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Chance in Hell
posted August 14, 2007


Creators: Gilbert Hernandez, Rick Altergott (cover painting)
Publishing Information: Fantagraphics, hardcover, 128 pages, 2007, $16.95
Ordering Numbers: 9781560977698 (ISBN13)

imageGilbert Hernandez is one of the best cartoonists in the world, and every project he does deserves attention. Chance in Hell is in a new cycle of books featuring pulp movie stories, I think those movies in which the Fritz character from Love and Rockets played a part. The story concerns a young girl named Empress, whom we first meet as a little girl wandering seemingly unaffected through a wasteland pseudo-community based among the garbage heaps. Although she hardly seems exploited, in fact she is, and the community rallies to protect her as best it can from the worst of it, with horrifying results. This kicks off a cycle of relationships throughout her life where she's protected and cared for, with an ever-widening fissure filled with pain and heartbreak eventually overtaking every situation.

Hernandez has classic storytelling chops, and displays mastery of visual rhythms that probably have more to do with mainstream comics artists of the '60s than they do the latest art-comic hero. Perhaps most noticeable in Chance in Hell is the cartoonist's use of full page or nearly full page moments to drive home an important point or beat. Most of these are thrilling, chords played across a set of visual strings that feel rich and resonant. One could probably write a paper on how Hernandez approximates film here with a variety of panel structures rather than a static one that simply represents screen. Mostly what intrigues is Hernandez's ability to delve into really dark subjects, in this case a criticism of society as a mechanism for control and order, no matter how fully implemented into the lives of its people.