Monday, June 30, 2008


I recently finished Jaime Hernandez's Locas: The Maggie and Hopey Stories, another massive compilation (about 700 pages). These stories were first printed, of course, in the Love and Rockets comics (the first actual comics, I gather, actually published by Fantagraphics). Though not containing every one of the stories in this strand of the Love and Rockets series, Locas does trace a kind of narrative arc, from the first story to introduce Maggie "the Mechanic" to a moment of long-delayed and crucial reconciliation between the two protagonists.

Hernandez's black-and-white drawings are sharp and often beautiful, but not above invoking the conventional perspectives of the masculine gaze, which presumably operates at times for both artist and (implied) reader. Even so, Maggie, over the years covered by both the narrative and the run of Love and Rockets from which these stories were drawn, grows more or less steadily chunkier, which certainly has the effect of making her seem increasingly like a real, rounded character (pun intended, I suppose).

Relatedly, it seems, the world that Maggie and Hopey inhabit also seems to have evolved over the years, as Maggie, in the first story is a rocket-ship mechanic working in an African jungle setting populated by (among other things) still-living dinosaurs. As the series progresses, however, the "rockets" element of the narrative gets progressively downplayed, and the often-interrupted love/friendship story of Maggie and Hopey is focused on more and more completely. (Although the fantastic elements of their world never disappear entirely: H R Costigan, the millionaire husband of Penny Century, is always drawn with the horns he wears in the early episodes.) One suspects that reading these comics over a ten- or twenty-year span, as they were published, would make these shifts of narrative focus less striking, but for me as a reader new to the series, it seemed to work in Locas as a book--not only as an artifact of the story arc's own history, but precisely as a thematized shift from "rockets" to "love," one that makes the reader go back and reconsider the relation between the two terms of that binary even in the earliest episodes.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Jeff Smith's Bone

I recently finished the monumental one-volume collection of Jeff Smith's Bone comics, weighing in at about 1300 pages, I think. Since the Bone books are being republished (in color) by Scholastic, it seems clear that they have found a market in the YA niche, and the incipient romance between the main character Fone Bone and the beautiful (and explicitly adolescent) young Thorn (all in the context of a lengthy high-fantasy plot) seems to support the audience that implies.

But one of the most striking features of Bone lies in Smith's drawing style, which treats most of the human characters in a relatively realistic mode (though one often characterized by caricature or exaggeration), while the three Bone characters are drawn with a highly stylized, simplified line. (Smith acknowledges the influence of Walt Kelly on his work; the Bone characters could almost fit right in to a Pogo strip.) The juxtaposition is somewhat disquieting, and even Thorn comments at one point that Fone Bone never wears clothing at all. Further, the Bone characters are of indeterminate age: Smiley Bone smokes cigars; Phoney Bone was a scam artist who had run for mayor of Boneville and now tends bar in Barrelhaven, and so on. The implication is that the Bone characters are adult, at least when they're at home in Boneville, making Fone Bone's transparently adolescent crush on Thorn seem especially odd. It's hard not to read Fone Bone as ambiguously depicted, adult in some ways, adolescent in others.

The Bone books first started appearing in 1991, before Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics, so it's unlikely that Bone was influenced by McCloud's theories, but it's hard not to suspect that, as McCloud would argue, the simplified drawing style used for the Bone characters is intended to promote reader identification. In short, the mode of drawing Fone Bone in particular as "iconic" rather than "realistic" seems linked to the anticipation of a young-adult reader--but there's something very weird about how that works given his sometime depiction as an adult, and as his clearly-adult cousins are drawn the same way.

But it's an entertaining book, nevertheless, especially since Smith lives and works in central Ohio, and Old Man's Cave from the Hocking Hills makes an appearance in the landscape of the novel, which is a bit of a treat for readers who know that place.

Bienvenue a Village Grouchy

Welcome to Village Grouchy (that's French, by the way, "Villazh Groo-shee"), my new blog devoted to contemporary "literary" comics (whatever they might be), writing about comics, and whatever else I decide to cover.

I don't plan to cover much in the superhero mode here, because I'm really not that interested, and there's plenty of other compelling stuff going on in the comics world. In addition, I see the blog primarily devoted to "reviews" of comics works, and I'm not really interested in the world of fandom, gossip, or breaking news. Likewise, I probably won't do much with comics that aren't available in hardback or trade paperback format. No excuses, it's just that way it'll probably be.

And while I'll try to cover new stuff, there's a tremendous backlog (or backblog) of great stuff out there, and one of my goals is to create an archive of commentary (from my own idiosyncratic perspective, of course) on those comics I think are worth the time and effort, new or old. And if there's readers out there, maybe an archive of comment and conversation, as well.