Gilbert Hernandez (photo by Luigi Novi)

This week we’re going to look at two recent graphic novels by one of the masters of the form, Gilbert Hernandez. Gilbert, along with his brother Jaime, and occasionally his other brother, Mario, has been churning out mind-blowing comics for three decades under the “Love And Rockets” banner.

Gilbert is the mastermind behind the acclaimed “Palomar” and “Luba” stories, which are not your usual comic book fare. Hernandez has woven a grand tapestry that tells the story of multiple generations of a family of strong-willed Mexican women, who go through surreal tribulations with tinges of science fiction and hard-boiled crime drama mixed in with Latino soap-opera pacing.

Fritz, the B-Movie Goddess

One of the characters in these stories is Fritz, the pale-skinned, well-endowed sister of Luba, who before becoming a psychoanalyst, was a B-Movie star.

In 2007, Hernandez embarked on a series of graphic novels based on the movies that Fritz starred in (these were referred to in Love And Rockets over the years).

in 2007, Hernandez told The Comics Journal, “I’m doing manga-sized
books featuring sleazy, violent sex stories with no redeeming social value whatsoever.”

“These books will be ‘adaptations’ of ‘films’ featuring my film actress character Fritz (Luba’s sister). They will be self-contained ‘B-movie’ stories, but will read like graphic novels. The reader won’t need to know any continuity with the character, as she will be someone else in each book. This all began when I was preparing to feature Fritz’s films in L&R, but I got ambitious when I started the first story. I wanted to start doing graphic novels, anyway, so I just put two and two together. Art and indulgence working together once again.”

Empress, the little girl with a "Chance In Hell"

Two books have come out so far, “Chance In Hell,” and “The Troublemakers,” with a third, “Love From The Shadows” due out in a couple of months.

The first two books in this series are real winners. Freed from the stress of maintaining a serial story, Hernandez is able to indulge in a more concise form of storytelling, and in 120 pages, he manages to perfectly evoke the luridness of a B-movie, but also deliver top-notch comic book storytelling.

Rick Altergott's exploitation-style cover

“Chance In Hell” is a surreal story of a young girl in a horrible world where children are abandoned at a local dump and have to fend for themselves. The girl, named “Empress” is rescued and raised by a poetry editor whose motives are never clear. Fleeing from him and a life on the street, she winds up in a convent, and then in an apparently happy relationship, but she still has demons to confront.

Rather than a B-movie, this graphic novel reminds me of a 1970s art house flick. It’s engrossing, bizarre and open to interpretation. Fritz has a minor role in this story, which is a bit of a departure from Hernandez’s usual work, but still shows off his considerable talents.

“The Troublemakers” is a Russ Meyer movie in graphic novel form, only with a far more complex plot. This one’s a grindhouse-style story of two women and a man with a shared past and a penchant for con games. There’s sex and gore and double, triple and quadruple-crosses.

The Troublemakers, cover by Altergott

Fritz’s character in this is “Nala,” one of the Troublemakers, who gets involved in a plot to swindle a mark out of two-hundred thousand dollars. The twists come fast and furious, and you never know what’s coming next.

Both books show off Hernandez at the top of his game. They’re also both adult-oriented books, equal to a hard-R-rated movie. Hernandez has done some work appropriate for kids (most recently in “The Simpsons” comic books), but these aren’t for the young ones.

Hernandez is obviously having a blast doing these, and using the movies Fritz made, he could do dozens more if he wanted. Both books are highly recommended for the discerning comic book reader.Both books each feature a painted cover by Rick Altergott (Doofus, Raisin Pie) who captures the look of the exploitation movie poster very well.

A quick scene from "The Troublemakers"

Published by Fantagraphics Books.

“Chance In Hell” ISBN-13: 978-1-560-97833-6
“The Troublemakers” ISBN: 978-1-56097-922-7

Both books, as well as other “Love And Rockets” collections, like “High Soft Lisp” can be ordered locally at Taylor Books and Lost Legion Games and Comics the Rifleman.