Palomar is probably the best graphic novel I have read. The book is densely plotted and densely peopled with characters that you wind up caring very deeply about. In the middle of the book there is a long story called "Human Diastrophism" in which a plague of monkeys, archeologists, and a serial killer invade Palomar straining the dynamics of the town and revealing a lot about the characters.
Because Palomar is a small place, we get to see how everyone experiences each other over time, their interweaving and shifting (or inflexible) dynamics, loves, losses, disappointments. The book is sad, funny, philosophically rich, full of friendship and the absurd intensity and cartoonishness of friendship and romantic love over time.
I've never had an army buddy. Womb buddy? Anyway, it'd be good to have that easy-to-pinpoint relationship term such as "army buddy" because people would go "ooh yeah I get it" right away. I won't eat their fried slugs. I know that I'd still be the asshole who won't eat the food no matter how hungry everyone is. That scene in Empire of the Sun (everything I need to know in life I learned from Empire of the Sun) when they eat the weavils in the rice to get protein? I'm the sister Katsa in Nicolas Gage's Eleni (best book in the world that people refuse to read). I can see it now: "It tastes like chicken, Mariel!" "But I'm a vegetarian!" Other things they could've fried than banana slugs: 1. The prison scenes were creepy as hell. (Not the love scenes! I also loved the photographer that tells the one girl she looks like Sophia Loren and she has no idea who that is.
Its interesting to watch the characters ageanother feature almost totally lacking in the superhero comics where Aunt May always looks ancient and Mary Jane never starts to sag. The storyline is very soap opera-ishthe sexcapades of a small Latin American town (Mexican?). She has sex with just about everybody, has half a dozen children all by different fathers, and is a successful businesswoman and eventually the mayor of the town. While its certainly a depiction of a matriarchal society, its also a fantasy of matriarchywhere women, especially young nubile girls, are always sexually available to ugly older men like Guadalupe and Pipo to Gato or Tonantzin to practically everybody. And what annoys me is how much sexism and the machismo of Latino culture is elided by the portrayal of these superstrong women who are always drawn (except for the lesbian Maricela) in the glamour-style of comic book babes: huge bosom, perky nipples, big butts, gorgeous faces and hair, long legs, and so forth. People like Pipo cross the border effortlessly and despite Pipos complete lack of schooling and that shes saddled with a kid as a teenager, shes able to effortlessly create a clothing line and get a TV show by virtue of her good looks, large ass, and perkiness. The women who have horrendously bad taste in men seem never to really suffer for it and bearing one child after another apparently doesnt hold them back, except for a brief moment when Luba loses it and returns the various kids to their Dadsmen who never seem to have to accept responsibility for fathering children. While I think the series was an important step toward breaking comics out of the superhero serial mode and also giving minorities a voice, I think there are probably better visions of Latin America waiting to be discovered or createdthe sort of stuff that is willing to confront the darkness and depth that lies at the heart of their culture rather than quasi-pornographic celebrations of liberated female sexuality that nevertheless apologize for and naturalize patriarchy.
(Or, actually I cheated a little -- the book I came across randomly was merely volume one of a brand-new paperback collection by its publisher Fantagraphics, being offered as a cheaper and more mobile version than the all-in-one coffeetable-sized hardback collection they put out in 2003; when I discovered that the Chicago Public Library has not yet acquired volume two of this new paperback series, I simply checked out the larger hardback version, and finished up the stories that way.) For those who don't know, the original Love And Rockets consisted of several different persistent storylines, each of which was run by a different member of the multi-sibling Hernandez family, who as a group originally created and funded this historically ultra-important title from the dawn of alt-comics; the "Palomar" stories (named after the town where they take place, also known as the "Heartbreak Soup" stories after the very first tale in the series) was the one maintained by brother Gilbert, an expansive look at a fictional village somewhere on the west coast of Central America, and all the remarkable things that happen there from roughly the 1950s to 1980s (and sometimes both before and beyond).
To answer the inevitable eye-raise -- this is a comic for adults -- and to address the obvious comparison -- Garcia Marquez's Macondo has nothing on Hernandez's Palomar. That's not to say this is a gory comic or that there's no surrealism; rather, it has sudden flashes of violence that are truly scary, mostly because they happen to characters you've watched grow before your eyes; its sudden flights into the unreal, in dreams and hallucinations, are the more effective for that. I can't remember being afraid that any of Garcia Marquez's characters might die, but I did here.
Extra kudos for "An American in Palomar" about an exploitative photographer who thinks he can get a good series out of "the impoverished natives" while getting a good lay out of the town girls--and even more praise for not letting it drop, bringing the consequences back years later in a completely unexpected way.
I suspect that this series looked better in relation to the contemporaneous comics of the 80s and 90s. 2- The humor was too often silly and cartoonish, like old time comic strip gags.
One of the more effective devices Hernandez uses, purely magic realism, is of the tree with the ghosts of recently passed characters waving from its shadow.
Gilbert Hernandez, born in 1957, enjoyed a pleasant childhood in Oxnard, California, with four brothers and one sister.