Book Review: Readings

Jessica Abel



by Jessica Abel

Pantheon, 275 pp., $19.95

Twentysomething Carla, half-Mexican, half-American, goes south of the border to search for the roots of her heritage and becomes enmeshed with a motley group of yuppie expats, leftist agitators, club kids, drug dealers, kidnappers, and the various reckless phantoms of her own naivete. It's a hell of a story, originally published serially by Fantagraphics.

Because Jessica Abel's La Perdida takes place in Mexico City and involves a sometimes frictional intermingling of Mexicans and Americans, it's attracted comparison to Los Bros Hernandez's classic Love and Rockets. And, yes, the cultural resonances are obvious; but let's instead use that truth to dance about the visual architecture of what Abel's rendered. Because we are, after all, talking about a graphic novel here, and not just an interesting narrative.

With Los Bros, we have the drawing style of Gilbert Hernandez, which is serviceable and quirky, only ever in need of a certain polish; and we have his brother Jaime's style, a stark, realist's distillation of the influence of Dan DeCarlo, only ever in need of a certain roughness. Abel's style, precise brushwork, honed through many projects (most notably her series Artbabe), shines somewhere between those two values and provides vivid pictures, expertly arranged, of what's going on. The detail she fits into a single panel can be astonishing and provides a necessary sense of place in this story that is so much about place – physical and emotional.

It's unsurprising that, in moving her typical youth crowd from the bars and bedrooms of the urban U.S. and into the less familiar Mexican metropolis, the creator of Artbabe has increased the depth and diversity of her characters. What is surprising is the natural ease with which the subplot of menace grows inside the larger story, is derived from the milieu of economic deprivation and political unrest and the necessary interzone of cultures. But then, this ease is due to the story's characters, who, like the denizens of so many of Abel's comics, are distinct individuals and motivated by desires beyond those of any Ludlumed plot requirements.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More Book Reviews
<i>Presidio</i> by Randy Kennedy
Presidio by Randy Kennedy
For his debut novel, Kennedy creates a road story that portrays the harsh West Texas terrain beautifully and fills it with sympathetic characters.

Jay Trachtenberg, Sept. 14, 2018

Hunting the Golden State Killer in <i>I'll Be Gone in the Dark</i>
Hunting the Golden State Killer in I'll Be Gone in the Dark
How Michelle McNamara tracked a killer before her untimely death

Jonelle Seitz, July 20, 2018

More by Wayne Alan Brenner
Teas for Drinking, Teas for Thinking
Teas for Drinking, Teas for Thinking
Sometimes even a java fiend needs a vacation from coffee

Nov. 27, 2020

Table22’s Subscriptions Are Helping Restaurants Do More Than Survive
Table22’s Subscriptions Are Helping Restaurants Do More Than Survive
The ATX/NYC company brings a digital fix to Covid-thwarted kitchens

Nov. 25, 2020


La Perdida, Jessica Abel, Pantheon

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

New recipes and food news delivered Mondays

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle