DRAWN & QUARTERED
Readers of our regular "Drawn and Quartered" column know how much we're fans of the long-running alternative comic book series "Love & Rockets," created by Los Bros Hernandez, Jaime and Gilbert.
Two decades later after its debut, Gilbert Hernandez (a k a Beto) is making a concerted effort to do projects apart from his career-making independent work. He has already done some previous serialized work for DC Comics and its mature-readers imprint Vertigo, and recently had his first graphic novel, "Sloth," released in stores.
Those of us already familiar with his deftly drawn, animation-style characters and recurring stories of magic realism set in the Latin American village of Palomar will take to "Sloth" easily. Drawing upon his own observations as a teenager during punk rock's early underground years, he tells the interlinking story of three friends -- a love triangle between band mates Miguel, Lita and Romeo -- and how they cope with the ennui of a deadening suburban existence.
"Sloth" begins and ends with the characters coming out of and going into comas. The comas are looked on by them as restful times filled with clarity. During their wakeful times, however, they're challenged in a pursuit for love that seems just out of their grasp. Hernandez also throws into the mix an urban legend of a demonic goat-man that inhabits a nearby lemon orchard. The orchard becomes the setting of the trio's subconscious dream states.
Compared to Hernandez's "L&R" stories that stretch over a number of years, "Sloth" is told in a compact 128 pages.
"I like to allow readers a certain amount of projection," Hernandez said by phone from his Las Vegas home, "to have teasers along the way in the story and let them fill in the blanks using their own imaginations. I remember as a teenager I got pretty good at projecting things and events in my head. Using the story thread of the coma was meant to give each of them their own separate voices. It wasn't meant to be a big deal.
"I've always intended this story as a novel. It was meant to be a one-time deal, to use the characters only once. It was the way to go. I feel better about doing longer stories. I've always been frustrated with 'L&R' in the sense that it could only be done in short chapters, and doing it for over so long of a time."
Hernandez spent 2 1/2 years developing "Sloth" while working on other projects. He was making a conscientious attempt to tell a more linear and streamlined piece of work that took place over a short period of time.
"I went through a big period of overwriting where the art was just secondary," he said. "So then I just backed off of that and let the visuals tell the story, and try to strike a more equal balance."
As for his own inspiration, he said, "I look more to film than actual novels, because the latter is so dense and has so much thought. It was important to have the events in 'Sloth' happening in a more realistic way."
He looks at "Sloth" as his "first real major work, and very reader-friendly. I hope that most of its readers will be strangers to 'Love & Rockets.' They'll instead be part of this new, younger generation who enjoy reading graphic novels as opposed to comic books."
If "Sloth" becomes the sales success Hernandez hopes it will be, he said he's got more graphic-novel ideas ready to go. "I want to be able to do all kinds, where one would be serious and the next one would be a wild sci-fi story."