Writer: Gilbert Hernandez
Artist: Gilbert Hernandez
Publisher: Fantagraphics Books
I don’t have a ton of experience with Gilbert Hernandez’s work, reading bits and pieces of Love & Rockets over the years. Basically, I’ve gleaned that his storytelling style is 50 % soap opera and 50% magical reality, incorporating a cast of characters that are among the most richly developed in comics. Well, these elements hold true in the newest installment of New Tales of Old Palomar. The only things I would add are the outstanding panel constructions and line drawings in this issue. This is definitely the best artwork I have ever seen Hernandez produce. Issue #3 is a visual treat that will please even the crankiest reader, showing us a land full of iconic imagery and emotional power. There are two tales in this issue, both titled “The Children of Palomar”, which feature two particularly colorful characters of Palomar, Tonantzin and Sheriff Chelo. The first tale is your basic ghost tale, illustrating the themes of pregnancy and mysticism in this realistic landscape. The second story, and the weirdest of the two, concerns Sheriff Chelo and her confrontation with foreign ‘bird researchers’ who have made camp in Palomar. While both tales are beautifully unique, the soap opera elements that lurk all around this issue are sometimes very distracting to readers like me, who haven’t followed Hernandez’s chronicles of Palomar over the years. However, that doesn’t mean that I don’t want to go back to read more of the preceding comics, since there is obviously a fantastic world crafted here. Honestly, for eight dollars, this is an issue that should only be purchased by avid fans of Hernandez’s work.
In the first New Tale, Tonantzin (a vendor of fried babosas or slugs) encounters a supernatural baby who apparently appears to women who will be forever barren. I did a little research, and the interesting thing about this storyline is that Tonantzin’s name is the same as an Aztec fertility goddess. So, the fact that she will always be barren, even with her ample child-bearing hips, strikes an ironic chord that is so prevalent in Hernandez’s fiction. The combination of the mundane and the mystical is apparent throughout, from the gathering of Palomar’s women at the local swimming hole to the giant shadow creature that towers over the small town. What makes everything so believable are the tolerant reactions of the townsfolk to the apparent appearance of the Blooter Baby, even though most people can only hear the strange creature rather than see it. It’s an acceptance of the unknown that most people in our current society find hard, if not impossible. The other intriguing element in this story regards the Blooter Baby leading Tonantzin to a swimming hole where Chelo, Luba, and Pipo are discussing children and childbirth. Tonantzin overhears Luba discussing what pain childbirth is, as well as the comment, “Kids are like suicide.” Does the Blooter Baby want Tonantzin to accept her childless fate? Who knows, but the story ends with her display of maternal instinct, as she assists the giant Blooter back to the Field of Giants.
This leads directly into the second tale, which is also the more action-packed of the two (if a Hernandez tale can be described as such). The main character in this short is Chelo, but once again children play a major role in the proceedings. The only difference is the children are grown, though the memories of childhood are still apparent. In the shadow of the Blooter Baby statue, Heraclio and Fritz talk about a boogeyman called the ‘Man with the Sack’ who would take kids away in a sack and put them in a boiling kettle. In a way, this mirrors what happens to Chelo at the hands of the foreign bird researchers who kidnap and mutilate her. Their vehicle resembles a kettle in many ways, though the researchers are the ones who get ‘boiled’ in the end. I’m still not quite sure what the motives of these strange people are (what’s the deal with the eyes?), but they are the perfect strange inhabitants in this strange land.
Like I said before, this is some of the best artwork I have ever seen by Gilbert Hernandez, and is one of the main reasons independent comic lovers should pick up this work. Expressions and panel constructions (though extremely people-centric) are top-notch, displaying a wealth of knowledge concerning graphic fiction. However, if you’re unfamiliar with the Palomar storylines, you may feel lost in the proceedings, even though you can pick up the general gist. Obviously, this issue of New Tales of Old Palomar is just as much for the invested fans as the casual comic shopper, but the true richness of the world will only be appreciated by the long-time readers. For a 32 page comic with a $7.95 cover price, these are probably the only readers who should buy this third issue anyway.
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