Last week, I looked at what Jaime Hernandez did right after the ending of the first Love and Rockets comics series in 1996. At the time, that could have been anything: completely different comics work, gallery paintings, film work, becoming a hermit in darkest Upper Slower Slobbovia. But, as it turned out, Jaime continued the same story sequence in basically the same tone and style in a series of related comics series.
And his brother Gilbert did the same thing: Luba and Her Family collects comics from mostly 1995 through 2001 (with one 2011 story up front just to confuse bibliographers of the future) that originally appeared in floppy form in Luba and Luba’s Comics and Stories and Measles and New Love. It follows most obviously from the latter clump of stories in Human Diastrophism and from the two graphic novels in Beyond Palomar; the focus is on Luba and her sisters Fritzi and Petra, and their extended families in Southern California — particularly on Petra’s precocious daughter Venus.
They’re not stories set in Palomar, but they’re stories of that now-extended cluster of people with connections to Palomar. Besides the cluster of stories about Venus, there’s also the short serial “Luba in America,” presented here in something like its original serialized form, each installment interspersed between other stories, though feeling like it was originally going to be longer. And the rest of the stories are less defined: they’re mostly about Luba’s daughters, particularly TV-show-host Doralis, and there’s a minor thread running through about how nearly all of them are lesbians and haven’t managed to tell their mother yet. But, mostly, they’re Gilbert family stories: each showing another moment or series of moments, another set of interactions in this big family full of prickly complex people, and how they’re bouncing off each other this time.
The Venus stories are probably the most interesting and distinct: Hernandez had been doing complicated-family stories for twenty years at this point, and he was definitely good at them, but the outlines and details were familiar. Venus, on the other hand, was a smart kid — probably nine or ten in these stories — in a rich-kid LA setting, equally concerned with her friends, her family, and comic books. She gives us a different perspective on her family — particularly her deeply selfish mother — in an almost unreliable-narrator way; Venus sees or is close to things that we’re not sure she understands or can process correctly. Venus herself mostly keeps a light tone: she’s young, and deliberately happy, and surrounded by a big loving (sometimes loving too much with the wrong people, but that’s a different point) family. But the reader is presumably older and more experienced than she is: we see and understand things she glosses over.
But, mostly, this is middle-period Hernandez: he’s moved beyond the magical realism-tinted village stories of the early days to something more traditionally soap-operatic, with the central elements sexual affairs and old secrets and family ties. These particular stories are all domestic, without the gangster flourishes of Poison River or the noir stylings of his later “movie” books of this century. This book might be the best example of that kind of pure domestic Gilbert Hernandez story available now, and close to the beginning of the stories of these people.