Sunday, November 22, 2009

Sloth by Gilbert Hernandez

Sloth is an original graphic novel by Gilbert Hernandez, one of the Hernandez Brothers behind Love and Rockets, possibly the longest running and most influential indie comic going. I haven't been able to track down a collection of L&R yet, but wanted to sample some of the Hernandez's work.

Sloth is short, easily the shortest book I've read this year, but what it lacks in size, it makes up in sheer bizarreness. The story follows three Hispanic teens, Miguel, Lita, and Romeo. When the story opens, Miguel has just awoken from a year long coma and is trying to restart his life. The coma itself is a mystery, mostly because no medical reason for it can be found. To all appearances, Miguel willed himself into the coma out of boredom and a general malaise. He returns to Lita, his girlfriend who may or may not have developed an attraction to Romeo during his year MIA. He also can't help but notice that trying to move at any speed besides "slow" causes his joints to burn.

To this point, the story is quirky but not exactly surreal. The strangeness starts when the three go to an orchard where a mysterious goatman is said to reside, coming out only at night. According to legend, the goatman offers those who see it a chance to change places. If they agree, they become the goatman and have to find someone to switch with.

The story only gets stranger from there, as the three encounter the goatman, Miguel finds that he may or may not be able to fly, and a major and completely unexpected twist at the 2/3rds point when (spoiler) Miguel actually becomes Lita in some alternate universe featuring all the same characters (except Miguel) in drastically different roles.

As far as conclusions, that's tough. The primary theme seems to be identity, but the specific applications Hernandez is making are unclear, as is the narrative arc. Is the implication that one of the three switched places with the goatman changing the fabric of reality? Is it all a dream inside of a still comatose teen's head? By the end of the story, all three teens have switched identities and willed themselves into comas, although not simultaneously. There's something beautifully tragic about the dreamworlds of the protgaonists, if that's what they are: the worlds aren't perfect, but they are realities where things happen, where there are rockstars, goatmen, and adventures.