacteristically nervous and focused about her new job, though that care doesn’t necessarily extend to her relationships with friends and lovers, including Maggie.
Hopey is basically at the crossroads here and well aware of it. Her long-time friends have all moved on with their lives — Maggie seems more grounded and self-assured than she has in years; Terry Downe is a successful musician — and her current relationships — with her live-in girlfriend, co-workers and an interested friend — seem to be circling the bowl. For the first time, Hopey seems to be forced to ask herself where she’s going and what she wants out of life.
The second half of the book focuses on Ray Dominguez, another of Maggie’s former lovers. Ray is still hung up on Maggie, though he spends most of the book courting Vivian the “Frogmouth,” a vivacious and aspiring actress (and also another of Maggie’s paramours) who’s none too bright and plagued with poor self-esteem. That puts her in contact with a number of lowlifes and dangerous thugs, and Ray constantly finds himself on the peripheries of various shady activities, including the murder of one of Viv’s ex-boyfriends.
Ray is basically too smart to be involved in these shenanigans and he knows it. I find it telling that Hernandez never shows Ray at work or his social life outside of his relationship with Vivian. It’s as though his life is in status, revolving around a bad love affair because it provides a diversion for having to think about his current life situation.
The counterpoint to both of these characters is the teen-age Angel Rivera. She is full to bursting with untapped potential and sexuality, though she seems completely unaware of it. Her recurring presence throughout the book provides a nice contrast to the
I’ve spent a good deal of this review talking about its themes and plot and not enough about its art — a regular failing for an old English major like me. Suffice it to say that Hernandez is on the top of his game here. Very few cartoonists are as good with body language as Hernandez is. He uses his wide and diverse cast’s facial expressions and gestures to drive the story forward more often than the dialogue. I’m always been astounded at how he’s honed his art to an Alex Toth-like perfection, using as few lines as possible and spot blacks to convey so much.
I’ve also neglected to mention how funny and downright wry this book is. While the themes Hernandez is exploring are serious and heartfelt, there’s a good bit of human comedy at work here. If anything, Education is as funny as it is insightful. Hopey and Ray may be at a crossroads, but Hernandez is as assured and confident here as he’s ever been.