Just started catching up on my Gilbert Hernandez reading backlog. He has put out several short graphic novels in the last couple years. First up was The Children of Palomar (Fantagraphics, 2013). It collects four short stories that focus on the children of Hernandez’s magic Latin American village, although there are plenty of adults in the stories as well. In fact the final story is about Sheriff Chelo losing an eye, in typical surreal Palomar fashion. It is taken by a mysterious group of scientists wearing isolation suits, so they look like astronauts. In an earlier story those visitors abducted a group of children and gave them a gas that showed them visions of their own deaths. There’s also a giant statue that comes to life and haunts the town, and two wild children who streak through town as barely visible blurs, stealing food. As Luba (the woman with the huge bust who always carries a hammer) declares at one point, “For a small town, there’s always something, huh?”
Genius is a First Second OGN by Steven T. Seagle & Teddy Kristiansen from 2013 which I somehow overlooked, despite being a big fan of both of them. It’s a lovely story, about a brilliant guy named Ted Halket coming to grips with his limitations and finding his heart. Ultimately it’s really about family, too, which kind of sneaks up on you as it goes. Any story that uses Albert Einstein as a character is off to a good start with me. Here he functions both as an unattainable scientific ideal and as a flesh and blood man–as well as a wise counselor to Ted, in their periodic imaginary conversations. It turns out that Ted’s father-in-law (whose health is fading) knew Einstein while he was in the military, and he teases Ted with Einstein’s last secret—a scientific truth so huge it could save Ted’s career, which is suffering due to Ted’s complete lack of inspiration. The resolution of that part of the story goes into abstract territory, but Ted’s moves to change his life are both surprising and emotionally convincing. Kristiansen’s painted artwork is beautiful, as always—emphasizing muted pastels and earth tones.
The Sixth Gun: Sons of the Gun is the first of the spin-off miniseries from The Sixth Gun. I’ve seen it labelled Vol. 5.1, but I think it could be read any time after the first volume. It tells a prequel story about General Hume’s horsemen and what they did after their master died. Regular series artist Brian Hurtt gets a co-writer credit on this one (with series writer Cullen Bunn): art duties are handled by Brian Churilla, whose style is so compatible with Hurtt’s that I almost didn’t notice the change at first. It probably helps that regular colorist Bill Crabtree is on board. Just as enjoyable as the main series, so I’m looking forward to catching up with the other spin-off miniseries as well.
Continuing with Gilbert Hernandez’s work from the last couple of years. Julio’s Day (Fantagraphics, 2013) tells the life story of Julio, along with the story of a century at the same time:beginning in 1900 and ending with his death in 2000. Despite the premise, the story focuses on family and neighborhood. Julio never marries, but his brother and sister do, so there is a rich generational story. Major world events impact the story in subtle ways: neighbors go off to serve in WW I, WW II, Korea, Vietnam, and finally Kuwait. The Great Crash of the stock market in 1929 is seen at a distance: these are not rich people, and there are no panel captions spelling out specific place or time.
As always with Hernandez’s stories, there are surreal (not to mention macabre) elements. Like the months-long rain that turns everything into mud; the man who comes home from WW I a paraplegic (which eventually appears to be a case of mistaken identity); and the recurring “blue worm” poisoning that figures prominently throughout the story.