Written & Illustrated by Gilbert Hernandez
Published by Fantagraphics
Gilbert Hernandez’s latest book, The Troublemakers, continues his series of movies-within-comics. In his Love & Rockets series, Hernandez’s sometime protagonist Rosalba “Fritz” Martinez gave up her psychiatry practice to become a B-movie queen, and The Troublemakers is – after 2007’s Chance in Hell – the second Fritz “movie.” In this book, Hernandez’s plot follows four grifters, each trying to get their mitts on a $200,000 payout.
A few years ago, Hernandez seemed to be experimenting with comics (see Grip: The Strange World of Men) in the style of filmmaker David Lynch – stories heavy with surrealism and obscurely symbolic imagery. With his “movie” books, Hernandez has moved into the milieu of another filmmaker, Quentin Tarantino, by embracing and indulging in the excesses and clichés of his cinematic inspirations. Oddly, while I’ve never cared for Tarantino’s films, I’ve enjoyed Hernandez’s books – though not as much as his best Love & Rockets’ material.
In The Troublemakers, Hernandez plays with notions of trust and betrayal, naïveté and suspicion. When your scheme involves three others who you can’t rely on, how do you choose who you’re going to work with? Each character possesses their own angle, their particular motivation. Hernandez does a fine job juggling the quartet and giving each one a moment of decency, along with several troubling behaviors. Ultimately, The Troublemakers is a con-movie in comic-book form, well aware of itself, and quite enjoyable in its context.
The graphic storytelling is excellent, in keeping with Hernandez’s high standard for layouts and visual clarity. Though he doesn’t have the artistic range of his brother, Love & Rockets’ co-creator Jamie Hernandez, Gilbert’s skilled at giving each character a unique look, making for a memorable cast readers will connect with easily. He also uses areas of white and black to focus the reader’s eye effectively.
The Troublemakers may not be the best Gilbert Hernandez book you’ll ever read, but it’s good pulpy fun. If it were a film, it would be a schlocky guilty pleasure; but in Hernandez’s hands, The Troublemakers ascends to become a stylized and quirky mindtrip, a mishmash of betrayals and surprises, with many more twists than you’ll see coming.