Saturday, April 29, 2006

Palomar

Starting to read independent and experimental comics is like entering any fandom, although I think many creators in the genre would bristle at that term. Success at finding something you like is much more likely if you have a friend to guide you and make recommendations. The good stuff comes largely through word of mouth--if you go only by books that get big shiny recognition, you end up with Jimmy Corrigan, which may be revolutionary but is absolutely no fun to read.

I am a very suspicious reader. But I can say with certainty that my latest read, Gilbert Hernandez's half of Love and Rockets, is absolutely deserving of the heaps of praise it has gotten in the several decades since it debuted. I picked up the trade hardcover edition Palomar: The Heartbreak Soup Stories because I intended to look in it for traces of a codex legacy--I'm working on a paper for a class on American Indian rhetorics that's trying to imagine a decolonial history for the comic book. While I didn't exactly find what I was originally looking for, the work had obvious connections to other literary and comic book texts.

All of Gilbert Hernandez's stories in this collection take place in the fictional town of Palomar, which he glosses as meaning "pigeon coop". This world-building impulse can be traced back to two sources--Gabriel Garcí­a Marquez's town of Macondo, featured in One Hundred Years of Solitude as well as DC Comics' own fictionopolises like Metropolis and Gotham. He actually references the ironic connection to Macondo in the text, but the Metropolis link is extra-textual. His author bio mentions a childhood love of Superman, and to me as a reader, the impulse to create a fictional town with a vague geographical location is as much a legacy of DC in his work as it is a legacy of that other super-famous South American writer.

That's a fun detail that makes my literary brain happy, but it's also an engaging read. The portrayal of small-town life is really...authentic. That's always a problematic word to use, but the characters truly felt like real people to me. I'm not from a poor Mexican rural town, so I can't really judge it on accuracy there, but as far as human nature goes, G. Hernandez understands souls passing through this world.

I was surprised as to how much disability there is in the work. This relates to the feeling of authenticity--in the real world, disabled folks are everywhere, they just end up invisible in many forms of media. If you know what to look for they are everywhere in superhero comics, but I had discounted indie comics from my search (more because I know a lot more about superheroes than I do anything else). I was short-sighted--the town of Palomar embodies what James Trent describes as the oldest form of reaction to people with disabilities (mental in his case, as his book was Inventing the Feeble Mind: A History of Mental Retardation in the United States). They are integrated into the community because there is no other possibility. One man is referred to sometimes as "Martí­n el Loco" but ultimately he is just another part of the town. I'm not sure anyone has ever done a disability-related analysis of the work but it merits further thought.

I'm still a little skeptical of all the praise Love and Rockets has received for good portrayals of women, as it is written by men, but it's very similar to the situation with Y: The Last Man. Dudes get gold medals for not being violently sexist. But I digress: the women are really cool characters, not judged by the author's gaze for being as sexually active as the men in the series.

Anyway, I loved what I have read so far, and since there is WAY more to read where that came from, my next stop will either be the Jaime Hernandez half of stuff or G. Hernandez's later works following his central character, Luba, and others after they leave Palomar.

2 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Franny, I envy you the experience of reading L&R for the first time.
I'm an older fan, (41 yrs), and I've always maintained that if I had to prove the worthiness of the entire comics medium to a non-fan, the mag I'd use as my proof would be Love & Rockets.

5:00 AM, May 01, 2006  
Blogger MarkAndrew said...

Oh Gawd. I love all of Beto's stuff.

Lived in Olympia Washington for a bit, and he was a guest at our local comic-con. One of the funniest dudes I've ever met.

What to do next... Well, I don't like either Jaime's stuff or Gilbert's post-Palmoar work as much as the big, thick Palomar book... But they're both pretty darn good.

(There are people who actually prefer Jaime to Gilbert. But I don't trust them, and won't speak for their mental coherence.)

Recomendation: Definitely try'n find Love and Rockets (2cd series) # 10. It's got a bunch of fun creator interviews where Los. Bros. (including Mario) talk about their favorite comics and stuff.

4:06 AM, May 23, 2006  

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