Books, Thoughts

Off the Shelf: Paperbacks From Hell

Paperbacks from Hell: The Twisted History of '70s and '80s Horror FictionPaperbacks from Hell: The Twisted History of ’70s and ’80s Horror Fiction by Grady Hendrix

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I came across this book on display at a local Barnes & Noble & immediately swooped it up. I had just spent the afternoon at a nearby used bookstore taking pictures of weird & retro sci-fi covers–how could I not check this collection out?!

Author Grady Hendrix was merely another curious browser in dusty old book stores, trying to find the weirdest, most lurid forgotten paperbacks until his innocuous habit became a full-blown obsession with cataloging the explosion of horror novels from the 70s & 80s. His timeline kicks off with the publication of Rosemary’s Baby & ends with Clive Barker & the brief explosion of teen horror luminaries like R.L. Stine & Christopher Pike.

Hendrix is having way too much fun with this book, exploring the social anxieties of the decades & making a bunch of silly running jokes about how skeleton doctors are the worst doctors with equal enthusiasm. And if you are curious about his focus & are game to play along, you’ll have fun while reminiscing about some of those same mass market covers you probably saw in the supermarket while tagging along on your parents’ errands. In all seriousness, some of the books/authors that Hendrix outlines will tease you just enough that you’ll find yourself making a reading list against your better judgement. He’s convinced this reader to give V.C. Andrews a chance & to cause me to look at William Johnston’s Westerns with a skeptical glance. (I see you, weirdo, with your supposedly milquetoast jacket descriptions.)

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Books, Thoughts

Off the Shelf: LOCAS: The Maggie and Hopey Stories

LocasLocas by Jaime Hernández

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The first volume of a thorough retrospective collecting Jaime Hernández’s Maggie & Hopey stories. Starting as a series of sci-fi shaggy dog stories, Locas slowly develops into more realistic anecdotes about the relationship between the two punk Chicanas as well as stories about their friends, their neighborhood, & ultimately about what life they seek out as they each grow up.

Having read Amor y Cohetes previously was a definite boost and gave me something to refer back to when I struggled through some of the slower story moments. There was the added bonus of actually knowing some of the visual references beforehand as well–when Jaime draws a scene with a crowd or a party, many of the fill-in characters are people from other comics by himself or his brothers. With that said, new readers do not need to worry that this first collection is too dense or self-referential. I quickly learned that if someone or something new appeared on the page, it would be explained sooner rather than later.

The driving force of the whole collection, of course, is the ever-changing relationship between the beguiling Hopey & the open-hearted Maggie. Their dynamic as they argue, support each other, cause trouble, separate & reunite was what kept me reading. And the people that surround them are equally compelling–it wasn’t long before I was just as wrapped up in Penny Century’s desperate attempts to find satisfaction or Izzy Ortiz’s vague, haunted perspective. I did a happy dance when Rocky from Amor y Cohetes showed up briefly & I fell in lust with Joey Glass despite my better judgement.

And the art! Did I mention the expressive way that Hernández draws faces or how everyday people with nearly every body type appear in each story. Or how I can’t stop taking pictures of certain panels? The cover of Locas itself is the best advertisement since it is made up of panels that work as mini-works of art.

Overall, I recommend Locas to readers who have lots of time to spare & are very curious about the Love & Rockets series. A book this size is a commitment & really won’t draw you in if it pick it up casually. This book especially works for completest readers who want to know everything from the very beginning, but be advised that there is another waiting for you when you finish.

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Books, Thoughts

Off the Shelf: Sacred Heart

Sacred HeartSacred Heart by Liz Suburbia

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Should you buy a graphic novel because of a t-shirt? In the case of Liz Suburbia, yes. Let me explain. I first discovered Suburbia when I came across one of her designs in a local art shop in my hometown. With such a distinctive & mysterious style, I looked her up & found the original website for Sacred Heart. I was instantly hooked, even if it seemed like the story came secondary to the art.

And what is the story? Ben Schiller & her friends appear to be mostly normal kids growing up in the small town of Alexandria. There are football games & dances at the high school; the local punk band plays the church hall; & they’re all counting down the days when the teen-mom-to-be in their group will give birth. But readers soon see that something’s off. Dead bodies of their classmates are turning up with frequency, there are no adults, & the entire community is “only a few months out” from some mysterious event. And then Ben starts bleeding from stigmata wounds. . .

I want to be clear that even though I’m under this comic’s spell, I have no idea where this story is headed. But it’s packed with so many personal reflections on inspiration, faith, loyalty, & art that I gladly let myself be swept away. (Heck, it was also the reason why I checked out Foxfire: Confessions of a Girl Gang last year–I needed to know why Ben picked it up!) And I suspect that this more atmospheric approach is exactly what Suburbia’s striving for. One of the main mysteries of the book–the dead kids–is resolved but the stakes of that reveal are quietly rendered less significant in a few pages with the explanation that the deaths are just an intro to the chaos ahead for Alexandria.

Suburbia’s sardonic perspective also lies in her stealth deployment of pop culture. Punk rock & cult movies hold just as much meaning as religious icons & art in the lives of Alexandria’s kids. One poignant scene has Ben sitting on a couch, overwhelmed by her responsibilities & the dwindling supply of resources. She’s bleeding for no reason & no one is coming to help her. In the background, the TV plays Boy Meets World reruns & she just stares at the screen with an unreadable expression on her face. The moment is funny & terrible all at the same time.

If you are curious but limited on funds, check out the above website, which has about two-thirds of the book’s content posted. If you find yourself enthralled as well, then run to your local comic shop & snatch it up! And then wait breathlessly with me for the next volume.

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