Monday, March 19, 2007

The House of Raging Women by Los Bros. Hernandez

Our e725 Ethnic Mannequins seminar tackled a singular book by Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez, The House of Raging Women; here is one graduate student's response to the book:

Los Bros Hernandez: Tale Breeders

by Tria Andrews

Los Bros Hernandez’s “An American in Palomar,” from the graphic novel, House of Raging Women, is narrated through the omniscient point of view, which allows for a dual exploration of stereotyping and misunderstanding from the American and Central American cultures. The narrative not only calls into question the stereotyped stereotype--that is that cultures view differences in other cultures with a similar (and at times, identically critical eye), but also raises questions about the value and intricacies of art, particularly art photography. In “An American in Palomar,” the arrogance of American photographer, Howard Miller, temporarily causes chaos in the small town; yet the townspeople--their very realness--ultimately haunts Miller and perhaps even dispels his feelings of racial and social superiority.

When Miller first comes to Palomar, through his encouragement as well as their own aspirations, the townspeople begin to long for fame. Early in the narrative, Tonantzin envisions herself as a Latina Marilyn Monroe, but Miller’s “art” photography involves no such plans. Instead, Miller wants to depict the members of the community “as is”--that is, as they would be dressed for hard, physical labor--and the shabbier the better in order to inspire awe from his colleagues. As the story states, “‘Nice’ pictures are the last thing Howard Miller wants from his visit to Palomar. No ‘hot’ photojournalist ever got the notoriety Miller seeks shooting sunsets and waterfalls” (28). Miller, in his arrogance, thus, comes to shoot crime, poverty, and the desperation of a culture, which ultimately surprises him in its non-desperateness.

The difference between the way that Miller perceives Palomar and the residents themselves view their small community is quite remarkable. After Miller learns that Tonantzin believes he plans on carting her off to Hollywood for certain stardom, Miller is taken back. He thinks, “Ah, but I shouldn’t be angry. I suppose being stuck forever in a place like this would impoverish anybody’s life. Sad . . .” (42). Here, the contrast between Miller’s thoughts and the actuality of the situation (evident from Los Bros Hernandez’s graphics) is remarkable. In a single panel, lovers enjoy the day in the shade, a voluptuous woman saunters through town, a father and son spend time together, and children play ball. In fact, the only character who seems at all distraught is a woman reading Les Miserables. Is the Latin American culture so different from that of the American culture or any culture for that matter? Miller may not yet see the similarities--instead focusing on the differences, which he believes will win him the accolade he so desires--but for Los Bros Hernandez, it is no secret.

Quite ironically, as Miller has prejudices against the people of Palomar, so too do the children of Palomar have stereotypes against Americans. For instance, Guadalupe asks her mother “Is it true that white people copy everything they know from normal people?” (39). In this context, the word “normal” takes on an important significance, pointing up the root of all stereotypes as that which is different. What is normal to Guadalupe is what is common not only to her as a citizen of Palomar, but as a female, and as a child raised in a particular household. In an earlier panel, there is a depiction of the Oasis, where Miller makes telephone calls. Interestingly, just the building is evident in an establishing-like shot, though voices come from the building. One voice, for instance, says that what Miller says, since he is speaking English, “sounds funny” (36). Certainly, here the Oasis serves as a visual depiction of the namelessness and facelessness that allows for the perpetuation of stereotypes.

As a graphic novel, Los Bros Hernandez’s House of Raging Women serves its primary function--that is to entertain. Yet, as evident from “An American in Palomar,” the text accomplishes far more. These nameless and faceless stereotypes are defied--not only in Miller’s own mind, but also in the text as a whole--and become quite literally tales for children, which in itself is problematic. And yet in no way does House of Raging Women function as a soapbox; instead, the tales encourage more tales--not of the perpetuated postcard sort--but new stories that through their very realness humiliate and (one can only dream) eventually invalidate all stereotypes.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous10:14 PM

    Even though this book was optional reading for our 473 class, I thought it looked interesting (how often do we get to read comic books for class?) and bought it anyway. I just picked it up tonight, and read the whole thing in a little over an hour. This book, or rather, collection of short, graphic stories is fantastic. Not only does it give us different perspective of culture, it also gives us strong female characters in a comic book, something that is rarely seen. While many of the women are portrayed as sex objects (Luba or Tonantzin), they are also seen as very powerful, no bullshit matriarchs (Rena or Sheriff Chelo). I would even argue that the women in this book dominate and control the men through their sexuality. The women are smart and know how to manipulate the men, which is ironic, considering the collection is authored by men. The sexual tension in this comic is also unparalled by any other comic book I've ever read. Many of the women who are close friends also appear to be lesbian lovers. Hopey and Maggie are a great example of this; they both have short hair and get jealous over each other, making them appear as stereotypical gay women. Although we never actually see them in physical contact, it is implied. The book also addresses male homosexuality. In one story, we see two gay men going at it, and they ask a third man to join with them. Later, we see this third man engaged with a different cross-dressing man. The wide array of topic/issues brought up in this book by Los Bros Hernandez is quite complex. I would have never thought that a text in comic book format could be so insightful. In class, we talked about the sometimes symbiotic relationship between word and art, and no where is this relationship more relevant than in comic strips. On a side not, it is interesting to see the different ways that women in this book are drawn compared to women in traditional American comics (think the toothpick-thin Blonde). The women in House of Raging Women are beautiful and curvy with thick legs and big boobs and rear ends. The men in the comic find this sexy and even accuse one girl of having chicken legs! If you haven't already read this book, take the time to do so. You won't be disappointed.

    -Caitlin Weber