Archive for the ‘Fantagraphics’ Category

Year-by-year with Maggie and Hopey – My October in Comics part 3: 10/17-10/23

November 16, 2010

This week: It’s all about what I read. And what did I read? Lots of “Locas,” and a little of some other things.


The “LOCAS” BINGE

  • Locas in Love
  • Dicks and Deedees
  • Ghosts of Hoppers
  • The Education of Hopey Glass
  • “La Maggie La Loca” and “Gold Diggers of 1969” from Love and Rockets vol. II #20

THE THING THAT I LOVE ABOUT both Jaime Hernandez’s “Locas” stories and Gilbert Hernandez’s “Palomar” (y’know, aside from the stunning artwork, real-feeling characters, great comedy, ever-expanding worlds and moving storylines) is the power of accumulation in serial fiction.

Accumulation is something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately, and I mentioned it briefly last week in reference to discussing The Invisibles with my uncle, who is reading that series for the first time. It’s also on my mind in relation to the 40th anniversary of Doonesbury, a strip that’s been important to me since I discovered The Doonesbury Chronicles as a kid. I was too young to really understand most of the politics—especially since the book only covers through the early 1970s, nearly ten years before I was born—but I was taken with the characters, who rang true despite the vast difference between college life in the ’70s and childhood in the ’90s.

As I shifted my focus to the modern incarnation of the strip, I found that the characters had changed considerably, but were still rooted in who they had been in that old book I found in my parents’ house (and which has since become a prized possession in mine; I’m pretty sure they’re aware of this). It was my first exposure to a long-running serialized story, and I remain amazed at how Garry Trudeau balances of-the-moment political satire with a cast of characters who have aged in real time and whose shared histories added so much weight to more storylines than I can list.

I came to Love and Rockets much more recently (at the time I latched onto Doonesbury I was a comic-strip devotee but hadn’t discovered comic books yet), but it doesn’t take long to see the same dynamic at play. I think these four collections and one single issue make up all of the “Locas” stories from Penny Century and L&R vol. II, and they depict a Maggie and Hopey dramatically different from those of the early stories, but like latter-day Mike Doonesbury, Mark Slackmeyer and B.D., traces of their younger selves are still evident in their appearances and personalities. No longer young punks, they are now in middle age, with Hopey beginning to settle down and in the midst of a belated maturity and career change, and Maggie is now the superintendent of an LA apartment complex and regretting how little she has to show for her life.

These are stories that could be told without the baggage that the characters’ long publication histories bring with them, but ones that are so much richer for having that background. When we see how worn out and sad Maggie seems, it is with not just the knowledge that she used to be happier, but with a host of shared memories, years of time spent with the character that makes a reader, even one who read those stories only two or three years ago instead of 20, feel the diminishment of energy that plagues her. While it’s not all so sad, the bulk of these volumes has the feeling of sticking around long after other stories would have ended, focusing on what remains when life doesn’t go as planned, or develops a second act, or simply has to continue when one part of it is over.

That last part is particularly in play in the Ray D. sections. Ray is in a position that most of us have been at some point: he was in a relationship (with Maggie) that he probably could have been content to make a life out of, and now that it’s over he has to figure out how to try to be with someone else. His encounters with the “Frogmouth”—so named for her nails-on-chalkboard voice—perfectly captures the struggle of figuring out how to reenter the dating world and try to let a new person inhabit a part of your life that used to belong to someone else, even as you intermittently miss that person. Again, it’s so effective in part (I want to make sure I don’t discount Hernandez’s incredible “acting” and characterization skills in making these stories work) because we have seen and remember Maggie and Ray’s time together, and how in love he was, as well as rough parts that he is probably choosing to forget in his pining for her.

Along with the moments that draw their power from readers’ knowledge of the past, Hernandez is also a master of the well-placed flashback. Details are often filled in as needed, but organically enough that it never feels like he’s just thought of them. In fact, including information as-needed is a staple of these stories, as new situations are introduced (Maggie’s marriage, Hopey’s eyepatch) and several chapters will pass before we learn what has actually happened. Hernandez has used this particular tool often enough that he knows we’ll understand to wait to be filled in rather than thinking we’ve missed something, and he rewards that patience by holding the answers until it is most dramatic to answer them, and somehow always manages to pair that moment with a reveal that comes naturally in conversation rather than feeling like forced exposition.

Each element of the story is strengthened immensely by Hernandez’s art, which is essentially perfect. The compositions and the balance of black and white always impress, and the body language and facial expressions show incredible versatility, broad when necessary for comic effect, but subtle and devastating in emotional moments. The gist of stories is completely clear without dialogue. Hernandez’s style is not at all showy, and it doesn’t need to be, though there are also no shortcuts. The panel-to-panel storytelling is crystal clear, but a little examination shows that angles aren’t repeated unless necessary; Hernandez keeps each page as visually interesting as possible without the artistry ever intruding upon the story.

The difference in appearance of each character from earlier versions completely sells the passage of time, and in ways unique to each character. It was a huge moment years ago when Hernandez jumped forward a bit in his story and began drawing a heavier Maggie, but middle-aged Maggie is an equally perfect transformation. She hasn’t gotten any larger, but over time the weight has moved, now more in her neck and arms, while thanks to Hernandez’s talent for capturing the female form, she remains beautiful, and Ray’s continued lust for her is clearly more than nostalgia. Hopey is still rail-thin, but subtle adjustments to her body language, dress and hair communicate her advancing age, and giving her glasses changes everything. And when Hernandez puts in a flashback to the days of the young Maggie and Hopey, as when he reveals how Maggie and her husband met, he flawlessly recaptures their old looks, with the details to place the new story onto the timeline with the older ones carefully considered.

Hernandez’s world is so complete, with such a large and complex cast, that it’s possible to forget that it resembles, most of the time, the real world. When politics or social satire enters, as they occasionally do, it’s momentarily jarring, but the world of “Locas” is broad enough that it feels capable of absorbing anything. Suddenly those politics and satire reflect our world, but they’re also an organic part of the world on the page, and the antics of Election Day, on which Hopey serves as a poll worker, mirrors the chaos of Maggie and Hopey’s lives. Similarly, this series that began in a decidedly sci-fi vein is able to integrate fantastic elements just as easily. Not only does “La Maggie La Loca” explicitly reference some of those earlier stories and confirm that, while Hernandez may have moved away from that milieu, he hasn’t disowned it, but these volumes are where the superheroes that will briefly take over in Love and Rockets New Stories #1 and #2 start to appear. In one memorable scene, Maggie and Hopey watch the apartment of a tenant Maggie suspects of being a superhero, and share a triumphant whoop when they spot her returning home via rooftops. Now I’m going to have to reread the superhero arc to remind myself how each of the figures introduced in these pages plays in.

I’m as excited as anyone that the graphic novel is gradually becoming the standard model of the modern comic book, but among its many virtues, the fact that Love and Rockets has always been presented as a series is important. This is the comic book that elevated the serial format of comics from soap opera to serialized literature. It’s hard to wait between the annual installments, but it’s worth it to check in with old friends, and whatever else he does with the rest of his creativity, I’m happy that Hernandez always finds time to keep up with the “Locas” world.

READ THIS WEEK:

  • Atelier by Fábio Moon & Gabriel Bá
    This is sort of twins Moon and Bá’s Comics Anti-Manifesto. It’s not about why someone should make comics, or how they should make them, but instead about how it feels for the two of them to make comics. The title means “an artist’s studio or workroom,” and looking around their studio is the impression Moon and Bá want to give you. In a nod toward universality, the text is in four languages, but it’s the drawings that really carry the weight, with short, wordless chapters showing the twins growing up making pictures, and a joyous exploration of some of the things ink on paper can create. Beautiful stuff that definitely induces a smile for the few minutes it takes to go through it once and then pore over it more carefully a second time.
  • Batman and Robin #15 by Grant Morrison & Frazier Irving
    On first read, this seemed like it was marking time until the next issue, Morrison’s final, in which the original Batman will return to defeat Dr. Hurt and explain how everything ties together. Thinking about it more later, it occurred to me that this might actually be the most important issue of the Batman and Robin portion of Morrison’s ongoing Batman cycle, as it features Hurt tempting Damian to sell his soul and serve him in return for sparing Dick Grayson, the current Batman. Those circumstances aren’t all that different from the ones described in Batman #666’s origin of Damian-as-future-Batman. It may be that Damian rebuffing Hurt in this issue is the action that prevents that future, in which Professor Pyg and his addiction plague have ravaged Gotham. I also appreciated the “Gotcha” note Batman left in the box reflecting his line to Darkseid in Final Crisis, even if the “Looks like the villain’s won until they get to the last step of their plan and discover Batman’s beaten them to it” plot beat is a familiar one from Morrison’s handling of the character. And I enjoyed Frazier Irving’s artwork on these three issues much more than his muddy contribution to Return of Bruce Wayne. This is the weirdest and most deranged-looking Batman comic in some time, and it’s a perfect look for this storyline.
  • Doom Patrol #15 by Keith Giffen, Matthew Clark, Ron Randall & John Livesay
  • Gantz vol. 12 by Hiroya Oku
  • Invincible Iron Man vol. 4: Stark Disassembled by Matt Fraction & Salvador Larroca (library)
    I was completely immersed in the first three volumes of this series, but this felt like a letdown after them, an entire volume devoted to “rebooting” a Tony Stark whose memory has been erased, and who nonetheless somehow has to fight his way through a dream reality in an adventure mirroring the real-world struggle of his allies to revive him. It feels like a desperate attempt to compensate for a lack of action in the main storyline and serves to drag out the whole incident without greatly deepening it. I’m willing to treat this as a blip, and already have the next volume on hold from the library, but this really felt like a lot of hand-wringing in place of a next chapter.

Images of Ghost of Hoppers © Jaime Hernandez. Images of Batman and Robin © DC Comics.

Beto Takes a Chance With a B-Movie

March 30, 2008
Chance in Hell
By Gilbert Hernandez
Fantagraphics – hardcover, $16.99

FOR SOMEONE SO TALENTED, Gilbert Hernandez is scary-prolific. In addition to Love and Rockets vol. II (and soon vol. III) with his brother, Jaime, and the beautiful Ignatz series, New Tales of Old Palomar, he’s found time to release a series of graphic novels based on the B-movies his Luba character, Fritz, appears in (though no familiarity with Luba or Palomar is required to enjoy them). Speak of the Devil is currently being serialized through Dark Horse (a combination of title and publisher that makes mistaking it for a Grendel series forgivable), but last year’s Chance in Hell went directly to the hardcover format, and it’s a good fit for Hernandez’s bleak, deceptively simple story.

Chance in Hell is divided into thirds, taking its main character, Empress, from childhood to adolescence to adulthood, each presenting her with a protector who fails her in some way. As the story opens, she is one of a number of children living in a junkyard on the outskirts of a city, abandoned by parents that didn’t want them. Empress seems happy here, oblivious to the deprivation and danger they all live under, and the sexual exploitation some of the older children subject her to. After a scene of horrific violence, she is taken in by an inhabitant of the city that she refers to simply as “The Man” (only Empress has a name). As a teenager, she still lives with him, but spends most of her time with a young pimp and the three women he manages, his “Hearts of Gold” (one of whom is “played by” Fritz, sans lisp). Finally, as an adult she lives with a successful prosecutor in a housing complex built near the junkyard of her childhood.

While Empress’s circumstances would seem to improve across each of these thirds, she becomes more emotionally closed off as time goes on. After all, once she leaves the junkyard, she is entering the kind of society that would abandon its children there. The children are frequently violent, but behave that way largely to survive, while the city people prove to be just as malevolent despite having more options. In the second section, The Man makes himself out to be a sensitive soul above the goings-on of the streets, but he ultimately proves to be hiding things. In the final third, Empress’s husband is prosecuting a “babykiller,” and people’s reactions to the news reveals the society’s bloodthirstiness. One of the nuns who raised Empress after she left The Man exclaims upon hearing that Empress’s husband is going for the death penalty, “ I’d love to be there, just to smell that babykiller’s flesh fry,” before going on the bemoan that he is a “skinny male runt,” as the extra layer of fat on women sometimes causes them to catch fire. There are hints that Empress’s husband also mistreats her.

Through all this, the character most honest about his circumstances and intentions is the pimp, who Empress thinks is “the smartest person [she’s] ever known.” He alone understands how to get what he wants and is direct in pursuing it, and shows the most emotion, as when he beats his girls in a frenzy because one gave a free blow job to a cop. That he wears his dark side in the open and is the only character not walking through life in a daze makes him one of the most empathetic––if not exactly likable––characters, which says something about the world Hernandez has created.

Like much of Hernandez’s other work, Chance in Hell has a dreamlike quality. Scene transitions are often abrupt, leaving the reader to fill in details at the beginnings and ends of scenes. Other scenes move slower, focusing on details like an electric chair survivor who must mask the lingering odor the experience has left him with, and a quicksand pit right outside Empress and her husband’s home. These more abstract additions are chilling and contribute to the themes of the city’s sense of death and justice, and its bloodlust.

Hernandez’s artwork continues his recent trend toward simplification. Like many other artists working as long as he has, Hernandez has over time distilled his style down to its most essential components. Here that means minimal backgrounds and iconic characters. The overall feel is surprisingly moody, aided by expressionistic skies and a liberal use of silhouettes. The art isn’t as slick as 2006’s Sloth, and the rougher look mostly suits the material (and Hernandez’s hand lettering fits the art better than Sloth‘s computer lettering), though some stray lines and visible spots of whiteout are distracting, creating a bit of a rushed look.

The only other problem I found was with the book itself, printed on stiff paper and an overly tight spine. For such a small book, it fights very hard to stay closed and didn’t fit comfortably in either my hands or lap.

Chance in Hell is a book I’ve already read twice and will likely read again. It looks simple on the surface, and Hernandez has referred to it as “light,” but its mix of basic themes and abstract concepts, combined with an ambiguous ending, reward close reading. Similarly, the art and page layouts are straightforward, but Hernandez’s unique pacing and juxtaposition of contrasting images add great depth. This is one you’ll be thinking about for awhile after you put it down.

Hopefully this doesn’t make me totally cretinous, too

January 2, 2008

This is probably the wrong take-home message from a thread about the death of Benazir Bhutto, and Gary Groth surely wouldn’t approve of it any more than he approved of Heidi Macdonald’s sentiments, but am I the only one who would love to see Buffy comics drawn by Peter Bagge? 

A Peter Bagge Christmas

December 23, 2007
Hate Annual #7
By Peter Bagge
Fantagrahics – saddle-stitched, $4.95

I DIDN’T REALIZE when I started re-reading Apocalypse Nerd for a review that the new Hate Annual was imminent. I don’t read Previews and there aren’t big press releases announcing the new Hate (in fact, it wasn’t even mentioned on PeterBagge.com until it had been out more than a week), so these always catch me by surprise, which is okay. In this case it made a nice Christmas surprise.

Traditionally, Hate was primarily the Buddy Bradley series with some backups, but in the annuals it has evolved into Peter Bagge’s brand name. A new Buddy story typically makes up the first 10 or so pages and the remainder is a showcase of some of Bagge’s work from the preceding year. The only strip that I had already seen was the close encounter of the Cheney kind strip, “Partying with the Dickster,” which originally appeared in The LA Times, so I’m really glad this venue exists for people to find the rest.

The only real problem with the issue is that it’s a bit lighter than previous annuals. I would have liked to have seen some of the articles and essays that have shown up in previous years, and Bagge’s strips from Reason Magazine would have fit in nicely as well (those seem to be permanently archived at reason.com, but I do still hope to see a collection someday).

However, once past the shorter length, the material chosen for this issue is funny stuff. A new Buddy Bradley story always makes me smile, and this year’s installment has plenty of the back-stabbing, plotting, anger and childish behavior that one would expect. A new reader might not see what the big deal is, since the story is fairly short and doesn’t really explain its place in the ongoing life story of Buddy and his family, but character motivations are clear enough and the jokes work on their own.

Batboy, on the other hand, is designed so that someone can jump in anywhere. It’s a weekly strip from the late Weekly World News, and the main character is a cipher, so the focus is instead on moving the story along at a rapid pace, the situation changing almost from strip to strip, with new characters introduced and abandoned along the way. If you’ve read this before, it’s more of the same, and you’ll probably feel however you felt about it before.

The rest of the issue is an unfortunately small number of odds and ends, highlighted by the aforementioned Dick Cheney strip and an old-school comparison between Seattle and New York. It’s all funny stuff, drawn in Bagge’s usual rubbery cartoon style in which characters become enraged at the drop of a hat and bare giant fangs. It’s an appealing style that manages to be simultaneously clean and iconic, and sort of dirty and grungy-looking as the story requires.

All in all, another very fun annual. I just hope next year’s has a bit more heft to it.

Don’t Ask, Just Buy It!

October 15, 2007

AMAZON.COM HAS DISCOUNTED Fantagraphics’ new editions of Palomar and Locas by 43%, a good deal more than they usually discount $15 books. The first two volumes of both new series are now $8.57 each. I had book one of each and now I’ll have both book twos. You should, too (if you don’t already)!

EDIT: Also, if you bought any of the four books from Amazon in the last 30 days and they were more expensive, don’t forget Amazon’s Secret Price Guarantee.

“Buy the book for more bullying and racism!”

August 22, 2007
The Three Paradoxes
by Paul Hornschemeier
Fantagraphics – hardcover, $14.95

Comics are not particularly well suited to the bookstore reading format, where most of the story is lost for the lack of visuals. I once saw Judd Winick manage to pull it off at a reading of Pedro and Me through a combination of reading the dialogue and describing the pictures, but it probably helped that I’d already read the book, as it was an incomplete experience.

A few weeks ago, Paul Hornschemeier took a different approach at a “reading” of The Three Paradoxes at Powell’s, staging a puppet show with help from members of the audience to follow along with projected pages and using puppets made by his siblings. Hornschemeier promised that if the show went how he hoped it would, it would be endearingly awful. Which it was. One “cast member” decided that his ancient Greek character should have a Scottish accent, while another was cast as a racist hothead, but it turned out that the page he appeared on wasn’t among those being projected. After later noting that the book features more bullying than fit into the puppet show, Hornschemeier entreated us to “buy the book for more bullying and racism!” Good times.

Paul and the Magic PencilAs for the book itself, it’s clear from the first panel, a story-within-the-story rendered in non-photo blue pencil, that Hornschemeier is a formalist. The Three Paradoxes is ostensibly autobiographical, featuring both a present-day version of Hornschemeier and flashbacks to his childhood, but Hornschemeier takes the unconventional approach of retelling his autobiographical anecdotes not for their own sake but as an entry into larger philosophical issues. Rather than the philosophy being included to support the autobiography, it’s the other way around.

The paradoxes referred to in the title are the three strongest of the eight paradoxes devised by Zeno of Elea illustrating his belief that motion and change are illusions. The paradoxes continue to fascinate today because, while they seem easily refuted by our senses, math and science took considerably longer in catching up, and many philosophers still argue that the paradoxes have not been adequately solved. Hornschemeier explained at the reading that the paradoxes obsess him personally and pointed to the solution in physicist Peter Lynds’ paper, “Time and Classical and Quantum Mechanics: Indeterminacy vs. Continuity,” as a favorite. This could be the stuff of a dry or boring treatise on philosophy, but thankfully The Three Paradoxes never takes itself too seriously. It’s actually very funny in places, particularly Hornschemeier’s various thoughts on how to finish the project he’s working on, Paul and the Magic Pencil, and the abuse that Socrates heaps on Zeno.

The story is told through a series of interconnected moments in time, each drawn in a different art style and using different production techniques to evoke different settings. Flashbacks to childhood use large dots to render their primary colors, like early comic strips, while the yellowed pages of the story of a checkout clerk and the story of Zeno and his paradoxes (in that case, complete with cover and the appearance of scans of entire torn-out pages) evoke pulpy older comic books.

The result is reminiscent in tone and appearance of some of Daniel Clowes’ comics and, like Clowes’ work, feels somewhat detached. Hornschemeier doesn’t seem deeply invested in the main story of visiting his family, or even in the childhood bullying flashbacks, and these threads end up feeling unresolved and mildly unsatisfying as narrative. More involving is the Zeno sequence, with its portrait of an angry young Socrates, and the most overtly emotional story, that of the peripheral checkout clerk. It may have worked better if the main character stood in for Hornschemeier metaphorically rather than representing him literally. Autobiography brings a lot of baggage with it, and an expectation of identification is part of that. If the book’s autobiographical details were ascribed to a fictional surrogate, the detachment from him would likely be less distracting from its philosophical issues than they are here.

However, once past that, all of these pieces fit together thematically as explorations of the paradoxes, arguing whether or not change is possible and how difficult change and overcoming inertia, both in life and creatively, can be. The Three Paradoxes is a thoughtful book, and its ideas will stick with me more than the specific details of its narrative. It’s also just a beautiful object, designed by Hornschemeier himself, utilizing elements of all the different art and production styles within and giving an immediate sense that this is not conventional autobiography or even conventional storytelling.

Recommended.


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