LOCAS 2/LOVE AND ROCKETS NEW STORIES 2

LOCAS 2/LOVE AND ROCKETS NEW STORIES 2
Written and Drawn by Los Bros Hernandez
Published by Fantagraphics

The first volume of LOCAS was a massive 712-page tome collecting decades worth of Maggie and Hopey stories together under one cover. But you can’t keep a good pair of on-and-off again friends and lovers away for too long, so now we get LOCAS 2, another 418 pages of graphic brilliance from the mind of Jaime Hernandez.

This second volume presents a more “mature” Maggie and Hopey moving through their lives (or as mature as Hopey can get). Maggie goes through a divorce; Hopey nearly loses an eye. Maggie takes a mentally ill friend into her home to try and save her; Hopey ultimately finds a career path. Maggie deals with confusion about what her heart wants; Hopey continues to be unable to spell “fidelity”, let alone practice it with anyone she cares about. It’s all classic Hernandez material, but this volume’s key element that really makes the book sing louder than ever is the amount of focus placed upon Ray Dominguez.

Both Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez have created a plethora of intensely fascinating female characters throughout the history of LOVE AND ROCKETS. But Ray is really the first relatable, interesting male character that either of the brothers has really ever created. He’s a decent guy, someone that wants more out of his life. He’s prone to obsession, and even when he knows that someone will likely wreck his life, he cannot stop himself from putting his heart on the line. Some of the richest material Jaime has ever produced focuses on Ray’s pursuit of Vivian, a former stripper and wannabe actress that leaves nothing but pain and suffering in her wake. She vacillates between paying him attention to ignoring him to trying to fuck him blind. But just as it seems like he might get a clue or some self-esteem, he finds out the ultimate fact about her: she used to be involved with Maggie. And Ray has never stopped loving Maggie. Even though she stopped caring about him a long, long time ago. The collision of those two “worlds” isn’t far off, as you might imagine.

There’s so much good stuff in LOCAS 2, though, that I could talk about it until my fingers bleed. Instead, I’ll just mention one of my favorite things to do when poring over Jaime’s art. That would be to play “spot the influence.” Turning these pages, you can see Charles Schulz, John Romita, Jack Kirby… but what impresses about that is that Hernandez didn’t stick to aping the kind of stories those men did. Instead, he used what he learned from them to create his own richly textured and detailed world. LOCAS stands alone. I highly recommend you read it and see why.

Also…

Adding to the fun, Jaime and Gilbert now release in serial format LOVE AND ROCKETS as an annual. NEW STORIES #2 hits stores in late October and features two new stories from Gilbert and the concluding 50 pages of Jaime’s “Ti-girls” story from #1. The star here is Gilbert’s “Sad Girl”, the story of Killer, a teen actress with a broken heart. Artistically, his “Hypnotwist” is more vividly observed, but the nonsensical aspect of it grates after a while. On the flip side, “Ti-Girls” looks really spiffy as it races towards a conclusion, but it’s so completely off-the-wall that I stopped being able to follow it about two-thirds of the way through it. Still, even Hernandez material that doesn’t work is worth a look, if only to immerse yourself into the storytelling craft beneath it all.

Marc Mason

WEST COAST BLUES

WEST COAST BLUES
Adapted and Illustrated by Jacques Tardi
From the novel by Jean-Patrick Manchette
Published by Fantagraphics Books

George Gerfaut is a relatively ordinary man; he is a top salesman, he has a wife, couple of kids, and a love of Scotch and Gitanes. Yet his life becomes dangerously extraordinary when he least expects it, all for a reason which remains unknown to him for a majority of his accidental adventure.

WEST COAST BLUES is a different kind of comic which can be initially a bit hard to follow, yet it gets under your skin and remains impossible to resist from start to finish. Immediately there is a film noir feel to the book, due in part to the smoky, black and white artwork and also in part to Tardi’s style of writing where not a single word is wasted. The story opens on George Gerfaut, who became entangled in a battle for his life by doing what any decent person would do…to a certain extent. He helped a man who had apparently crashed his car by taking him to a hospital, but then he left him there before he had found out whether or not the man had survived the ‘crash’ and what exactly happened to this stranger. Therefore it is not until he and his family are on holiday at the beach does it become clear the man he helped was the target of a hit, and now Gerfaut is the one in the line of fire and on the run.

Darkly amusing and undeniably entertaining, WEST COAST BLUES keeps the mystery and interest alive by carefully doling out pieces of the story and introducing intriguing characters with loads of personality. The hitmen following Gerfaut are two gentlemen with an undefined yet strong bond to each other, and their quarry is proving to be unexpectedly difficult to manage, through little conscious effort on Gerfaut’s part. At times this book leaves you unsure whether to laugh at Gerfaut’s shit luck or grimace in sympathy, but mostly you end up staring unbelieving at his entire situation and how he deals with it each step of the way.

The artwork is a perfect match for the story it tells, giving you just enough detail to grasp the full picture without overloading you with unnecessary additions or distractions. Black and white is the only way this story could be told, and the softer edges on the artwork demonstrate the gloomily humorous path this book follows. Tardi does an excellent job of adapting what must be a massively entertaining book into a graphic novel form for all who seek a slightly different but no less thrilling mystery/adventure story to enjoy.

Avril Brown

LOW MOON

LOW MOON
Written and Drawn by Jason
Published by Fantagraphics

I got off to a bit of a rough start with the work of Norwegian cartoonist Jason, many years back. I read HEY, WAIT…, and SSHHHH! and was singularly unimpressed with what I had seen, regardless of the critical hosannas the creator had been receiving. But as I got to THE LEFT BANK GANG and THE LAST MUSKETEER, my opinion began to shift: this was the work of a major league creator, and he had me firmly in the palm of his hand. Now, with LOW MOON, he has clenched his fist around me and won’t let me go- this is easily my favorite of his works to date.

MOON is an anthology collection, bringing together four stories (including the title effort) of wildly varied plots. “Emily Says Hello” is a wicked tale of murder, sex and betrayal; “Proto Film Noir” mixes James M. Cain with cavemen; “&” is a story about love and the many ways in which it makes us incredibly stupid; “You Are Here” deals with alien abduction and devotion to family; and “Low Moon’, which has to be the first-ever chess-western. The start here is “Moon”; in it, Jason takes the tropes of sheriff versus outlaw in the old west and mixes them potently with the game of chess quite literally. An old nemesis returns to town to fight the sheriff and beat him once and for all, but bullets aren’t involved- pawns and rooks, however, play a prime role. What amazes, though, is that the danger is no less real. Families and loves are at stake if the sheriff chooses to engage in this fight.

It’s that sort of creative character thinking that makes Jason such a good read. He takes very simple and traditional story clichés and gives them a new and unique spin. The characters are all anthropomorphized, but each is unquestionably human in their wants, desires, and reactions.

Top to bottom, I enjoyed LOW MOON very much. And I also enjoyed the format; Jason’s previous works have been printed in softcover format at a slightly larger than normal size for traditional graphic novels. This, however, is a 6×9 hardcover, and a handsome one to boot. A worthy addition to one’s bookshelf.

Marc Mason

HO!

HO!
Written and Drawn by Ivan Brunetti
Published by Fantagraphics

There are those that question the true value of living in a free society. Those that side with the forces of censorship. Those who will never believe in the power of free expression and lack the understanding that comes from not having to worry about being imprisoned for their art.

Ivan Brunetti is not one of those people.

Indeed, Brunetti may understand and appreciate the benefits of living in a free society more than most of us will ever know. Because if the material printed HO! had been created in, say, Soviet Russia, Ivan would be the biggest star in the gulag. As it is, he’s one of the most twisted and funny motherfuckers putting pen to paper right in the U.S. of A. And I’m damned proud he’s one of us. There are plenty of people, though, who might not see it that way.

HO!, which us subtitled (quite accurately) “The Morally Questionable Cartoons of Ivan Brunetti,” is filled with single-panel efforts with punchlines based around murder, rape, pederasty, bestiality, AIDS, racism, excrement and urination, bizarre sexual fetishes… and usually multiples of these in the same strip. Whether it’s the family parrot blurting out a father’s sexual deviancy, or a pair stumbling upon a suicide and making fun of the dead man’s spelling in the suicide note, or a little boy and girl learning to play “’bortion” with a coat hanger, nothing in HO! Is for the faint of heart or easily offended.

Packed into a nifty hardcover, and enhanced with a terrific introduction from Patton Oswalt, Brunetti’s latest work is as strong as ever, and maybe even sicker. He’s an amazing cartoonist, and I respect his work immensely, even when some of it makes me queasy… especially if it makes me laugh then feel queasy. HO! is one of those books for which there will be no middle ground as far as reactions. Buyer beware… you’re not going to read anything else like it this year.

Marc Mason

CONNECTIVE TISSUE

CONNECTIVE TISSUE
Written and Drawn by Bob Fingerman
Published by Fantagraphics

CONNECTIVE TISSUE is a novella which has been described as the mutant offspring of several famously warped authors such as Lewis Carroll and H.P. Lovecraft, and it certainly lives up to its reputation. Reading like a pornographic children’s book on acid, Fingerman weaves a tale so twisted impossible to forget, even if you tried.

Meet Darla Vogel, a semi-bitter video store clerk who has carved out an interesting niche in life, complete with a permanently baked roommate and her cannabis-infused cat, a boss who is part Jackie Chan and part Kim Chan, and a nerdy, underage little Asian horn dog who likes to create meat flavored chews. No stranger to the phrase ‘weird as shit,’ Darla’s definition is put to the test as she embarks on a journey more fucked up than a David Lynch film.

After several unforgettably hilarious chapters of introductions to Darla’s life and her supporting cast members, the outright belly-laughs slow down a bit but are still intertwined with Darla’s peculiar tumble down the randy, Ritalin-laced rabbit hole. Transported to an unknown world via a claw-like hand reaching out from one of her wall posters, our reluctant, socially un-apologetic heroine attempts to navigate her way through a city of nudists, jellyfish sidekicks, literal blockheads and tentacles which sprout from vaginas growing out of the ground.

With two to three pages of text followed by one to two pages of art, CONNECTIVE TISSUE is structured like the books made for kiddies who are old enough to read entire books but still like/need to look at pretty pictures to get the whole story, which makes the gross humor and perverted imagery that much more potent. The exaggerated features on Darla in the illustrations perfectly match her literary picture, as does everything else described in the book; one of the perks of having immense talent as both author and artist.

CONNECTIVE TISSUE is a book with something for everyone who lacks a strong sense of Amish values. Chock filled with one-liners guaranteed to split a side or two, as well as enough sexual references to make Freud bite his tongue, this book will go down in the annals (pun most certainly intended) of literary/comic history as a perversely hysterical book which delivers a ‘shroom trip sans the nasty taste in one’s mouth, but instead leaves a dirty stain on one’s brain.

Avril Brown

BLAZING COMBAT

BLAZING COMBAT
Art and Scripts by Wallace Wood for “The Battle of Britain”, Art by Russ Heath and Script by Archie Goodwin for “Give and Take”, Art by Joe Orlando and Script by Archie Goodwin for “Landscape”
Published by Fantagraphics

BLAZING COMBAT is a collection of war stories from the 1970’s Warren magazine, two taking place in WWII and one set during Vietnam, and each one with a different view on war and its consequences. Poignant and tragic, inspiring and depressing, BLAZING COMBAT gives an insightful glimpse into the bloody battles that have plagued this world.

‘The Battle of Britain’ introduces us to a young RAF pilot, about to see his first action in war. Initially he lets his fear of combat affect the squadron, but he gets another chance to fight for his country, and what first appeared to be an English defeat turns into the first major loss for Germany. The RAF is saved by the temporary cessation of German invasion, and England, charged with renewed confidence, takes the offensive.

‘Give and Take’ is a story of a skirmish in the mountainous terrain of Italy between a group of American soldiers and Nazis and begs the question: What is worth dying for? While attempting hold a farmhouse against the Germans, an American soldier finds a rare bottle of wine but accidentally leaves it behind when forced to take cover from an assault. He goes back for it, attempting to leave with both the wine and his life. Both fell, one to enemy fire, the other to the rage of a comrade in arms who was unable to save his friend from the Germans or himself.

‘Landscape’ is perhaps the most difficult story to read in this collection. An old man wants nothing more than to tend to his rice paddy and live his life in peace. Even as war in its many forms is repeatedly thrust upon him, he continues to try and grow his rice. Bit by bit war takes everything he has: his village, his family, and eventually, his life and his rice, which to him were one and the same.

Three stories of struggle in dark times, of hope when hope was thought to be lost, of the devastation as well as the liberation that war brings to the people and the land. The slightly corny dialogue in ‘Battle for Britain’ and the general overabundance of exclamation points is representative of the times and does nothing to distract from the elegant honesty in all of the scripts, particularly in ‘Landscape.’ The artwork on all three stories is ageless, Heath’s work especially given his skill with shading and facial details. Significantly moving, this book is a painful and necessary read for those sensitive to the atrocities and realism of war and should be required reading for high school history classes.

Avril Brown

PETEY AND PUSSY

PETEY & PUSSY
Written and Drawn by John Kerschbaum
Published by Fantagraphics Books

When reviewing a book like PETEY & PUSSY, it is difficult to know where to begin. If Looney Toons characters decided to star in a fetish porn film, it would start to resemble the twisted ride Kerschbaum has decided to take us on with this grotesque and hilarious graphic novel.

Petey is a balding, handkerchief-wearing, ball-licking pooch whose desires don’t extend beyond sticking his nose into whatever substance he can find, savoring a good boilermaker, and helping out his friend Pussy with his latest debacles. Pussy lives to torture his birdie roommate Bernie by not ending his life, threatening the cigarette-stealing mouse in the wall with decapitation, and trying to hang onto the pair of glasses that don’t make him look like he’s been on ‘Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.’

Both cat and dog have the mouth (and thirst) of a sailor and they get into (and out of) more crazy-ass situations than your average cartoon character. The Old Lady who lives with Pussy and Bernie has an ever-present scotch on the rocks in one wrinkled hand, does more harm than good when it comes to proper bird maintenance with the other, and in her off-time apparently likes to stick various items up her vagina. In one memorable scene Pussy’s warns Petey to stay away from the sausage as this was one of the unfortunate food products to enter into Old Lady’s cooter, but instead Petey gleefully interprets that as a dinner bell and feasts on the “twat-wurst” with unrestrained abandon.

Very few lines remain uncrossed in this crass comic, which induces as many belly-laughs as it does horrific groans. As if the language and fucked up situations weren’t enough to keep you morbidly turning page after page, Kerschbaum spares no detail with each twisted panel he’s created. From Petey’s hairy and minute genitalia, to the blood spurts after Bernie begins pecking his own leg off, to Old Lady’s sagging box and boobs, PETEY & PUSSY will leave an indelible burn on your brain whether you want it to or not. And surprisingly (or not, considering how often you’ll laugh out loud), you can’t help but be grateful for the everlasting impression.

Avril Brown

BOTTOMLESS BELLY BUTTON

BOTTOMLESS BELLY BUTTON
Written and Drawn by Dash Shaw
Published by
Fantagraphics

After 40 years of marriage, David and Maggie Loony have decided to get a divorce. Baffled, hurt, and confused, their three grown children head home to the family beach house for one final family gathering. The eldest son, Dennis, is obsessed with determining why his parents have decided to call it quits, intrusively sticking himself into their emotional state at the cost of his own. Claire, the middle child, is surprisingly reasonable about the announcement focusing more on raising her daughter and respecting her parents’ feelings. And Peter, the youngest… well, no one seems to quite know what to do with Peter or what he feels. He’s always been a socially maladjusted outcast, and adulthood has only worsened that trend. Back together under one roof, old pains flare up, secrets get bandied about, and emotional torment is served daily for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

You aren’t going to have a more uncomfortable reading experience this year than BOTTOMLESS BELLY BUTTON. The raw emotion that Shaw puts on the page, and the intrusive way he peels back the layers on his characters is striking and hurtful. You feel like you are living each gutwrenching moment with these people, and it does not feel good. Oh, no, it does not. But it isn’t meant to.

Instead, it’s meant to be disturbing and affecting, and goddamn does Shaw score on that point. Too many family sagas send the reader off on a comfortable cloud of easy answers and warm moments. Shaw’s story is about keeping the honesty built in to how people react to one another, especially those that are related. Watching Peter fumble through what is obviously his first real “adult” relationship is so extraordinarily disconcerting to read that I kept turning my head away from the book, hoping the pages would magically turn themselves so I didn’t have to read it.

I said you wouldn’t have a more uncomfortable reading experience this year than this book, but on the flip side of that, you also may not read a better graphic novel this year, period. None of what I have written above should be taken as discouragement; rather, these are the reasons to pick up this major work by a major talent. At 700+ pages, this is the very definition of what the word “novel” means as part of “graphic novel.” Recommended as highly as possible.

Marc Mason

AMOR Y COHETES

AMOR Y COHETES
Written and Drawn by Los Bros Hernandez
Published by
Fantagraphics

One of the reasons some people feel intimidated by the LOVE AND ROCKETS series of books and comics is the lengthy background continuity involved. After all, the book was first published in 1982, making this one of the lengthiest, most sprawling soap opera sagas not located on afternoon television. But thanks to collections like PALOMAR and LOCAS, new readers have been given the opportunity to catch up with the characters and situations in large chunks. And if that wasn’t enough, Fantagraphics has been publishing the original 50-issue run in omnibus trade paperbacks. This book, AMOR Y COHETES brings those omnibuses to a close, bringing together Jaime, Gilbert, and Mario’s non-Luba, non-Hopey work in one tight package.

And boy, oh boy, what a gift that turns out to be. LOVE AND ROCKETS rightly because popular because of the two “lead” features, but the Hernandez brothers never confined their talents to those sagas. In fact, they branch out into sci-fi, tackle a biography of Frida Kahlo and much more in this book, and it’s scintillating from start to finish, even when it isn’t their best work.

Chief amongst the work taking center stage here is Jaime’s “Rocky” series, following the adventures of a young girl traveling through outer space with her robot companion. By turns humorous, scary, and disheartening, these stories shine both artistically and in the writing. Some forget that his LOCAS material started out steeped in a little sci-fi, and these stories show exactly what he can do with the genre. Wonderful stuff. Coming in right behind those stories, special note should be taken of Gilbert’s (with Mario’s assistance) stories of “Errata Stigmata,” a young girl whose bleeding hands make her a target for religious scorn and sexual intrigue. Wonderful, powerful stuff.

I’ve floated back and forth between favoring Gilbert and Jaime’s work most, and nothing here changes that, though one thing sticks out: looking at some of this really early stuff, you can very much see their influences shining through as they develop their own style. You can see everyone from Steve Ditko to Don Martin in here. At seventeen bucks, this is a no-doubter… and a harsh reminder to my wallet that I need the first six books in the series.

Marc Mason

THE PIN UP ART OF DAN DE CARLO 2

THE PIN-UP ART OF DAN DECARLO 2
Drawn by Dan De Carlo
Edited and Designed by Alex Chun and Jacob Covey
Published by
Fantagraphics

Dan De Carlo was one of my all-time favorite artists. As silly as Archie and his cast could be, I was always captivated by the man’s art, and by Betty and Veronica as drawn by his pencil. But my appreciation of the man grew deeper as I explored his career and was introduced to his earlier work, not only in comics, but also as a pin-up artist. His contributions to Humorama magazines in the late 1950s were completely different from the material that fans like myself grew up with, but they are a vital part of understanding who the man was as an artist. That’s what made volume one of this series so essential, as well as Bill Morrison’s INNOCENCE AND SEDUCTION: THE ART OF DAN DE CARLO.

This book, which collects more of De Carlo’s single-panel gags from that era, doesn’t quite rise to the level of the two previous books, though I don’t really think it could. Here we get 200 more pages of art, most never seen or reprinted anywhere previously, and that’s a gift, definitely. Not a single panel here doesn’t look beautiful. But we also see signs here that, as a writer, De Carlo was an amazingly gifted artist. There are also some indications of De Carlo running out of steam for doing these bits, as panel layout starts to lose some style and similarities from bit to bit start to settle in somewhat.

De Carlo’s strength, unquestionably, was the way he drew women, and the women in this book are astounding from cover to cover. Unlike the sanitized view of the 50s we get from most of the era’s popular culture, people did have sex without being married, cheated on their spouses, seduced their way into money, and generally behaved like horny jackasses. It’s a nice reminder that people never really change, and the material printed here certainly does that with style.

Production-wise, the book is every bit the equal of volume one. Chun and Covey put together a terrific package, and at nineteen dollars it’s a bargain for any fan that picks it up. I suppose it’s odd to pick at the book because of De Carlo’s weakening skills at writing jokes- after all, who is really buying the book for the text? But I do think it’s fair to point out that even the greats have their Achilles’ heels, and this second volume puts this particular legend’s on display. It also would imply that a third volume could see a diminished return should Chun and Covey go that route.

Still- I’d want it on my shelf.

Marc Mason