As Jaime Hernandez’s original Love and Rockets characters have got older, he’s having to seek out some fresh teenage blood to inject into his stories. On a superficial level, Tonta is a step back to punk gigs and teenage crushes. But on the other hand, it’s an intense compression of Hernandez ideas, condensing a classic themes into a single summer.
Tonta, the lead character, is the girl poised to step into womanhood. It’s an end-of-innocence story, where secrets of her family are revealed and she transitions from teenage crushes and target-less punk rebellion, to a real-life understanding of the wider world and the interactions of people within it.
Some of the impetus for this change comes from a self-styled woodland nymph – a young woman a little older than Tonta who appears to have retreated to the woods, perhaps due to her facial features, which don’t conform to what most people would consider traditionally beautiful. From her woody grove she watches Tonta’s town through a telescope, getting a bigger picture on the comings and goings than most of the people who live there.
Tonta, meanwhile, gets dragged into her older sister’s relationships, which may or may not involve the slightly dubious attentions of a much older (but very rich) country club owner; finds herself pulled into a significant family event; and realises that there’s much more to her family than initially meets the eye.
Tonta isn’t as instantly compelling as Hernandez’s previous teenage stories but I suspect this is by design. The characters don’t have the same flawless beauty as Maggie and Hopey. Instead Hernandez is drawing us in with the story, one that doesn’t rely so heavily on teenage angst, but on how the wider world interacts with this one particular teenager, and how that helps her carve out an identity built both from her personality and the environment around her.