Wednesday, February 15, 2006


Whew, where to start. I finally got around to starting Locas, the Jame Hernandez magnum opus and the companion huge-but-not-all-encompassing tome to brother Gilberto’s Palomar. I read about half on a flight to and from Hawaii (to the end of “the death of Speedy Ortiz”), and have now dug my way through about a third of the rest.

It is difficult not to compare this to my experiences with Palomar. Palomar also sat imposingly on the shelf for a while before I got around to reading it, and both were somewhat mixed experiences. I felt similarly, I think, to Abhay (he of the fondly remembered AK’s Title Bout) in that I enjoyed Paolmar, but didn’t feel that this was because it made such a statement or was a finely honed piece of art, but because the sprawling, messy, weird, and sometimes insane/borderline incoherent tapestry of human events formed a critical mass that was greater than the sum of its parts. The peak of the work (“Human Dystrophism” in the book, athough I think the TPB covering this goes by a different name) is the only time (for me) in the book's 600+ pages where this broke through to a truly transcendent level. The political aspects of the book were kinda’ banal, and I don’t think I felt as much empathy for the main characters as Beto wanted me to, but there was so much going on, from introductions (multiple times) of major numbers of new characters at once, to the deft magical realist epiphanies, to big heaping gobs of deformities and everyday perversions. I’m sure several dissertations could be written analyzing the symbolism of breast size alone.

It is tempting to say the same things about Locas, but I find myself more ambivalent for 2 reasons: 1. Gilberto is a better writer and 2. Jaime is a muuuch better artist. I mean, I think he may be my favorite draftsman period. He can draw absolutely anything perfectly, has incredible consistency and differentiation of faces and forms, and is incredibly expressive. Let me make sure this is understood – I think Gilberto is a good at putting ink on the page, but Jaime is the best. I found myself touching the pages with my palms, at times, the line was so perfect (certainly it must be raised on the page!).

But Locas, although the narrative approach is somewhat similar to Palomar (lots of characters, spectrum of attitudes from adolescent to mature, tracking of long periods of time, most things occurring in and around one place forming a microcosm, and that dense human tapestry again), does not, in my opinion, achieve a critical mass in the same way. There are specific parts of the milieu that could be singled out as being in Palomar’s favor, such as the replacement of Gilberto’s underdeveloped-but-understandable-from-a-character-standpoint politics (which is kind of sweet) with Jaime’s concern with street cred/being punk enough (which just seems kind of tired) as the major positional stance, the replacement of love of the small town where you grew up with the love of two women who act poorly (to each other and everyone else) as a central unifying story element, and a replacement of the mangled perversions showing us the distorted underbelly of normal people with hairstyles and sexual dilettantism. Now, this is not a fair statement, but it expresses how Locas just seems a little less mature, a little less realized, and a little less real than Palomar. The story that is supposed to be the high point (by critical consensus), the aforementioned “Death of Speedy,” was not bad, but had an ending that aimed for subtle and ambiguous, but instead hit erratic and confusing.

So, Locas suffers by this comparison, but is still well worth reading. The artwork alone is… I thought about cutting out some of the pages of this and framing them. And, although I’m not a huge fan of the Maggie/Hopey love, some of the other characters, and the stories focused on them, are much more galvanizing (probably my favorite is the Terry Downe story, which operates on an experimental comics level, and asks a lot of the reader, but pays off. I know this is hopelessly lowbrow of me, but I really wanted to spend more time with the band as a performing act… the one story focused on the band performing is my other favorite, and really captures something about the excitement of a part of life that the book as a whole spends a lot of time pursuing. Still have a few hundred pages to go, though, and I’ll be sure to update my thoughts later if they change. Don’t tell me how it ends.


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