Gilbert Hernandez’s Palomar stories are rightly praised to the skies, but it tends to leave people under-estimating his other work, of which there’s a considerable body. Take the light and frothy Girl Crazy, for instance.

It presents an upside down world where kids are credibly presented in adult jobs alongside alien-looking people and robots. Kitten dresses up in an ape costume to collect debts, Maribel is a bona fide female Tarzan and Gaby is a public defender. There’s an element of danger to all their lives, and on their joint sixteenth birthdays they decide it’s time they quit to work out a plan to rescue another friend of theirs from jail.

This is the sort of imaginative SF material that Hernandez used to produce to accompany the more serious drama of the Palomar stories when serialised as part of Love and Rockets. It’s a conceptually dense world created via immersion in cheap 1950s black and white SF movies absorbed through many late night TV sessions as a teenager, not to be taken in the slightest seriously. That’s the deceptive aspect, because if all the frivolity and distractions were stripped out of Girl Crazy a tight prison break story remains. However, it’s the frivolity and distractions that provide the joy, like the girls dressing up in outrageous costumes to perform their rescue, the idea that the I.R.S. now run the USA, and the background world of strange creations.

They highlight that although Hernandez’s art retains his distinctive style, it’s become stripped down over the years, and the sheer glamorous exuberance of these pages looks to have become a thing of the past. What a shame. He revels in the designs here, and the patchwork world incorporates whatever fits.

For all the fun, there’s quite the poignant explanation for what’s going on, and that leads into an emotionally smart final chapter. Girl Crazy was originally issued in paperback in 1997, but this hardback version is the treatment such inspiration deserves, pulling it away from the crowd and showcasing it with respect. There’s always been more to Hernandez than Palomar, and this is the place to begin an exploration.