Written & Illustrated by Jamie Hernandez
Published by Fantagraphics
At this point, I don’t know what else there is to say about Jamie Hernandez or Love & Rockets. I suspect that one day he’s going to make a truly terrible comic, if only because he must feel at least a little bit bad about showing nearly every other creator up so often.
In 1996, when Jamie and his brother Gilbert felt that they’d said as much as they wanted to say under the Love & Rockets title, they folded their long-running, acclaimed comic magazine, and each moved on to separate comic projects. For Jamie, this meant creating a three-issue Whoa, Nellie! serial and a new series titled Penny Century. Both series took place alongside his previous Locas stories in Love & Rockets; Maggie’s female wrestling champion aunt and two colleagues took the lead in Whoa, Nellie!, while Penny Century continued Maggie and Hopey’s life tales, with more focus on their blond bombshell, billionaire’s wife pal Beatríz “Penny Century” García.
Both series are collected in book form under the title Penny Century, an attractive square-bound book that fits neatly as the fourth book in Jamie’s series of Locas books (following Maggie the Mechanic, The Girl from H.O.P.P.P.E.R.S., and Perla la Loca).
Opening with Whoa, Nellie!, this latest collection focuses on two female wrestlers starting out in the business, Maggie’s cousin Xochitl Nava and Xo’s partner Gina Bravo. Although it’s a moving story about personal relationships caught up in business machinations, Whoa, Nellie!’s real selling point remains Hernandez’s amazing illustrations of wrestling action. I haven’t watched much professional wrestling in fifteen or twenty years, but the authenticity in Hernandez’s holds and postures astounds. He’s always been recognized as one of the industry’s finest artists, but this series shows his range as a superior action illustrator as well as a master of beautiful figures and precise layouts.
Later stories continue the life sagas of Maggie and Hopey, as the girls continue to cope with growing up and the consequences of adult life. Hernandez works in a complex range of human emotions, as he unfolds Penny’s childhood and complicated relationship with her husband H.R. Costigan; details Maggie’s failed marriage and grief over its failure; and touches on the complex misunderstandings and abiding connections that inform the friendship and love between his multifaceted characters. If anything, Hernandez’s writing has grown more nuanced over the years, as he explores his characters’ in more mature light. The blend of surrealism and comic book logic threaded through the everyday narratives only serves to enforce the emotional truth of each character.
Of course, Penny Century is one of the best drawn comic books you’ll find. You’ll find few artists who can match Hernandez’s mastery of body language, facial expressions or cartoonish exaggeration, and the depth of each illustration enhances the emotional content of the writing perfectly. Simple, clear grids move each story forward, ensuring that the pace and clarity of the story remain paramount. Hernandez also exhibits an excellent design sense, structuring panels and word balloons so that even a novice comic reader can follow the story’s graphic flow.
All of which is to say that Penny Century is yet another masterpiece from a guy who turns them out seemingly like clockwork. If you haven’t read it, you need to. You can start with Penny Century, or start with Maggie the Mechanic, but Jamie Hernandez’s exploration of life continues as an unimpeachable standard for comic book mastery.