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Luba
posted June 4, 2009
 

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Creator: Gilbert Hernandez
Publishing News: Fantagraphics, hardcover, 596 pages, March 2009, $39.99
Ordering Numbers: 9781560979609 (ISBN13)

This seems more and more like a great book every time I pick it up. I guess I shouldn't be surprised. Luba certainly has the surface qualities of an excellent comics work. It's huge. It's immaculately designed. You can tell from a glance the work inside is potently drawn. Then you read the title and you begin to realize that you're in trouble, that there's a lot more to this great book than some single, overpowering effect. Why that title? How can any suite of comics be more about Luba than those that told her story from childhood to adulthood to parenthood so directly and powerfully?

imageIt's going to be until the end of the year before I can attempt a bigger piece on the book. At that point maybe I'll not only have some explanation for the title but also find something to say about the way Hernandez presents this intoxicating swirl of protective and sexual impulses, the way the esteemed cartoonist treats art as a chaotic buffer between the two, his fascination with physical body types as a life determinant, the stark lines between adult and childhood perception. I feel I can wait that six months before a summary statement because there won't be many works in this calendar year better than this one, and if there I'll be so happy I won't care. Besides, I think it may take me that long to read Luba as many times as is going to be necessary to bleed it of the bulk of what it has to offer. For now I just want people to know how good it is and remind folks that it's out there. It's a good read, too.

I'm currently re-reading Luba with attention towards the characters of Venus and Guadalupe, the two best child characters of the cartoonist's long career, a career stuffed with compelling portrayals of children. The book begins and ends with Venus, folding in some of Hernandez's all-ages work on the character into the narrative in a way that even more greatly emphasizes her status as a willfully clueless outsider, cognizant of the adult goings-on but unwilling and unable to process what they mean. And yet there she is at story's end, entered into adult situations herself but without the same signs of the furtive struggles that deeply wounded her mom and aunt when it was their turn to put a functional, whole identity together. Her moment of temporary exultation at story's end seems well-earned and appropriate.

Guadalupe's rehabilitation is so sneaky that I didn't even notice it reading this work in serial form. Once deprived of a back-and-forth between Gato and Sergio that upended the usual norms for desire and commitment, Guadalupe becomes that much more intertwined into the lives of other members of her family. She makes a more interesting, more lovely incidental presence than she did an object of intense desire. But if you re-read the work you notice it was always like this. She has the capacity for for overwhelming empathy that's also greatly enduring, and of all the beautiful women from Luba's family suffers perhaps the most heartbreak and certainly the most direct rejection. There's something much more real and sad about the character than the grander, more soap operatic tragedies the beset some of the more central characters. And it's not all sad, either.

See what I mean? That's two characters of maybe two dozen with as much stage time. It's going to be a good year spent in this book's company.

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