REVIEWS

Love from the Shadows

Gilbert Hernandez’s new long-story-in-hardcover is called Love from the Shadows, a suitably noirish if meaningless theater-marquee title for this latest “comics adaptation” of still another make-believe grindhouse movie featuring Rosalba “Fritz” Martinez, the lisping super-vixen and former psychotherapist who also does time as a supporting player in the Luba series (Fritz is Luba’s half-sister) over at Love & Rockets. Reading it left me annoyed, cranky, baffled, disappointed, and breast-fixated, as has most of Beto’s work in recent years. The marvelously imagined and textured world of the original Palomar saga seems far away. It is far away, and a long time ago, too. That world and those complex and transporting stories from the 1980s—“Heartbreak Soup”, “Duck Feet”, “An American in Palomar”, “Human Diastrophism”, to name just a few—are the creations of a charged-up young artist flaunting, proving his chops and riffing as well as building on his earliest influences (Magic Realism, Jesse Marsh, Kirby and Ditko at Marvel, D.I.Y. punk culture). That body of work is everlastingly re-readable, stuff that went straight into the canon of great American comics as soon as it appeared.

Much as I liked, and still like, the sheer smutty recklessness of Birdland, in retrospect Beto’s hardcore extravaganza for Fantagraphics’ Eros imprint marks the point  in his career when something changed, drastically. After that, for me at least, his comics no longer seemed a coherent cycle of fiction about knowable, motivated characters written and drawn with formal aesthetics in mind, but a never-ending obsessive sketchbook inspired equally by Russ Meyers and David Lynch films. Indulging his mania for drawing large-bosomed, wasp-waisted women and tall naked men who stand around like statues when they’re not having sex has sapped his comics of narrative drive and turned his cartooning rigidly emblematic. You get the feeling that whatever happens in his stories now only does because it provides him with an opportunity to draw one more babe endowed with a pair of double-D’s or another dead-eyed Vanity Fair male model hung like a horse.

That seems the case with Love from the Shadows, which strings out three flimsy scenarios informed by a 1950s pulpy sci-fi sensibility as well as by the overheated melodrama of the same era’s crime pictures. The story opens with the lisping, dark-haired Fritz at home with her narcissistic boy-toy. Eventually she discovers and enters a cave in her basement, emerging from it into an alternative/cinema reality. No longer lisping, she is now a blonde named Delores, who quickly hooks up with her brother Sonny (he’s a nurse, we’re told, not that it matters) and together they plot to kill their abusive father, a once-famous novelist living a recluse’s life on a generic coastline somewhere.

But before they can murder him, their father has a stroke (or possibly a religious epiphany; at any rate, it’s something significant enough to rattle his mind) after wandering into a cavern—whereupon his grown children decide, against all logic and what’s gone before, to stick around and take care of the old man. Wait a second—what?

At that point, Delores goes for a swim in the ocean (or maybe it’s a river), then hitches a ride in a rowboat with a young boy at the oars (either he’s unimpressed or mesmerized by her voluptuousness, it’s hard to tell) and eventually ends up in another town, where she falls in with a gang of con men running a phony spiritualism racket reminiscent of the one perpetrated in Nightmare Alley. Love from the Shadows drifts, lurches and smash-cuts its way along for 120 novel-size pages, the plot—or rather, the picaresque sequences—trotting out everything from a lovelorn suicide and a sex-change operation that’s part of an insurance scam, to a bunch of mystery men called “monitors” who are either from another planet or the future, unless maybe they’re shadowy government agents. Who knows? They wear sunglasses and jump suits and ask a lot of questions. The narrative concludes with a protracted scene of genital mutilation-and-murder by bow-and-arrow. That’s what it’s about. That’s the best I can do.

Like Steve Ditko at his nuttiest and Chester Gould in his dotage, Hernandez can still pull off a brilliant scene or stage a moment with the sparest, most sublime graphic, but when the narrative is so negligible, an excuse for what reads overwhelmingly as automatic drawing, as self-indulgent dada, even the occasional masterful layout or brilliant continuity solution feels weightless, a frustrating glimpse of the better, much better, and shaped, and worried-over, comics that Gilbert Hernandez, I hope and suspect, is still capable of producing. I’d continue to rank him in a top ten list of the world’s greatest living cartoonists; I just don’t know for how much longer.

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44 Responses to Love from the Shadows

  1. RobertSMartin says:

    I don't have time to post the review until later this week (link work and whatnot), but readers can go <a href "http://archives.tcj.com/messboard/viewtopic.php?t=6649&postdays=0&postorder=asc&start=0&sid=982e82fc8b226bd15342d3a371489f9d">here to get a sense of my view of the book until then.

    By the way, Dan, it's one thing to say whether one feels the attitudes in my and Tom's pieces are similar or not. It's quite another to put words in Tom's mouth about what his view of my piece is. You don't know what he thinks on that score, and it's really arrogant and disrespectful to publicly assume that you do. If you're going to assume anything, assume he can speak for himself.

  2. RobertSMartin says:

    I don't have time to post the review until later this week (link work and whatnot), but readers can go <a href "http://archives.tcj.com/messboard/viewtopic.php?t=6649&postdays=0&postorder=asc&start=0&sid=982e82fc8b226bd15342d3a371489f9d">here to get a sense of my view of the book until then.

    By the way, Dan, it's one thing to say whether one feels the attitudes in my and Tom's pieces are similar or not. It's quite another to put words in Tom's mouth about what his view of my piece is. You don't know what he thinks on that score, and it's really arrogant and disrespectful to publicly assume that you do. If you're going to assume anything, assume he can speak for himself.

  3. ScottGrammel says:

    This spot-on — and very well-written — critique of Gilbert's indulgent, self-satisfied, and almost wholly disappointing post-Birdland output was the first posting that gave me some hope for the new TCJ site. Thanks for reading the book, Tom (Lord knows I didn't want to), and for writing a review that upholds the best old TCJ traditions in this newfangled form and format. (Since I haven't read them, Tom, I'll ask you: Is Gilbert's semi-recent Palomar work in those Ignatz series comics a return to his old form or similarly unimpressive?)

  4. steven samuels says:

    You’ve pretty much summed up my thoughts on his work. Except for his being in the “top ten cartoonist” list, which I definetly don’t think he merits a placement in.

    I think the real turning point for him came with “Poison River,” which upon a recent rereading holds up even worse that it used to. It’s simply a stream of plot points that don’t cohere to anything resembling a purposeful, unified whole. It doesn’t add up to much, period.

    If anything, Robert Stanley Martin’s comments from a few months back are more apropos the further you advance in the ouevre. Where once the luridness was balanced out, like you say, with a good measure of craft and inventiveness, now everything’s out of kilter. The luridness is more extreme, the plot points and characterizations are glib. All of which resulting in work that is barely readable, if at all. Granted, like you say, on occasion he still pull offs a sequence or two that are worth looking at, but unfortunately its not enough to make one forget the bad ones. All in all it’s a thin gruel.

    I hate to say it, but GH’s work for years now has been akin to that of a hack.

    • RobertSMartin says:

      I flogged Hernandez's Speak of the Devil in the print TCJ a couple of years ago. It looks like DeHaven's opinion of this book is much the same as mine was of the earlier one. Ironically, back then TCJ's newest editors and their cohort reacted like I had committed some sort of blasphemy. It's nice to see they've come around enough to at least acknowledge that this view of Hernandez is worth seeing print under the TCJ banner.

      The copyright on that Speak of the Devil piece has reverted to me. I think I'll look it over and see if I think it's worth reposting over at my own site.

  5. steven samuels says:

    ********SPOILERS AHEAD**********

    ************************************

    And let me add, Jaime’s work many times has not been all that great, either. His work in the nineties was no better than mediocre, with some really trite scenarios (Maggie had a secret marriage? Really?? Oh, please). Although his “Education of Hopey Glass” is quite worthwhile. Not every story works, but when it does, it works very well.

    • madinkbeard says:

      I think the "secret" marriage of Maggie worked quite well as an indicator of how much she had drifted away from some of the other characters. Unless I'm totally remembering it wrong. It's been a few years since I reread those stories.

  6. patford says:

    My view is Gilbert's current work is the best of his career. I'd place him with Crumb as the two best living cartoonists.
    His earlier work is very good, but lacks the maturity of his less Earth bound more recent work.

  7. patford says:

    Having just finished Tezuka's "MW" one of the things I took away from it was how similar it was in theme and trappings to Gilbert's "liberated" newer genre work. Gilbert has found a rich vein of ore to mine a vein which follows the same sub-strata seen in Jim Woodring's Frank stories.

  8. FrankSantoro says:

    Yah, I agree with De Haven's overview in theory but Beto detractors forget that Beto is just building
    his library. He wants to make these kinds of books. So what? Some like 'em. Some don't. But overview reviews like this seem to have an axe to grind from earlier – like Beto
    has let them down. Whatever. He can do what he wants. 'nuff said.

    • patford says:

      Like Frank I'd be very disappointed is Gilbert were still swimming laps in his old splash pool.
      What I look for are people like Gilbert, Crumb, Clowes, and others who aren't going out on the road playing their old hits "like the record."

  9. RobertSMartin says:

    I don't have time to post the review until later this week (link work and whatnot), but readers can go here to get a sense of my view of the book until then.

    By the way, Dan, it's one thing to say whether one feels the attitudes in my and Tom's pieces are similar or not. It's quite another to put words in Tom's mouth about what his view of my piece is. You don't know what he thinks on that score, and it's really arrogant and disrespectful to publicly assume that you do. If you're going to assume anything, assume he can speak for himself.

    • Dan Nadel says:

      I will work hard on my issues with respect and arrogance, sir, and submit revisions to said attitudes for your approval as soon as I get the link work and whatnot sorted. I hope I can find my way towards a better way of being.

  10. steven samuels says:

    TOM DE HAVEN — That world and those complex and transporting stories from the 1980s—“Heartbreak Soup”, “Duck Feet”, “An American in Palomar”, “Human Diastrophism”, to name just a few—are the creations of a charged-up young artist flaunting, proving his chops and riffing as well as building on his earliest influences

    I think that’s one of the biggest differences between then and now. Although most of those particular stories had one flaw or the other, at least he was on fire. The passion was there. And that counted for a lot. So now it feels like his interest in his characters isn’t what it was, or that he can’t find the same artistic purpose for them that he used to.

    TOM DE HAVEN -You get the feeling that whatever happens in his stories now only does because it provides him with an opportunity to draw one more babe endowed with a pair of double-D’s or another dead-eyed Vanity Fair male model hung like a horse.

    I don’t think that the naked bodies are the problem, or even his interest in drawing them. It’s the perfunctory way he that he employs all the elements that go into storytelling. These days, it all rings hollow.

    RobertSMartin —Ironically, back then TCJ’s newest editors and their cohort reacted like I had committed some sort of blasphemy.

    If I remember right, Wig Wam Bam received a tepid review back in the day. And possibly at least one other one.

    patford —Having just finished Tezuka’s “MW” one of the things I took away from it was how similar it was in theme and trappings to Gilbert’s “liberated” newer genre work.

    That’s a pretty apt comparison. One does get the sense that Tezuka was calculatingly trying to outdo his younger rivals with that one. But it’s lurid in a good way, Tezuka was passionate and it’s finite. In contrast, the travails of Luba and her family goes on and on and on. It’s a pitfall of using recurring characters for such a long time. It’s hard to pull off and after a while the artistic reason for being becomes questionable. But then again, Speak of the Devil and The Troublemakers (which like the above book are closed-ended) I think are even worse than the latest stories that feature his Palomar characters.

    Frank SantoroYah, I agree with De Haven’s overview in theory but Beto detractors forget that Beto is just building his library. He wants to make these kinds of books.

    One could say the same about Rob Liefeld.

    So what? Some like ‘em. Some don’t. But overview reviews like this seem to have an axe to grind from earlier – like Beto has let them down. Whatever. He can do what he wants.

    The desire to see better work from GH shouldn’t be considered ax grinding. If Tom’s review is ax-grinding, then so is thirty-five years worth of the magazine you’re working for.

    I would say that in general, most serious critics don’t have an axe to grind. You can take their intentions at face value. There’s a select few out there whose motives can be questioned, most commonly in the movie industry, but that’s about it.

    • Dan Nadel says:

      I think what Frank is referring to here is that Beto is is building a language of his own — he's in a place where he's making the comics precisely as he wants to make then. Late Gould or Ditko or Tezuka is apt, really. Unlike, say, Liefeld, Beto has a unique vision at the core. What he does with it in these more minor works, is worth a look and an evaluation, and, sometimes one wonders, as much for himself, to "draw out" his demons/compulsions, as for public consumption. I found Speak of the Devil to be a masterfully vague, horrific comic book. Its slightness and obsessions seemed like a fever dream in a good way — in a way that paid dividends. This new one I haven't read, so I can't speak to it.

  11. patford says:

    I see the more recent work as a refinement, or perhaps distillation is a better word, of themes Gilbert was groping for in his earlier work.
    It's stronger drink, some might see it as moonshine, but it tastes more like single malt to me. He's moved into Robert Johnson territory.

    It must-a be that old evil spirit
    so deep down in the ground
    You may bury my body
    down by the highway side
    Baby, I don't care where you bury my
    body when I'm dead and gone
    You may bury my body
    down by the highway side
    So my old evil spirit
    can catch a Greyhound bus and ride

  12. RonaldBronstein says:

    So it seems the major complaint here is that Gilbert has stopped caring about people. *Sniff*. That's obvious. Near the end of the first L&R run, you could sort of feel him hitting a brick wall with his character-driven approach. The Palomar saga, once it moved to LA, warped into a burlesque distortion of soap opera conventions without any psychological nuance to foment reader engagement. But in hindsight, it's clear that Gilbert's interests were merely shifting…away from studies of behaviorism and towards something much more conceptual in nature. Unfortunately, the Palomar universe didn't provide him with enough elbow-room to flex in a new direction, and at the time, he felt like a rolled-up, squeezed-out tube of toothpaste.

    But, cripes, he completely pulled himself out of this rut, starting with the bat-shit short-form work in New Love (aka Fear of Comics) and continuing on today with these quasi-Grindhouse one offs. Gilbert has pretty much reinvented himself, first and foremost, as an arch surrealist (surrealist in the sense of a total commitment to free association). I mean, this element has always been a part of his work, but he's no longer inhibited by an obligation to attend to his characters' feelings. He doesn't build his narratives out of their concerns. Rather, the characters are more like shills, entirely subservient to whatever gonzo narrative idea he pukes down at them. Take a look at that Roy story from L&R #6 . As a character, Roy is little more than a design conceit. In terms of 'personality', he's an empty vessel. You don't feel though him. But the narrative twists and writhes in such an ineffably unhinged way that the work still feels extremely personal. It provides you with raw access into Gilbert's brain — into how it WORKS — and roiling inside of it, in total disarray, are a lifetime's worth of cultural, social, and political preoccupations.

    I mean, this is Gilbert working at the PEAK of his powers. And so it shocks me that this isn't the consensus amongst his (former?) admirers. I don't know. I think there's a general prejudice in the art-comics-world against work that prioritizes overt plotting over sensitive attention to behavioral gesture. Which is understandable. A strong pre-determined plot often comes at the expense of character depth. But Gilbert is doing something very unusual and expressive with narrative. He's regurgitating all of these grade-Z drive-in-movie cliches from his youth — cheap narrative devices designed to turn a quick buck — and applying a very personal dream logic to them. The results are crude and pulpy without being disposable, cause there's too much genuine pathology on display. Like he has an actual fever while he's drawing.

    Ok. I'm all over the place. And going on too long. But what I'm describing here, ultimately, is a seismic shift in the man's artistic preoccupations. To view it as some failed, dispassionate version of an older, deliberately outmoded phase is to miss the boat entirely. "Hack"!?!

    • nrh says:

      I also find it kind of baffling that De Haven sees "Birdland" as an enormous turning point for Gilbert's work; if you look closely the tendency toward the kind of narrative he would nearly perfect in "New Love" is apparent early enough in "Errata Stigmata," in shorts like his Frida Kahlo piece, and in the experimental narrative density of "X" and "Poison River." Not to mention "The Naked Cosmos." I haven't read "Love From the Shadows" yet – "Troublemakers" seemed to be a slight falling off in quality from "Speak of the Devil" and "Chance in Hell" – but seeing a blanket dismissal of his work over the last two decades is very disappointing.

    • patford says:

      Certainly the way I see it. He's grown up and is pissing on illusions. Masks are stripped away.
      I'm thrilled he's broken down walls.

    • bhagen111 says:

      I'm with you on this. The last years have contained some of my favorite Gilbert work. I love the unexplained tonal twists of "The Little Stunt Boy." The realism/surrealism mix of "The Kid Stuff Kids" works for me. The fat characters and superhero tropes of Roy and his pals "Monsters and Heroes" dance atop a nasty subconscious abyss.

      I think Gilbert is courageous for abandoning his former pleasing style and coherent narratives and digging deep into…something else. Me for the unknown.

  13. ScottGrammel says:

    I'd complain about Nadel's eagerness to jump in and answer for other people, but considering his snotty tone when speaking for himself, it's actually kind of an improvement.

    As for Browstein's dismissal of 'Beto's present critics as character-besotted, sentimental fogies, that may be but that hasn't been their complaint here. I for one certainly could see how his playing around in the B movie/Grindhouse sandbox could've been a gas for both him and his readers. I just wish the weightless, pointless offerings we've been given weren't so forgettable.

    I feel like I've been Suckerpunched.

    • FrankSantoro says:

      Just for the record, I'm okay with Dan speaking for me – regardless of tone (smiley face)

      • patford says:

        Solid proff that Gilbert has attained greatness is old timers who were young, and idealistic when they first read his work are now saying they liked the old stuff better.
        That's as good a stamp of greatness as I can think of.
        Gilbert goes Electric, and people are out to cut the amp cord with an axe.

      • RobertSMartin says:

        So, are you saying that Lennon, McCartney, et al. did better work after the Beatles broke up? Or that William Wordsworth wrote better poetry in the latter half of his life than he did in the first? Or that Coppola's films from the 1980s onward put his '70s work in the shade? Or that Robert De Niro did his most impressive acting after Raging Bull? Or that Toni Morrison's best writing was the stuff she did after Beloved? Or, getting back to comics, Miller, Chaykin, and Sienkiewicz did their best work after the 1980s?

        These are all examples of artists of whom people generally say they prefer the old (or older) stuff better. I'm trying to test your theory here.

      • RonaldBronstein says:

        You're sort of stacking the deck here. The argument that Gilbert's older, more humanistic work was simply "better" overlooks the fact that these new stories spring from an entirely different set of objectives. These are some very…odd…comics, and deserve to be explored in the context of their intentions. But De Haven writes, "You get the feeling that whatever happens in his stories now only does because it provides him with an opportunity to draw one more babe endowed with a pair of double-D's." Come on. Really? Ignoring the fact that he's falling back on a pretty tired soundbite (this sentiment was dumb and uninsightful the first hundred times I heard someone say it), it indicates to me an unwillingness to dig.

        I'm curious, have the naysayers been actively keeping up with Gilbert's output? Or did they jump ship at a point when he was experiencing growing pains, and then let their opinions calcify? Did they read the recent 'Scarlet by Starlight'? Holy shit. That thing is just staggering. Sick, sad, sleazy, masterful..weightier than these B-movie one-offs, but still cut from the same cloth. When I say he's working at the peak of his powers, it's stories like this that I'm referring to.

      • patford says:

        I wouldn't say Gilbert's older work is more humanistic.
        It's slightly more conventional.
        Is Citizen Kane more humanistic than Touch of Evil.
        Touch of Evil is a more "cartoonish" work than Citizen Kane, but comes from a more personal, and mature perspective. This isn't to denigrate Kane, only to say it isn't nearly as interesting to me as "The Trial" "Chimes" and Touch of Evil.
        Roy Crane said caricature was the best tool in a cartoonists kit, and I think that is as true of the writing as it is of the art. Caricature (exaggeration) is the advantage in cartooning.

  14. nrh says:

    I’m sorry that this thread has degenerated into…I’m not sure exactly, but calling the EIC of the website snotty and arrogant (in two different posts, mind you) certainly signifies a corner being turned.

    We are in a tough position, because most of us haven’t read the new book that De Haven is describing, and therefore we have to resort to a generalized argument about Gilbert’s recent career, which is almost certainly going to degenerate into nonsense on both sides. Discussion of his later work always reminds me of people complaining about late Godard: the poor arguments of his wounded early followers writing him off after ’68 or so gives so much ammunition to his defenders that the fact that, say, “In Praise of Love” is much weaker that “Helas Pour Moi” gets lost in the scuffle.

    As for late period Hernandez Jog wrote very well about it here , and Frank Santoro here and here. Much more can be written about these books and I’m sure it will.

    And dear god if you haven’t seen “The Naked Cosmos” please click this link:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9c1fkgmKUZM
    This is basic comics literacy people and if you haven’t seen it you’re missing out.

    • Joe McCulloch says:

      Ha, In Praise of Love felt like Godard arranging his own funeral – it's striking how much more energetic the three-part structures of Notre musique and Film Socialisme feel in contrast. Although I suppose if a life in movies should have a beginning, middle and end, they don't have to be in that order…

      (The Naked Cosmos is awesome.)

  15. alanchoate says:

    “After that, for me at least, his comics no longer seemed a coherent cycle of fiction about knowable, motivated characters written and drawn with formal aesthetics in mind…”

    I think the key here is “knowable.” Beto’s recent work is compelling exactly because his characters don’t come fully into view. Apparent non-sequitur behavior or the mere presence of extreme sexuality and violence doesn’t mean he’s abandoned character the way some defenders are conceding. At his best he’s exploring territory in the human heart you couldn’t reach with strict realism or the fiction-workshop kind of thinking that would have made sure Iago's motivation was really nailed down.

    The rest of us are at a disadvantage until the book comes out, but the three paragraphs DeHaven devotes to summarizing the story could have appeared in promotional copy or on a back cover and gotten me all fired up to read it.

  16. UlandK says:

    How would you feel about his latest comics if you'd never read his earlier work? Imagine Birdland as the debut comic of an unknown.
    I think most would think he's an amazing cartoonist and interesting in particular for his dedication to churning out pages of expertly cartooned genre-obsessed weirdness.
    And, really, maybe he kinda feels like he's done everything he can do with the older material. I think criticizing him for not successfully nailing what he never went for, and reading what he did offer up in light of that, misses the mark.
    I think his newer work suffers by not being published in floppy pulp form.

  17. seantcollins says:

    "You get the feeling that whatever happens in his stories now only does because it provides him with an opportunity to draw one more babe endowed with a pair of double-D’s or another dead-eyed Vanity Fair male model hung like a horse."

    Golly but that is a facile read of these comics. If that were all he wanted to do, you'd think his comics would include a lot less child rape, just for starters! But more on all this anon.

    • patford says:

      Clearly that should have read, "I get the feeling…double-D's…"
      The thought never crossed my mind. I sometimes notice similar assumptions being leveled at Crumb, which is just black and white from the way I perceive the stuff.

  18. DerRabbi says:

    For the past decade or so Beto seems so disinterested in drawing backgrounds and only places his characters in such a nonexistent abstract space that his stories suffer from some profound dislocation. I have no problems with the fact that he has shyed away from his previous character driven work and not really given us characters we "care" about, but the total lack of a unique environment often makes his more recent characters seem nearly disembodied. Many of the characters are now reduced to just a quick expression of some theme or just an embodied plot point. The effect of all this creates a narrative where the consequences of actions seem far less because things like violence, sex, etc. are happening to ideas and not to people. Ironic considering Beto's general focus on human bodies. It's probably why his SciFi and Fantasy pieces work better these days. As pure expressions of the reader/writers psyche unfiltered by the burden of pretenses to reality.

    Did his output double around the same time this newer style emerged? It always appeared to me as if much of the dismissal of backgrounds was a victim of his desire to just crank more work out.

  19. DerRabbi says:

    For the past decade or so Beto seems so disinterested in drawing backgrounds and only places his characters in such a nonexistent abstract space that his stories suffer from some profound dislocation. I have no problems with the fact that he has shyed away from his previous character driven work and not really given us characters we "care" about, but the total lack of a unique environment often makes his more recent characters seem nearly disembodied. Many of the characters are now reduced to just a quick expression of some theme or just an embodied plot point. The effect of all this creates a narrative where the consequences of actions seem far less because things like violence, sex, etc. are happening to ideas and not to people. Ironic considering Beto's general focus on human bodies. It's probably why his SciFi and Fantasy pieces work better these days. As pure expressions of the reader/writers psyche unfiltered by the burden of pretenses to reality.

  20. michaeldeforge says:

    "For the past decade or so Beto seems so disinterested in drawing backgrounds and only places his characters in such a nonexistent abstract space that his stories suffer from some profound dislocation"

    Which stories are you referring to? The wasteland in the first half of Chance in Hell, the city in the second half, the suburbs of Speak of the Devil, the jungle in Scarlet by Starlight – none of these settings seemed lacking in definition to me.

    • michaeldeforge says:

      *especially* Chance in Hell – the scenes in that junkyard are some of my favorite Gilbert pages ever.

  21. patford says:

    Gilbert does wonderful things with backgrounds. Gives them more attention to them than most artists. He's lavish in his depiction of atmospheric effects, and textures. In fact the way Gilbert draws "the sky" and the way buildings rise up out of the desert like a stand-in for Monument Valley reminds me of Herriman.
    Check the whole of the Troublemakers, or even the first twenty odd pages.
    Some amazing examples (pages) : 6, 14-15, 19,

  22. DerRabbi says:

    I would say about 2/3 of his work in the last decade or so suffers from this. Yes he draws a suburb or a row of hedges but they are done in an extremely economic line style that just says "row of hedges" or "suburb". Rarely do they tell us much about what type of suburb for example the story takes place in. Truly it is an efficient cartooning shorthand he uses that services his narrative's clarity but at the expense of its mood. Particularly in his more naturalistic stories. His Palomar and LA of the 80's and 90's felt more specifically tangible to me. The Herriman-like abstractions for backgrounds do indeed work in his fantasy and sci-fi stories.

  23. tylerstafford says:

    Was it ever established that the movies Fritz starred in were good? If not, then I would think that these adaptations of her films not making any sense would make perfect sense. At least, in the context of Luba's universe.

  24. patford says:

    Very interesting interview with Gilbert. http://www.comicbookresources.com/?page=article&a

    "The Fritz series frees me of any obligation to be a do-gooder cartoonist, something most regular L&R readers probably don't want to hear. I felt straight jacketed with "Palomar" and the like after a while, really. I have a lot more going on in my imagination than I'm expected to utilize. I do enjoy B-movies and comics, from their beginnings in the 1930s to the mid-1970s. Comics I like after that are few and far between. Non-superhero mainstream comics have become so conservative and dull to me; you can see the same thing on TV these days. And indy comics are so PC and precious, I have little interest in them as well. Comics used to be a place where you could only find what they were about in comics, now comics have to keep up with movies and TV, where it used to be the other way around. "

  25. patford says:

    The link to the new Gilbert interview where he talks at length about the film flam books: http://www.comicbookresources.com/?page=article&a
    Gilbert Hernandez: " "Chance In Hell" was as serious as anything I've ever done. The only thing that says "Fritz movies" is that one of the characters looks like Fritz. The Grindhouse aspect won't start until the next book, or books, with "Maria M." books 1 and 2. Fritz plays her mother in what might be my most exploitive book yet. And it only gets more and more nasty with each subsequent book.

    The Fritz series frees me of any obligation to be a do-gooder cartoonist, something most regular L&R readers probably don't want to hear. I felt straight jacketed with "Palomar" and the like after a while, really. I have a lot more going on in my imagination than I'm expected to utilize. I do enjoy B-movies and comics, from their beginnings in the 1930s to the mid-1970s. Comics I like after that are few and far between. Non-superhero mainstream comics have become so conservative and dull to me; you can see the same thing on TV these days. And indy comics are so PC and precious, I have little interest in them as well. Comics used to be a place where you could only find what they were about in comics, now comics have to keep up with movies and TV, where it used to be the other way around. "

  26. While I understand the frustration that stems from reading these works, I think that this frustration also stems from a misunderstanding of what the works are trying to accomplish.

    The question of whether Gilbert Hernandez has his audience in mind is a legitimate one (the pendulum between self-indulgement and audience-expectation). That his recent books are esoteric is not a mystery; as the comments below (and the review above) show, his comics are not for everyone.

    Nonetheless, I think that there is a value to his books, and there is a logic to them. The claim that all his post-Birdland work is sub-par is just plain wrong, for example. The “High Soft Lisp” book, an anthology of stories about Fritz, is very, very good. “Fritz After Dark” is perhaps one of the best stories of frustrated sexuality that I have ever read. In it, he explores in some depths the same themes that he explores with morbid, surreal humor in “Birdland.” Yes, I think Birdland has themes; and yes, I think it’s very valuable as a comic book. On atmosphere alone it gets points.

    Which is how I get to this book. Clearly plot and character development are not what Gilbert Hernandez is seeking to do. It doesn’t take a genius to notice this. Indeed, since the plot is so thin and the characterization is so eerie, one can do either two things: dismiss the book on these two grounds, or see that what Hernandez is trying to accomplish doesn’t have to do with them.

    Like I said, it’s more about mood, the “dream logic.” I don’t know if it was just me, but I was drawn into this book, almost hypnotized (hypnosis–another theme present in “Birdland,” and one of his other Fritz movies is called “Hypnotwist”).

    I could go on, but I just want to leave this thought: Of course there’s no plot in this book! The book isn’t about plot! That’s about the first thing you should notice when, in the first ten pages, the author deliberately veers the Fritz character off-track.

    And those who think that “Poison River” sucks just don’t know how to read. That is a damn fine novel, with some of the most complex, tragic characters in Gilbert’s ouvre.

  27. gustaf mirtier says:

    I’ve very much been enjoying gilbert’s recent surreal work. It gives me that special three in the morning feeling that early eightball used to. Which is kind of funny.

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