ADVANCE REVIEW: The Troublemakers by Gilbert Hernandez

I'll admit something here; my history with the Hernandez brothers, of Love & Rockets fame is not as rich as I'd like it to be.  In the mid-1990s, as I was growing out of my adoration of super hero comics and discovering the world of underground and independent comics, I came into contact with all the greats, Dave Sim, Daniel Clowes, R. Crumb, as well as the brothers Hernandez.  I had heard of Love & Rockets here and there, but mainly as a great comic work of the past. At the time, they didn't have anything coming out regularly or consistent that I could latch onto, and so I hitched my indie interest to the likes of Terry Moore and Strangers in Paradise and Jeff Smith and Bone.  But I always kept an eye out for anything by Jamie Hernandez and Gilbert Hernandez and anything branded Love & Rockets.

As the years went on, Love & Rockets made a resurgence and I was able to catch new material and instantly I could see what all the fuss was about.  The brothers' styles were similar, and yet unique, their stories were out there and yet relatable.  There was something totally original about what they were doing and I was sold.  Over the past few years as Fantagraphics has been reprinting their old Love & Rockets material, I've been able to finally educate myself on their work, all the while staying open to new work.

So when I got my hands on an advanced copy of The Troublemakers, by Gilbert Hernandez crossed my desk, I snagged it and put it to the top of my read pile, and boy was I glad I did.  The second volume in his series of graphic novels that are adaptations of movies starring one of his characters from his Love & Rockets stories, Rosalba "Fritz" Martinez.  For you Love & Rockets fans, that clever, meta reference will mean a lot to you.  But for those who've never picked up anything Love & Rockets, you can still read this book and enjoy it completely based on the fact that The Troublemakers is a straight up crime story.  It's probably going to be described as a noir tale, but I'm tired of using that term.  It's a classic caper tale, with double and triple crosses at every turn.  

Gilbert introduces us to three distinct characters of the story early on, Vincene, a short haired scam artist, Wes, a lovable loser who just wants to achieve his dreams and stumbles along the way, and Nala, a magician's assistant who has a sadness in her eyes as she simply seeks someone to love who sees her for herself and not her exterior appearance.  All three characters end up being connected to each other in some way, which spells trouble.

The fact that these are "adaptations" of movies, albeit fictional, makes perfect sense as the story is laid out in a very clear progression.  We're introduced to the characters and immediately Gilbert starts building the character's connections.  First we see how Vincene and Nala come to meet under violent circumstances, then we see how Wes and Nala are connected, and completing the triangle we learn of Wes and Vincene's connection.  This is all happening as scam after scam is attempted in order to complete the "heist."

Gilbert's storytelling ability in the Troublemakers is at the top of his game.  Information is revealed and connections are shown in a way that is never suspected and almost always a surprise.  I literally didn't know what to expect as I turned each page as the story developed.  I immediately felt like I was watching one of those heist movies with all the twists and turns and double crosses, never knowing who is trustworthy and who is the villain.

I love the visual look of all the Love & Rockets books.  Gilbert's line work in this black and white piece is simply divine.  Never overly detailed, the cartooning gets the job done with just the right amount of lines needed.  It's amazing to me how expressive Gilbert's characters can be with just a few lines in their face strategically placed.  Years of experience has made Gilbert a master at his craft and it totally shows here.  What's even more interesting is how he sticks to a four panel grid on each page.  Nothing flashy in the layouts here, simply a widescreen, movie-like experience as you move down each page.  It's simplistically effective and should not be underestimated.

The Troublemakers is a great crime/heist drama that if you're a fan of Criminal or noir-esque books like that, you'd love this.  It also serves as an excellent entry point into the world of Love & Rockets, giving you a feel for the look and tone of a Hernandez brothers book without having to know about the decades of history and numerous characters.  If you like this, and I think you will, then you could easily move onto the collections offered at Fantagraphics and instantly your world will be expanded with some of the best indie comics around.

The Troublemakers is 120 pages and published by Fantagraphics and comes out later this month on December 31, 2009 with a cover price of $19.95, but you can pre-order it for $13.49 at Amazon.



  1. yup, looks good

  2. One of my favorite comics of all time is his Palomar. It is about a small Mexican town that follows the lives of the people over decades(and it was created over actual decades). I read the thing in a huge hardcover.

    I’m definitely going to check this out.

  3. This sounds pretty interesting. This this will be my first exopsure to a Hernandez brother too!