Hypnotwist/Scarlet by Starlight

By Gilbert Hernandez (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-68396-204-5 (HB)

In addition to being part of the graphic/literary revolution of Love and Rockets (where his astonishingly addictive tales of rural Palomar first garnered overwhelming critical acclaim), Gilbert Hernandez has produced stand-alone books such as Sloth, Birdland, Grip and Girl Crazy: all graced with his bold, compellingly simplified artwork and inspired adaptation of literary techniques used by Magical Realist writers such as Carlos Fuentes and Gabriel García Márquez – techniques which he has amplified and, visually at least, made his own.

Hernandez also frequently acknowledges such outré mainstream influences as filmmakers Roger Corman and John Cassavetes, and crime writers Elmore Leonard and Jim Thompson, as he explores new territories and reforms the cultural influences which shaped all us baby-boomers.

In Luba we glimpsed the troubled life of the lead character’s half-sister Rosalba “Fritzi” Martinez: a brilliant, troubled woman, speech-impaired psychotherapist, sex-worker, belly-dancer and “B-movie” starlet of such faux screen gems as We Love Alone, Seven Bullets to Hell, Chest Fever, Blood is the Drug and Lie Down in the Dark.

Although Fritzi only had a bit part in it, Hernandez “adapted” one of those trashy movies into a graphic novel (Chance in Hell, 2007) and repeated the story-within-a-story-within-a-story gimmick in 2009 with The Troublemakers – a frantic, hell-bent pulp fiction crime thriller which was part of the screen queen’s canon – and did it again in 2011 with Love from the Shadows.

Here, he’s gone a step further by revisiting the tone of those tales in the format of the 1960’s publishing trend for two-cover paperback releases offering a double-bill of exceedingly eccentric adult-themed sagas drawn from the schlocky, sleazy B-movie subculture of those times.

Deftly mimicking a compelling-but-trashy post-Noir psycho thriller and titillating Sci-Fi melodramas, both of these tales originated a decade ago in Love and Rockets: The New Stories and have been expanded for this volume.

You can start at whatever end you like – it’s a democracy, after all – and I’ll go with the wildly experimental graphic mime Hypnotwist. With overtones of Justine (or The Misfortunes of Virtue, the 1791 novel by Donatien Alphonse François de Sade), this eerie meander through the perils of modern debauchery follows a lost and vulnerable young woman on an astonishingly bizarre voyage of discovery…

If you flip to the far end, you’ll then be regaled by Scarlet by Starlight: a multi-perspective narrative that appears at first to be a science fictional fable of humanity despoiling a primitive Eden, before evolving into something far more disturbing. On a distant world, a team of three earthling explorers are helpless to prevent themselves becoming far too intimate with the primitive yet buxom anthropoids that populate the planet. As the human relationships break down, unwise new bonds are formed with unpleasant and even harrowing results…

Savage and sexually explicit, this exploration of drives and desires takes a further step into forbidden territory after the bold explorers return home…

Dark, evocative and astoundingly compelling, these are perfect pastiches of revered genres from a time period growing increasingly remote and fabulous. This slim hardback/digital delight is a stunning graphic rollercoaster ride of sex, violence, greed and obsession: a mesmerising treat jam-packed with Hernandez’s coolly understated narrative suspense, intoxicating illustration, brutally raw tension, sly elements of filmic surrealism and sheer surreal excess which carry and beguile the reader in classic style.
Hypnotwist/Scarlet by Starlight © 2021 Gilbert Hernandez. This edition © 2021 Fantagraphics Books, Inc. All rights reserved.