Thursday, April 08, 2010

Book-A-Day 2010 # 64 (4/8) -- The Troublemakers by Gilbert Hernandez

Walter Pater famously asserted that all art aspires to the condition of music. But Gilbert Hernandez, always kicking against the pricks, is in the middle of a metafictional series that aspires to the quality of mediocre '60s B-movies. It's a complicated and weird conceit, and I can't explain it better than the back flap of this book does:

The Fritz B-Movie Collection
The Troublemakers is the second volume in a series of original graphic novels in which Gilbert Hernandez creates comics adaptations of movies starring or co-starring Luba's half-sister Rosalba "Fritz" Martinez from Love and Rockets.

The first, the dystopian Chance in Hell (in which Fritz has only a bit part), was released in 2007.

The third, Love from the Shadows, is planned for release in late 2010. It will be followed by Maria M., a re-telling of some of the events originally chronicled in the Luba biography Poison River, with Fritz playing her own (and Luba's) mother.

Speak of the Devil, released by Dark Horse Comics in 2008 as a comic book series and collected in in 2009 as a graphic novel, is not an adaptation of the Fritz-starring movie, but a chronicle of the actual events that inspired the movie -- and is thus a "half-sister" of sorts to this collection.
So The Troublemakers is pretty straightforward -- it's a piece of fiction from a fictional world, the equivalent of The Grasshopper Lies Heavy or Rochelle, Rochelle -- but its "half-sister" Speak of the Devil is really weird, claiming to be the real (fictional) story behind a movie (within another work of fiction) that Hernandez probably won't ever create. And I wouldn't put it past Hernandez to get even less straightforward when he gets to Maria M.

(I reviewed both Speak of the Devil and Chance in Hell for ComicMix, over the past few years.)

Troublemakers is supposed to be a decent movie, but not a great one -- a noirish tale of crosses double and triple, in which the same small cast keeps tripping over each other, making and breaking promises and plans and alliances. The three main characters, as seen on the cover, are Vincene (the skinny girl), Wes (the guy), and Nala (Fritz's character). The dialogue is often overwrought in that trying-to-be-tough way, but the plot is suitably twisty and energetic. The maguffin here is $200,000, which one secondary character has and everyone else wants to steal from him. (The amount, which seems paltry today, underlines the era this "movie" was supposedly made in.) There's gunplay and other violence, of course, and not everyone makes it out alive -- but that's the whole point of a "movie" like this.

Hernandez lays his pages out explicitly like movie screens, with four wide panels per page (except for one title splash page), to make Troublemakers read like the storyboards or fumetti of the movie. He expends a lot of energy and effort to make this book as little like a original comic as possible, a quixotic if impressive feat. Like Chance in Hell, this is meant to be a second-rate work, so Troublemakers can't become one of Hernandez's best works. (Speak of the Devil, on the other hand, being "true," is much more representative of Hernandez at his best.) So this is a book for Hernandez fans, for readers who know who Fritz is and want to see her movie career laid out in comics form.

Book-A-Day 2010: The Epic Index
Listening to: MiniBoone - Devil in Your Eyes
via FoxyTunes

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