Axel-In-Charge: Unmasking the "Totally Awesome Hulk"
Interviews with Love and Rockets co-creator Gilbert Hernandez are increasingly rare treasures. It seems the man behind the decades-spanning Palomar/Luba/Fritz saga — a story at first centered on the people of a remote Latin American village, then on one of its more irascible and memorable leading ladies, then on her irresistible but troubled sister — has preferred to let his work speak for him. So I was delighted to discover that he’d opened up again, this time to our own Chris Mautner. And in Chris’s interview with Beto over at CBR, Hernandez is not mincing words. He speaks like a man fed up with restraints of any kind — those placed on him by his early, beloved “Palomar” tales, or by his fans and critics, or by the financial limitations of professional cartooning, or by the shape of the market, or by what he sees as the timid state of contemporary comics itself. None of this all that surprising given his ever more savage, unsparing work, particularly in the “Fritz” cycle of graphic novels ostensibly adapted from the low-budget films in which the character starred, but hearing him say it all in so many words makes for a bracing read. Take a look:
Exploitation allows for madness and obsession to be explored more deeply. I’m still surprised at how many adults are intimidated by sex in comics. Many L&R readers and critics don’t know what to make of that kind of material from me, and I tried not to emphasize the movie connection at first. But it seems many readers are interested in the tenuous link to the “Palomar” world. I’m one of the few left making crazy comics, it seems….
The Fritz series frees me of any obligation to be a do-gooder cartoonist, something most regular L&R readers probably don’t want to hear. I felt straight jacketed with “Palomar” and the like after a while, really. I have a lot more going on in my imagination than I’m expected to utilize. I do enjoy B-movies and comics, from their beginnings in the 1930s to the mid-1970s. Comics I like after that are few and far between. Non-superhero mainstream comics have become so conservative and dull to me; you can see the same thing on TV these days. And indy comics are so PC and precious, I have little interest in them as well. Comics used to be a place where you could only find what they were about in comics, now comics have to keep up with movies and TV, where it used to be the other way around.
Some sweeping statements in there (trust me, there are plenty of indy comics that aren’t “PC and precious” going on right now) and some accurate statements as well (The Comics Journal’s Tom DeHaven’s review of Beto’s latest, Love from the Shadows, offers ample evidence that some readers are indeed sick of Hernandez’s turn to the extreme) and some that are probably both at the same time. I’ll tell you one thing, though: The passion on display in this interview most definitely radiates out of every panel of Gilbert’s recent work, which is among the most powerful and uncompromising of his storied career. Read the interview, read the comics, witness one of the medium’s most fearless artists at work, and decide for yourself whether it’s all for good or ill.