January 23, 2007

Life is But a Dream

This book was a nominee for the graphic novels category of the 2006 Cybil Awards.

I wish I could express to you just how great it was being in that coma. It's like I lived a different life on a different world as real as the one we all live in.

Though I wasn't a regular reader of the Hernandez brothers' series Love & Rockets, it was definitely one of the more popular comics when I was a teenager, with a very distinctive visual style. So, I was intrigued and eager to read Gilbert Hernandez's Sloth, his first original graphic novel.

Depressed and enervated by small-town life among the lemon orchards which always gave him nightmares as a child, Miguel gradually just drifts inside himself and slips into a mysterious coma. It's his way of coping, and, rather perversely, it's what keeps him sane. He hasn't had an easy life—he was raised by his grandparents after his parents abandoned him as a child.

One day, just as mysteriously as he fell into the coma, he awakens—exactly a year later. Miguel must reconcile himself to living in the small town surrounded by lemon orchards that have been the stuff of urban legends and scary cautionary stories; he must once again get to know his friends, his bandmates, and his girlfriend Lita; and all the while, he must cope with the strange slowness that is the lasting legacy of his coma.

But things have changed during his year of unconsciousness, in ways he can't quite grasp. What is the exact nature of the relationship between his girlfriend Lita and his best friend Romeo? Can their band stay together now that Miguel is…a little different? What about the urban legends about the goatman who supposedly lives in the lemon orchards and is reputedly able to switch places—switch souls—with someone through sheer willpower?

This whole book has a very dreamlike, slightly creepy atmosphere; the story is enigmatic and the black-and-white line art is crisp and stark. According to a quote on the cover by Publishers Weekly, Hernandez has been compared to Gabriel Garcia Marquez; this isn't a bad comparison, since Sloth has qualities of magical realism, of strange possibilities that can't be explained. To be honest, there were times during my reading of this book that I really wasn't sure what exactly was going on, and I was left unsure what actually happened. The story seems to pose the question What IS the "real" world, and is it necessarily static, or can it be changed by sheer willpower? This is another idiosyncratic and original contribution to the comics world from Vertigo Comics, and I hope to see more work from Hernandez in the future.

No comments: