Saturday, November 30, 2013

Citizen Rex

To close out Gilbert Hernandez Month, today I am looking at a book he co-created with his older brother Mario, Citizen Rex. This book collects a 6 issue limited series about a gossip columnist, robots, a secret tribunal of truth-seekers, black market prosthetics, family drama, and an android that just might be the next step in human/robot synthesis.

A facile way to describe this book would be to call it a cleaner version of Blade Runner, in the sense that this world is much more sanitary and well composed. The main story happens about 50 years from now and follows Sergio Bauntain, a gossip columnist who goes by the name Bloggo. He usually covers stories about local organized crime, much of it centering on the illegal trade of technological body parts, as such enhancements are all the rage. But he ends up catching on that the advanced robot CTZ-RX-1 was not actually deactivated and destroyed as previously though but is avenging his past mistreatment. All the while Bloggo is pursued by the Truth Takers, a mysterious group of vigilantes who seek the justice that the system does not seem to provide and who resort to sinister ways to get the truth.
Sample page from Comixology
There are a lot of moving parts and ideas in this book. Like any piece of good science fiction, it blurs lines between reality and fiction, human and machine, and the demands of family versus those of society. It is an exercise in action, intrigue, philosophy, and metaphysics. I thought the book was a very suspenseful, fun, and exciting read, using familiar sci-fi elements but crafting a narrative that seemed unique unto itself. Mario and Gilbert speak more about creating the series in this interview.

Reviews I have read about this collection have been very positive. The Comics Journal's Sean T. Collins called it "a dense, engrossing, and above all humanistic approach to the genre, and not a bad way to calibrate one’s behavior in the real world as well." Dominick Malloy called it "a uniquely deep story." Sarah Boslaugh summed it up as "a sci-fi epic overflowing with ideas and artwork soaked in retro cool."

Citizen Rex is available from its publisher Dark Horse, who provide a preview here.

Come hang out with me!

Monday December 2 from 3 until 4 PM EST, I will be hanging out on Google and participating in a webinar for the Literacy Research Association. The talk will be about graphic novels, research, and mostly about how they might be used in the classroom.

I am honored to be the featured speaker, and joining me will be this illustrious panel:

Panelist: Laura Jimenez
Panelist: David Low
Teacher: John Weaver
Discussant:  Peter Guiterrez
Cameraman: Ian O'Byrne

You can check out more about what the webinar will look like as well as some past ones at the official YouTube page.

I hope some of you can join us!

Monday, November 25, 2013

The Troublemakers

The Troublemakers is one of Gilbert Hernandez's adaptations of a movie that starred Fritz, his psychologist character from Love and Rockets (she's on the right side of the cover). It is a paean to his love for B- or exploitation movies and a meta-fictional component of his Palomar universe. Casual readers do not really need to know any of that though, because the book holds up as a satisfying read on its own merits.

I am not going to tell you so much about the plot other than it focuses on a trio of grifters.
Vincene seems to be the craftiest, and she is always on the run.
Nala is a former magician's assistant with a bunch of tricks up her sleeve but is worried about getting too old to pull off more scams.
Wes, a frustrated singer, is trying to fleece his associate Dewey out of $200,000 so he can buy his own club.

These characters' allegiances are constantly shifting, and they double-cross each other in pretty much every way possible. Not so good for them, but great for a reader seeking lots of plot twists. The characters are surprising for who they reveal themselves to be, and the story at the end takes on a pretty surreal yet violent turn when 7 stray bullets find their marks. Hernandez speaks more about his work on this book in this interview.

All of the reviews I have read about this book have been very positive. Ron Richards wrote that Gilbert's storytelling ability here is "at the top of his game." The Comics Journal's Rob Clough summed The Troublemakers up as "a minor work in Gilbert Hernadez’s imposing catalog, yet it still shows the artist at the height of his powers, capable of crafting characters with surprising depth even in the basest of genre stories." The reviewer from The Beguiling remarked on the entire series of faux movie adaptations, "These books are delicious." I concur with these reviewers, and I found the book to be engrossing, compelling, and a lot of fun for both noir and comics fans.

A preview and much more can be found here from the book's publisher Fantagraphics. You can find an extension of the preview here.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Julio's Day

Julio's Day covers much more than a day as it takes place from Julio's birth in 1900 until his death in 2000. Over those hundred years, he ages, family members and friends die, and others are born. The effects of major events, including both world wars, the 1929 stock market crash, the Vietnam War, and the first Gulf War ripple through people's lives. The setting is an unnamed, rural, American village that calls to mind Palomar in its bucolic aspects.

Most of the pages in this volume were published in much shorter 1 and 2 page comics over the course of 6 years in the second volume of Love and Rockets, but here are combined to depict an entire lifespan. The cast of characters is large, and they age, appear, and disappear from the narrative, but Hernandez provides a handy reference page at the front of the book.
Reading the book as a whole, I am struck by how it is a deft combination of iconic and monumental scenes of family and childhood mixed with very local and personal happenings. This book displays some impressive vistas, and sometimes seems like a parable of sorts, with many versions of traveler tales. But it is also full of small, evocative moments, such as short exchanges, prayers, and glimpses into people's hope and aspirations. Also, love is a big part of the proceedings, because Julio spends his entire life living at  home with his mother as he cannot reveal or come to grips with his homosexuality. He has a few relationships over the years, but they are covert and unspoken.
I read this book at a brisk clip, finishing it relatively quickly, but there is so much here to digest and chew over, that I see myself coming back to it often in the near future. As The Comics Journal's Charles Hatfield wrote, it is pretty interesting to read and compare this book, which is about a century's worth of lives and societal changes, with Marble Season, which is much more about Gilbert's childhood and a specific moment in time. Certainly both offer different views of Hernandez's impressive range of artistic and narrative prowess.

All the reviews I have read about this book have praised its beautiful art and intricate storytelling. In a starred review from Publishers Weekly it was called "a marvelous and tightly scripted epic whose last page is a heart-stopper." Tom Spurgeon spoke to its complexity, "I felt this work more than I processed it intellectually, which is odd in that I think it's relatively complex and will lend itself to multiple readings and a truckload of spread-across-a-table analyses." Andy Shaw summed up, "Julio’s Day is a literary classic, and another incredible piece of work from a true master of comics."

Julio's Day was published by Fantagraphics, and they provide a preview and much more here.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Please consider funding this project

Artist Luke Radl and writer Jeffrey Wilson are working on a graphic novel adaptation of an interview with Noam Chomsky. It seems like an ambitious and thought-provoking work, so perhaps you can check out their indiego page, learn more about the project, and kick in some shekels.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Speak of the Devil

I took a little detour from Gilbert Hernandez Month yesterday, but today I am going back on track.

Speak of the Devil collects a 6 issue limited series that was on The Comics Journal's Best of 2007 list. The story is about gymnasts, family relationships, a mysterious Peeping Tom wearing a devil's mask, and a murderous love triangle. The main character is Val, a gymnast who lives with her divorced father and his new wife. She struggles with this new situation and also dates a boy whose family appears to be abusive. As these young people struggle through their lives, a mysterious stranger is terrorizing their neighborhoods, peeking in open curtains.

This mysterious figure is particularly fixated at staring in at Val's parents while they are having sex. I am not going to reveal many plot specifics, because I think this book relies on a sequence of revelations and escalations in the course of its narrative. But I will say that things take a sinister turn, and the second half of the book is violent and bloody.

The strongest aspects of the book are its pacing and its focus on a small set of characters. It reads like a Hitchcockian thriller, raising questions of psychology and propelled by shocking visual scenes. The story is unsettling and disturbing, and it is definitely not intended for younger readers, but it lingered in my mind. And the artwork is characteristically fantastic, incredibly well rendered and paced. You can see from the two-page excerpt above that Hernandez can tell a story that is both economical in its storytelling and sensational in its impact.

Reviews I have read about this book have been mixed or measured. Robert Stanley Martin called it "a terrible disappointment." Andrew Wheeler wrote that "Hernandez’s art is as assured and potent as ever" and also that he liked this book better than Chance in Hell. Jog also noted that the artwork was "top notch" and added that the story "eventually takes on an oddly lyrical tone."

Speak of the Devil was published by Dark Horse and they provide a preview here.

Friday, November 15, 2013

The Cute Girl Network

Don't you wish there were places where you could get the dirt on a potential boyfriend/girlfriend before you got too involved? Well, there kind of already are, like this website, but in this book there is a physical manifestation of such a website called the Cute Girl Network. These women share information about their ex-boyfriends (not ex-girlfriends, though, because I saw no overtly lesbian members in the book) in Brookport (a thinly veiled version of Brooklyn). Having a report about the personal interactions between two consenting adults is somewhat subjective and open to debate, topics that this book tackles in a fun, thoughtful, and inviting way.

Jane is a skateboarder who is not so traditionally female. At least she does not seem very much into princesses, pink, or sparkly things. If you went to that magazine link, you saw just how male-dominated the skating scene is. Jane is rough and tumble, able to deal with the casually sexist and boorish behavior of her co-workers at the skate shop.
Jack is a "Soup Dude," a street salesman who doles out the hot broth to his customers. He's klutzy, not-too-bright, rough around the edges, and relatively broke. The two meet, sparks fly, and they end up dating. Things become complicated when the Cute Girls learn of this, because they have a rap sheet on Jack and they don't think he is quite worthy of dating Jane. Jack has the input of his roommates, but they are way less organized, and one of them is quite neanderthal.
I thought this book was great at capturing people's relationships, warts and all. There were a couple parts where I felt the exchanges between Jane and Harriet, who seems to be the leader of the Cute Girl Network, verged into talking head territory, but for the most part the interactions and relationships were fresh, vital, and realistic. I also think the artwork was an effective combination of realism and cartoon, propelling the well-paced narrative and providing a canvas for a good mix of emotion, humor, and romance. There are some profanity and sexual situations in this book as well as a number of verbal and visual potty jokes, so I suggest it for older adolescent readers.

Also, I should add, one of the best parts of the book for me was the knock-off of Twilight the Network women talk about at their book club. Their talk was full of interesting points in debating the book's merits. I know to some extent that book is low-hanging fruit, but I still thought the fake chapter excerpt in the back matter of the graphic novel was pretty funny.
This book is a collaboration  between authors Greg Means, MK Reed, and artist Joe Flood. Means runs Tugboat Press and also edits the comics anthologies Papercutter and Runner Runner. Reed wrote the graphic novel Americus and also is working on the webcomic About a Bull. Flood is known for his graphic novel Orcs: Forged for War. This interview by Rebecca Angel with the creators gets at the origins and creation of The Cute Girl Network.

I very much enjoyed reading this compelling story, and the reviews I have read online have been positive. Christina Franke wrote, "The Cute Girl Network is funny, thoughtful, and adorable, with art that works well with the story." Nick Smith gave the book 4 out of 5 stars and wrote that "the story comes to a very satisfying conclusion." Meg Stivison praised the scope of the book: "Besides Jack and Jane’s adorably oddball romance and Jane’s relationship with her male-dominated skating hobby, The Cute Girl Network is a great story about a certain stage of life: houses full of roommates, dates without spending any money, and walking to the the store on a midweek day off to pick up a paycheck."

There are links, previews, and extras available from the book's official site.

The Cute Girl Network was published by First Second. Thank you, Gina, for the review copy!

Sunday, November 10, 2013


Yeah! is a curious creation in terms of its creative team. Writer Peter Bagge and artist Gilbert Hernandez are much better known for their influential and seminal alternative comics works for adult audiences like Hate and Love and Rockets. One of the last places you would expect their work would be in an all-ages book from a mainstream comics publisher like DC, but from 1999 until 2000 this series ran for nine issues under the Wildstorm imprint.

The story follows the exploits of Yeah!, the most popular band in the universe but utterly unknown on planet Earth. Band members Krazy (vocals & guitar), Honey (drums), and Woo-Woo (keyboards) ironically struggle to find an audience and have to compete in battles of the bands in order to make money. Their main competition is a semi-successful group called The Snobs, only one part of a colorful cast of supporting characters that includes their duplicitous manager Crusty, Honey's "hippie dippie" boyfriend Muddy, and their pet goat Buckeye.

The book is full of zany, intergalactic adventures balanced with humbling experiences. Yeah! cannot spend any of the money they make out in the universe on Earth, and they are constantly scrounging for opportunities to break it big in the music business on their home planet. In all, I found this book fun, surreal, and very charming. Hernandez's art is clean and energetic, calling to mind Dan DeCarlo's classic style on Archie and Josie and the Pussycats. Even though these comics were originally published in color, the black and white is still very attractive, allowing readers to more admire the line work. Bagge's stories are silly yet have enough gravity to make the reader care. Bagge speaks about his work on this book in this interview.

Most reviews I have read of Yeah! remark on the skill of the creators but are tempered by the tone and scope of the book. Marie Penny wrote that "old school comic fans, pop music lovers, and alien aficionados will enjoy Yeah!" Publishers Weekly summed up their review calling this book "a minor but highly enjoyable effort from two masters." Jeremy Nisen admired the book's "cuteness" but added that its unfinished plot-lines detract from the book as a whole.
ALA/YALSA 2012 "Great Graphic Novels for Teens" List - See more at:
ALA/YALSA 2012 "Great Graphic Novels for Teens" List - See more at:
ALA/YALSA 2012 "Great Graphic Novels for Teens" List - See more at:

Yeah! is available from Fantagraphics, who have a preview and more here.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Marble Season

Marble Season is a coming of age story in the vein of works like Our Gang, Peanuts, or the Cosby Kids, where children's personalities, rich fantasy lives, senses of play, imaginations, and mercurial social relationships are highlighted. In this sort-of-autobiography Gilbert Hernandez threads together the monumental and routine into a tapestry that reflects childhood experiences and sensibilities with a sense of whimsy, nostalgia, and also poignancy.

The book mostly follows Huey, the middle brother in a family. He roams the neighborhood, usually with his kid brother Chavo in tow. He gets annoyed by having him trail along all the time, but he also has a similar relationship with his older brother Junior, who is a teenager trying to act cool and hit on girls. The boys' lives revolve around comic books, professional wrestling, and television shows, and they play lots of games outside modeled on those media.
They also have lots of interesting neighbors, like the girl who compulsively eats marbles
or the new kids who are oblivious, volatile, and very physical.
In all, this is a thoughtful and moving look at childhood and its many intricacies.

All of the reviews I have read about this book have deemed it praiseworthy. In a starred review Publishers Weekly called it "a masterful, involving, funny, and real portrait of kids and their wide world, unlimited by reality—until, at least, it’s time to go home for dinner." The Comics Journal's Rob Clough summed up his review, "Hernandez’s understanding and recollection of the formative moments of childhood is surpassed only by his ability to depict it on the page with a style that is both naturalistic and cartoony." Rachel Cooke called it "a treat: beady, nostalgic and sometimes unexpectedly piercing."

A preview is available here from Drawn & Quarterly.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Gilbert Hernandez Month!

If you pay attention to what books and authors I review, you will have noticed that I am a huge fan of Los Bros. Hernandez.
I got this photo from here.
This month I will be highlighting the work of Gilbert Hernandez who recently won a PEN Award. He is one of the co-creators of Love and Rockets, a long-running alternative comics series, and is an amazingly prolific artist who publishes multiple books a year. I hope you enjoy my look at his many works!

Saturday, November 2, 2013

#literacies chat

Mark your calendars! This coming Thursday at 8 pm, I will be taking part in a live chat about graphic novels on Twitter.

You can find the #literacies chat by following this link, and I will be talking about all kinds of issues concerning graphic novels and education. To kick things off, I have three questions here for your persusal and reflection:

1. Have you used graphic novels in your classrooms? What seemed effective or useful and what did not?
2. How do students perceive and read graphic novels? Do they seem suited or attractive to particular types of students?
3. What do you think about using original graphic novels compared to literary adaptations in graphic novel form?

I hope to "see" you all on Thursday!

PS, If you are fairly new to graphic novels, here's a quick introduction I wrote called "What is a graphic novel?"