Palomar by Gilbert Hernandez collects the author’s “Heartbreak Soup” stories, which originally appeared in the Love and Rockets series, a collaboration with his brothers Jaime and Mario. The book, which has received widespread critical praise, focuses on the interconnected lives of characters from one family in the fictional South American town of Palomar.
In February 2015, the mother of a 14-year-old student in Rio Rancho, New Mexico, demanded the book’s removal from the Rio Rancho High School library collection because it contained “child pornography pictures and child abuse pictures.” After some initial confusion, district officials followed their challenge policy, and a review committee decided the book was appropriate for the high school collection. Palomar is slated to return to shelves next month, but students under 18 will need parental permission to check it out. In hopes of preventing any future challenges or bans, we’ve put together these resources for librarians and educators who may need to justify and defend the inclusion of the book in library and classroom collections or curricula.
Publisher Fantagraphics offers this summary of Palomar:
For the first time ever, Fantagraphics is proud to present a single-volume collection of Gilbert Hernandez’s “Heartbreak Soup” stories from Love & Rockets, which along with RAW magazine defined the modern literary comics movement of the post-underground generation. This massive volume collects every “Heartbreak Soup” story from 1993 to 2002 in one 500-page deluxe hardcover edition, presenting the epic for the first time as the single novel it was always intended to be. Palomar is the mythical Central American town where the “Heartbreak Soup” stories take place. The stories weave in and out of the town’s entire population, crafting an intricate tapestry of Latin American experience. Hernandez’s densely plotted and deeply imagined tales are often compared with magic realist authors like Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Isabel Allende (House of the Spirits). His depictions of women and Mexican-American experience have been universally lauded as the best examples the artform has to offer. Luba, the guiding spirit of Palomar since the outset, has been hailed by The Nation, Rolling Stone, and Time magazine as one of the great characters of contemporary American fiction. Hernandez’s work, in addition to the obvious magic realist comparisons, shares an affinity with other Latin American and Spanish writer/artists, like Frida Kahlo, Federico Garcia Lorca and Pablo Picasso, all of whom applied a surrealist eye to what they saw and experienced. Palomar follows the lives of its residents from Luba’s arrival in the town to her exit, twenty years later. Included are such classic tales as “Sopa de Gran Pena,” “Ecce Homo,” “An American in Palomar,” “Human Diastrophism,” and “Farewell, Mi Palomar.” Palomar presents one of the richest accomplishments in the history of the artform in its ideal format for the first time, making it a must-have for longtime Love & Rockets fans and new readers alike.
Reviews for Palomar
For 15 years, Hernandez has chronicled the inhabitants of the Latin American town of Palomar in his alternative-comics magazine, Love and Rockets. Now the entire, 500-page saga has been collected, and the resulting volume is beyond impressive. Hernandez’s complex, sprawling narrative spans three generations. The huge cast, multiple plot threads, and various time lines that made it daunting to read in installments now cohere brilliantly, making Hernandez’s rich blending of passion and politics, murder and magic realism, all the more potent when taken in one massive dose. Hernandez’s drawing style, which mixes realistic illustration and caricature to enhance characterization and sense of place, now appears even more expressive and assured as the huge story progresses. The cumulative power of the Palomar saga is arguably that of the most substantive single work the comics medium has yet produced. Hernandez continues to produce splendid stories, many of them concerning the Palomar characters in America, but this volume likely will remain his magnum opus.
With the skill and spirit of Gabriel García Márquez (and even a couple of nods to him in the text), Hernandez brings us to a mythical South American village, Palomar, where magic happens as naturally as a sneeze. Hernandez began telling the stories compiled in this book in the second issue of Love and Rockets, released in 1982. This landmark comic that focused on modern urban American young women and the wild, bizarre, “alternative” lives they led, shocking audiences with the normality and universality of their stories. With their easy-flowing, musical dialog and realistic decision-making, the women of Palomar (Luba, Chelo, Carmen, etc.) are all equally easy to relate to–though many of the men are not. Each joyfully absurd turn in the plot surprises and amuses more than the last, though the sexual melodrama that serves as filler does get tiresome after a while. The art is definitely stylized, at times borrowing from manga with its comic, oversimplified facial expressions and at other times extremely detailed, owing much to R. Crumb. Highly recommended, especially for libraries with Latino populations.
Publishers Weekly (starred review)
In 1983, Hernandez started writing and drawing short stories in Love and Rockets about a little central American town called Palomar and the interconnected lives of its inhabitants. The “Heartbreak Soup” stories, as they were called, established his reputation, and this mammoth, hugely compelling book collects the first 13 years’ worth of them. The earliest stories in the book owe more to magical realism and Gabriel García Marquez than to anything that had been done in comics before. But in later pieces, like the harrowing “Human Diastrophism” and “Luba Conquers the World,” Hernandez’s style is entirely his own: brutally telegraphic (he can capture an entire emotionally complex scene in a single panel, then imply even more by abruptly cutting to the middle of a later scene), loaded with insight about the bumpy terrain of familial and sexual relationships, swinging wildly in tone between suffocating darkness and sunny charm. His characters have enormous, tangled family trees, and he gradually unfolds their histories: there are some plot developments he sets up a decade or more in advance. And for all the bold roughness of his drawing style, Hernandez is a master of facial expression and body language. He tracks dozens of characters across decades of their lives, and their ages and their distant family resemblances are instantly recognizable, as are their all too human dreams and failings. This is a superb introduction to the work of an extraordinary, eccentric and very literary cartoonist.
Awards and Recognition
- Kirby Award for Best Black & White Series for Love & Rockets (1986)
- Harvey Award for Best Writer for Love & Rockets (1989)
- Harvey Award for Best Continuing or Limited Series for Love and Rockets (1989)
- Harvey Award for Best Writer for Love & Rockets (1990)
- Harvey Award for Best Continuing or Limited Series for Love and Rockets (1990)
What should I do if Palomar is challenged?
Most challenges to comics in libraries come from well-meaning individuals, frequently parents, who find something they believe is objectionable in their local public or school library. These challenges are often difficult and stressful for the library staff who must manage them, but there are resources to help them in the process. Below we’ve identified a number of tips and links to assist libraries to increase the likelihood of keeping challenged comics on the shelves.
1. Make Strong Policies.
Strong selection and challenge review policies are key for protecting access to library materials, including comics. The American Library Association has developed a number of excellent tools to assist school and public libraries in the essential preparation to perform before books are challenged here.
2. Face the Challenge.
What do you do when a comic is challenged? Much of the material in this post can be used to help defend Palomar against a challenge. The American Library Association has developed these helpful tools to cope with challenges:
- Conducting a Challenge Hearing
- Strategies and Tips for Dealing with Challenges
- Sample Request for Reconsideration of Library Resources
CBLDF can also help by providing assistance with locating review resources, writing letters of support, and facilitating access to experts and resources. Call 800-99-CBLDF or email email@example.com at the first sign of a First Amendment emergency!
3. Report the Challenge.
Another essential step in protecting access to comics is to report challenges when they occur. By reporting challenges, you help the free expression community gather necessary information about what materials are at risk so better tools can be created to assist. To report a challenge to the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, call us at 800-99-CBLDF or email firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also report the challenge to the Kids’ Right to Read Project, a CBLDF-sponsored program from the National Coalition Against Censorship and one of our frequent partners in the fight against censorship. Finally, you can report the challenge to ALA here.
Contributing Editor Maren Williams is a reference librarian who enjoys free speech and rescue dogs.