Thursday, October 31, 2013

Sibling Rivalry in Los Bros Hernandez's Love and Rockets New Stories 6

Love and Rockets: New Stories 6 by Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez

Love and Rockets: New Stories #6
By Jaime Hernandez and Gilbert Hernandez
Fantagraphics, 2013
Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez have been producing their venerated anthology Love and Rockets for 32 years now. As is usually the case, Jaime's stories focus on the one, long epic work of love, life, family and friendship that he has been weaving for over three decades, the Locas cycle of graphic novels. Gilbert alternates between his own Palomar/Luba epic and many self-contained works. Each brother has a unique voice and unique visual style, and one could make the argument for either brother being this country's finest cartoonist. That both put out their work through this one, remarkable anthology makes each Love and Rockets installment a seismic literary event.

2013 has absolutely the year of Gilbert - between two Love and Rockets reprint collections, Julio's Day and Children of Palomar, and two new original graphic novels, Marble Season and the latest of his Lubaverse movie "adaptations" Maria M, Gilbert continues to cement his reputation as one of the most prolific and important voices in comics. No-one holds a candle to what he is able to accomplish year-in, year-out. Except for maybe Jaime, whose quantity of output doesn't come close to Gilbert's, but whose quality is nearly unmatched in comics.

Yeah, if someone put a gun to my head and told me to choose, I'm a Jaime guy, always have been. That isn't to discount Gilbert, but something about Jaime's stuff has always connected with me in a way that Gilbert's hasn't. But that's almost like being given two identical bars of platinum and being told to choose between the two. Or maybe ripping the baby in half with the bathwater (or something). Anyway, New Stories 6 is a great example of the strengths and differences in each creator's works.

Love and Rockets New Stories 6 is about family. With each brother always doing their own unconnected thing, it is rare to see a thematic commonality between their individual works, The obvious through-line in this year's volume between both creators' work is the unique relationship that adult siblings share. Your brother or sister will be the original and best frenemy you will ever have, and both Jaime and Gilbert play with that to different degrees in New Stories 6. I don't think the thematic overlap was a conscious decision between Los Bros, but a happy coincidence, and a natural extension of the stories each has been telling.

Some Gilbert
Gilbert continues his long, winding soap opera of Luba's descendants, popping between Palomar and Hollywood. The trials and tribulations of the Luba clan take center stage, with focus jumping around between various generations of sisters as they deal with the small dramas of life and celebrity. We get to visit current-day Palomar, with all of its associated phantoms, and we get movies-within-flashbacks as Gilbert traverses the labyrinth he has constructed for thirty years. But even longtime readers may have difficulty keeping track of what's going on and who's who without consulting the infinitely valuable resource of this year's Love and Rockets companion. I know these stories will work better when all is collected in some future hardcover, it just gets a little hard to follow at points. Gilbert's Lubaverse stuff is sadly impenetrable for the uninitiated.

Far more accessible are Jaime's stories. Despite never really veering from the established narrative he has set up in his decades-running Locas cycle, Jaime still manages to produce superb, almost stand-alone narratives that are vital architectural components to a very large building. The focus this time around is away from Maggie and Ray, but considering the emotional wreckage that occurs in New Stories 4, this is not surprising. With New Stories 5, Jaime turned the focus over to the new character Tonta, sister to recurring character Vivian (frogmouth!). Angel, from God and Science, also plays a minor role, but the main characters are Tonta and her four mostly adult half-sisters and brother. 

The first thing that jumps out about New Stories 6 is the sheer amount of short stories packed into the volume. Jaime alone uses 17 short chapters to tell his story (largely though variously titled Crimen, Spanish for Crime). But far from being interruptive, the vignettes that make up Crimen work to build an easily accessible larger narrative in intense bursts. As Jaime's story effortlessly glides forward, we are introduced and reintroduced to Tonta's extended clan of sisters from different misters (and a half-brother she never realized she had). Throughout Crimen, the siblings must come to a difficult decision to go after their own mother for the possible murder of their respective fathers, a decision that ignites a media firestorm and threatens to splinter each of their lives.

Some Jaime
Despite the potential headiness of the subject matter, Jaime still tells the story with humor and a fiery visual joie de vivre. His mastery of the physical form he consistently shows in his work is breathtaking. The way he effectively mixes almost cartoony emotional sight-gags of character reactions with the visual, kinesiological poetry of the human form in movement in his wrestling sequences is stunning. Effortless is a such good word for Jaime's stuff. That isn't to say Jaime put no work into it or that it's sloppy, far from it. Jaime's stuff in New Stories 6 is so perfectly constructed, so beautifully and simply illustrated, that it is a pleasure, a joy, an ease to read. There are so few long-form works that are so consistently amazing as Jaime's, certainly nothing with Locas' length and depth. 

In Crimen, Jaime delivers a nearly stand-alone, accessible graphic novel about crime and brothers and sisters and the perils of memory and family, a beautiful, funny, fantastic work on par with everything else he has done. It's accessibility, especially compared to most of the intricately interconnected Locas run, is a happy accident.

But while Gilbert's stories are slightly more obtuse, he still manages to deliver one of the best short stories of the year. "Untitled" on page 59 is a stunning, visual feast of profanity and weirdness. No-one can do weird quite like Gilbert Hernandez, and sometimes you just need an injection of the bizarre into your life. Certainly Gilbert's weirdness can be overwhelming and is best served in small doses. "Untitled" presents just the right level of brevity and bizarreness.

Love and Rockets New Stories 6 is another great installment of the venerable anthology from Los Bros Hernandez. Love and Rockets continues to be a vital and important ongoing document of two creators at the absolute height of their powers, and the only venue to read new material from Jaime. The brothers' respective works, their respective worlds, stand alone - but in Love and Rockets we get the privilege of experiencing jolts of both, alternating between brother and brother, between greatness and greatness.

For my definitive guide on all things Love and Rockets, click here

No comments:

Post a Comment