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Comics as Remediation: Gilbert Hernandez’s Human Diastrophism

By Jesse Molesworth

Who is the father of Luba’s second daughter Guadalupe? The question poses itself numerous times within the early Palomar stories of Gilbert Hernandez, prompting an array of whispers and rumors. “Guadalupe? Hm,” replies Palomar’s stern sheriff Chelo to the question, “Manuel was her father. You remember; he was killed…” referring to perhaps the best known event within the landmark story “Heartbreak Soup.”1 Despite such confidence, though, rumors swirl within Palomar about a different candidate: “Say, Chelo. Ever notice how Luba’s ten year old daughter looks a lot like Heraclio?” (HS 163-64). Such suspicions lurk not only within the minds of the townspeople but also within the mind of the reader, encouraged as they are by several details. Firstly, one sees Luba deliberately introducing her children to Heraclio, as though attempting to foster a bond: “You’ve met Maricela. This is Guadalupe” (HD 15.1). And, secondly, the reader holds privileged knowledge of what is perhaps the least known event within “Heartbreak Soup”: Luba’s seduction of the teenaged Heraclio. Eventually, the question resolves itself within the pages of Hernandez’s longest and most ambitious early work, Human Diastrophism (originally serialized 1987-88)—first within the cast of characters, which lists Heraclio as “Carmen’s husband; Guadalupe’s father (although he doesn’t know it)” (HD 18.5), and then within the fiction itself, which features Luba’s clinching admission, “Guadalupe, this is your father” (HD 90.4).

Who is Tom Jones’s father? This is, likewise, an urgent question, prompting similar musings and speculations throughout of the first book of Fielding’s novel and resolving itself only on the final pages. For Squire Allworthy, the wealthy landowner who inherits the young foundling, discovering the father of the infant is a moral imperative. “‘And now nothing remains but that you inform me who was the wicked man that seduced you,'” he lectures Jenny Jones, the presumed mother of the child, “‘for my anger against him will be much greater than you have experienced on this occasion'” (47). But Jenny offers only further mysteries: “‘I promise you faithfully you shall one day know'” (47); and when a reasonable candidate surfaces—the schoolmaster Partridge—Allworthy is quick to condemn him, over numerous protestations of innocence. Fielding is, for his part, equally coy on the matter: “Whether he was innocent or not, will perhaps appear hereafter” (88); but he is careful to suggest that the mystery certainly remains open: “it by no means followed of necessity that Partridge must have been its father; for, to omit other particulars, there was in the same household a lad near eighteen, between whom and Jenny there had subsisted sufficient intimacy to found a reasonable suspicion” (88). Still, such speculations about Tom’s paternity only dampen, but certainly do not dismiss, the lingering rumors surrounding Allworthy himself: “for a whisper soon went abroad that he himself was the father of the foundling child” (51), a suspicion surely held by many readers of the novel.

What I want to suggest, first of all, is that the trope of illegitimacy functions similarly within Tom Jones (1749) and Human Diastrophism: as an allegory for artistic creation within a new, and therefore unsettled, genre (the realist novel in the case of the former, the novel-length comic in the case of the latter2). For scholars of the early novel, this view will not come as a surprise. Much evidence exists to connect thematic illegitimacy to generic illegitimacy within the eighteenth century, the least of which is the fact that numerous novels feature bastards and foundlings as their protagonists.3 Novel after novel, especially during the crucial decade of the 1740s, sees the rise of a “low” born hero or heroine to legitimacy, whether familial, social, or economic: Samuel Richardson’s Pamela (1740) traces the fortunes of a fifteen-year-old serving maid who ultimately finds wedded bliss with her master; Sarah Fielding’s The Adventures of David Simple (1744) follows the struggles of its central character from unlawful disinheritance to happiness and marriage; Tobias Smollett’s The Adventures of Roderick Random (1748) features a hero initially shunned for his mother’s lower-class origins, but who eventually finds acknowledgement from his father, a Scottish gentleman.

Both of Henry Fielding’s best-known novels from this period, Tom Jones and Joseph Andrews (1742), feature protagonists of questionable origins but of unquestioned goodness, whose instinctively moral actions and deeds continually undermine the presumed lowness of their characters. Simultaneously, both works are artistic manifestos—statements about the creative and moral capacity of the novel, a literary form long assumed to be both inartistic and immoral.4 Perhaps for this reason Fielding never used the term “novel” when describing his creations; both are described as “histories” on their title pages and throughout the works themselves. But he did take pains to delineate their origins, which blended prestigious sources (the classical epic begun by Homer) with less reputable ones (the French romance tradition of de Scudéry, de Sevigné, la Calprenède, and others): “Now a comic Romance is a comic Epic-Poem in Prose” (iii), according to the famous preface of Joseph Andrews. In crucial respects, therefore, Joseph Andrews resembles Joseph Andrews: capable of being dismissed at a glance for his humble appearance and patchy ancestry, but ultimately vindicated for his goodness. Tom Jones, similarly good but prone to numerous vices, develops the equation of character and work even more insistently, a point not lost on the novel’s best critics:

A bastard is the offspring of an unlawful coupling, a monster results from unnatural coupling. Later, Tom is thought capable as well as culpable of incest, a coupling that serves as the threshold between nature and law. In all these ways, Tom is the perfect figure for Fielding’s “new species of writing,” the improper offspring of tropological couplings between incompatible systems. The novel is a text with only a borrowed, not a proper name. (Homer O. Brown, “Tom Jones: The ‘Bastard’ of History” 224-25)

Orphans and bastards similarly abound in Palomar, and one by one within the pages of Human Diastrophism, many of them find their way to legitimacy, measured in one form or another. Guadalupe, as we have seen, is introduced to her father, Heraclio, just as two of Luba’s other children, Casimira and Doralis, are introduced to their father, Khamo (HD 93.4). Even more importantly, each child is acknowledged by their newly discovered parents, with Heraclio’s wife Carmen offering a particularly warm invitation: “Guadalupe, whatever you two decide, you are always welcome in this house, to visit or even to live, if you want…” (92.7). Carmen herself, abandoned as a baby at a swap meet with a note reading “good riddance” (154.2), gives birth to her own child by Heraclio, thereby solidifying what is perhaps the only functional marriage within the early stories. Perhaps most breathtaking, though, is the transformation undergone by Palomar’s most important resident, Luba, a character who was both born out of wedlock (to a pampered beauty queen and a penniless day laborer) and abandoned as a child by her mother. Indeed, insofar as Human Diastrophism features a “turning” of all of its major characters, as its name suggests,5 surely the most radical and most lasting of these comes from Luba, who leaves behind the disreputable business of giving baths in order to run for, and eventually to become mayor.

But like Tom Jones and Joseph Andrews, Hernandez’s work is also an artistic manifesto, a similarly grand statement about the creative and moral capacity of comics. Hernandez has perhaps had less to say on this topic than has Fielding, but neither has he remained entirely silent. One can only assume, for example, that Venus’s remarks, at the end of Luba in America (2001), which follows the further adventures of an aging Luba and a grown-up Guadalupe into America, capture much of Hernandez’s own view:

Luba: I learned to read from comic books, Petra. Do they still make them?
Petra: Yes, and although most of them are very bad, the best ones are as compelling and enriching as any other art form.
Venus: Anybody who doesn’t believe in the infinite artistic possibilities of the comic book medium just can’t see the forest for the trees! (167.5-6)

Hernandez, therefore, ventriloquizes a child (Venus) to offer his most forceful statement about his art, as though suggesting that a medium typically viewed as childlike or appealing to children has the capacity to speak in the voice of an adult.6 In this respect, Hernandez’s own view on the “infinite artistic possibilities” of comics and the graphic medium runs rather closely to that expressed numerous times by another pioneer of the adult comic, Harvey Pekar: “You c’n do as much with comics as the novel or movies or plays or anything. Comics are words an’ pictures; you c’n do anything with words an’ pictures!”7

Mediation and Remediation: Palomar

On the face of things, neither Pekar’s nor Hernandez’s view will seem especially controversial. Yet hidden within each of them is something a bit more contentious, to be examined henceforth: that comics aspire to or seek to imitate the properties of other artistic media, such as the written novel, or film, or photography, or painting. A certain defensiveness, after all, lurks within Pekar’s view that comics can do “as much” as novels or films. Why not more? Hernandez’s statement seems similarly defensive: on the one hand, comics contain “infinite” artistic capacity, but, on the other hand, they are merely “as compelling and enriching” as other media (but presumably not more so).

One fact would appear to be plain: that comics in general, and Hernandez’s work in particular, adopt and incorporate techniques drawn from other media—more so, one might plausibly argue, than the reverse. Consider, for example, Hernandez’s own list of influences, which blends an enormously wide-ranging array of media, including European and South American cinema, Hollywood, comic strips, comic books, the realist novel, and pop music:

Fellini, Bob Bolling’s art on Little Archie, Luis Buñuel’s Los Olvidados (about teen hoods and poverty), Hank Ketcham’s Dennis the Menace, the kids in the movie To Kill a Mockingbird, Charles Schulz’s Peanuts (late 50’s to mid-’60’s), Steve Ditko’s art in old Marvel “monster” stories, Jesse Marsh’s art in Dell Gold Key Tarzan comics, Harvey Kurtzman’s art and writing, the look and setting of the Brazilian film Black Orpheus, Jack Kirby’s art, John Stanley’s writing, R. Crumb’s art and writing (particularly “Ducks Yas Yas” in Zap #0), Dan DeCarlo’s Betty and Veronica drawing, Archie artist Harry Lucey, Muñoz and Sampayo’s comics, everything about the film Pixote, Sophia Loren’s “cartoonist” roles in her early films (cartoon figure, arms akimbo, loud mouth), Gasoline Alley, Victor Hugo, Elvis. (Gary Groth, “Preface” n. pag.)

Though space will not permit a full consideration of the work of Hernandez’s brother Jaime, it is probably worth mentioning that his list of influences, which includes Mott the Hoople, Rembrandt, Black Flag, Benny Hill, and baseball, is just as if not more wide-ranging and eclectic.8

With such a list in mind, I wish to examine the relationship of comics to other artistic media, especially the realist novel and the visual arts—those forms perhaps directly implied by Pekar’s definition of comics as “words an’ pictures.”9 Rather than accepting Pekar’s implication that comics seek to do “as much” as novels or plays or films, my thesis is that comics, by the very terms of their incorporation of other media, seek to surpass them. My line of thinking here has been suggested by Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin’s powerful study of the rise of new media Remediation: Understanding New Media (1999). According to Bolter and Grusin, new media gain currency, and may displace older forms, not by rejecting or discarding techniques drawn from predecessors. Rather, the displacement occurs through a process of incorporating and adopting (one is tempted to say stealing) previous techniques—with the effect that new media present themselves as “refashioned and improved versions” of older media (15). This is perhaps unsurprising in itself, but more interesting is the method by which this “improvement” is sold. For new media usually does not seek to advertise itself as media at all; instead, it typically gains ascendancy precisely by demonstrating its “immediacy”—achieved by “ignoring or denying the presence of the medium and the act of mediation” (11). Thus, in Italy during the fifteenth century, Albertian perspective came to displace previous methods of rendering space not necessarily because it was more realistic, but because such realism facilitated the temporary suspension of the very concept of mediation. Immediacy is a powerful concept indeed: within Bolter and Grusin’s account, it drove everything from the craze for trompe l’oeil painting in seventeenth-century Holland to the ascendancy of oil painting (the “erasive” medium) and photography (the “emanation of the referent”)10 to the vogue for desktop interfaces on home computers. Though Bolter and Grusin focus their analysis primarily on the visual arts, one might even trace a history of immediacy within the realist novel, beginning perhaps with concept of the “found” manuscript (like Robinson Crusoe [1719]) and moving through various attempts to render interiority, from the epistolary techniques of Samuel Richardson to the free indirect discourse of Austen to the interior monologues of Joyce and Woolf.11

Of course, not all media subscribe to this logic of “like x, only better.” In some cases new media reject the transparent interface of immediacy in favor of the opposing property of “hypermediacy,” which “acknowledges multiple acts of representation and makes them visible” (Bolter and Grusin 34). When Picasso and Braque began to paste scraps of newspaper to their canvases, for example, they did more than simply to draw attention to the surface of the canvas (to the medium for representing an object or idea); they simultaneously drew attention to the physical properties of newspaper itself as a medium (for representing the daily condition of the community and world). Hypermediacy has typically played a secondary or supporting role to immediacy within Western canons of art, even though it does enjoy a rich history, involving medieval illuminated manuscripts, the mediated spaces of Gothic cathedrals, and Baroque cabinets of curiosity. More recently, though, hypermediacy has found a more central role within modernist canons of art, particularly with the turn to abstraction. In fact, one is even tempted to discard terms like “abstract” or “non-mimetic,” with all of their conceptual baggage, in favor, simply, of “hypermediate”—just as terms like “realist” or “representational” seem encompassed by “immediate.” In any case, the great advantage of Bolter and Grusin’s categories, so it seems to me, is to reconcile to a large degree various attempts to describe artistic “modernity,” whether seen in Clement Greenberg’s focus on the physical application of the artistic media, Michael Fried’s interest in the relationship of viewer with the artwork, or T. J. Clark’s emphasis on subject matter.

Without question, comics deserve a place within Bolter and Grusin’s genealogy of media. In fact, one might say that from their very infancy comics have been shamelessly or even aggressively remediative—flaunting rather than disguising their incorporation of tropes and techniques drawn from other media. When David Hajdu, for example, writes that Superman emerged from “a mix of ideas swirling around the soup of junk culture in the 1930s” (29), he is of course correct, but this claim really only scratches the surface. Rather, Superman remediated any number of contemporary superheroic archetypes, drawn from a welter of sources, from the pulp novel (Tarzan, sworn defender of the weak) to silent film (Zorro) to radio ( the Green Hornet, a newspaper publisher by day and vigilante crime fighter by night). If Superman emerged as perhaps the most memorable and influential character among this cast of competing heroes, he did so partially because his mythology of alien transplantation was a powerful one and partially because the relative immediacy of comics conveyed this mythology equally powerfully. Superman’s appeal, that is, rested precisely in his status as “like the Green Hornet, only better.”

Separating media from mythology within the genesis and posterity of Superman, though, is ultimately a misleading maneuver. As with the Green Hornet (and, later, Spider Man), mythology and media are one, since it would be impossible to imagine Superman without the Daily Planet, without Clark Kent’s status as a member of the journalistic media of Metropolis, and without the fictional scenarios directly inspired by this status. If Superman comics count as important documents within a history of popular media, that is, then they would seem almost if not equally important within a history on or about media. In this way they are, like Watchmen (1986-87), or The Dark Knight Returns (1987), or Maus (1986 and 1992), or Jimmy Corrigan (2003), or Fun Home (2007), or really any sophisticated example of the graphic storytelling, not merely aesthetic statements on the strengths and limitations of their given medium. Rather more interestingly, such statements proceed precisely through an evaluation of the strengths and limitations of other forms of media.

Certainly Hernandez’s Palomar, especially as it appears within the pages of Human Diastrophism, offers no exception to this principle. For Palomar itself also experiences a version of the diastrophism experienced by most of its principal inhabitants—a diastrophism in which once-cherished values find themselves menaced and ultimately overturned by the incursion of Western forms of media. “It would mean the end of our innocence,” says Mayor Chuy about the prospect of installing the first telephone in Palomar: “I want to keep our culture and heritage intact” (HD 23.3). Chuy’s reference to “innocence” here should not be ignored: the loss of innocence is a major theme throughout the novel, beginning even from its first scene, during which Guadalupe cries herself to sleep after overhearing her beloved mother (Luba) berating and abusing her beloved sister (Maricela) for arriving home late on a school night. Something deeper, though, seems to lurk within Chuy’s “innocence”—as though the telephone represented an abstract and therefore powerful boundary not to be transgressed. Indeed, one might even suggest that an allegory is established, with Mayor Chuy as Adam in Palomar’s Eden, with the (darkly coiled) phone as Satan, with information about the outside world as the Fruit of Knowledge, and with Chelo as his Eve, tempting him with testimonials about its utility (“It would help us out a lot in emergencies”) and its prestige (“Instant equality with the rest of the world at the twirl of a dial” [23.2]). If this is the case, then it is perhaps appropriate that both Chuy and Chelo appear incredibly naïve during the scene: Chuy for his cynical view that the outside world is nothing more than “a stinking dying elephant,” and Chelo for her dismissive view that access to media matters little: “You talk as if communication itself were evil. You and I won’t lose any control over what comes in and out of here, I promise you that” (23.4).

“Innocence,” therefore, is staged over and over again as a crisis of mediation and remediation. Innocence can perhaps still be salvaged within the medium of Guadalupe’s silent prayer, imploring God to love her family, “She doesn’t mean it God. She doesn’t. Please don’t punish her” (19.7). Surely, though, it has become irrevocably lost, if not cheaply discarded, by the time we encounter a version of the same message, “¿Donde esta Dios?”, pasted to the wall—and therefore remediated—within the prison cell of the criminal Geraldo Mejia (119.2). The phone, for instance, threatens traditional values precisely because it remediates them, expanding the channels by which values are communicated and rendering more immediate a wider gamut of outside values. In actuality all of the poisoning forces of the outside world, identified by Chuy as “fashion and consumerism and rock n’ roll” (23.2), have begun to seep through Palomar’s borders. Luba has already brought Hollywood (and its foreign fashions) to her movie theater. Pipo, no longer a child but hardly more dignified, now appears in stretch pants and a crop top, having used the money from her faltering marriage with Gato to buy permed hair, a nose job, and breast implants. Perhaps most forebodingly, two surfer dudes pop up here and there, boombox in hand, bringing with them both California accents and the music of the Scorpions, Suicidal Tendencies, Motorhead, and Judas Priest.

In fact, the dazzling irony of the scene between Chuy and Chelo is that it frames a discussion about remediation precisely within the analog medium, face-to-face gossip, whose survival would seem to be most compromised by the arrival of the telephone. Chuy need not be more specific about what exactly constitutes Palomar’s “culture and heritage,” in other words, since they are embodied by the very medium of the window-ledge discussion (see Figure 1).

Figure 1: The mediation of Chelo’s conversation with Chuy (HD 23.1-3)

Indeed, though this essay focuses partially on the rise of certain media within Hernandez’s world, it would be a terrible mistake to assume that earlier stories (the “Heartbreak Soup” stories) are less heavily mediated or unconcerned with media. Rather, they are differently mediated, or mediated chiefly though more traditional, mostly oral forms: schoolyard gossip, barroom conversations, received stories and legends, stories told in flashback, settled lore, and so forth. That Chelo has become the chief advocate for the telephone therefore seems especially significant, since from the beginning she has been strongly attached to the culture of gossip. In fact, one learns precisely from Hernandez’s first Palomar story (from its first panel, in fact) that “Chelo’s Burden” involves a significant amount of gossiping: “She can tell you stories” (HS 6.1).12

Numerous other instances of remediation arise within Human Diastrophism, even if they don’t always operate according to the same logic of innocence lost. For instance, with the arrival of Sven Andersson, the Swedish archaeologist who spends much of the novel digging for “treasures” (HD 39.3) on the outskirts of town, Hernandez revisits the “gringo in Palomar” trope familiar from the earlier story “An American in Palomar” (originally serialized 1985) which followed the exploits of the American photojournalist Howard Miller (who will make a brief but significant appearance at the end of Human Diastrophism). To a certain extent, though, Andersson also remediates Miller, since both seem interested in capturing or describing an “authentic” version of Palomar: Miller through his project of rendering “the human condition” (HS 181.4) in its barest form, and Andersson through his project of communicating with the ghosts of old Palomar. Whereas Miller’s medium is concrete and technological (film), Andersson’s is metaphysical (an abstract channel to the netherworld). In each case, though, the instrument of mediation seems to possess properties akin to magic. Andersson insists that a recently unearthed relic connects him with dead spirits, which “demand not our fear, but our constant respect” (HD 39.6); Miller, by contrast, enthralls virtually all of Palomar with his Western relics, a stopwatch (a medium for reproducing time) and a camera (a medium for reproducing images), the latter of which spurs Tonantzín in particular to imagine herself mediated as the Latin American Marilyn Monroe (HS 171.4).

In certain ways, then, Andersson’s remediation of Miller offers a case of innocence regained, in the sense that his project celebrates the cult value of art over its exhibition value, potentially even rediscovering what Walter Benjamin famously described as its “aura.”13 Still, it is difficult to view Andersson’s eloquent disquisitions on death and the dead without some degree of suspicion, given that they are naïvely delivered to Tomaso, the serial killer whose murdering spree offers much of the dramatic action within the novel, and who will later claim Andersson as one of his victims (see Figure 2).

Figure 2: The mediation of Andersson’s disquisition on the dead (HD 39.4-7)

One senses a heavy dose of irony within the scene: though Andersson respects the dead as “the worst of enemies” (HD 39.6), it is precisely the living, materialized through Tomaso, who stands as his greatest immediate enemy. The temptation here, of course, is to follow Hernandez’s visual cue and to view Andersson and Tomaso as opposites, irreconcilably gazing in different directions, as the first panel seems to suggest. But just as the scene itself collapses several binary oppositions—friend/enemy, dead/living, fear/respect, old/young, etc.—so it also collapses Andersson into Tomaso. Both characters are prominent newcomers within Hernandez’s world, created specifically for the novel. Despite this newcomer status, both regard Palomar as “special” in some way (albeit for different reasons). Perhaps most importantly, both characters struggle to reconcile themselves with the dead: Andersson will spend most of his brief appearance speaking directly to his relic, while Tomaso spends much of the novel haunted by the voice of a past victim, a woman who calls to him on several occasions, “Tomaso…” (20.1, 46.1-4). In fact, killing seems to be Tomaso’s principle manner of channeling the dead, with his knife remediating Andersson’s relic, providing more immediate access to the spirits of the slain.

Such persistent attention to the issue of remediation bears out a point that Chelo seems slow to recognize: that access to and manipulation of media matters quite a bit within Palomar. Tonantzín, to take one more example, is hardly the promiscuous flirt we have come to expect, the girl who seemed destined to supplant Luba as town “whore” (114.7). Instead, she has adopted the paranoid political ravings of Geraldo Mejia, whose letters have found their way to her from jail, and spends most of the novel climbing trees in order to surveil the tank-laden trains sent by “the U. S. or the Soviets” (22.4) or parading through town in her backless Aztec garb. More than simply being exploited by another man, then, she is exploited by another medium (the handwritten word) and by another instrument of mediation (the familiar letter). In fact, the story spends quite a bit a energy investigating how the correspondence has come to light as well as how she has been reading the letters. (Tonantzín’s sister Diana intercepts one of Mejia’s letters, which is secretly coded as sent by “Pecuaca Jones” [26.9]; since Tonantzín is illiterate, she has been paying Maricela to read the letters aloud to her, thereby remediating written words into spoken words. Carmen’s proposed plan to “unbrainwash” her with new letters (64.4) therefore disrupts one poisonous network (Mejia/Jones-Tonantzín-Maricela-Tonantzín) in favor of another (Carmen-Diana-Maricela-Tonantzín), but it does little to unmediate Tonantzín, who has herself become little more than a talking vessel for unreconstructed propaganda.

Perhaps it is fitting, then, that two of the story’s final three scenes focus on the mediation of Tonantzín’s death: the first showing Guadalupe’s vision of Tonantzín’s spirit by Pintor’s tree (119.7), and the second showing the television news coverage of her wasteful self-immolation, far removed from Palomar and in support of an unspecified political cause (121.1-4). The first is a hopeful scene, framed through the sympathetic eyes of Guadalupe and depicting Tonantzín at her most sympathetic, with hands on hips and carrying on her head a basket of fried babosas—as though suggesting that her spirit has passed on happily, joining the spirits of Pintor, Manuel, Toco, and others who have appeared under Pintor’s tree. The second scene, which remediates the first, replacing Tonantzín’s spirit with her flickering television image, is positively horrific (see Figure 3).

Figure 3: The mediation of Tonantzín’s self-immolation (HD 121.1-4)

Hernandez portrays the event not as it happened but, rather, as it is covered. The scene is not so much narrated as it is subjected to narration, with a commentary (provided by Howard Miller and his current flame Cathy) running between frames rather than within them. The irony sparked by this curious mediation seems both pointed and grotesque: the girl who once dreamed of moving to Hollywood to become the Latin American Marilyn Monroe has finally made it on American television, albeit for all of the wrong reasons.

Miller’s presence, too, only enhances the grotesquerie of the situation. In fact, his interaction with Cathy here seems deliberately modeled on the interaction between Guadalupe and Heraclio in the previous scene: the two young women (Guadalupe and Cathy) first notice the mediated image of Tonantzín; each attempts, relatively unsuccessfully, to attract the attention of male counterparts (Heraclio and Miller) to the image; both men, though, seem preoccupied with other duties, Heraclio with delivering groceries to his family, and Miller with exploring his “new technique” for developing images (Heraclio clutches a grocery bag throughout the scene, while Miller clutches a large photograph); finally, each scene ends with a triple embrace, the first featuring Carmen, Guadalupe, and Heraclio’s newly born son Tito, the second featuring Miller, Cathy, and Miller’s newly printed photograph. Ultimately, though, the comparison highlights the differences rather than the similarities between Pintor’s tree and the television set, the two competing instruments for preserving Tonantzín’s spirit and memory. Pintor’s tree mediates only Palomar; but within this limited boundary, it exerts a tremendous influence, as is suggested by Guadalupe’s fond remembrance of Tonantzín, “I sure miss them good ol’ fried babosas” (120.3). Television, by contrast, mediates just about everywhere else; one is left wondering, though, as Tonantzín goes unrecognized within the second scene, identified simply as “this girl” and “that girl,” just how powerfully her spirit and memory will endure within the new medium.

Tonantzín’s death therefore speaks to a host of other deaths, all collectively mourned on the last page, during which ashes fall from the sky, curiously bathing Palomar in white. Has God finally arrived, then? Perhaps—but He manifests Himself not as Guadalupe’s God, silently keeping watch over her family. Rather, He is Mejia’s remediated God, flashy and apocalyptic. The ashes fall on and lay to rest the bodies of Andersson, Mayor Chuy and his wife, Aldo Munkres, and others killed by Tomaso. But they also fall on and lay to rest the mystery of Guadalupe’s paternity, Luba’s scandalous past, Maricela’s relationship with her mother, Khamo’s irresistible beauty, Casimira’s arm, and any number of other things that die off, vanish, or cease to exist. Surely the ashes also fall on and lay to rest old Palomar—Chuy’s Palomar—with its fantasies of total isolation and control over media. Pintor’s tree will not wither away immediately, nor will gossip disappear entirely; but they will feature less and less within Hernandez’s world. Just as Tonantzín’s flight northward prefigures similar flights to America undertaken by Maricela, Pipo, Guadalupe, and eventually even Luba, so the mediation of Tonantzín’s death prefigures Hernandez’s own turn toward exploring new, and largely American, forms of media.

The Remediation of the Image: Humberto and Tomaso

Something else happens during the final scene—on the very last panel, in fact, which depicts a giant black cloud bringing white ash over the darkened image of Palomar’s skyline. For Hernandez’s apocalyptic image remediates one encountered earlier, the image of a giant mushroom cloud from Mejia’s apocalyptic prison poster (119.2). In fact, Hernandez’s giant black caption, “FIN,” which hovers within the image, seems to answer or at least to respond to the question hovering over Mejia’s image, “¿Donde esta Dios?” What is represented as “reality” within the last panel therefore remediates what is represented as a representation earlier. Instead of disguising or cloaking its own status as a piece of media, Hernandez’s work rather draws attention to it, much like Velazquez’s Las Meninas or a Magritte painting.14 Instead of viewing itself as “different” from the media it examines, it imbricates itself directly within the network of remediative forces described in the previous section—simultaneously denouncing Mejia’s paranoid illustrations as no more than posturing slogans and replacing them with his own more complexly mediated consideration of apocalypse.

The fact that Hernandez draws attention to the mediation of his own work raises an obvious question: where do comics fit within the spectrum of immediacy and hypermediacy mapped out earlier? Bolter and Grusin themselves have precious little to say on this topic, but the few words they offer are worth heeding:

In fact, mainstream American culture seems to have established a hierarchy of media according to their assumed immediacy, a hierarchy revealed in particular by erotic representation. Written or printed pornography without illustrations is regarded as the least immediate. Graphic pornography, such as comic books and illustrated sex manuals, comes next. The major cultural line is clearly crossed with photography. Erotic photographs are subject censorship or possible criminal charges in ways that graphic art and books no longer are. This cultural reaction stems from a belief in the immediacy of photography. (100)

Thus, comics occupy a comparatively unique position within this spectrum: the middle. They are, perhaps, capable of being more or less immediate or hypermediate, but precisely because of their curious mixture of words and pictures, they are really neither inherently.

In fact, this curious median status has served as a source of deep suspicion throughout the history of the medium. For example, the Wertham controversy of the 1950s (which led to a congressional investigation and the eventual adoption of the Comic Book Code) began from the presumption that comic books were capable of representing scenes or ideas that surely would be subject to censorship or heavy monitoring within more immediate media like film: scenes such as “a man dressed as a boy shooting a policeman in the mouth,” or “a girl being thrown in the fire,” or the occasion when “attempts to kill people are not looked upon askance” (Wertham 53). Nevertheless, comics were still seen as immediate enough—more so than the printed word—that they might foster dangerous identification fantasies, especially within children. For example, readers of Superman comics would, allegedly, “fantasy themselves as supermen, with the attendant prejudices against the submen,” or (paradoxically) become “submissive and receptive to the blandishments of strong men who will solve all their social problems for them—by force” (Wertham 54).15

At their best, though, comics recognize and, even more strongly, celebrate their median position, neither fish nor fowl. Within Human Diastrophism, for instance, immediacy emerges as neither the ultimate goal of art nor even, really, a desirable goal. Instead, the task of defending realism (and, by extension, immediacy) falls to the doltish Augustín, who spends much of the novel bullying another aspiring artist, Humberto. “Look, fool! It took me all night to draw this. See, fag? I took my time!” says Augustín to Humberto about his own faithfully rendered drawing of Pintor’s tree: “You just draw your fake, crooked bullshit because you can’t draw anything real” (HD 42.2), without realizing that it is perhaps Humberto’s “fake, crooked bullshit” that renders it as interesting art. Few statements within Hernandez’s corpus ring so hollowly as Augustín’s jeering distinction between “real” and “fake,” his synonyms for immediate and hypermediate. For if Humberto’s sketches are hastily conceived and executed, it is because he, like Hernandez himself, shares a certain penchant for sloppiness, one that makes his art more expressive than mimetic. In fact, of the three adjectives used by Augustín, pejoratively, to describe Humberto’s sketches, “So hang it up, puta. You draw too fast and sloppy and fake” (42.3), all might apply accurately enough to Hernandez’s own work.16

Indeed, pure imitation almost always finds itself troped negatively. As Augustín crows about his own bland sketch above, he appears as little more than one of the horde of impish black monkeys, who greet the reader menacingly on the novel’s title page, sneering like demonic versions of Palomar’s famous smiling statues. Looking at this image (17), in fact, one is tempted to describe the monkey plague as horrifyingly Hitchcockian. The truth, though, is that the monkeys offer a menace that is linguistic rather than physical, concentrated on their speech rather than on their glinting teeth. For as the monkeys multiply, so does their contagious chittering, whose verbal expression, “chit chit chit,” emphasizes the idea of mindless mimicry. Their attacks may therefore produce few physical casualties, but they nevertheless claim numerous victims: Doralis spends most of the story inanely parroting their chittering, while Casimira is shot (and will lose an arm) while climbing a tree, pretending to be a monkey. At other times the act of imitation looks dangerous (as with Tonantzín’s vapid adoption of Mejia’s political ravings) or even despicable (as when a copycat killer emerges and confesses to the killing of his own children).

Figure 4: The hypermediation of Maricela (HD 76.3)

Other characters appear to be more suspicious of the compromising effects of imitation, such as Maricela, whose budding lesbianism leads her to seek an erotic language that is both original and convincing. When, for instance, Riri, her lover, tells her that she tosses her hair back in much the same manner as her mother, Maricela explodes, “I am nothing like her” (Figure 4). Thus, the scene stages the problem of influence in several ways. First, Maricela and Riri struggle to position their own love for one another within or perhaps even against the heteronormative model dominant within Palomar (and seen in the adjacent beach scene between Miguel and an unusually flirtatious Chelo). Maricela herself struggles to define herself against the influence of her mother’s own gestural language. Finally, Hernandez recognizes these conflicts by shifting his own representation of Maricela away from a mimetic or immediate norm. As Maricela, that is, attempts to unmediate herself—to speak and act within an authentic language entirely her own—so Hernandez hypermediates Maricela, translating her quite literally into a fire-breathing, smoke-spouting demon. The figuration thus captures a certain irony, for Maricela appears here rather more like her mother than less so. If the scene traces a Bloomian agon between strong influences and weak followers, Maricela finds herself here as a hapless “weak poet,” hypermediated by both Hernandez and by Luba, someone who surely has elevated both flirtation and rage to the level of poetry.

The tragedy of Humberto’s situation, then, is that he buys Augustín’s bias toward immediacy and, furthermore, sees mindless imitation as the surest path to producing art: “That dope Augustín’s right… I have to learn to draw for real before I can hope to do stuff as good and wild as them real artists” (44.4), which of course confuses the concept of “for real” with “like real.” Critics have certainly noticed that Humberto bears a strong figural “likeness” to the monkeys (Hatfield 80), especially in his eyes, which are suspiciously round (and therefore simian). But the more salient point to make is that this likeness first suggests itself when Humberto engrosses himself in a book of Paul Klee paintings, charitably given to him by Heraclio (HD 34.3). If Humberto looks like a monkey during this scene, with pronounced round eyes, protruding ears, and oval-shaped head, it is because he has become a monkey conceptually, mining Klee’s art for direction but not really inspiration. (Subsequent panels will reinforce the comparison: one depicts Humberto on all fours, prowling over his art books like an animal; another shows Humberto seated on the floor, surrounded by books, and scratching his head in a simian pose). Is it coincidence that Klee’s best-known painting is called Twittering Machine? For this moment is pivotal in transforming Humberto into a chittering machine, a monkey with little capacity to develop and speak clearly within an original artistic vocabulary.

Humberto, of course, will later claim the opposite, as Chelo prods him to reveal the identity of the killer, whom he has witnessed attacking Chancla: “My work speaks for itself” (84.7). On the contrary, though, his work doesn’t speak at all; it chitters. As Humberto churns out reams and reams of garbled sketches of the event and the killer, he moves no closer to revealing the “deepest truths” (88.7), as he claims that his art does. Rather, he begins to look more and more like a monkey (see especially 66.2 and 73.7, which draw insistent parallels; see also 88.5-7 and 96.3); he vomits like a monkey (55.10); most importantly, he follows the monkeys in mocking human speech with gibberish, remediating “chit chit chit” into a garbled and confused language of images. Instead of marking himself as an artist, then, his refusal to reveal the identity of the killer (or inability to find the words to do so) makes him look more like Doralis, who when pressed to reveal Casimira’s hiding place can only reply, “Chitty chit chit…” (99.2).

In fact, Humberto’s images “speak” to exactly two characters within the novel: Luba and Tomaso, both of whom pay unannounced visits to Humberto within his studio and both of whom linger over images of themselves. “This is… me. Thanks…” says Luba (60.8), while Tomaso smiles over a portrait of himself, saint-like or even Christ-like with a glowing halo and with hands clasped together in prayer: “May I have this?” (96.3). This networked trio of Humberto, Luba, and Tomaso is indeed a complicated one: Humberto draws both Luba and Tomaso; Luba engages in sex with both Humberto and Tomaso; Tomaso kills neither Luba nor Humberto, but he is certainly placed in a threatening position to do so with both. (One imagines, indeed, that Luba and Humberto survive their encounters with Tomaso precisely because of the sex and the drawing.) The larger point is that sex for Luba and killing for Tomaso functions very much like life drawing for Humberto: as a compulsive activity performed on someone else, rather than with someone else—a form of chittering that seems more therapeutic than passionate. Surely it is no accident that Tomaso claims five victims, the same number of men claimed by Luba during the same span (Archie, Khamo, Humberto, Borro, Tomaso). In fact, Luba’s seduction of Humberto looks rather more like a stalking—merciless, brutal, and not remotely erotic.

Among Humberto’s images, his portrait of Tomaso as Christ seems curiously singular—both for the attention it receives within the text (we never see the comparable image of Luba) and for the fact that it does seem to reveal a “deep truth.” Namely, it confirms the view of Tomaso as a dark Christ for a dark Palomar, a reading reinforced by several not-so-subtle hints, such as Tomaso’s discovery that he has been wounded in the side during one of his attacks. Certainly one could never accuse the novel of lacking for Christ figures. Tomaso is no less than the fourth character presented as Christ-like in some way, joining the long-suffering Ofelia, who keeps a portrait of Christ over her bed (73.8), Mejia, who claims to speak for Christ (“Give your heart to Jesus Christ, Pipo,” 49.2), and, finally, Humberto, who finds himself suggestively crucified by the shadow of a windowpane within one particularly arresting image (49.5). In fact, Humberto’s presence is crucial to the scene during which Tomaso contemplates his own likeness (see Figure 5).

Figure 5: The mediation of Humberto’s image of Tomaso (HD 96.1-3)

Humberto’s drawing mirrors Tomaso; so too, though, does Humberto himself, since both characters radiate the same sparkling energy within the second and third panels. (This visual effect, which of course strongly resembles a halo, is relatively uncommon within Hernandez’s art). In other words, Hernandez’s iconic image of Tomaso in the second panel is remediated in the third panel by Humberto’s simple drawing of Tomaso; however, within the third panel itself, the drawing itself seems remediated again, this time back into an iconic image of Humberto.

Figure 6: The mediation of Tomaso’s demise (HD 113.1-7)

In fact, Tomaso’s ultimate fate is not death, as one might expect given his allegorical standing, but, rather, further mediation. Surely he expects death, uttering what sounds like a final prayer on the verge of capture, “Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do…” (112.10). But, as we have seen, God works through different measures in Human Diastrophism, as suggested in Figure 6. Tomaso can hardly be resurrected: he is not yet even dead. Rather, as with Tonantzín’s death, Hernandez blurs the immateriality of spirit into the materiality of mediated life. Palomar’s dark Christ will achieve an immortality borne not through spirituality but through an array of media, such as Humberto’s drawing (panel three), telephone correspondence (four), telepathy (five), and gossip (seven). All in all, though, the scene is far from chaotic. In fact, the composition suggests the reverse: that balance has been achieved. The initial violence of Tomaso’s self-inflicted wound, for example, seems counterbalanced on the right by the serenity of Humberto’s image. As the corpse of Tomaso’s original victim is discovered, moldering in the sand, another victim (Chancla) arises in the facing panel, craving tortillas. And the telephone’s first appearance seems more reassuring than foreboding, counterbalanced as it is on the right by Chango’s excited reaction, suggesting that he too has just received the news, via traditional gossip.

Coda: The Remediation of the Realist Novel

Like Tomaso, Humberto has become a pariah by the end of Human Diastrophism. Shunned for his role in concealing the killer’s identity and forbidden by Chelo from drawing or painting, he mostly disappears from Palomar during subsequent stories, many of which explore the aftermath of cataclysmic events he has helped to cause. But Humberto’s saga, unlike Tomaso’s, has an important postscript: eventually he will resurface during the aftermath of Palomar’s next great cataclysm, an earthquake that levels town. Instead of drawing, Humberto has taken up sculpting; and from the wreckage and debris left by the earthquake he will create a remarkable series of sculpted portraits, new monuments for Palomar carefully arranged and arrayed within the river. For Humberto the project carries spiritual significance: “One day this stream will be gone and the statues will be exposed… reaching ever upward toward God… and I will be forgiven my sins…” (245.6).

Redemption therefore comes, at least in Humberto’s case, through remediation. For his riverbed sculpture garden reworks and remediates his own sketchbook, translating his charcoal line drawings of Palomar’s most famous residents into a new language of stone forms. At the same time it also seems to remediate the other prominent effort to chronicle the vast panoply of Palomar’s inhabitants, Miller’s photo journal An American in Palomar, which despite its blatant commercialism is given a significant amount of attention; it is discovered in a library by the expatriated Maricela, who lingers over a picture of herself with her mother and feels a tinge of guilt at not returning to Palomar to help with the cleanup (HD 228.1). Both of these projects, Miller’s photo journal and Humberto’s sculptures, might be said to remediate Hernandez’s own graphic and literary rendering of the collected townsfolk of Palomar, a task given special emphasis within Human Diastrophism through its opening page “Cast of Characters” (18).

But even this claim does not go far enough. For in remediating Hernandez and Miller, Humberto simultaneously remediates Hernandez’s own artistic antecedents, novelists like Gabriel García Márquez and Victor Hugo, whose novels One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967) and Les Misérables (1862) stand as milestones in the representation of small town life and culture. Of García Márquez’s influence on Hernandez, little need be said here; the connection between Palomar and García Márquez’s Macondo, which similarly witnesses the passage of several generations of townsfolk through its haunted streets, has been made frequently. In fact, the connection is noticed within Palomar—by Heraclio, who defends One Hundred Years of Solitude in the early story “Love Bites” by appealing to the novel’s topicality: “It’s about us, Carmen. It’s about our lives” (HS 214.1). Listening to Heraclio’s words here, one is tempted to assume that he speaks for Hernandez, and that creator and creation are virtually indistinguishable (a point further suggested by the onomastic repetition of “Her-“). Still, Heraclio’s standing as perhaps Hernandez’s first critic does not make him the best critic; for Carmen remains unconvinced and soon walks off with a weary sigh, “If you say so, sweetheart” (214.2). Furthermore, subsequent scenes demonstrate precisely the illiteracy of Heraclio, Palomar’s most literate resident. A long car ride home with a fellow teacher, Gloria, offers Heraclio the chance to show off his knowledge of Cervantes and Melville, but, perhaps more importantly, it exposes his ignorance of Dostoevsky: “Raskolnikov…? Oh, good ol’ Raskolnikov! He, uh… he’s from War and Peace,” and later “Not War and Peace! I meant The Brothers KaramazovLolita?” (215.3).

Critical discussions of García Márquez’s influence on Palomar have been similarly unbalanced. In fact, García Márquez is conspicuously absent from the long list of influences quoted earlier; but Victor Hugo makes it, wedged in, perhaps a bit awkwardly, between Gasoline Alley and Elvis. Moreover, Hugo’s novel Les Misérables pops up just as frequently as One Hundred Years of Solitude, mostly through Guadalupe, who has become infatuated with its hero, Jean Valjean: “I like Jean Valjean, Mom,” so she says, inspired by her bedtime reading, “I’m going to marry him someday,” prompting Luba to reply, sleepily, “Mmmmm… you and me both, sweet heart…” (87.6). That Heraclio has never heard of Raskolnikov and Luba is too tired to hear about Jean Valjean’s exploits is perhaps unfortunate, for Hugo’s and Dostoevsky’s creations stand as important references for each character. Like Raskolnikov, Heraclio has committed a transgressive act (his moment of carnality with Luba) and spends much of his time, during the early stories, replaying the events of this primal scene within his mind. He cannot confess: “Having Carmen find out would be worse than facing a dozen attacking panthers! No thanks!” (162.3). Consequently, he lives, much like Raskolnikov again, in constant fear of being discovered: “Doubt turned to paranoia which turned to near panic” (236.4). Even more strongly developed is the parallel between Valjean and Luba. Both characters emerge, rather mysteriously, from sketchy, peasant origins; both begin their stories in disrepute; both are constantly harassed by the law for their indiscretions; both rise to become mayor and moral center of their newly adopted communities, Montreuil-sur-Mer and Palomar; and both sacrifice much for their children, whose romantic lives eventually become a point of focus. Guadalupe therefore has little reason to search for a Palomarian Jean Valjean, since by the end of Human Diastrophism he seems to have arrived—in the form of Luba.

Hernandez, though, does not borrow casually from García Márquez, Dostoevsky, or Hugo. Rather, his invocations of Hugo tend to serve quite the opposite purpose: creating distance and subtle ironies even while tracing similarities. Guadalupe’s infatuation with Hugo looks foolish more often than not—even serving, perhaps, as a precursor to Humberto’s chittering infatuation with Klee and others. Moreover, Hernandez places great emphasis on the disruption of Guadalupe’s Valjean fantasy. While combing Palomar’s beaches for treasure in “On Isidro’s Beach,” Guadalupe begins to fancy herself as a female Valjean: “Señora Javert’s clever, but not clever enough to catch Señora Jean Valjean…” (131.4). The fantasy does not last long, however, as Figure 7 suggests.

Figure 7: The unmediation of Guadalupe (HS 131.5-6)

The scene of two lovers sharing an erotic moment is one not meant for the eyes of a child, and it serves to demolish Guadalupe’s childish fantasies about being or marrying Valjean. To a certain extent, then, Guadalupe’s coming of age as an adult (or, at least, her first exposure to adult behavior) coincides with her unmediation, her liberation from Hugo’s strong poetic influence. As though to underscore the point, Hernandez abruptly shifts from a hypermediated panel, dominated by two lengthy thought balloons, to the relatively immediate panel on the right, notable for its absence of words and consequent silence.

Thus, Hernandez’s comics, Humberto’s sketches, Miller’s photographs, and, finally, Humberto’s sculptures all revisit and remediate Montreuil-sur-Mer, transplanting Hugo’s panoramic vision of provincial seaside life to another continent and to another century, while communicating that vision within successively increasing degrees of immediacy. Humberto’s sculpture garden stands at the end of this spectrum because, fashioned as it is from Palomar itself, it stakes a claim to being realer than real. Or, in Humberto’s own words, it is, at last, “for real.”

Figure 8: The remediation of Les Misérables (HS 186.5)

Let us consider one final scene—a parting illustration of both the remediative logic of Hernandez’s art and Hernandez’s engagement with Hugo’s realist vision. It comes from “An American in Palomar,” as Miller wanders through town, amidst a bustling crowd of children at play, lovers embracing, and townsfolk returning home (see Figure 8). Delicate ironies emerge as Miller meditates vainly on his own photographic art, while an unidentified townswoman reads from Les Misérables to the right. Miller, an artist who works primarily with images, fills almost the entire upper portion of panel with his words. By contrast, Les Misérables, a work of art comprised entirely of words—notoriously so, in fact—expresses its power silently but powerfully through the image of the weeping woman. Surely, the collision of the two artists, Miller and Hugo, within the same panel comes as no accident, especially since Miller’s description of his art as plucking “beautiful flowers” from shit might (perhaps rephrased slightly differently) also apply accurately to Hugo’s work, as well as to Hernandez’s. Miller stands central within the panel, but he is cleverly dwarfed in importance by the overall composition. The “groundbreaking bouquet” sought by Miller is already there, in fact; it is behind him, in Hernandez’s own carefully orchestrated tableau of Palomarian life.


[1] From the story “The Reticent Heart” (Heartbreak Soup 163). I will hereafter abbreviate citations from the Heartbreak Soup collection parenthetically as HS. I will abbreviate citations from the Human Diastrophism collection parenthetically as HD.

[2] “Novel-length comic” is, alas, an ugly term, but I can think of none better for a work like Human Diastrophism, which was originally serialized in magazine format and collected with other stories as Blood of Palomar (Love & Rockets Volume 8). I am reluctant to use “graphic novel” (despite the fact that the recent Fantagraphics reprints advertise it on the back cover as “the only full-length “Palomar” graphic novel to date”) for reasons to be developed within the essay. For a cogent discussion of the relative merits of the two terms, “comics” and “graphic novel,” see Douglas Wolk. For the view that Love & Rockets are “not novels, and were never meant to be,” see Jared Gardner.

[3] For more on the prevalence and function of bastardry in the eighteenth century, see Lisa Zunshine. On the trope of incest, see Ellen Pollak.

[4] For the best recent account of Fielding’s (and Richardson’s) role in the elevation of the novel as a literary form, see William B. Warner.

[5] As Hernandez explains, diastrophism is “the action of forces that deform the Earth’s crust and so produce continents, mountains, etc…” See the cover gallery in Blood of Palomar: Love and Rockets Book 8.

[6] On the traditional degradation of comics as childlike, see especially Thierry Groensteen.

[7] From “The Young Crumb Story” (unpaginated).

[8] Both lists appear in Gary Groth’s (unpaginated) preface to Chelo’s Burden: Love and Rockets Book 2. The shaping influence of music, film, and visual art is further discussed, at great length, in interviews with Groth, Fiore, and Powers, Neil Gaiman, Derek Parker Royal, and Frederick Luis Aldama 171-89. For more on Jaime’s influences, see especially Todd Hignite.

[9] Despite my differences with Pekar, above, I should say that I think his definition of comics as, quite simply, “words an’ pictures” is a good one—better, in my opinion, than Scott McCloud’s “juxtaposed pictorial and other images in deliberate sequence” (9), which builds on Will Eisner’s “sequential art.” I follow Robert C. Harvey in seeing the “blending” of verbal and visual content as essential to the form of comics (25); even when comics don’t explicitly represent verbal content, I don’t believe that they escape what W. J. T. Mitchell calls the “visual-verbal matrix” (235). See also, finally, William Anthony Nericcio’s provocative description of comics as “the illicit progeny of a ménage à trois of film, painting, and prose fiction” (90).

[10] See see Bryson 92 and Barthes 80, respectively.

[11] For a more detailed model of the narrative development of the European novel (but not through the lens of media theory), see Franco Moretti 67-94.

[12] On the significance of gossip and telephones in literature and in film, see Ned Schantz’s excellent book.

[13] To continue Benjamin’s categories, one might say as a photographer Miller is more surgeon than a magician: “Magician and surgeon compare to painter and cameraman. The painter maintains his work at a natural distance from reality, the cameraman penetrates deeply into its web” (Benjamin 233).

[14] Though Foucault’s discussion of this facet of Las Meninas is, of course, most canonical, I am also thinking of Mitchell’s more recent discussion of it (next to Magritte, Saul Steinberg, and MAD Magazine) as a “metapicture.” See Mitchell 58-64.

[15] It is probably worth pointing out that claims about the comparative immediacy of comics, common during the 1950s (the idea that Superman promotes fascism, Batman promotes homosexuality, Wonder Woman promotes fetishism, and EC promotes violence), are still very much with us. Recently the Islamic-themed comic book series The Ninety-Nine, seen by some including President Obama as offering a positive portrayal of moderate Islamic values, has been attacked by others, especially conservative groups, as “indoctrination” and “the latest exercise in Muslim propaganda and toy promotion” (Morgan). Even more threatening than the comic book version, though, is the proposed animated cartoon series based on The Ninety-Nine:

A comic book is something that a child (or adult) elects to read. Pages must be turned, text must be read to make sense of the pictures. Animated cartoons do not require such deliberate behavior on the part of the viewer. They are there, they move, they have a soundtrack with music, the characters speak, and no-one has to turn the pages. (Morgan)

I thank De Witt Kilgour for drawing my attention to this controversy. For more on the Wertham controversy and the institution of the Comic Book Code, see especially Hajdu.

[16] For an intelligent tracing of some parallels between Humberto and Gilbert, suggested by the repetition of “-bert” in “Gilbert” and “Humberto,” see Charles Hatfield 80-85.

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