Monday, September 10, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #253: Comics Dementia by Gilbert Hernandez

I'm just focusing on the work in this series of "I Love (And Rockets) Mondays" post, and not getting into any behind-the-scenes stuff. But it's clear that Gilbert Hernandez, for whatever reason, just generates more Love And Rockets-related material than his brother Jaime in the same amount of time, which I can imagine is an issue for a publisher that wants to keep things even.

This reprint series has alternated Jaime books and Gilbert books, except for the everything-else collection Amor Y Cohetes, which gathered all of the stories from both brothers (and their early occasional compatriot, third brother Mario) that didn't fit into their respective main sequences. I had the sense that book had more Gilbert than Jaime, though I didn't count pages.

But this twelfth volume, Comics Dementia, also breaks the sequence -- it collects the Gilbert stories after the end of Love and Rockets volume one that don't fit into the "Palomar" continuity in any way. (There are a couple of linked stories set in a small Latin American town that could be Palomar, but the possible connection is never made.)

Comics Dementia includes sixty-four mostly short stories -- many of them are single pages; a number are three-panel gags like a daily newspaper strip, placed at the bottom of another comic that doesn't user that full page -- over 224 pages. They originally appeared in all sorts of places: many in the second series of L&R, but many in other publications as well. And this 2016 book has comics from as early as 1996 (right after the end of the first L&R series) and as recent as 2015.

These are all experiments or trials of one form or another: surrealism, exercises in visual storytelling, jokes, contributions to anthologies, and a lot of religious and semi-religious questioning. (I wouldn't try to characterize Hernandez's personal religious convictions, but he's been wrestling with the questions of sin and redemption and the nature of evil since the very beginning -- those are important concerns throughout his work, and surface more obviously here in short strips that are all about those concerns.)

It also has to be said that nearly all of this is aggressively weird: the Candide-esque turmoils of the preternaturally positive Roy; adventures of the Leaping Elite, women whose highly-trained thighs let them semi-fly; several appearances by the destructive and frequently giant-sized Love Gremlins; murderous attacks by the fearsome Froat, the brain-sucker of Delaware; three completely different consecutive stories all titled "Heroin;" philosophical musings; vaguely SF and fantasy-tinged strips that tend to end in horrifying violence; a collection of profiles of Catholic saints; random bits of non-fiction; and strips I can't even describe.

Comics Dementia also more-or-less forms a single world -- Roy battles the Froat, and meets the Leaping Elite, who capture Love Gremlins. Or maybe it's just that there's a loose "Roy" world that a lot of these strips fit into, since the more surreal or philosophical strips here don't really fit into anything else. (And there are a bunch of those.)

This is a book for serious Gilbert Hernandez fans, the ones who want to dive into his quirky, one-off strips and are OK with the fact that a lot of them just end in death and dismemberment the way that old Monty Python skits would often end with a meta-joke about not having a punchline. Comics Dementia is the furthest reaches of the land of Love and Rockets, far out on the border with pure-art comics and stranger things. It's an interesting journey, if you manage to travel there, but it's not for everyone.

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