May 7, 2014

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Third Verse, Different Than the First -- The Love Bunglers

It's a cliche to call something "slice of life" but that's what Jaime Hernandez has done with The Love Bunglers. He's taken this time in Maggie Chascarillo's life - a life we've seen grow up, lose its way and forge new paths - and he's done it again. The once young punk is now a middle-aged apartment manager. We've seen her at her wildest and most impulsive but that's all practically a lifetime ago. Maybe she hasn't grown up all that much yet but she's not the kid that she used to be. As everyone else around her has matured, moved on this their lives and developed in the ways that people do, Maggie has held herself back. She's the original manic pixie girl, embodying our desires of youth and love.  Even as she's aged, there's something about all of that which has stifled her a bit. She's gotten older but she hasn't necessarily grown up at all.

Maggie is that woman that everyone falls in love with. From youthful first kisses to misspent youths, to men and women falling into and out of her life, Maggie is the center of everyone's universe. Hernandez is great at giving characters like Ray Dominguez, Vivian Solis and Hopey Glass their own stories. Even in their varying sized roles in The Love Bunglers, none of them simply exist as part of Maggie's story because Hernandez doesn't treat them merely as characters supporting someone else's story. These are people that he's telling these stories about so even as they interact with Maggie's story, they have their own stories apart from hers. That gives Hernandez a huge canvas to work with so that his comics really do become portraits of these people's lives. His stories live and breathe because he has made his characters live and breath. They age, get hurt, recover, move on, harbor old resentments, create new resentments, fight, love and make up. His characters have lives and his stories are our opportunities to look in on these lives. The Love Bunglers is the life of a girl who was once a punk who is now staring at the thought of turning 50 years old and the people who have been there with her all this time.


We wouldn't be half as interested in these lives if it wasn't for the near-perfect ways that Hernandez tells his stories. His artistic style has been finely honed so that no line or panel looks out of place. While not as playful as his brother Gilbert or as idiosyncratically kookie as a lot of his contemporary cartoonists, Hernandez lines are just delightful as they continually amaze you with the power of black and white artwork. His simple, descriptive art creates a welcoming entry into each page and panel even when he shows the most emotionally tumultuous moments in these characters lives. Whether it's a young Maggie discovering the truth about her father's activities or an older Maggie finding out why Ray just suddenly disappeared from her life two years ago, Hernandez is able to display such a clarity of emotions. These characters aren't simple but the way that Hernandez draws their stories make it easy to understand what they are going through on many levels.

The Love Bunglers is about how people wait for Maggie and how she waits for them. The five parts of The Love Bunglers are intermixed with two shorter stories of Maggie's childhood, "Browntown" and "Return to Me." All of these stories are about finding people, losing them and then finding them again. That's Maggie's story and that's Ray Dominguez's story. With these characters, we've seen this dance before. They fall in love; they fall out of love; they mess up their relationships; and they move on. Hernandez knows that these things aren't necessarily always like the stories we read or the movies we see.  This isn't the stuff of romantic fiction.  Relationships never really end; they just morph into something new and something different. The Love Bunglers is just another part of Maggie and Ray's lives but it is an important part of their lives. Hernandez allows the characters to step beyond the roles that’s adopted for themselves as they start to realize what and who they really want in their lives.


If Hernandez's many Locas stories have been about Maggie's love life and her search for happiness, The Love Bunglers is the climax of that story. Maggie is given so many choices about who she could spend her life with and even when she makes that decision, destiny has a way of robbing her of these easy choices. Fate (or maybe it's just Hernandez) works against her. If there’s anything that The Love Bunglers shows us, it’s just how easy it is to lose people through cruel actions and capricious twists of fate. The universe may not be against us but as we watch it beat down Maggie’s life, it’s hard to imagine how it isn’t. The story of Maggie and Ray isn't an easy story. Hernandez shows us how they both almost self destruct any hope either of them has at happiness before random events work to build even bigger and seemingly impassable walls in front of their lives.

Whether you've been following the exploits of Maggie Chascarillo for decades now or just for the last few years, you've been waiting. Maggie, from her evolution as some punk kid back in the 1980s to the older, somewhat more responsible (but not completely) woman of today has played and toyed with so many people and yet everyone keeps on waiting for her. We've waited for her to figure out what she wants to do with her life. We've waited for her to fall in love with the right person. We've waited for her to grow up. But we're not the only ones who have waited. The characters in Jaime Hernandez’s story have been waiting for Maggie as well. From Ray to Reno to Speedy to Hopey to Frogmouth, the many infatuations of Maggie’s life have sat by while she dabbled at life. In The Love Bunglers, the waiting for everyone is finally over.