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Poison River

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Dec 15, 2021

Poison River is a graphic novel by American cartoonist Gilbert Hernandez, published in 1994 after serialization from 1989 to 1993 in the comic book Love and Rockets. The story follows the life of the character Luba from her birth until her arrival in Palomar, the fictional Central American village in which most of Hernandez’s stories in Love and Rockets take place.

Graphic novel by Gilbert Hernandez

Cover to Love and Rockets Volume 12: Poison River (1994), collecting the story from Love and Rockets#29–40 (1989–1993)

The non-linear, magic realist story is complex and experimental. It traces the first eighteen years of Luba and her growing extended family during the 1950s–70s as they trek through a fictional Latin American country, while social and political events intrude upon their lives. Each chapter focuses on a different character—Luba herself rarely takes center stage. The story ends with Luba and her family appearing at the outskirts of the village of Palomar at the point when Hernandez’s first Palomar story begins.

Long-time readers of Love and Rockets found the serialization of Poison River difficult to follow, and new readers found it disorienting and offputting. Unlike in his previous serial, Human Diastrophism, Hernandez made no attempt to mold the instalments into episodes to fit the serial nature of Love and Rockets. When Poison River appeared in book form in 1994, Hernandez expanded the page count and altered and added panels to improve the reading experience. The book was a turning point for Hernandez and his approach to comics and is an early example of the growing pains the graphic novel form suffered in the 1980s and 1990s.

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The alternative comic bookLove and Rockets began publication in the early 1980s,[lower-alpha 1] showcasing the work of the Hernandez brothers: Mario (b. 1953), Gilbert (b. 1957), and Jaime (b. 1959).[1] The stories featured sensitive portrayals of prominent female and multiethnic characters—especially Latinos—which were uncommon in American comics of the time.[2]

A version of Gilbert Hernandez’s Luba appeared in the first issue, but the character as she was to be known first appeared in his Heartbreak Soup stories as a strong-willed, hammer-wielding bañadora bathhouse girl. She eventually makes her way to the center of political and social happenings in the fictional Latin American village of Palomar, but little was related of her pre-Palomar life.[3] Hernandez gradually took advantage of serialization to broaden his narrative scope;[2] the stories became longer and more ambitious, and Hernandez delved more deeply into the backgrounds of his characters[4] and their community,[5] and sociopolitical issues.[6] In issues #21–26 appeared Human Diastrophism[7]—a complex story in which politics and the outside world intrude on the insular Palomar with dramatic consequences.[8]

Hernandez serialized Poison River in Love and Rockets#29–40[9] alongside his Love and Rockets X serial and Jaime’s eight-part Wig Wam Bam. Unlike with Human Diastrophism, he made no attempt to mold the serialization into discrete episodes in Love and Rockets.[10] The completed work first appeared in 1994[9] as volume 12 of Love and Rockets. In 2007 it was included in the Beyond Palomar volume of The Love and Rockets Library along with Love and Rockets X.[7] For the completed book edition Hernandez divided the story into seventeen chapters and added another sixteen pages, and prefaced each chapter with an illustration of one of the characters, suggesting the chapter was to focus on that character.[11]

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