Rich Kreiner reviews Luba by Gilbert Hernandez

Posted by on December 31st, 2009 at 9:00 AM

Fantagraphics;  596 pp.,  $39.99; B&W, Hardcover; ISBN: 97815609796

In ambition, breadth and heft, this far-ranging compilation is the worthy companion to Gilbert’s formidable Palomar volume. While capable of standing on its own, Luba is very much the continuing story of several characters now fully transplanted, unfettered and haunted, from their celebrated Mexican town to the Greater Metropolitan Land of Opportunity. Their histories grow longer, broader, more complex and richer as Hernandez’s rollicking, remorseless social comedy rolls on.

Luba collects stories from a number of sources including Love and Rockets’ Volume II, the Luba miniseries, Measles (an underappreciated all-ages anthology shared with the likes of Trondheim, Bagge, Woodring and brother Jamie), and Luba’s Comics and Stories. That last spotlighted individual cast members during its eight-issue run and allegedly included “deleted material” from the first two titles. It’s one more sign that this assembled book represents something of a “director’s cut” of the saga, in that it trims, adds, alters and shuffles spliced comics done between 1995 and 2007.

It proves a daunting task even for a director as intimately attuned and magnanimous to his characters as Hernandez. His ensemble is large and juggling it is a challenge, especially given the original diverse venues. Players are intertwined yet perfectly capable of recombining in novel ways or simply metamorphosing on their own. When present they command center stage and when absent they are missed

Individual segments have a breezy internal coherence. In juxtaposition, their pacing takes on an odd syncopation, a darting narrative stutter-step relative to plot momentum. There’s a kitchen-sink generosity at work (see single-page humor inserts) even as up-to-the-minute readers know some other sinks remain for some another time (like self-help guru Mark Herrera, here in comparative cameo). Accordingly, Luba may offer less the definitive version of a dynamic chronicle than a version.

Mind you, it all makes sense, and with closer repeated readings things make more sense still. Creative order is upheld at length. Opening and closing segments with Luba’s niece Venus provide the cogent framing device for these generous slices of lives, lives that began before the front cover and just as surely carry on after the back. In delivery, if not content, the book more respects the organic extravagances of life than the anticipatable tidiness of art. But as art, Luba is an ungainly masterwork, perfectly embodying an informal trait of the literary epic, that of being “difficult to enter and impossible to leave.”

Images [©2009 Gilbert Hernandez]

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