LOVE AND ROCKTOBER | Comics Time: Love and Rockets: New Stories #1-3 and “Dreamstar”

Love and Rockets: New Stories #1-3
featuring various stories by Gilbert Hernandez, writer/artist
Fantagraphics, 2008-2010
104 pages each
$14.99 each
Buy them for 33% off from Fantagraphics
Buy them from Amazon.com

“Dreamstar”
in MySpace Dark Horse Presents #24
Gilbert Hernandez, writer/artist
Dark Horse, July 2009
8 pages
Read it for free on MySpace.com (sorry, the permalink to the story isn’t working so you’ll have to scroll for it)
Buy it in MySpace Dark Horse Presents Vol. 4 from Amazon.com

“Fuck. Where’d all the good sex go? There used to be fuckin’ and sucking’ and pussy eatin’ and everything. Pussy eaten’ being my favorite. Now it’s rare to see sex much lately, unless it’s seen as sad or creepy or simply wrong. Shit, is that a cop?”–from “The Funny Papers”

“I didn’t get naked or do porn or have to suck anybody’s dick!! OK?!!”–from “Sad Girl”

“The naked maniac guys, the bloody cop, my up-the-butt daisy dukes…camera behind me getting a good close-up…I’ll take what I can get.”–from “Killer * Sad Girl * Star”

“They’re only animals! You did it! You did it too!”–from “Scarlet by Starlight”

The suite of stories Gilbert Hernandez contributed to the relaunched, graphic-novel-format Love and Rockets: New Stories might be his most complex work yet. By my count, you have two relatively straightforward strips, “Sad Girl” and “Killer * Sad Girl * Star,” starring Killer, Guadalupe’s teenage daughter and heir to the Luba/Fritz/Petra bombshell genes. You have a Fritz B-movie, “Scarlet by Starlight.” You have a movie Killer starred in, “Hypnotwist,” which was a remake of an earlier film we’re told; two other Killer movies are woven into “Killer * Sad Girl * Star.” You have an abstract strip called “?” with which “Hypnotwist” shares much of its visual vocabulary. You have a strip that’s similar in tone to his bleaker Palomar morality plays, “Papa,” and a similarly cold America-based strip called “Victory Dance.” Then you have a funny-animal goof called “Never Say Never,” an exercise in ’60s-style humor cartooning called “Chiro El Indio” that’s written by brother Mario, a trio of newspaper strips called “The Funny Papers,” and a kill-crazy rampage by the Martin & Lewis impersonators from Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla (seriously!) called “The New Adventures of Duke and Sammy.” Finally, there’s “Dreamstar” from Dark Horse’s defunct webcomics site at MySpace.com, which is still another film from Killer’s oeuvre.

It was only in reading Beto’s stories in all three volumes that the Chinese puzzle-box intricacy of what he’s doing here revealed itself to me. Much of this is accomplished by delaying the point at which we receive vital information. In “Hypnotwist,” we don’t see Killer appear until a pair of pages deep into the strange, wordless strip. Up until then we’ve been focusing on the imagery the strip shares with the previous volume’s “?”–giant smiley faces, a tumbling glass, ducks, a door with a question mark; meanwhile, the meager information about Killer’s first movie we learned in “Sad Girl”–it involved a lot of green-screen work and running in place in a trenchcoat designed to make her look nude underneath–doesn’t tip us off about anything in “Hypnotwist” until Killer herself shows up. “Scarlet by Starlight,” meanwhile, never tips its hand, not even with subtle deviations like the hair-color games Chris Ware played with his similar sci-fi/horror story-within-the-story in ACME Novelty Library #19. Unless you happen to remember the title from Fritz’s strips, or the endpages in The Troublemakers and Chance in Hell, there’s no way to tell it’s a “movie” from the Palomar-verse until you see Killer watching part of it in the following strip. Fritz herself is buried under cat-person make-up and her humanoid speech doesn’t give her lisp occasion to manifest. (I know she has other identifying characteristics, but let’s face it, when it comes to deducing the identity of Beto characters, “giant breasts” hardly narrows it down.) In “Killer * Sad Girl * Star,” one of the movies Killer stars in is presented in such a fashion that it seems to be real life. “Victory Dance” starts out like a non-narrative exploration of figurework a la “Heroin” from Fear of Comics before becoming a story about a relationship haunted by the spectre of death and one member’s fleeing from it a la “Papa,” and finally revealing itself to be set in “Papa”‘s world. “Papa,” meanwhile, could be a Palomar-verse strip for all I know–I’d need to go back and see if mudslides or poisonous worms were ever a feature of Palomar’s surroundings. “The New Adventures of Duke and Sammy” plays “Papa” and “Victory Dance”‘s relationship/travelogue tragedies as farce. “The Funny Papers”‘ sub-strip “Meche” evokes a key backstory element in the Fritz comics, while “It’s Good to Be…” (quoted above in its entirety) seems to be a direct commentary on Beto’s current approach to sex in his comics. As is custom, the films we see the characters acting in are all reflective of the issues of sexuality that dominate their own lives. Specfically, the brutal exploitation of children at the center of “Scarlet by Starlight”–delivered in a grotesquely matter-of-fact panel, savagely angry and awful–is echoed by the far milder but still insidious sexualization of “Killer * Sad Girl * Star” later on in issue #3…and, of course, it compliments and reinforces Jaime’s “Browntown”/”The Love Bunglers” suite in that same volume. All in service of what feels like an extension of the flagellating self-critique we saw in High Soft Lisp, the quotes above being Exhibit A.

And I could probably go on! But to do so would be to imply that trainspotting is the primary value of these comics. I could just as easily enumerate the innumerable pleasures of Gilbert’s cartooning itself in these strips: The wire-thin, unwavering line with which he draws the legs of the protagonist of “Hypnotwist,” say–a style I’ve never seen him use before. That choreography in “Victory Dance.” The emergence of vast, hellish landscapes as a no-doubt-about-it theme in Gilbert’s work with the opening of “Papa.” The dead-behind-the-eyes facial expressions of the humans in “Scarlet by Starlight.” The sequence in “Hypnotwist” where a balloon-headed man’s head is popped, leaving it sagging horrifically off his neck as he crawls in the nude. The WTF repetition of the Masonic square and compass. The unexplained holes in Papa’s head. Killer as a heavy-lidded Luba lookalike. Hector as a wild-eyed gray-haired hot-tempered eminence grise.

All told, you could wrap these stories up between two covers and come up with a book of absolutely crushing intelligence, emotional heft, and visual power–a book among the best of Gilbert’s career. And by #3, Jaime is hitting a similar career peak, playing off of similarly uncompromising themes. Here I am at the end of over two months of reading nothing but going on three decades’ worth of Love and Rockets, and neither I nor Los Bros Hernandez are anywhere near exhausted. All hail.

9 Responses to LOVE AND ROCKTOBER | Comics Time: Love and Rockets: New Stories #1-3 and “Dreamstar”

  1. MAD says:

    I never have nor will I ever read any of Gilbert’s works but that Dreamstar image above allows me to unequivocally state that all of his work is worthless due to his obviously mysoginistic sexual politics.
    I also don’t know if a big-breasted woman floating in mid-air while destroying a building is supposed to be fictitious or not but it’s definitely cliched (regardless of context, you philistines!) and hence his entire body of work is not worthy of my time.

    Stay tuned for my 6000-word critique (virulently negative, of course) of Gilbert’s artistic skills based solely on my reading of that image. I will conclude it by positing that the only way such a talentless hack could have received so much acclaim is through some sort of comics affirmative action program agreed-upon by elites (whose disagreement will only prove my point) and started (and ended, quite serendipitously so) in 1982. Stop coddling your talentless noble ethnic pet, you ignorant, elitist, hyper-informed, populist, boob-obsessed, politically-correct vulgarians!

    • MAD says:

      Also, Lacan and etc.

    • Oh man, until I realized what you were up to here, I was getting REALLY nervous. :)

      • MAD says:

        Heh, sorry. I just couldn’t resist.

        But really, thanks a lot for these reviews, I’ve enjoyed them immensely. Your re-reading of Los Bros. coincided with my own re-visiing of their work at the same time, so it’s been a blast to read all their stuff over the past months and then come here to find you discussing the very same books. I think they are absolute masters and their work is criminally ignored and underrated in comics circles (I never in 20 years thought I would type that).

        I don’t know if you’re planning a more extensive post reflecting on and summing up the overall experience, in which case it would be the appropriate place to discuss the phenomenon that Evan Dorkin pointed out over at Comics Comics: how easy it is to casually overlook (or even dismiss) the recent work of reliable veterans like the Hdez. Bros. People just get used to them always being there. It’s a terrible disservice to them and comics criticism in general, particularly so because, as you state here, they are both definitely at career high points right now.

        Anyway, All Hail, indeed.

  2. Helpful Hayseed says:

    “… a non-narrative exploration of figurework a la “Heroin” from Fear of Comics…”

    Hey, did you know that strip portrays a real symptom of heroin use? I thought the piece was total dada until I moved to New York and someone explained to me that the people I saw on the street who were slowly doubling over but never falling were on heroin.

  3. Rev'd '76 says:

    Papa is from Beto’s as-yet-uncollected ‘Julio’s Day’. I still need to track down the remaining chapters of that…