August 2006

Bill Baker

gutterslut

The Best of Jordi Bernet's Clara

I've raved in the past about the work of Jordi Bernet ( "A Belated Best of 2004: Three Overlooked Books"), and bemoaned the fact that there was so very little work by this vital and important European artist available in English translation. Well, it seems that my and many other fans' lamentations were not in vain. Lovers of Bernet's work have real reason to celebrate the recent release of The Best of Jordi Bernet's Clara.

This strip, which concentrates on the generally lighthearted life, times, and tricks of the voluptuous prostitute Clara, was created in 1992, and quickly became one of the most popular strips carried by Spain's El Jueves magazine. The creative forces behind the book -- Bernet brought in Carlos Trillo and Eduardo Maicas to script the series -- expected that they'd get maybe a few dozen Clara de Noche (or Clara after Dark as it's known in its native language) stories out of the idea. However, as the character Clara became more defined and distinct, so, too, did her grip on the imaginations of her creators. Even more telling, her popularity with readers only increased until, over a decade later, the creators are still happily providing a visit to Clara world on a regular basis. (And, just in case you were wondering, yes, this book is recommended for mature readers as it contains adult scenes and language -- otherwise known as "Fuckin' and foul mouths" for you literalists.)

As the title of this beautifully designed book suggests, Jordi Bernet's Clara in no way attempts to present a comprehensive collection, nor even a necessarily chronological gathering, of Clara strips. Rather, this volume collects some of the best Clara strips from a period roughly ranging from early 1996 to the last days of 1999, along with a short interview with her creators and some other behind the scenes material which help explain the character's origins and how the strips are created. Still, as limiting as my description may sound, the fact of the matter is that there's a feast of rich and ribald humor waiting between these covers. 

But this isn't your typical "likable whore with a heart of gold" scenario anymore than it's a harsh portrayal of the streetwalker's life. Rather, Clara is presented as a fully formed human being, someone with complex and often conflicting emotions and ideologies, a woman possessed of all the fine and terrible attributes which make for a compelling character. While it's absolutely true that there's little enough room in two pages to present a solid narrative, much less a funny one, as the reader learns more of Clara and her life through these brief encounters, a deeper and more meaningful portrait of the character comes to light. By turn we get glimpses of the different sides of this Betty Page look-alike, first as the beset woman whose skills and efforts aren't always fully appreciated as work; now as the doting mother who will (literally!) use every trick in the book to buy her child everything he deserves; and then as the female warrior out to right an age-old wrong perpetrated by the opposite sex -- even if it's but for a moment, even if it's only for the sardonic and knowing laugh it gives rise to. 

But even when it does on occasion venture into more serious territory, one never has the sense that this is anything but a beast built to elicit laughter. And while it's true that the humor intrinsic to the strip helps defuse some of these heavier elements, it's a real tribute to Bernet's skill as an artist -- after all, the eye can't help but stop to luxuriate in the artist's sensuous line work, to pause and bask a short while amongst his sumptuous textures and taunt blacks -- as well as to the subtlety, grace, and sly wit displayed by Trillo and Maicas's script, that none of the proceedings are anything but charming and comedic... and overflowing with a deep generosity of spirit.

For many The Best of Jordi Bernet's Clara will be a short, fast, and fun ride on the wild side. And that's a great and fine thing, in and of itself. For some other readers, that first too-brief experience is sure to be followed by more clandestine meetings, as Clara’s world becomes a place not just to be briefly visited, but which deserves to be explored with some fervor, and even abandon, time and time again. Sometimes, a woman just grows on you, I suppose. Regardless, it's quite likely that Clara has something to offer just about everyone looking for a little hot fun in this so very hot summer. 

And you'd be a fool to resist the temptation.

The Best of Jordi Bernet's Clara by Jordi Bernet, Carlos Trillo and Eduardo Maicas
Big Wow Art/Auad Publishing
ISBN: 0966938151
96 pages