Love and Air: El Vocho

Posted by on September 27th, 2010 at 5:21 AM

Rob reviews Steve Lafler’s latest release, El Vocho.

Steve Lafler’s new comic El Vocho is a return to his roots in some respects.  It rambles pleasantly in an episodic fashion, keeping a tenuous hold on its plot.  It’s a caper book with weird twists and turns, echoing a number of the early Dog Boy stories.  It’s a romance more concerned with a new relationship than how the parties involved got there.  It’s a book that deals with certain political issues, but only in a surface manner.  It’s a story that touches on Lafler’s obsession with time, space and the simultaneity of existence.  Finally, it’s a story that exults in being a comic, referencing everything from Chester Gould to Jack Kirby to psychedelia in its character designs and situations.  For such a slender volume and breezy story, there’s a lot to see here.

The story is simple: an eccentric sculptor named Eddie hooks up with an eccentric but sexy inventor/mechanic named Rosa.  Rosa is designing a clean-energy car for a mysterious cartel that might be the mob and might be Big Oil (or some combination thereof) and has to find a way out of their clutches.  If that sounds like a flimsy plot, that’s because it is.  Like his opus Bughouse, the appeal of this book is less in the story than the atmosphere created by character interactions.  Eddie is another Lafler stand-in, one who took to doing quirky found-object sculptures instead of comics.  Rosa is one of his few proactive female characters, one who is in control of her circumstances to an extent not seen in other of Lafler’s comics.

The big weakness of the book is Eddie’s fiance’ Julie, a cypher of a character who serves mostly to react to the introduction of Rosa and leave in a huff.  I’m not sure why Lafler even bothered to introduce this character, other than to give Eddie a more suitable paramour.  Once Eddie and Rosa get together, the wonderful weirdness begins.  The best sequences in the book come when Eddie and Rosa talk through their work processes on their own; it’s two artists trying to find inspiration.  It’s not a Lafler story without a random, unexplained element, and in El Vocho it’s a mysterious figure (who looks not unlike Jack Kirby) who pops up in unexpected places to offer cryptic but ultimately useful advice. Other Lafler staples like the simultaneity of our experience of time creep in as well.  Both Eddie and Rosa experience the sort of deja vu that Lafler considers to be a sign that “it’s always the present”–past, present and future are all the same moment, one that we can only interact with on rare occasions.

At its heart, El Vocho is a book that recapitulates Lafler’s philosophy as an artist: trust your process and inspiration will follow.  Lafler pulls out various ideas from the ether and blends them together pleasantly, tied together by his character design that’s rock-solid, yet loose.  The villains look inspired by classic comics like Dick Tracy: odd faces, trenchcoats and handguns.  The book’s tone is relaxed.  Lafler isn’t in a hurry to go anywhere with the story, allowing the characters to mingle and their chemistry to percolate.  As long as the reader doesn’t mind relaxing into the story, it’s a ride worth taking.

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