November 2003

Karin L. Kross


Lea Hernandez's Comics for Girls

I like what Warren Ellis has to say about Lea Hernandez in the introduction to Clockwork Angels, and I like it so much that I'm going to quote him. I hope he doesn't mind:

I do see [Clockwork Angels ] as a comic for girls, but as a comic for real girls. It's got romance, and family villainy and mistrust, and it is a very decorative book, and there are pretty dresses and all that -- but it also has bite and subversion and venom and humour and a bit of the old ultra-violence. All of which makes it nothing less than just like all the women of my experience. Which may simply indicate that I have a history of hanging around with the wrong type of girl.

If what Warren Ellis says is anything to go by, Lea Hernandez is a woman after my own heart. This impression is confirmed on reading her books. (And in the interview which you'll also find in this issue of Bookslut.)

Lea Hernandez had a long row to hoe before the first of her Texas Steampunk books, Cathedral Child, was published by Image's "non-line," a collection of creator-owned books outside of the standard superhero fare. Cathedral Child and Clockwork Angels have now been re-released by Cyberosia Publishing. Think of these as the "director's cut" versions. Not only do the volumes include a detailed afterword and commentary by Hernandez; the art reproduction is also much improved. (I recently stumbled on an Image edition of Clockwork on a shelf at the local shop, and was struck by the vast difference in production quality. And because of certain key sequences rendered in beautifully expressive pencils, in Clockwork the difference is crucial.)

The Texas Steampunk books take place in an alternate Texas in the 1890s, in a Central Texas town called Heaven. Cathedral Child revolves around the Difference-Engine-esque thinking machine Cathedral and the people who are caught up in its destiny, and in particular the young lovers Glory and Sumner. The story is a blend of magic and skulduggery; while Glory, Sumner, and the natives known as the cuerpo de cathedral try to learn the secrets of Cathedral, they must contend with the ruthless ambition of Parrish Stuart, who had his business partner, Sumner's father, killed so as to increase his hold on Cathedral. To attempt to summarize more of the plot would ruin some of its rewards, but suffice it to say that it involves much enchantment. And jackelopes.

Clockwork Angels is a sequel to Cathedral; this time, we follow the story of Temperance Bane, whose psychic powers allow her to read the memories of the dead, and her mysterious companion Amy. Their tale brings them into contact with Dr. Sacerdote, the stealthy not-quite-villain of Cathedral, whose menace has grown and whose agenda has gained focus. Hernandez's writing and art are more assured here, and it's all to the good; the story as a result is genuinely affecting, and quite beautiful.

As much as anything else, the Steampunk books are carried forward by Hernandez's strong character development and their engaging stories. Cathedral's story is quite complex, in fact, and I believe it benefits well from more than one reading. Hernandez's storytelling style is allusive and subtle, and if you're not paying attention, you may miss telling details. Clockwork is a little more straightforward, plot-wise, but it's no less rich for that, and I'd venture to say that it shows Hernandez getting better as she goes along. Mention must also be made of the fine artwork, which is clearly influenced by Japanese manga. Hernandez seems to have captured the best qualities of the manga style while avoiding some of its excesses, and the result is lovely. Readers who are wary of taking a peek at the magician behind the curtain may wish only to skim Hernandez's afterwords, but they are invaluable to those who may want a glimpse of a writer/artist's mind at work.

Of course, for a comics-reading woman like myself, it's always enjoyable to find a woman-created comic. There are, of course, many women at work in the field (among others, Colleen Doran, Roberta Gregory, Donna Barr, and Linda Medley are all names that you should recognize, and if you don't, you should remedy that posthaste), but the fact remains that if you ask a casual reader to rattle off the names of three or four writers or artists, those names will almost invariably be those of men. There is something to be said, very emphatically, for increasing the range of voices in the comics field, and I for one am always pleased when such a fine addition comes along.

(P.S. Those with artistic drives of their own shouldn't miss "Near-Life Experience: Creative Act" at the very end of the Cathedral Child volume. You may find it quite familiar.)

Cathedral Child
ISBN: 0970947453
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Clockwork Angels
ISBN: 0970947496
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