Word for Word: Something novel about pictures
A wordless section of ‘The Love Bunglers’, by Jaime Hernandez, could be the most moving sequence in any book you’ll read all year
Two constantly intersecting lives, one complicated relationship: Maggie and Ray in The Love Bunglers by Jaime Hernandez
The most moving sequence in any book I’ve read this year is entirely wordless. The Love Bunglers (Fantagraphics, $19.99), by the writer and artist Jaime Hernandez, continues, and possibly concludes, the story of Maggie Chascarrillo, which began more than 30 years ago in Love and Rockets, the comic Hernandez created with his brothers Gilbert and Mario.
As ever with Hernandez, it’s funny, complex, unsettling and beautifully drawn. It’s also a reminder that a graphic novel can do things that a novel told in straightforward prose simply can’t.
Over the decades, one of the most significant relationships in Maggie’s life has been with her one-time boyfriend Ray Dominguez. Towards the end of The Love Bunglers is a double-page spread, with nine panels on each page. The panels on the left show Maggie at various moments from childhood to middle age; those on the right depict Ray’s part in the same moments.
For those who’ve been following Maggie and Ray for decades, who recognise many of the scenes, it’s almost unbearably moving. But you don’t have to be familiar with the characters to understand what Hernandez is wordlessly showing you: two constantly intersecting lives, one complicated relationship.
Graphic novels and memoirs are not a genre but a medium, and a medium with unique power. Although Hernandez is a brilliant writer, in that Love Bunglers sequence, words aren’t the most effective way of getting across what he wants to show us.
Images can also simply pack a powerful punch. Sally Heathcote: Suffragette (Jonathan Cape, £16.99) is a fascinating new graphic novel by Kate Charlesworth and the Costa biography-award-winners Mary M Talbot and Bryan Talbot. When the militant young heroine is sent to prison, the book uses a sequence of images, wordless apart from Sally’s choked cries, that convey the horror of forced feeding more powerfully than any written account. It’s a cliche to say a picture is worth a thousand words. But graphic novels remind us that it’s a cliche because sometimes it’s true.