Review: Chance in Hell, The Troublemakers, Speak of the Devil, by Gilbert Hernandez
By Gilbert Hernandez
Published by Fantagraphics Books, Dark Horse Comics
Review by Jason Azzopardi
“Pure Imagination: The Fritz B-Movies by Gilbert Hernandez”
One of the most exquisite things in the world, at least for me, is listening to a young person tell a story. They have so little sense of the world that they have to mash in the few fantastical elements they are familiar with just so something recognizable is in the narrative stew. Princesses. Unicorns. Pirates. Aliens. Sharks. It’s all done with unbridled enthusiasm and a pinch of doubt, as if they’re daring you to call them on their fabrications. Anyone who would clearly has no soul because a child’s imagination is something to be embraced and savored before it gets trampled out them by the educational system, by parents, by religion, by biology, by marketing demographics, by the media. But those first few years of being a kid are just magic because that’s when your imagination exists in its purest form.
Over the last thirty years, Jamie and Gilbert Hernandez have created one of the medium’s true masterworks with their expansive (and ever-expanding) series, Love and Rockets. The astonishing thing about the Hernandez Bros. isn’t that they have a defining book or two to point to as an example of good comics, but that their good comic is, simply, Love and Rockets itself; one massive tapestry made up of all the shorter works. And, much like its creators, it gloriously keeps growing and growing and growing.
The “Palomar stories” are Gilbert’s legacy, and their well-endowed, tragic and formidable lead character, Luba, is its heart. Luba has two half-sisters (flowing quite naturally out of Gilbert’s exuberant pornographic lark, Birdland), Petra and Fritz. A successful therapist in the Love and Rockets universe, Fritz has also become something of a B-Movie starlet, and Gilbert has chosen to explore each of her cult films as stand-alone graphic novels.
I don’t want to spoil their plots because half the joy in reading them comes from wading through their sleaze. Just know that each volume is an archetypal representation of a particular genre, peppered with extreme levels of sex and violence. Chance in Hell and The Troublemakers, both published by Fantagraphics, are, respectively, post-apocalyptic horror and greasy, pulpy crime. Speak of the Devil, published by Dark Horse, wanders into the same territory that infatuated Alfred J. Hitchcock for four decades: voyeurism, sexual obsession and madness. In the last two volumes of the new bookshelf format L&R series, Gilbert has given us Hypnotwist, a surreal Bunuelian/Lynchian/Jodorowsk(ian?) dreamscape, and the vicious little sci-fi culture clash/white-man-saves-the-savages satire, Scarlett By Starlight. Most recently, he has delivered his surprisingly poignant take on Fritz’s celebrity and aging, Love from the Shadows. Each can be enjoyed on its own, or taken as a new generational patch on his Love and Rockets quilt, with almost twenty more “exploitation flicks” to follow, as time allows
I won’t assign motive to these books but, as a long-time enthusiast of Love & Rockets, I will say that they seem to be hatching from a different part of Gilbert’s brain, more akin to his astonishing 2003 short story “30,000 Hours To Kill” than to the residents of his little Latin-American community. The Fritz B-Movies feel alive and utterly spontaneous, with a naughty joy infecting their over-the-top genre conventions. And despite their immaculate craft, they also remind me, perhaps more than any other comic, of the pure imagination of childhood. They make perfect, insane sense in their anything-goes worlds. They revel in the self-discovery of their own stories, and they just dare you doubt them for even a second.
Don’t. Just devour. These books are delicious.