Palomar: The Complete Heartbreak Soup Stories

Author:Gilbert Hernandez
Genre:Graphic Novel

First, I'll point out that this is the largest comic book I've ever read. It's nearly six hundred pages, about 9x12 inches, hard cover, and weighs a ton.

At first it's a confusing read. The book follows about thirty important characters in this rural Mexican town, and you have to have some idea of the relationships among all of them to make any sense out of it.

Then, in a way, things get worse. When I'm reading a comic, I expect it to be picaresque; every new story starts off in more or less the same place. After all, I don't believe Archie and Jughead ever graduated from high school. This is different, though - it takes place over about twenty years of the life of the town. So, as you progress, you have to remember who has a crush on whom, who once slept with whom, who went to the big city, who went to jail, who moved to the United States, and why.

On top of this, there are some flat-out surreal episodes, especially the one where the town is infested with monkeys and some workers from a nearby archeological dig have to help kill them, and one of the workers turns out to be a serial killer, and one local kid is an artist who witnesses the killing but doesn't tell anyone. You have a feeling sometimes that these episodes are somehow symbolic, but they're also real in the lives of the characters, and they look back on them in future episodes.

Initially, it took me a while to get into the soap-opera (telenovela?) storyline, but eventually the characters' lives go through so many twists and turns that you get caught up in it. It's like one of the "big novels" of classic literature, where you really need to see the entire life of the family before it makes any sense at all. In fact, one of the blurbs on the jacket compared Hernandez to Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

In How Proust Can Change Your Life, Alain de Botton talks about recognizing people you know in the characters in great literature. Hernandez is one of those kind of writers; as you follow the characters over their whole lives, they become less like soap-opera types (the femme fatale, the snob musician, the strong earth mother) and more like real people.

No comments: