Waiting for Ape Sex- thoughts on Jaime Hernandez’s Is This How You See Me?

Over the past 15 years or so, Hopey married Sadaf and is raising their son.  Maggie settled down with Ray Dominguez and seemed to find something different than Hopey but hopefully just as meaningful.  We may be able to accept that these two have moved on but they still appear to be having trouble accepting how life has divided them.  Here they are, two lifelong friends and lovers trying to revisit the old hangouts of their youth. Nothing can go wrong there except that everything can go wrong, starting with Maggie making an awkwardly intimate pass at Hopey on their first night back at Hoppers (Jaime Hernandez’s standin for his own hometown of Oxnard, CA ).  It’s a move that would have worked 30 or 40 years ago but feels desperate and lonely now. For these two, everything has changed in their lives but could it be that nothing has changed in their feelings for each other? On this weekend away from their homes and their lives, could they be the kids that they once were, the punks that thumbed their noses at the adults that they grew up to be? That’s kind of the foolish hope that Maggie demonstrates as she clumsily attempts to goad Hopey into making a move on her.

After the emotional rollercoaster of The Love Bunglers (reviewed here back in 2014,) Is This How You See Me is a bit more classically Love & Rockets, centered on the core Maggie/Hopey relationship that has anchored so much of the emotional heart of Jaime Hernandez’s work.  This love affair has been one of the great romances of comics that even their own marriages to others cannot fully put this relationship to rest. Looking at Hernandez’s last handful of books (including The Love Bunglers and The Miseducation of Hopey Glass), there was the feeling that these two moved beyond each other.  The great loves of the 1980s just didn’t or couldn’t survive into the 2000s as they maybe finally grew up beyond the need of the other one.

They’ve both had other lovers and relationships yet something about these two, including what they mean to one another, has always survived despite the different paths their lives have taken.  Since the 1980s, they’ve never been what you would call “exclusive” to each other but they’ve always been “Maggie and Hopey.” Their names just go together naturally for so many of us. And even calling what they have a “relationship,” or calling them “lovers” or “girlfriends” feels reductive in labeling their relationship.  Maybe the most accurate term we have for what they are is also the sappiest; they’re soulmates. You almost can’t have one without the other even if every one of Hernandez’s stories defines these two women as individuals who are more in love with the idea of “Maggie and Hopey” than they are in love with each other. They’ve allowed the idea of them to define themselves even as everything that’s happened to them since they were teens has allowed them to grow beyond the girls that they once were.

There is a strong “you can’t go home again” feeling in this book, both physically and emotionally.  For as great is it has been to read the life and times of Maggie and Hopey in Love and Rockets, it gets easy to romanticize it, something Hernandez kind of often does but tries to walk back from in the text, as if he wants them to be together even if he knows it would be bad for both of them.  His view off these characters is more romantically realistic as if we wish for the best for them but knows who they really are. In the nearly 40 years that we have played witness to their story, they’ve been apart far more than they’ve been together.  Their fights come close to outnumbering the number of their tender moments together. That type of meaningful conflict can only exist between two lifelong friends. Honestly, they bring out the worst as well as the best of each other.

At this punk reunion, Maggie and Hopey see all of the old faces from their rebellious teen years.  They spend time with old friends, listening to their favorite bands from their teenage years, and even run into a rival or two (“Julie Fucking Wree!”) It’s old home week in Hoppers and as much as they want to, Maggie and Hopey, particularly Maggie, can’t recreate the magic of their youth.  Maggie is searching for the opportunity to prove that 50-something Maggie is basically just the same as teen-something Maggie. Unfortunately, time is making them act their age. This is evident in the little bit of pudginess around the middle, the glasses that were never needed years ago and in the people who show up at the punk show who they have no idea who they are.  Hernandez fills the background with a lot of bit players but gives them just enough personality in one or two pictures to make you believe that they could have their own books telling their stories. As much as everyone pictures themselves as the center of their world, this reunion is almost a cruel reminder that there was life before and after Maggie and Hopey terrorized Hoppers.  

Two young girls, sitting on the floor, holding hands, are the sharpest reminder that life has moved on since Maggie and Hopey darkened these punk clubs.  Perhaps these two, silent girls are the Maggie and Hopey of their generation. Maybe they are the true manifestation of love and friendship that still eludes Maggie and Hopey.  Or maybe they’re just two girls, waiting for their favorite band to take the stage just like everyone else here. We don’t know their story even as Hernandez is alternating Maggie and Hopey’s story between now and 1979/1980 when they were just young punks, hanging around a drug dealer’s house.

In these sequences of the past, told in a less dense page structure as if those days were a tad bit less weighty than the current day, Hernandez shows the girls willingly putting themselves in danger.  They’re hanging around a drug dealer’s house even if they don’t believe it to be dangerous. Del, the neighborhood pot dealer, is more a joke and a threat to them. The willing blindness of youth gives them their sense of invulnerability.  They were young, foolish and immortal as opposed to now when they’re stalked in the streets after the punk reunion ends. Eugene, a man whose name they've heard many times throughout their trip, is a presence in hoppers, but when he shows up in the wee hours of the morning following the women through the darkened streets, Maggie and Hopey can’t get away from his ominous presence fast enough.  

You’ve got to wonder who is asking the titular question, “is this how you see me?”  Is it Maggie and Hopey, trying to decipher some clue in the other one? Each chapter page features an image of the characters taking selfies of themselves before they go out on the night of the reunion.  Are they seeing the cold objectivity of a phone camera and wondering if what they see in a digital photo is representative of how those around them see them? Another possibility is that it’s Hernandez posing the question to his audience, wondering and/or accepting that he may just be another aging punk like his characters.  As he has returned to these two characters over the years, the ways that he has aged them and aged with them give his comics a life energy that only comes from experience and familiarity of decades of friendship and creation.

For better or for worse, this world revolves around Maggie and Hopey.  Sadaf and Ray will always be the outsiders here. That cruelty comes from the selfishness of Maggie and Hopey and the intimate experiences that they share.  Is This How You See Me is a selfish and self-centered book, as particularly Maggie loses sight of everything that she has to try to remember who she was once upon a time.  As Jaime Hernandez tells this story of the struggle against growing older, he shows us how self-centered that the fight is as Maggie, in her own style of blundering in life, threatens not just what she’s found with Ray but looks to harm Hopey’s home life as well.  It may not be how these two, or even Hernandez himself, pictured life in the 21st century would be like but here we are. This story digs into how these people aren’t the kids they once were while they try to unintentionally sabotage the people they’ve grown up to be.    

Is This How You See Me?
Written and Drawn by Jaime Hernandez
Published by Fantagraphic Books