By Gilbert Hernandez
Published by Fantagraphics Books
On page 521 of this 522 page book, there are four panels that serve to sum up the power, grace and glory of Gilbert Hernandez's accomplishment. Luba, the lead character of Palomar the book and Palomar the village, has announced she is leaving for the United States. The entire village seems to move as one as it gathers together to see Luba off to the next stage of her long, storied life. In these four, silent panels, after spending hundreds of pages with these people, the reader is moved to quiet awe at the import of the moment.
Yes, part of it is that you recognize virtually every one of the unique inhabitants of the village and smile at your secret knowledge of their secret passions and weaknesses. Yes, part of it is the recognition of an exciting, worthwhile journey reaching its conclusion. Certainly, a good part of it is the pleasure you take in having been led to this moment so confidently and pleasurably by one of the most skilled storytellers ever.
Mostly, though, it's the powerful realization that you know these people. The ultimate achievement of Palomar as a collection is that having all these stories together, in order, after decades of serialization, truly feels like coming home. Palomar is a fitting monument to the decades Gilbert Hernandez has spent creating his stories. At just under forty dollars, it would be a bargain at twice the price, a durable collection of some of the best comics ever created.
I've been reading Love and Rockets (the original home of most of these stories) since the first Fantagraphics issue in the early 1980s. It would be fair to say that the series redefined what I thought comics could be, with its peculiar blend of smooth, eye-pleasing cartooning and wild, unpredictable and utterly convincing characters -- especially the women.
It was revelatory to me to read all these stories again, truly as if for the first time, and realize how many of these women I had a crush on at one time or another. The men in Gilbert's stories are sometimes driven to madness and the depths of despair by their passion for the women of Palomar -- and those emotions are accepted and sympathized with by the reader because Hernandez so masterfully depicts the complexity of human relationships and the power and unattainable grace that men see in the women they desire. Just another reason why these stories are so compelling and unforgettable.
Palomar is not a single story, although it feels that way by the end. It is composed of almost a dozen smaller tales broken down further into chapters, each of which showcases on a specific set of characters at a specific time in the village's history. Themes and events recur and resonate, revelations come sometimes subtly, sometimes with the impact of a hammer to the head. Like a symphony in ink and paper, Palomar dazzles with its deft variations between the large and the small, the quiet and the loud, the beautiful and the hideous. It's about lives lived, not always well, but always with passion, hope, and a sense of humour.
The people of the village of Palomar become real through these stories. Like other great literature, once you close the book, you find yourself wondering what they're doing now, what has become of the families and friends and rivals and enemies of this legendary little place with its strange statues, fried slugs and defiant, one-armed children. The good news is, there's more stories out there waiting to be collected. After reading this volume, you'll be hungry for more. Grade: 5/5
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