High Soft Lisp

While technically an anthology of LOVE AND ROCKETS stories, Gilbert Hernandez’s HIGH SOFT LISP actually adds up to a well-shaped whole, if a bit gelatinous at the seams.

Its primary subject is the smart, sexy Rosalba Martinez, better known as “Fritz,” because her father thought she looked like the cartoon character in Nancy. Fritz is many things: a student, a slut, a psychiatrist, an actress and a wife several times over. The one ex-husband who never got over her, one-time motivational speaker extraordinaire Mark Herrera, describes her in part by features from which the title has been derived.

It could’ve been called BIG GIANT TITS, because more people reference that feature (their words, not mine) in these 11 graphic stories — “graphic” because they’re comics, and because Hernandez depicts some rather strong sexual situations. Just because his characters may look like they stepped out of ARCHIE doesn’t mean you should let your kids get a hold of it.

You get a full-figured glimpse into Fritz’s life, from allowing herself to be used as a sex object in her younger days to initially happy times in her marriage to Mark. That union frays before busting apart, with Mark-endorsed detours into other men in an attempt to save it. They stay friends, even as Fritz moves on to others, including a schlubby rocker Scott and reformed nerd Enrique, who’s spent the 10 years since graduating high school chiseling himself into a perfect specimen in order to win the affection of his unhealthy obsession.

LISP has its share of tender moments and tragic ones, although it’s relatively buoyant with humor throughout. One story, “On a Gut Level,” plays out in some sort of alternate reality as Fritz, Mark and a couple other ladies are stranded in the desert and taken to a mysterious location for an out-of-this-world mission. It may not fit into the overall story arc, but it’s rooted in its spirit.

This is the stuff of soap operas, minus the melodrama. LISP comes loaded with palpable emotions and heaps of honesty, even amid a cartoony backdrop. Rather ingeniously, something in the periphery of one random panel in a story develops into an entire story itself later in the book, with most all of them criss-crossing among one another, somehow achieving cohesion, rather than confusion.

None of this would be interesting if the main character weren’t interesting. And she is that, and then some. Although apt to make stupid choices, Fritz is a conundrum: a woman who uses her obvious physical attributes to get ahead, but also smart enough to rise above them. She allows herself to be labeled, yet surpasses others’ expectations as well. In Hernandez’s hands, she is that rare specimen of a brainy goddess. Given the care in which he draws her every curve, it’s easy to see why so many men have fallen under her spell. —Rod Lott

Buy it at Amazon.

THE TROUBLEMAKERS by Gilbert Hernandez

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