“I don’t know if you’ve made it to heaven… but at least you made it back to Puerto Rico.”
Story and Art by Mike Hawthorne
Coloring by Sam Bowen & Ari Pluchinsky
Lettering by Clem Robin
Mike Hawthorne’s autobiographical memoir opens with a funeral, and ends with a difficult rejection. Near the end, he notes that he originally intended to end the story on a happier note, but says he changed his mind after “things happened”. From Boom Studios and Archaia, Happiness Will Follow is just that, a story where things happen.
Framed from the perspective of Hawthorne after his mother’s passing, the volume has no set plot or storylines. Instead, it focuses on an emotional journey, that of our protagonist coming to terms with his relationship with his mother, the tough-as-nails, “unflappable Blanca Otero”. Detailing the author’s life from birth right up to (almost) the time the book is published, Hawthorne tells his story mostly through narration, almost every scene involving the poor single mother who raised him.
And that’s what the memoir does best. No harsh moment or memory is skimmed over. Shrouded in physical abuse, poverty, and childhood mischief, Hawthorne paints an accurate and emotionally resonant picture of what it was like growing up in late 1980’s Pennsylvania as a young Puerto-Rican. The art reflects the mood of the story, the words accompanied by a very realistic and simple style, making the moments of emotional outbursts (where panels break and the desaturated look is broken by bright red and orange) much more impactful. Bowen & Pluchinsky’s coloring complements the lines and tone, keeping a mostly drab, grey, and lifeless atmosphere throughout the book. Characters are painted in strong, basic colors, contrasting the background to denote the feel of a certain scene.
But perhaps its greatest feat is the presentation of the story. A true coming of age drama, the graphic novel does a great job at presenting the complexity inside the simplicity of childhood. How emotions like anger, fear, and love can be taken so far to the point of making us do things we regret, both to the people we love and total strangers. It shows us the dichotomy of growing up: Sometimes we do things we know hurt us, sometimes we love people who do horrible things to us, and sometimes we hate the people who try their best to keep us safe. There is no happy ending or neat epilogue to tie it all together, just moving on as best as we can.
Above all technical and narrative tools it uses to tell a simple yet emotionally complex story, and beyond whatever literary or dramatic achievements it might accomplish, Happiness Will Follow made me feel something immeasurable by objective standards. It made me want to hug my mom, tell her I love her, and feel grateful that she’s still with me.