Where to begin? Its a good question. Lets put this up front right now: There are really only three candidates for the true graphic novel crown, Dave Sim's Cerebus, Jamie Hernandez's Locas and Beto Hernandez's Palomar. These are the greats long form graphic novels that have been done to date, and, on the personal side, it has been Jamie's work that has the most effect on me. So much so that the younger me wrote in and had a letter published in L&R #19 or so back in the day.
Having the Locas hardcover on the bookshelf is a joy since I hate having the originals get messed up and fall all over themselves. I also was less than a huge fan of some of the other material that would fill out the magazine, Errata Stigmata and Rocky to name two, and this hardcover boils it all down to the essence: the life and times of maggie chascarillo and hopey glass.
As two fictional characters go, they are about as filled out as almost any other fictional characters that I can think of. I found myself going through school and relationships and the bumps and pains of growing up less than enamored of being normal at the same time that I watch Maggie and Hopey winding their way from the grafitti scrawled walls of Hoppers to the flat open nothingness of Texas and all points in between.
Jamie's journey as an artist has a huge learning curve in the beginning, and then settles into a deceptively simple, but nearly impossible to imitate, lean style of storytelling. Economical is one word for it, but that implys that he has pared down everything in its essence and would not encompass some of the fun digressions, visual or otherwise, that he takes in places. This hardcover encompasses 15 years of material, a story that, in real time, took me from being a 15 year old comic geek in high school to being engaged to my now wife and being a professional artist in comics (and still a geek as my wife is quick to point out). I feel that a hunk of my life is there, square bound, just waiting to be revisited when ever I crack the tome open.
The emotional high point for me, when it is all read through again, and I hadn't sat down and read the originals in a while, is the story, "The Death of Speedy Ortiz", a tour de force of storytelling and character development whose final pages I still find chilling. And, yes, since this is a spoiler review, Speedy does die, but how and why are the least interesting parts of the story. Had the series ended there I would still remember it as being a triumph.
If there is any criticism of the work, it is that it flattens out late in the volume, mirroring the dilemma that Maggie finds herself in. We've all had points in our lives where we feel that we're spinning our wheels, and Maggie does so, both literally and figuratively, in the story "93 Million Miles from the Sun". Trapped by a series of long term bad choices with her old girlfriend Hopey, her boyfriend Ray, her friend Danita, her tia Vicki, friend Rena Titanon, and trapped in the wilds of Texas, the pace and storytelling mirror her problems: every decision seems wrong, and nothing seems to get her life back on track. Maggie doesn't even know what track to get, which is a large part fo the problem. L&R's publishing schedule back then was sketchy, you never knew when it would show up on the stands, and both Jamie and Beto were deep into very long stories, stories that would eventually stretch to two years real time. I fully admit, there are points where I want to smack Maggie and tell her to get on with it, but this is a measure of Jamie's writing: I sure as hell care enough about the Magpie to be frustrated with her, and to want her to get her life back on track.
Much of this is stating the obvious to folks that grew up with L&R, or who have caught up with the story later, but there are plenty of people who have never had the beautiful opportunity to dive into this world. And if I can get just one more person to take the leap, it will be time well spent.