High Soft Lisp
Written & Illustrated by Gilbert Hernandez
Published by Fantagraphics
Perhaps Gilbert Hernandez’s most graphic work since Birdland, High Soft Lisp tells dual narratives of longtime Hernandez protagonist Rosabla “Fritz” Martinez and her ex-husband, washed-up motivational speaker Mark Herrera. Essentially paralleling their incredible vanity with their own descent into self-deluded excess, the book stands out for its depiction of extreme sexual proclivities of each lead character.
Fritz, as longtime Hernandez readers know, threads low self-esteem and extreme sexual adventures together with incredible rapidity, but High Soft Lisp stands out for the sheer bleakness of the narrative. Wallowing in sexual degradation and alcoholic abuse, Fritz wanders through her life, disconnected from the family that gave flexibility to her life in the pages of Luba. Mark Herrera, unwilling to climb out of the orbit surrounding his ex-wives, continues his own routine of casting judgments and proclamations without any tempering self-assessments. This isn’t to say that the book is without its joys – Hernandez maintains a careful, but certainly very dark, thread of humor throughout the entire book, portraying his cast with a knowing irony.
Skipping across several years, Hernandez creates strong character arcs, allowing readers to catch fleeting glimpses of Fritz and Mark as their lives spiral downward. This technique allows for a broader character arc, immersing readers in long-running behaviors that continue to define (and damage) Fritz and Mark’s various relationships and professional endeavors.
A versatile illustrator, Hernandez ably depicts his characters from childhood to middle age, adding wrinkles and lines to convincingly and naturally capture the maturation of each person while still presenting a cast that readers can immediately recognize. His layouts convey the story clearly, and small touches in the characters’ body language and posture reveal tremendous details about their personality and the book’s unfolding plot.
Although it seems to wallow in its sexual exploits more than the theme necessitates, forcing the theme of Fritz’s sexual coping at times, High Soft Lisp remains another Gilbert Hernandez winner. Frank and trippy, sexy and creepy, nobody working in comics creates worlds as deep or intriguing as Gilbert Hernandez’s.