Review by Frank Plowright
One day Gilbert Hernandez might explain exactly what Birdland is about, particularly the difficult surrealistic coda chapter, but until then the decision to be made is whether eighty pages of his drawing explicit sexual activity is something you want to see.
Until the end of what was originally the first miniseries it just about makes sense. The character around whom all others revolve is Mark. He’s married to vast-breasted lisping therapist Fritzi, an object of desire for her sister Petra, knocking off flat-chested stripper Bang Bang, and, covertly, her best friend Inez, while not averse to shagging his ex-wife La Valda when the opportunity arises. Mark’s brother Simon is married to Petra, but infatuated with Fritzi. It’s a tangled and very gloopy web, and you’re unsure whether to envy Mark his opportunities or marvel at his sheer stamina.
This is all very much satire, and most creators wouldn’t bother with anything beyond the basic premise as outlined for erotic material. Hernandez, though, keeps throwing in oddities. They may have a significance (and there’s at least one plausible essay online making a case for this), or they may all be mere whimsy. After all, whimsy is an area where Hernandez has previously dabbled.
Birdland is very funny in places, largely because Hernandez is really enjoying himself, freed from the restrictions of having to be coy about sex even in the boundary-pushing Love & Rockets. In the second chapter he decides that alliteration and assonance are the supplementary themes, and he also delivers psuedo-erudite porn film dialogue. “I remember the powerful undulations of your weeping love truncheon” is one of the few printable examples. He’s an equal opportunity pornographer, and there are few legal permutations unexplored, with even eroticised aliens joining in. It’s sweaty, squirty, spurty and joyous.
The final chapter is unconnected and may be the dreams of Fritzi’s therapy patients. Or may not. There’s plenty of good art to distract anyone while they make up their mind. Unashamedly erotic trivial fun, it’s rare to see a respected creator throw themselves so wholeheartedly into erotica. Perhaps more should.
Beginning with Luba in America, Fritzi, Petra and Mark were later incorporated into Hernandez’s more serious work.