Posts Tagged ‘Gilbert Hernandez’

Tastes Change


Saturday, December 4, 2010

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Evan Dorkin made an interesting comment about how when the Love and Rockets Sketchbook came out in the late ‘80s it was a minor bombshell. And it was. He also goes on to talk about major releases by some big name cartoonists which were basically noticed in passing by folks within comics. He said that he feels as if Wilson and The Book of Genesis garnered more mainstream press than discussion within comics circles. Let’s go to the videotape! (more…)

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Love and Rockets #3 Notebook


Wednesday, September 29, 2010

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The new Love and Rockets

WARNING. Normally I wouldn’t put in a spoiler warning for a few blog notes, but this is a special case. I’m going to be talking about Love and Rockets: New Stories #3, which contains what is arguably one of the best comics stories ever, Jaime Hernandez’s “Browntown” (along with the stories “The Love Bunglers Part One” and “The Love Bunglers Part Two” which are essential accompaniments to the main tale). These stories are built around a series of unfolding surprises. The best way, really the only way, to appreciate them is to read them. It’s essential that any commentary be read after encountering the stories. So please go out there and read Jaime’s stories in this volume (and also Gilbert’s two stories) and then come back and read these notes.


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Saturday, August 21, 2010

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I realized after posting about My Love last week that there’s no way to write about these romance comics without writing about the search for them, finding stories on blogs, diggin’ thru bins in dusty warehouses. So these posts are gonna ramble. I’m only talkin’ to the True Believers out there who wanna help me study this workshop known as the Marvel Bullpen. And specifically this workshop’s romance comics: My Love and Our Love Stories. These are some of the more difficult Marvel mags to track down for various reasons. I haven’t seen many of them in my lifetime of comics collecting. And they have not been reprinted much at all. So it’s always a shock when I find an issue that I’ve never seen before. Even seeing the covers are a shock. It’s only in recent memory that these things began floating around on the web. The covers weren’t often reprinted in Price Guides or fanzines or even in other Marvel Comics from the period. I like finding stories on the web but it just makes me want to own them, to possess them. I don’t like rare comics shopping on eBay—I want to find it in the comics store and flip through it and decide if I want to buy it. You know, that whole “joy of the hunt” and everything. It’s not until I find it myself, hold it in my grimy hands and smell the newsprint, that I feel connected to the thing. Luckily, I live in a town that has some great secret comics warehouses that have every single possible back issue you could imagine and eventually I found a handful of My Loves and Our Loves that I don’t own so I can continue my studies. (more…)

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Beto Mess


Thursday, June 3, 2010

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Beto fan art from 1981

Hey True Believers, Frankie The Wop here. I think I gotta start a new series of posts for CC for when I come across something like this. Maybe call it “Diggin’ Thru the Bins” or something. This find is a real treat. It’s an illustration that I unearthed by Gilbert Hernandez in The X-Men Chronicles fanzine from 1981. It’s a nice drawing. But isn’t that Clea from Doctor Strange? Maybe it’s the White Queen?

Published by FantaCo Enterprises, this fanzine boasts an interview with Jim Shooter, an X-Men checklist, an article on comic book investments, and look at the similarities between the Teen Titans and the X-Men. Apparently there’s a curious parallel in the history of the two “super-kid” teams but the “visual repertoire” of the Teen Titans is lacking according to the article.

Heady stuff, but for me, 30 years later all that I care about is this wacky Beto sketch.

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Bridges Aflame


Thursday, February 25, 2010

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I’m only about halfway through Todd Hignite’s upcoming The Art of Jaime Hernandez, but while it’s possible if unlikely that the whole thing falls apart near the end, and while I have a few mostly minor qualms (some fair, some not) about its approach, even at this point it is clear that this is a rich and beautiful book, and an essential volume for the advanced Hernandezologist. I’m not going to review the book right now, but just point out a few thoughts it inspired.

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The bridge is over.


Saturday, August 1, 2009

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Preface: I wrote this in my notebook after discovering last week that the conclusion to the major re-launch of the 1980s series Nexus had hit the stands. Steve Rude, one of the biggest “indie” comics creators of the last 25 years, made a comeback — to the sound of crickets. No one cared. To me, that meant the Direct Market was really finally and absolutely dead. Everyone said it was dead last summer when Love and Rockets abandoned its pamphlet comic book format and went to an annual trade paperback format. Like Love and Rockets, the fate of Nexus was bound up in the history of the Direct Market. But unlike Love and Rockets, Nexus was suited for the “alternative mainstream” fan. It was a particular kind of adult superhero book that appealed to a seemingly more sophisticated audience than the regular superhero comics. The DM supported titles like Nexus and allowed them to thrive. Not any more. Maybe everyone’s just had their fill of Nexus but the news of this indie’s end got me thinking about the bigger picture. The end of Nexus represents, to me, a window of time that has closed. The new regime is upon us at last, and I wrote this to simply mark the time. Also, the below is really an exploration, for me, into ideas that my friend and mentor Bill Boichel of Copacetic Comics has expressed to me for years—in his store, over the phone, in emails, in class lectures. The “bridge” and “tree” metaphors are pure Boichel. Thanks Bill, for letting borrow your melody line and riff on it here.

The bridge is over. From 1975 to 2005, the Direct Market was the bridge from the old world “Comics-as-ephemera”, returnable periodicals model to the new world “Comics-as-Literature” bookstore model. The bridge changed comics, saved it from sure death on the newsstand and put comics in a place of permanence. Everyone in Comics has noted the consolidation of the DM and the rise of the chain bookstores & the internet as venues for new work. Now, this year, more than ever, I seem to be repeatedly noting to myself the real split between the mainstream and the alternative sides of comics.

During the heyday of the Direct Market in the late ’80s and early ’90s mainstream and alternative comics were together in one marketplace because there was no other option essentially, no bookstore support, no internet. What that meant was the two traditions were folded together. Gilbert Hernandez and Steve Ditko were on the same rack literally and figuratively. The old mainstream guys influenced the young alt guys, there was a clear traceable legacy. One could see Bernie Krigstein’s influence on Dan Clowes, Jack Kirby’s influence on Chester Brown, Ditko’s influence on Hernandez. It was a singular perspective essentially. One big sandbox. One tradition.

The market can now support multiple perspectives. It is not a monolithic community. There is no official definition of Comics now. It’s too big. Finally “comics” doesn’t just mean American mainstream super-hero action adventure stories. (Well, comics never meant just that genre, but y’know what I’m saying: Marvel and DC have lorded over the form for almost 50 years.) In 2009 you can walk into a comics store like Copacetic Comics in Pittsburgh and see no superhero comics on display at all. There are enough “alternative” or “literary” comics/graphic novels out in the world to fill a whole (small) store. And there are “alternative” publishers who don’t use (or are shut out from) the Direct Market and who use book trade distributors to get the work out to stores.

So we got what you might call a bifurcated market. The two traditions, once folded together in the same market, have split. There are two sandboxes now. What that means is that if you grew up reading comics from, say, 1999 to now you didn’t necessarily have to read superhero comics to get your comics fix or even go to a store that sold both. This is a good thing. It’s a new audience, and a broader one than maybe any of us old school dinosaurs could have anticipated. I’ve spent far too much time ranting about “the kids not knowing their comics history.” Well, I’m over it. I don’t really feel the need to explain who Marshall Rogers is anymore, or convince anyone that late ’70s Kirby is actually really good. Figure it out for yourself.

This new audience, I think, is alienated by superhero comics and associates the genre with corporate America. They don’t like it. And who can blame them? They wonder why folks like me keep extolling the abilities of some guy who drew Spider-Man. They could care less. I had a student tell me, “Yah, it’s beautiful art but it’s Spider-Man.” This too, this palpable attitude, is a good thing. After all, aren’t Batman and Spider-Man just corporate logos these days?

Comics history is like one big tree where McCay and Herriman are the roots, Kirby and Caniff are the trunk, Crumb and Spiegelman are big branches, and the rest of us schlubs are up there somewhere. It’s all connected. Each generation has its precursors. I would assert, however, that for the first time in comics history it’s possible to graft new identities upon the tree without being schooled in the singular tradition, without growing out of the singular tradition. One can choose precursors from other traditions, not just from comics.

I see Persepolis as an example of this grafting. It is at once outside the tradition of comics and within the boundaries of the form. I feel that it was only possible to come into existence because of the split that happened some time in the last 10 years. I’m sure that’s no big revelation for most of you, but it’s something to consider as we move forward into the next decade. It’s now possible to bypass a very particular, esoteric education in “mainstream” comics, and go right to its “alternative” and also to the avant-garde. It opens the door for “vertical invaders,” for artists from different traditions to make work and to find an audience. The marketplace will support a book like Persepolis, I think, precisely because it is divorced from the old world model. Satrapi’s free from the “Tree of Influence” that’s existed in comics; she’s free to draw in a straight-forward generic style that is appealing to a vast audience. (Think of it this way: As “straight-forward” or “realistic” Clowes’ style in Ghost World is to a schooled comics reader, it looks baroque and affected to a non-comics reader.)

One could say comics like L’nR and Optic Nerve may have been the first to appeal to this emerging audience. But I feel that those books didn’t/don’t cross over so much as Acme Novelty Library or Persepolis because the styles of the Hernandez Brothers and also of Tomine are essentially derived from the mainstream comics and illustration tradition. I feel that it was Ware’s choice to reach beyond the mainstream tradition back to the newspaper strip golden age that has allowed him to have such a diverse audience. It seems this new emerging audience still connects particular styles back to mainstream comics. I’m curious to see how Mazzucchelli’s new book does now that he has “unlearned” all his mainstream tricks. ( I also think Seth’s eventual collection of Clyde Fans will “cross over” to an audience beyond comics. He has a style that has little to do with mainstream comics. Interestingly enough, Seth said recently: “I am converting Palookaville into a hardcover format this year. I love the old comic format but Chris Oliveros convinced me that the work would do better if we moved on to this new direction. It’s kind of sad, passing of an era and all that.”)

So, here we are: Summer 2009. Whatever system we have now, it’s working. Pamphlets still get published even if they only serve as advertisements for the collection, GN’s sell better and better, downloads are happening, comics are on Kindle: whatever works. However, in the process it feels like a real division has been formed between the “mainstream” and the “alternative” factions. A division that was always there underneath, forming. But now it’s ruptured and split the marketplace.

Which brings me to Comic-Con. San Diego Comic-Con will always be some sort of Oscars for our community. But whose community is it anymore? Increasingly it’s the motion picture industry’s community. It’s not about “the work” anymore. It’s definitely not about the creators or even the comic book dealers. It may be cool for most mainstream creators or fans but what’s in it for us in the “alternative” community? Not much. So I gotta wonder why “we” still go. I can certainly understand why Fantagraphics and D&Q go (it’s the biggest show of the year, duh) and that Comic-Con is still profitable for them. But for me and my comrades over here on the fringe of the fringe we feel like we’re getting priced out of our own neighborhood. The split seems this year to be more pronounced than ever and it looks like those in the “mainstream” have no choice really but to hold on for dear life as they become co-opted even further into corporate America. They really have no choice. They sold themselves out years ago.

But the alternative comics community does have a choice. So give me TCAF, SPX, MoCCA, SPACE, Stumptown, and the “alternative” circuit and tell Comic-Con and the Direct Market, “Thanks for the memories.” The bridge is over.

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Speak of the Devil (finale)


Monday, July 21, 2008

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Gilbert Hernandez has just released the last issue of one of the most exciting and enjoyable comics mini-series in years. Why hasn’t this been seriously reviewed? Maybe the critics are all waiting for the trade paperback to come out. Isn’t that always the way? I can’t tell you how many people revealed to me that they haven’t been reading this series, that they are “waiting for the trade”.

Well, their loss. Cuz, for me, this was a series that got me back into the comic store, looking for it every month. When I guessed right and checked the stands on the day the last issue was released, it was a thrill. A thrill to spy it on the shelf, and a thrill to race home and read it under lamplight, and a thrill to have the shit scared out of me during the finale. Isn’t this part of the experience of being a fan of a series, of a periodical? How could “waiting for the trade” beat the ratcheting up of suspense from month to month, as I wait for the next issue? It couldn’t. But unfortunately that’s the world comics are released in these days. It’s as though the issues are just an advertisement for the trade paperback collection.

I can’t bring myself to really review the last issue of Speak of the Devil. My Beto fix and the high I got from this series are too out there to really explain. I’m in love with his layouts. They are incredibly sophisticated and have an architecture all their own. Gilbert knows what he’s doing, trust me. You might not dig the style he’s employing but you can’t NOT see how Beto uses rhythm and tone like a musician. His comics are a complex code of directions and signs, symbols, minor and major keys.

The drum I keep beating with this comic is that, for me, it’s really like some obscure late night TV noir directed by Fritz Lang that at first glance is campy, has awkward dialogue, is in black and white: most viewers flip past it, miss it, miss the purposeful staging, “blocking” of each scene, maybe watch a bizarre fight scene or a wooden kiss, but usually discard the lot as pulp, genre, formula. Yet that Fritz Lang movie and this Beto comic are equal in INTENT. They are genuinely artful, terrifying and strange, playful almost, and these poems go unnoticed by most because they’re not really LOOKING. It’s incredible. I feel like the attentive geeky fan going LOOK! Look at what he’s doing! Triple backflip and he nailed the landing! It’s the Beto Olympics!

And I then I ask around and no one’s read it yet, and I think, You’ve gotta be kidding! You didn’t see that as it happened? And that’s the bummer of this post comics pamphlet era for alt and art comics. But that’s another story …


The Effort


Saturday, December 15, 2007

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I enjoyed Rich Kreiner’s review of Comics Comics. It was, as Tim noted, too kind. So this isn’t an argument, thank heavens. In a long parenthetical thought, Kreiner wonders about our criteria for coverage, and also about our seeming fascination with the fact of something existing, as though the effort alone was enough to qualify our interest. I can’t speak for Tim or Frank, but, as for me, well, Kreiner might be on to something.

Sometimes I see things so sublime or so ridiculous that I have to just wonder about them. It’s not that I like them, per se. I don’t like Dave Sim’s Collected Letters, but what drives a cartoonist to undertake such a project is interesting to me because (a) Sim is clearly a man with his own vision and (b) he’s a hugely important cartoonist, no matter what you might think of the quality of his work. And, on the other hand, there are artists like like Steve Gerber or Michael Golden, both beloved Comics Comics figures.

Let me digress for a moment: During the most recent SPX, me, Frank, and Tim went out to dinner with a large group that included Gary Groth, Gilbert Hernandez and Bill Griffith. Gary ribbed us about Steve Gerber, etc., and Frank, in a moment of comics euphoria confessed his love of Michael Golden’s work to the entire table. I don’t think Bill even knew who we were talking about, and Gary seemed duly horrified, while Gilbert smiled beatifically, as if to say, “I love that this guy loves Golden, but I’m not saying a word”. I mean, Gary’s fought for sophistication in comics for 30 years, and now he has to listen to three knuckleheads talk about Golden and Gerber. Oy vey. See, all three of us were formed, in a sense, by The Comics Journal, and to an extent, by Groth’s own sensibility as a publisher and editor. But we also came up at a time when we didn’t (and still don’t) have to choose between art and hackwork. We can like both, and enjoy both on their own merits, precisely because Gary won the battle for sophistication and seriousness. His efforts have allowed us to sit back a bit and examine the things that got passed over, shunted aside or simply spit at. That means that Frank can talk about Michael Golden because he’s fascinated by his figuration in the context of action comics. Frank wouldn’t, at least, not sober, make a case for Golden as an artist in the same way he does for Gilbert. But then again, he did just post about Nexus. I guess what I’m saying is that a central tenant of Comics Comics is a kind of enjoyment of something within its context. Steve Gerber is an interesting comic book writer. That is enough to make him worth examining for us. And, he, like Golden, like Rude, et al, is someone who has willingly labored in a field with few rewards and a lot of creative restrictions. Those “rules” that these guys bump up against make for an interesting friction and can produce, accidentally or intentionally, interesting work. And part of is also that, to an extent, we take the greatness of someone like Dan Clowes for granted. He’s been written about, been hashed over. For us, it’s perhaps more fun to dig through a body of work that has yet to be poured over, and to find artists whose visions carried them into strange places under odd restrictions.

So, Rich Kreiner, yes, we, or at least I, sometimes like things just because they exist in an odd space, and occupy a strange little niche. And while I’ve never been a proponent of confusing effort with merit (i.e. the praise for something like Persepolis is primarily because people were impressed enough that a comic could be about Iran that they ignored how slight the actual content was), sometimes noting the effort is worthwhile. And I thank Kreiner for making the effort to write about us. Now if we can just make enough time to do that next issue….

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Speak of the Devil


Saturday, November 10, 2007

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Speak of the Devil #1-2
Gilbert Hernandez
Dark Horse, 2007

Maybe the real heir to Jack Kirby is Gilbert Hernandez. It can’t be Steve Rude; I was wrong. Kirby drew everything from romances to crime stories to classical Greek epics — and I’d say only Gilbert Hernandez shows comparable depth. He might not have the same chops as Kirby or even of his own brother Jaime — but Beto can keep up with ANYONE. And he delivers on time. Sorry, Steve.

I heard Beto himself say “I can’t draw” at the San Diego Comic-Con this year. “I can’t draw streetlights, door jambs, houses — you can see that in twenty-five years those parts of my drawing have basically stayed the same.” What has improved is his range. Beto’s able to craft a perfect comic book story. Shit, he could do that in 1981, but other than 1996’s Girl Crazy and 2002’s Grip, he hasn’t had much of a chance to stretch out, narratively speaking, in a non-Love & Rockets comic book series. (New Love from ’96 was short strips, natch.) His newest effort, Speak of the Devil, may just be his finest offering in this vein.

Freed of the Love & Rockets/Palomar continuity, he first unleashed (twenty-five years worth of) his pent up “weltschmerz” (world-pain) with Sloth and Chance in Hell — two genre-defying graphic novels that disintegrated this reader’s mind with the force of a cosmic black hole. Next up, Speak of the Devil, a six-issue comic-book mini-series. Bound now by twenty-page episodic chapters and a PG-13 style for the “mainstream” comics market, Speak of the Devil reins in Beto’s multi-faceted approach and broad abilities. The chaotic white hot rage of Chance in Hell is now a focused low simmer. Like Sloth, one can feel the pressure under the surface, veiled. And also like Sloth, the suburban tract house setting creates a fitting counterpoint to the tension. Where it differs from Sloth is in its pace; here Beto swiftly builds a deliberate narrative of nearly silent action without voice-over or introduction. The “hook” of the action sets the stage for intrigue that begins immediately and there are honestly passages that made my heart pound in expectation. Like a Steve Ditko Amazing Adult Fantasy story, the comic is imbued with a mystical air that is difficult to describe because so much of it relies on his masterful and subtle stage direction. Beto’s compositional and storytelling skills are so strong now — he’s at the height of his abilities, like Kirby was in the early ’70s. In fact, because of the pace with which it unfolds, Speak of the Devil reads like an issue of Kamandi or Mister Miracle. Beto has his own set of signs now — he crafts solid pages and imbues his drawings with joy — and like Kirby did, he uses those signs to unleash fantasies that are just so much fucking fun to read. It’s incredible. And again because he’s freed from his Love & Rockets continuity, he’s able to accentuate moments and details that I would think are more difficult to focus on in, say, a Palomar story with its large cast of characters and divergent storylines.

The plot of Speak of the Devil is similar to that of a black-and-white B-movie that one might come across on TV late at night. Val is a hot, athletic teenager with a hot bosomy stepmom. There’s a peeping tom in the neighborhood, and Val’s stepmom sort of gets off on the fact that the peeping tom is around. If it sounds simple, or clichéd, then good: Beto has you right where he wants you. Against such suburban ennui, the story is allowed to flutter and move like the curtains of the bedroom window behind which Val’s mom lies half-naked, waiting. It’s as though Beto has corralled all his obsessions and created a vehicle that permits him the freedom to put it all into one story. The beauty of it is that it doesn’t feel forced; it’s right on target. The tone, the mood, the drawing, the narrative flow — it all falls like dominoes.

And it’s a whole helluva lotta fun to read. Comics, for me, aren’t often much fun any more, because so many titles are either striving to be considered serious literature, or to be adult versions of adolescent king-of-the-hill games. Both of these approaches neglect the form’s raw power. Think Ditko sci-fi or Kirby monster stories — where is that sort of precision these days? Better yet, where are the creators that can do quality short genre pieces AND long-form continuity? And interestingly enough, Beto figures prominently into WHY comics are now being viewed by some as serious literature in the first place. What’s remarkable is that an artist with the ability to do something on the scale of Palomar is also capable of switching gears and doing something so direct and clear, and that still channels the form’s raw visual power.

It’s not a surprise, of course — Beto’s been doing short pieces for twenty-five years — but it’s still remarkable. Like a distillation of all of his influences, Speak of the Devil showcases the talents of a master well versed in comics language, all deployed in the service of a crazy Twilight Zone-esque genre story. That’s Kirby, that’s Ditko; that’s Ogden Whitney and Harry Lucey. And that’s Beto, one of the only contemporary cartoonists out there who can do it all. High, Low, and everything in between.

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Books Books


Thursday, October 11, 2007

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With all the talk about how some people think comics are too influenced by literature, it may be worth remembering that there are people in the literary world who think contemporary fiction is becoming too influenced by comics. No big point here — just that these things get kind of complicated. Personally speaking, as long as the comics work as comics and the prose works as prose, I don’t care what influences whom.

Recently, I’ve read two pretty terrific comics-inflected novels that I thought might be worth pointing out to those interested in such things.

First, Junot Díaz of Drown fame just published his first novel, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. It’s been getting tons of great press, but I’ve been surprised that it hasn’t come up for discussion more in comics circles, because it’s probably the most comics-friendly novel I’ve ever read. There are constant references to comics past, from Clowes (one character is described as looking like he walked straight out of the pages of Eightball) to Kirby (the novel’s epigraph is right from Fantastic Four 49: “Of what import are brief, nameless lives … to Galactus??” [bold case and double-punctuation in the original!]).

Díaz has been fairly vocal about his regard for Gilbert Hernandez, recently saying in a Los Angeles Times profile of Hernandez, “For those of us who are writing across or on borders, I honestly think he was, for me, more important than anyone else.” That becomes readily apparent on reading the book, as allusions to Love & Rockets recur at a steady clip. The title character’s Dominican mother is repeatedly compared to Luba, both in terms of physique and personality, and her storyline (complete with gangster boyfriend and political terrorism) is obviously an extended homage to Poison River, among other Beto tales.

But it’s not just in his references that Díaz demonstrates his influence, but in the very structure of his novel, which meanders and jumps in time and circles back to fill in backstory in almost exactly the same way that the Hernandez brothers have done for so long in their Palomor and Locas sagas. Some day, a grad student’s going to have a very easy time writing a thesis about all of this.

It’s also a great, tremendously funny (and sad) novel, and Díaz runs rings around most of his contemporaries with his prose style. Anyone who loves Love & Rockets (actually anyone period) should really read this book.

The other comics-saturated novel I read this summer, Jack Womack‘s Ambient, probably doesn’t possess quite as wide an appeal, though I liked it a lot. It’s a cartoonishly violent, satirical capitalism-run-amok dystopia, sort of like Mad Max-meets-the-corporate-boardroom; Long Island has become the location of a decades-long Vietnam-style military quagmire, and lower Manhattan is filled with a punkish underclass, many of whom have mutilated themselves in a kind of impotent social protest.

Much of the imagery and tone reminds me of Gary Panter, though Womack never refers to him directly. The cartoonists Womack admits to following are Chester Gould (one of the main bad guys has a framed Dick Tracy panel on his wall), George Herriman, and Walt Kelly (the aforementioned “ambient” underclass has developed a patois-like language nearly Elizabethan in its complexity that Womack has said was inspired by the dialogue in Krazy Kat and Pogo).

Some of the elements of this novel feel a little dated now, such as a religion that worships Elvis Presley, though they undoubtedly seemed fresher when the novel was first published twenty years ago. Still I enjoyed it, and plan on checking out the rest of the series. You can probably tell based on the description whether or not this is your cup of tea moonshine.

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