The Comic Book Club: “Love & Rockets” and “X-23”

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This is what happens when Techland goes to the comic book store: we end up talking about what we picked up. This week, Douglas Wolk, Evan Narcisse, Mike Williams, Lev Grossman and Graeme McMillan discuss Love & Rockets: New Stories, vol. 3 and X-23 #1.

LEV: I read the first story [in Love & Rockets: New Stories vol. 3]. I WANT TO UN-READ IT NOW PLEASE.

GRAEME: I think that’s a fair appraisal of a lot of Gilbert Hernandez’s stories, to be honest. Or, at least, his “fictional Fritz movies”.

MIKE: Wow, I wasn’t ready for that.

LEV: I’m out. I can’t read any more of that.

DOUGLAS: And you guys play how many first-person shooters?

GRAEME: I forget about that whole “First-person pedophile alien shooters and by shooters I mean with my penis” thing ALL THE TIME. That said, the Jaime stuff this issue is spectacular.

DOUGLAS: Y’all are lucky I didn’t ask you to read Prison Pit.

[More on Techland: Where to Start with Love & Rockets]

GRAEME: It’s actually kind of funny, the disconnect between the Gilbert and Jaime stories – especially in this issue, as both seem weirdly connected, in some way (both provide stories with father/daughter themes, both have moments that are surprisingly violent), but miles away from each other in almost every way. When it comes to the Hernandez Bros., I’ve always been Team Jaime… Not just because his artwork is way more pleasing to my eye – This issue, how beautiful is “The Love Bunglers”? Just look at how simple it looks, but how perfectly he captures Ray as he has dinner with Maggie, it’s so incredibly good – but because his writing is a lot more subtle, and interested in the small, subtle things, that Gilbert’s, if that makes sense. It feels as if, increasingly, Gilbert is working more and more from his fetishes and desire to… shock, maybe? Or do something “different,” for better or worse. But it leaves me cold. I didn’t find Gilbert’s contributions shocking or particularly distasteful, just oddly desperate and disjointed, which I feel more and more with his recent stuff. Jaime’s work, I could read forever and always want some more, but the more I see of Gilbert these days, the more I think I’ve seen enough.

DOUGLAS: I’m both a Jaimeist and a Gilbertist, but right now I kind of feel like Gilbert’s work is going through the third of its transitional phases. The first one was at the beginning of L&R–“BEM” and the Errata Stigmata stuff, before he hit a groove with the Palomar stories that built into “Love & Rockets X” and “Poison River”; the second was the exploratory and experimental pieces in the final issues of the first L&R series and the New Love era, which turned into the (I think) even higher peaks in Luba and High Soft Lisp. I gather that he’s been producing way more material than can fit into Love & Rockets proper, and has substituted stories at some point in production at least once–if I’m remembering correctly, one of the initial stories he drew for this issue was an all-dialogue thing that was replaced by “Killer/Sad Girl/Star,” and is actually going to be running in next year’s issue…

[More on Techland: The Comic Book Club: “The Last Phantom” and “Set to Sea”]

And I do really like the fact that Gilbert is trying his damnedest to push away from the “respectable,” “literary” stuff he’s got a reputation for, and not to repeat himself. He’s always had a taste for stories and devices that are trashy and low-budget and vivid. When that works out, we get things like Speak of the Devil, which I liked a hell of a lot (one of my friends says it’s her favorite comic ever). When it doesn’t work out, we get… “Scarlet by Starlight,” which reminds me that when you set out to write a deliberately weak plot you tend to end up with a weak plot (it’s supposed to be a grade-Z sci-fi soft-porn movie, but still). Plus Gilbert has noted that it and last issue’s “Hypnotwist” “will be later collected together as a ‘double feature’ with added pages of pretty strong sex.” Oh boy.

GRAEME: Maybe that’ll make “Scarlet by Starlight” seem less… gratuitous? Perhaps? I get that he’s trying to be purposefully lowbrow and everything, and I’m sure there’s an audience for it somewhere – Although I can’t help but feel that the audience for it would prefer that Gilbert drew more like Adam Hughes or someone similarly glossy and cheesecakey – but it just feels very out of place next to Jaime’s stuff, and not in a “Hmm, interesting contrast” way.

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