Gilbert "Beto" Hernandez is one of the comic medium's true humanists. Few of his colleagues can rival his ability to spin complex, sprawling sagas that are both deeply moving and full of genuine sympathy for an often flawed humanity. At just a hundred pages, Julio's Day is one of his most accessible works. But all the hallmarks of his personal style are there: The timeless quality, the fantastic bubbling just below the surface, a love for the rural, the occasional bursts of non-gratuitous sex and violence, the interconnected stories, the multicultural milieu, the multigenerational family saga, strong and independent women, fully rounded gay and minority characters, and of course all told in his minimal but expressionistic black and white cartoons.
Beto accomplishes this by breaking up the narrative into vignettes which last at most half a dozen pages. The story begins with the day of the titular character's birth to a working class Latino family in small-town America at the turn of the century. What follows are glimpses into his life as seen through various moments as he grows to adulthood. While much of his early childhood focuses on his immediate family, the cast naturally expands with his own evolving circle of friends, neighbors, acquaintances, random strangers, and fur flung relatives. Julio himself in not a particularly proactive individual, so the attention in the latter part of the book increasingly shifts to the various people who move in and out of his life. In fact, Julio is often emotionally and sexually repressed. He's the dull contrabass that hums steadily while other people around him experience the highs and lows: happiness, tragic loss, hatred and love. Some even leave to explore the wider world, and return to recount their varied experiences. As the focus pans back and forth between the characters and time moves forward in an unpredictable manner, what emerges is a highly contrapuntal representation of 20th century America, refracted through the lives of the citizens of one town. While never directly shown, the faint rumble of significant events can be vaguely felt like the gathering storm clouds that dominate the stark landscape.
And this is a surprisingly poignant story. The breezy pace doesn't allow the reader to tarry long with any one individual. In theory, each vignette could have been explored in greater detail. But the brevity touches on certain emotional points while deliberately leaving much to the imagination. Various connections are implied - Sexual denial being a recurring theme with Julio's family. It metastasizes in the form of the perverse behavior of one uncle who is eventually driven out of town. This leads years later into a quest for vengeance. And yet those events also lead to one member of Julio's extended family finding redemption and finally breaking free of those familial constraints.
It's a humble victory, but it's made more powerful by the absolute nothingness that bookends this economic but deeply affecting work.
They’re missing the full spectrum of these character’s emotional lives. The most important thing is the long-involved soap operas. It’s a type of narrative that you don’t get anywhere else except on very long-running soap operas, where characters can go into depth. 20 pages every month going into these characters lives over decades give you a lot more insight and a lot more involvement than say a two hour movie, even with Robert Downey Jr. - Grant MorrisonNot to be snide (Okay, I'm being snide), but is that why DC keeps trying to soft-reboot their decades of continuity?
I prefer not to confuse the superhero genre itself with its often associated soap opera elements and their accompanying virtues and shortfalls. With the theatrical success of the Marvel franchise, it's becoming more and more the case of "horses for courses" with different kinds of audiences forming outside of the traditional comic book fanbase. Those sprawling narratives are just not as essential as they once were, if that ever was the case. Overall, I think that's not a bad thing. In some ways, the finite stories in these movies are a return to the more widespread accessibility of the so-called Golden Age of comic book storytelling.
The conclusion to Honey and Clover comes with few real surprises. As the series is basically a towering monument to the majesty of unrequited love, it's no real shock that none of the main characters end up together. At least not in the way expected in more traditional romantic comedies. After all, the whole thing is narrated by Yūta Takemoto, the unluckiest guy in the gang. And the tone throughout the series strongly implies that they'll eventually drift apart. As pointed out in Vol. 8, the only two people to have something remotely resembling a relationship are Ayumi Yamada and Takumi Mayama, though not with each other. And even when the volume catches up with them for one final look, their respective narratives are far from settled. Coming from the series' more down-to-earth characters, this unfinished state feels appropriate to the story. It's how things are concluded between Yūta, Shinobu Morita and Hagumi Hanamoto where things start to get a little odd.
Shinobu and Hagu have been in love with each other for quite some time, and have been torturing each other like two shy Fifth Graders who can't quite admit to their mutual attraction. The last volume ended in an emotional high as they finally confessed to having those feelings. But could these two volatile geniuses ever compromise their gifts or their aspirations? I've always found Hagu to be the least relatable of the entire cast, though the inner strength and determination she's exhibited of late have gone a long way to making her a more sympathetic character. But in the end, artistic passion wins over love. Hagu isn't looking so much for a partner, but apparently more of a father figure to watch over her while she heals. And when one does show up in the one plot twist I didn't see coming, he's willing to fulfill this role even if his own feelings towards her are never returned. The self-sacrifice is meant to be seen as something wonderful. But I found this match incredibly depressing, and to be honest, even a little disturbing.* But at least Shinobu finds his niche working with fun lovin' gaijin who can keep up with his misfit persona.
And so, the series ends just as it began - Yūta alone with his own thoughts. Looking back on the last five years, he asks "… if love that never bears fruit means anything. If something that vanishes and is gone is the same as something that never was." I'd say that the vivid emotions engendered by his own recollections have answered the question. And his last meeting with Hagu is so bittersweet it absolutely floored me.
The latter part of this volume includes some ancillary material, including two bonus chapters that are more in line with the lighthearted humor of the earlier volumes. Not that the silliness was ever expunged from the series. Far from it...
* I guess that even adult romance stories must have at least one creepy pairing.
Did you know the never-ending battle began 75 years ago today? Comics would never the same.
Action Comics pages referenced here.
Update: DC confuses. Cleveland rocks.
|Back then, Superman was a bit of a jerk to the rich and powerful.|
Joseph Shuster: We were both great science-fiction fans, reading Amazing Stories and Wonder Stories in those days.
Jerome Siegel: When Joe and I first met, it was like the right chemicals coming together. I loved his artwork... I thought he had flair - though he was a beginner - I thought he had the flair of a Frank R. Paul, who was one of the best science-fiction illustrators in the field.
Shuster: And I was an avid reader of H.G. Wells -
Siegel: Right... Joe as well as I; and we were both reading the same type of material.
Joanne Siegel: In fact, the three of us were destined to meet, because we were kids all playing at being grown up, trying desperately to be grown up. And since that first day of our friendship, we're still together.
― From a 1983 interview published in Nemo #2.
|Lois Lane standing up to the Man. Well, a man.|
... So I ask you to please consider – do these mean spirited tactics meet with your approval? Do you really think the families of Superman’s creators should be treated this way?
As you know, DC and Warner Bros. have profited enormously from 72 years of exploiting Jerry and Joe’s wonderful creation. Superman is now a billion dollar franchise and has been DC’s flagship property for all this time.
― Joanne Siegel in a 2010 open letter to Jeffrey L. Bewkes of Time Warner Inc. regarding the corporation's actions directed towards the Shuster and Siegel families during their protracted legal battle to reclaim the rights to Superman.Superman and Lois Lane were created by Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel. Lois was originally modeled by Joanne Siegel.
Action Comics pages referenced here.
Update: DC confuses. Cleveland rocks.
As expected, vol. 9 of Honey and Clover advances the individual story lines of Hagumi "Hagu" Hanamoto and Shinobu Morita in a manner that is comparatively more melodramatic than those of the rest of the cast. We're finally let into what exactly Morita and his older brother have been up to all this time, and their actions retroactively explain Shinobu's prolonged periods of absence from school and his often fanatical obsession with accumulating vast sums of money while still remaining exceptionally miserly towards everyone.
Both Shinobu and Hagu have been largely defined as the series resident geniuses. In many ways, this role has hemmed them in. While most of Shinobu's friends, classmates and teachers have tolerated his selfishness on account of the brilliant work he supposably turns in from time to time, they've handled Hagu with kid gloves. She's the delicate flower whose extraordinary gifts must be carefully nurtured lest they wilt. At the beginning these surface differences resulted in much comic relief as the two butted heads for alpha-artist status, despite an obvious mutual attraction developing between them. But for the most part they're remained enigmatic figures, and after awhile this gets kind of boring to read. Something needed to be done to shake them up, which is what happens here.
What this volume demonstrates more clearly is how being labelled a genius has isolated these two characters. We learn that throughout the series Shinobu has been assisting his brother in a personal vendetta against the people who've wronged their late father. Shinobu is compassionate and loyal to a fault, but he's beginning to manifest some dissatisfaction over being perceived primarily through his incredible talent. Nevertheless he doesn't reveals his quest to the rest of the cast, further increasing his separation.
Hagu can't avoid being infantilized for her childlike stature and mannerisms. It doesn't help that she's supremely timid. Hagu claims that she wants to return to her childhood home once she graduates from art school. But she's at the cusp of admitting that she might actually want more out of life. The central event of this volume is a horrible accident that pushes her to grow up a little. While Hagu has demonstrated amazing powers of concentration in the past, this is the first time she's had to apply herself in ways that are well outside her comfort zone.
As for the third person in their love triangle, Yūta Takemoto is left mainly on the sidelines. He briefly considers abandoning his career plans to care for Hagu, before realizing how disastrous a choice that would be for everyone. As the POV character, Yūta is the primary voice for the series deeply nostalgic tone. He's a guy who expresses regret that the cast wasn't able to go on a certain beach excursion, and he conjures up an imaginary beach episode in his mind. It sure does suck to be Yūta. While the last volume focused on some of his friends moving on with their romantic relationships, not only does his five-year long infatuation remain unrequited, he'll be moving away after graduation and lose regular contact with everyone. No wonder the entire manga's narration is so wistful.
Getting back to Shinobu and Hagu, the accident is the catalyst that finally compels them to confront their shared anxieties, and someone raises the possibility of leaving it all behind. Can these two escape their respective reputations? Could these two volatile personalities even function well together?
|Comics Will Break Your Heart|
(pencil & watercolour on 300gsm paper)
A5 (148 x 210mm, 5.7 x 8.3 inches)
This sketch tells the story behind the quote that opens Hicksville. It was told to me by James Romberger, an artist and cartoonist whose amazing graphic novel Seven Miles a Second (written by activist and artist David Wojnarowicz) has just been reissued by Fantagraphics.
In the 1980s, Romberger met Kirby at a convention in New York. Kirby kindly looked at Romberger’s work and then gave him a piece of advice: “Kid, you’re one of the best. But put your work in galleries. Don’t do comics. Comics will break your heart.” - Dylan Horrocks
|Hi, I'm Mr. Creepy!|
|Crossbox House, by CG Architectes Pont-Péan, France, 2009|
|Adriance House by Adam Kalkin, somewhere in Northern Maine, USA, 2012|
|Cove Park, Scotland, by Urban Space Management, 2002 and 2006|
Go to: i09, by Vincze Miklós