By Leroy Douresseaux
July 19, 2007 - 15:47
Earlier this year, Fantagraphics Books re-launched their Love & Rockets book collections as a series of compact, mass-market volumes that also have a low cover price ($14.95). Some readers and reviewers have compared this new line to “tankoubon,” which in Japan is a graphic novel or collection of comics (by a single creator, team, or studio) in book form.
Fantagraphics released the first Gilbert Hernandez tankoubon earlier this year. Heartbreak Soup (subtitle The First Volume of “Palomar” Stores from Love and Rockets) collects Gilbert’s early tales set in the fictional small Central American town of Palomar. These tales, frequently described as “magical-realist,” introduce some of Gilbert’s most beloved characters, including his signature player, Luba. In addition to the title story, Heartbreak Soup contains such classic Gilbert L&R short stories as “Ecce Homo,” “Act of Contrition,” “An American in Palomar,” “For the Love of Carmen,” and “Duck Feet.” (Two of my personal favorites are also here, “Holidays in the Sun” and “Bullnecks and Bracelets.”)
THE LOWDOWN: An English professor once told our class that it was said that Shakespeare invented humanity (Literary critic Harold Bloom has said as much). So would that make Gilbert Hernandez and not Alan Moore “the Shakespeare of comics?”
I often wonder about this because Gilbert’s comix (like the Bard’s plays) have so often captured the variety of human nature so broadly and extensively (unusual in American comics), and he has also done so consistently and for such a long time (nearly 25 years). Gilbert has delved into the human mind and intricately depicted human emotions, yet he understands that as a comic book artist, he must entertain, as much if not more so than he must experiment and explore as an literary artist.
If comparing him to Shakespeare is just a bit too much, then in the Byzantine motivations of Luba and the conflicted heart of Archie Ruiz, (as the two romance in “Act of Contrition”), we can see a study of humanity that is similar to some of the best American fiction. How far away is what Gilbert does with Luba from Coleman Silk in Philip Roth’s The Human Stain or Sula Peace in Toni Morrison’s Sula? I certainly see Israel in the story, “Bullnecks and Bracelets,” as being on an adventure like Ralph Ellison’s unnamed protagonist in Invisible Man.
It isn’t that Gilbert Hernandez is some fancy pants better than those guys who write about superheroes. It’s simply that Gilbert approaches the comic book character as a human: mortal, with feet of clay, and possessing a multifaceted mental life, and that approach is usually found in literary fiction.
FOR READERS OF: Those already familiar with Love & Rockets will enjoy this new portable format with its excellent printing and good binding, which supports rereading. For those who’ve been waiting for the opportunity, these new tankoubon collections are a darn good way to start from the beginning.
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