Saturday, 20 December 2014

The Children of Palomar by Gilbert Hernandez Review

Gilbert Hernandez never fails to make interesting comics that are totally unclassifiable as a genre beyond “good”. They’re a little bit comedy, a little bit horror, some slice of life, some magical realism with some poetic, almost spiritual, qualities while always being deeply humanistic. They sometimes start a bit slow but I’ve never read a bad comic by this guy.

Children of Palomar is set in the small Central American town of Palomar where everybody knows everybody. Some superfast street kids are rushing about stealing peoples’ fried slugs (they look like hot dogs and are apparently delicious!), some half-assed plans to blow up a giant rock to get even more fresh water goes awry, and some strange folk wearing hazmat suits appear on the town’s fringes speaking an indecipherable language and abducting people!

The stories tend to centre around Sheriff Chelo, a woman who can’t have children herself but seems to be a magnet for the town’s wayward kids, some without parents. These tales in particular have a strong fantasy element to them wherein the town’s giant stone idols move around at night and a lengthy crevasse in the middle of a featureless landscape signals ominous danger.

It’s a town filled with ordinary people who live alongside magicians and witches and talking blooter babies reveal themselves to a select few. Some of the town’s denizens can even move as fast as the Flash! The overall effect makes for an exciting read as you’re never sure where any story is headed as all possibilities are on the table and Hernandez always chooses unexpected and creative paths. Where the book falls down is the impressionistic style of the stories where you wish Hernandez was being a bit more opaque about his intentions, especially new readers to Palomar. 

I’ve read many of Hernandez’s books, including those of his brother Jaime’s, but I haven’t read any of his Palomar books so I don’t know if any of these are recurring characters or not and what their backgrounds are (the hazmat scientists in particular were bizarre). That said, you can enjoy the stories here as standalone weird tales that are perfectly accessible – though ironically they’re not suitable for kids! If you enjoy the films of David Lynch or David Cronenberg, you’ll really like Children of Palomar.

The Children of Palomar

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