Required Reading is DoomRocket’s love chest, opened once a month to champion a book that we adore. This week Arpad recommends what is arguably one of the greatest stories from ‘Love and Rockets’, “The Death of Speedy Ortiz”, available now from Fantagraphics Press. (Details below.)
by Arpad Okay. This is a book not quite true to its title. Not “The Death of Speedy Ortiz” part, unfortunately Speedy Ortiz really is doomed. The Love and Rockets bit is what’s misleading. Maggie the Mechanic no longer gets the space gigs with wrestling queens. Heartbreak found her among the stars and followed Mags back to her hometown of Hoppers.
Maggie and Hopey, Speedy, Ray, Esther, the love triangle grows points upon points, what happens when you’re all grown up but confined to the world inside a bottle that is the small town you never left. A Shakespearean tragedy of paths that cross when they shouldn’t and violent rivalries. Getting with someone because you want to be with someone else is always a disaster. But in “The Death of Speedy Ortiz”, there are guns flashing amidst the tears. Everything goes wrong despite efforts and intentions and the next morning you have to wake up and go to work. If you’re still around when the curtain’s drawn.
It’s a death, a meanwhile, and an aftermath. Hopey, girlfriend, split town to tour, told as postcards from the road while the band falls apart. We’re let into the secret history of her and Maggie through Hopey’s reveries just as the window for the two of them slams shut. That’s Jaime Hernandez storytelling: one character’s story is defined by their fixation on someone else. We finally get to see Hopey again and (of course) the story comes back around to Maggie. And Maggie? The book closes, she can’t be the kid whiz mechanic any more, nor can she continue living as a 24/7 trainwreck. She’s working on it.
Consider “The Death of Speedy Ortiz” an open lane into the longest ongoing story in comics this side of One Piece. Criminals and burnouts vivid with charisma and bad choices and the struggle for one’s independence during the post-adolescents’ coming-of-age come together with the nature, artifice, and poignancy of a Varda film. A hopelessly romantic pulp. A pulp romance. Jealousy. Power. Family. Respect. “The Death of Speedy Ortiz” will rip your heart out and has the potential to heal you as Maggie suffers and recovers. There is no other read in comics quite like Love and Rockets.
Doesn’t hurt that Jaime Hernandez is one of the finest illustrators in sequential art. I can think of no stronger argument for the beauty of black and white comics than “The Death of Speedy Ortiz”. Hernandez tells a story of filmic elements translated through static illustration. His control over lighting and framing, film noir would blush. The complete blackness and laser precision of Hernandez’s line work pushes an ambitious shot book into a much greater darkness, and the lights go out with it.
The book’s many death rockers lose all the lines separating their clothes. Hopey is a fissure of raw onyx cut into a gas station wall. All definition of person and place is lost inside whatever shithole venue their band plays that night. The fluid contours and flat feeling to the illustration style might seem at first like it only has eyes for Veronica Lodge’s bust, but “The Death of Speedy Ortiz” instead saw Love and Rockets’ eschewing commercial values for more arthouse inclinations and punk nerd choices. Shooting for Carnegie Hall from the copy shop.
The contrast between white space and the acres of ink pushed across the page is heightened by the work around the edges of The Death of Speedy. Hernandez uses shadow to the absolute, but there is cross-hatching that creates a satisfying middle tone of grey, there are impossible patterns in fashion (and in general the fit is flawless), and little details in a face, the hollow of a cheek, an arm, a back. The sparing addition of details doesn’t detract from the negative space they invade. The presence of a visual middle ground elevates the emotional impact of the ever-present and deeper darkness. Knowing when to stop is not something every artist has a grasp on. Hernandez has the gift of understanding the economy of line, and produces lively, vivid pages free of clutter, devoid of excess, austere and yet lush.
Look, if you’re going to read a comic book, it ought to be “The Death of Speedy Ortiz”. But how does one do that? The original run of Love and Rockets was fifty issues, each one split between at least two Hernandez brothers. “The Death of Speedy Ortiz” is more a romantic recognition of the late Mr. Ortiz’s impact on the world of comics these days than a book you can easily pick up. The most recent collections of Love and Rockets places what was “The Death of Speedy Ortiz” inside a slightly larger take on that time in Maggie’s life: The Girl from H.O.P.P.E.R.S.
The Girl from H.O.P.P.E.R.S. has a ton of lead-up stories that show the generational aspect of Love and Rockets: not just Maggie and Hopey’s relationship, but what it was like when they were kids, and the stuff kids who came up next are up to in their wake. “The Death of Speedy Ortiz” starts when Hopey leaves on tour, and I love that there’s this major character in the story who doesn’t show up until the second act. Hopey’s absence is a presence. She’s not the only ghost. Its ending, Maggie beyond the valley of the polar bears, isn’t really an ending at all. This is because “The Death of Speedy Ortiz” is bigger than the book that collects it.
Fantagraphics Books / $16.95
Written by Jaime Hernandez.
Illustrated by Jaime Hernandez.
Lettered by Jaime Hernandez.
You can purchase ‘The Girl From H.O.P.P.E.R.S.’, the volume that contains “The Death of Speedy Ortiz”, directly from Fantagraphics Press here.
Check out these select pages from “The Death of Speedy Otiz” here:
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