LOVE AND ROCKTOBER | Comics Time: Luba in America

Luba in America
(Love and Rockets, Book 19)
Gilbert Hernandez, writer/artist
Fantagraphics, 2001
176 pages
$19.95
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A series of observations on the first volume of the Luba trilogy:

* I’m amused by how quickly and matter-of-factly Gilbert will establish a vital new aspect of the story, usually through the mouths of babes. Oh yeah, Khamo had a history as a drug-runner, did we not mention that? I almost forgot, all of Luba’s kids except Guadalupe are gay–just fyi!

* Which reminds me: Many of the stories in this volume are told either from the perspective of Venus, Petra’s precocious, quick-witted but kind-hearted ten-year-old daughter, or with her as a focalizing character even if we’re seeing things she isn’t. It’s a bit of a throwback cousin* to “Toco,” that very early more or less contemporaneously written* story about Jesus’s consumptive, long-sleeved little brother who ended up dying young, in which he’s waylaid from a beach excursion by a child molester, to whose ministrations and lethal fate Toco appears completely oblivious. Similarly, things like the identity of her mother’s paramour and her “normal” Tia Luba’s long and sordid history go right over Venus’s head. But at the same time she’s far more perceptive than a lot of the other characters: She sees who stole the family’s good-luck totem (courtesy of a visual device I had to revisit to figure out but which since became one of my favorite parts of the book), she knows her mom and her Tia Fritz sleep while the two of them have no clue, she senses that Luba’s prolonged absence means something’s really wrong there, and so on. The point is that this childlike blend of insight and innocence is almost exactly like a reader’s perception of the Palomar-verse itself: the thrill of piecing together things we’re not “supposed” to know about the characters, coupled with the somewhat disconcerting and disorienting knowledge that there’s a lot of stuff going on under our noses, behind our backs, and over our heads.

* Speaking of kids, there’s something blackly comic being communicated about parenthood in this volume–way less harsh than the horrifying glimpses of Maria and Luba’s parenting skills we’ve seen before, but on a continuum with them at least. Basically, mothers and fathers are just kids who happen to be old enough to have had kids themselves. Right?

* I find myself oddly disturbed by just how persistent the threat to Maria and Luba’s extended family and circle of friends apparently is. No matter how much time passes, no matter where they go, no matter how far their circus-like lives take them from the tone of that Poison River/”Gorgo Wheel” material, you just never know when taciturn men with guns are going to show up ready to kidnap or kill. Seeing the picture of Garza on his daughter’s office wall as Luba tried to bury the hatchet was like seeing something from a nightmare suddenly appear in your real life. Ugh–chilling.

* This just occurred to me, and there’s no way to say it without sounding crass so I’m just gonna bite the bullet and here goes: This volume contains maybe the single funniest sight gag in the Palomar-verse’s history as well as what I found to be the sexiest sequence, and both involve bodily fluids going into or out of Petra’s mouth. I’m just sayin’!

* This is the kind of book where in the middle of a conversation, the characters can flash forward what looks to be twenty-five years into the future while continuing that same conversation, and I don’t even blink.

* Khamo is the best-looking guy I’ve ever seen in a comic. I am drearily heterosexual, but even still there’s the occasional man who just makes me want to sit and stare and appreciate his beauty–The Man Who Fell to Earth/Thin White Duke-era David Bowie and Ian Somerhalder, for example–and Khamo in his prime is, I think, the first comic-book character ever to do this. Dude is stunning.

* Last night I actually dreamed I was at the record store/comic shop Venus and Petra frequent (albeit for very different reasons). I’m pretty sure I was there with Venus. I discovered that they had an incredible toy selection as well, and was playing with a Mego Hulk dressed as a hillbilly.

* About halfway through the book last night I took a bathroom break, and as I stood there peeing and thinking about the comic and its characters, I mentally asked myself, half in exasperation and half in utter fascination–”Who the hell are these crazy people?” Find me another comic where you can ask that–where the cartoonist has struck this precise balance of creating characters who are totally plausible and also totally ridiculous, riddled with mysterious voids and yet so well-defined that you just know you can fill in the blanks if you try hard enough–and I’ll eat my hat.

4 Responses to LOVE AND ROCKTOBER | Comics Time: Luba in America

  1. Brian Nicholson says:

    To correct you, not for the sake of correcting you, just because it’s interesting: “Toco” is actually not early- it comes from one of the first issues of Love And Rockets Volume 2, after the contents of Luba In America began to be printed, but was reprinted in the Palomar hardcover because that’s where it takes place. I don’t know if it’s reprinted in the digests or not. (If not, I would imagine it would show up in a collection of “New Tales From Old Palomar,” as that’s essentially what it is.)

  2. It’s actually collected in Heartbreak Soup!

    Man, the more I think and learn about it, the weirder the Gilbert digests get in terms of what’s collected where.

  3. Norn says:

    ”Who the hell are these crazy people?”

    They’re our family.

  4. [...] and–more so than Luba herself, really–her sisters Fritz and Petra and her friend Pipo. Luba in America, The Book of Ofelia, Three Daughters are among the densest, sexiest, funniest, and bleakest work in [...]

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