This time John decides to publicly embarrass himself by looking at something way out of his league- LOVERBOYS by Gilbert Hernandez. He strained himself so badly he couldn't really think of anything to put here. Aw, bless. LOVERBOYS by Gilbert Hernandez
Anyway, this... LOVERBOYS Story and Art by Gilbert Hernandez Dark Horse Books, $19.99 US, $21.99 CAN (2014)
This is an original graphic novel by the dizzyingly prolific Gilbert “Betty” Hernandez. Now, I am an unforgiving man and so don't fool yourself for one Holmfirth Second that there are any kudos to be had in these parts simply for sheer volume of output, or even length of service. The rule of thumb hereabouts is generally that the more a comics author produces regularly then the less worthy of note it is. Given the vast quantities of pages which the Comics Machine demands filling each month it's little wonder that even the most talented authors find their gifts become stretched, until they are present only in homeopathic quantities. And those are the most talented, never mind the rest of the Trex merchants. Ugh. Of course if there's a rule of thumb then there's always going to be someone who defies it so strongly they don't just break it, they snap it right the Hell off. These people are the true geniuses (genii? Or are those the dudes in lamps?) These people are pretty easy to notice. After all they just broke your thumb, figuratively speaking. Yes, Gilbert Hernandez is one of them. And in LOVERBOYS he's on fine figuratively speaking thumb snapping form.
Because the big thing about geniuses, which we've established Gilbert Hernandez is, is that everything they do is worthy of attention. Me, I'll buy everything Gilbert Hernandez does. Eventually anyway; I have fiscal responsibilities beyond paper entertainment, alas. So, yeah, well spotted, LOVERBOYS isn't the kind of thing I'd generally seek out subject-matter wise. By way of engorged contrast to all those war comics I morbidly maunder about to excess, I guess LOVERBOYs is about what people get up to in times of peace; they get up to each other, up to the nuts, in fact. Folk in LOVERBOYS are very much making love not war, but as the philosopher Patrick Benetar trilled, Love Is A Battlefield. And so it proves here, but rather than a Stoeger .22 calibre Luger or a North American P-51 Mustang the weapons of choice herein are emotions and genitals. Yes, cockle warmingly, people will always find a way to hurt each other. We're an inventive species alright. In LOVERBOYS everyone is just looking for happiness but everyone is still getting hurt.
It may seem weird that I liked LOVERBOYS so much, because I am, for my sins, English. Being English I am genetically wired to recoil in flustered distaste from any hint of emotion, and to hide my face behind the paper whenever feelings are invoked at the breakfast table. Basically, and I think I speak for all Englishmen everywhere in this, getting through, say, as a for example, no offence and all that, Matt Fraction's backmatter is as pleasant as having to change the nappy of another person's child. And yet despite all that, despite the perfectly healthy English aversion to emotional engagement, despite the fact that LOVERBOYS is all about emotions I was all over LOVERBOYS like an embarrassing rash (a dash of penicillin, I'm thinking).
Mostly I liked it because Gilbert Hernandez, but also because I am quite an emotionally dark man and because LOVERBOYS is a very dark book. This darkness is beguilingly furtive and runs counter to the bright and open style art Hernandez employs throughout. It's a very loose and energetic style, a kind of rendering down to cartoony fundamentals, the apparent carelessness of which is belied by the strength with which such a style delivers its (many) emotional blows. It's a deceptively simple style and its chief deception is in making the complex interaction of the large cast across a lengthy time span appear as direct and lucid as an Archie comic. Which it sure as shooting isn't. But then, unforgivably, I haven't really told you what LOVERBOYS is. Hold on! The precis bus has just pulled into the station. Talk about timing. (Smooth, huh?) Anyway, the disparate characters of LOVERBOYS all orbit the flamboyantly chested teacher Mrs. Paz and their emotional interactions spiral to a crescendo which result in collateral damage; damage which extends nor only to insidiously infect the children of the town, but also the actual physical town of Lágrimas itself, when the explosiveness of the situation stops being figurative and becomes dangerously literal. At the risk of being awarded a cash prize for Perceptiveness I'm kind of thinking a lot of LOVERBOYS is metaphorical rather than literal. We have a Mrs Paz (i.e. Peace) who lives in the town of Lágrimas (Tears), all the cats have disappeared, people's jobs (teacher aside) are nebulous and just in case there's any doubt there is a mysterious bunker in which whispering secret stealing “little people” live alongside dynamite. But alongside this in baffling harmony are quite perfectly realistic human interactions. The mundane and the fantastic are intertwined in LOVERBOYS like, uh, lovers. And like such coupling any friction between the two disparate elements is purely pleasant.
Oh, don't worry the book's called LOVERBOYS but it's visually a PG-13, with nary the sight of a gristle whistle and all the spelunking in lady caves happens off page. The emphasis is very definitely on the emotional fallout and undercurrents the physical stuff sets in motion. A lot of the time LOVERBOYS reminded me of a Douglas Sirk movie, but one where Douglas Sirk died on the first day of shooting thus forcing Russ Meyer to step in and with the end results so heavily censored that all the heaving and shrieking ended up on the cutting room floor. So, you know, don't be giving this book that teeth grinding stuff about how it's just some old dude whacking off in public, because all that's on show here are the insidious dangers and slow damage incurred by the innocent search for happiness. Which is to say - life. And if you find life itself worth whacking off over you better pace yourself or you'll chafe. Pacing, however, isn't a problem for Gilbert Hernandez who keeps on keeping on and here with LOVERBOYS proves himself once more EXCELLENT!
Sometimes Love speaks through - COMICS!!!