Hypnotwist/Scarlet by Starlight

Writer / Artist
Hypnotwist/Scarlet by Starlight
Hypnotwist/Scarlet by Starlight review
  • North American Publisher / ISBN: Fantagraphics Books - 978-1-68396-204-5
  • Release date: 2021
  • Format: Black and white
  • UPC: 9781683962045
  • Contains adult content?: yes
  • Does this pass the Bechdel test?: no
  • Positive minority portrayal?: no

In addition to his visits to Palomar and Luba’s extended family in the USA, Gilbert Hernandez also frequently acknowledges outré influences. He’s informed by filmmakers Roger Corman and John Cassavetes, and crime writers Elmore Leonard and Jim Thompson as he explores new territories and reforms the cultural influences that shaped all baby-boomers.

In Luba we glimpsed the tempestuous life of the lead character’s half-sister Rosalba “Fritzi” Martinez. She’s a brilliant, troubled woman, speech-impaired psychotherapist, sex-worker, belly-dancer and “B-movie” starlet of such faux screen gems as We Love Alone, Seven Bullets to Hell, Chest Fever, Blood is the Drug and Lie Down in the Dark.

Although Fritzi only had a bit part in it, Hernandez “adapted” one of those trashy movies into a graphic novel (Chance in Hell, 2007) and repeated the story-within-a-story-within-a-story gimmick in 2009 with The Troublemakers. It’s a frantic, hell-bent pulp fiction crime thriller, which was part of the screen queen’s canon, and he did it again in 2011 with Love From the Shadows.

Here, he’s gone a step further by revisiting the tone of those tales in the format of the 1960’s publishing trend for two-cover paperback releases offering a double bill of exceedingly eccentric adult-themed sagas drawn from the schlocky, sleazy b-movie subculture of those times. Deftly mimicking a compelling-but-trashy post-Noir psycho thriller and titillating Sci-Fi melodramas, both of these reprinted tales have been expanded for this volume.

You can start at whatever end you like – it’s a democracy, after all – and I’ll go with the wildly experimental graphic mime Hypnotwist. With overtones of Justine (or The Misfortunes of Virtue, the 1791 novel by Donatien Alphonse François de Sade), this eerie meander through the perils of modern debauchery follows a lost and vulnerable young woman on an astonishingly bizarre voyage of discovery.

Flip to the far end to be regaled by Scarlet by Starlight: a multi-perspective narrative that appears at first to be a science fictional fable of humanity despoiling a primitive Eden, before evolving into something far more disturbing. On a distant world, a team of three human explorers are helpless to prevent themselves becoming far too intimate with the primitive yet buxom anthropoids that populate the planet. As the human relationships break down, unwise new bonds are formed with unpleasant and even harrowing results. Savage and sexually explicit, this exploration of drives and desires takes a further step into forbidden territory after the bold explorers return home.

Dark, evocative and astoundingly compelling, these are perfect pastiches of revered genres from a time period growing increasingly remote and fabulous. This slim hardback/digital delight is a stunning graphic rollercoaster ride of sex, violence, greed and obsession, mesmerisingly jam-packed with Hernandez’s coolly understated narrative suspense. Intoxicating illustration, brutally raw tension, sly elements of filmic surrealism and sheer surreal excess carry and beguile the reader in classic style.