Gilbert Hernandez’s ‘Sloth,’ a review

Sloth struck me as being a rather unsuccessful combination of Ghost World (Daniel Clowes) and Lost Highway (David Lynch). A self consciously dreamy tale of haunted lemon groves, nightmares, comas, urban legends, teen angst, and provocatively drawn ‘indie’ girls.

Sloth focuses on a group of American suburbanite teens afflicted- as American suburbanites will be- by a crushing sense of ennui. In an attempt to escape the gnawing banality of their lives,
some of the towns teens romantically jump off buildings, or make brother-sister suicide pacts.

Miguel our protagonist tackles his own imperfect life by deciding not to wake up. He induces himself into a coma.

Lying in his hospital bed he can hear his Grandparents and friends speaking, but the dream life of his coma is too comforting a world to break from. Then one day, a year later, he inexplicably decides to wake up.

The tale languidly continues, as the morning after his return back home his pre-coma girlfriend Lita – ‘The best habit to get out a coma for’ – meets him on the way to band practice. They make some adorable puns, and even though Lita’s boyfriend has been absent for a year and has just inexplicably returned, there is no discussion as to his waking up or her feelings towards it.

The two have a band, that include a mutual male friend. Lita has an obsession with urban legends, most significantly the Goat Man, a creature that lurks in the lemon groves and if caught sight of, will swap places with you.

Miguel, Lita and their friend Romeo strike out one night to find the Goat Man, video camera in hand. There is a strange encounter with an old man, and when the friends get home there appears to be a sighting of the Goat Man on camera.

From there on in shit get’s weird. The comic switches perspective from the view of Miguel to that of Lita, who in this new reality was the one who chose to fall into a coma. Romeo is a rock star, and the Goat Man continues to be a ghostly omnisicent presence.

I don’t mind any of this. The alternative realities was a little perplexing, but I was perfectly happy to go along with it. Presumably the sighting of the Goat Man formed a series of parallel universes in which the characters enacted new and increasingly bizarre lives, some how connected through wilful coma states and the Goat Man. This is all pretty standard magic realism fare.

What bothered me was the lack of any internal logic. Characters acted entirely inconsistently from moment to the next, with little to no explanation offered. For example, when Lita and Miguel are exploring the Lemon Groves, they come across an old man guarding the trees from trespassers. For no reason I could discern, the two teenagers barrage the man with a string of abuse. It’s weird and unsettling, and has no relation to the nature of the characters we have so far seen.

This is most especially true of Miguel who post coma is slow moving and dreamy. In another scene, Miguel is beaten up by a group of guys who a few pages back he had been on good terms with. Absolutely no explanation is offered as to assault upon Miguel, and it is a strange interjection to the rest of the plot.

The only other female character apart from Lita that figures heavily in the story is Miguel’s tutor, a 30 something year old lithe teacher, who at one point appear with a navel gazing belly top with the word ‘MILF’ splayed across it.

As a character she appears to be schizophrenic, mumbling paranoid fantasies about conspiratorial groups plotting against her. Her purpose is entirely unclear, as she pops up inexplicably from time to time in revealing outfits and with wild hair. Miguel makes no real comment upon her actions or appearance, and I found her entire character utterly baffling. She progresses the plot in no real way, is barely commented upon, and seems really only to fulfil some bizarre need for a sexy, mentally unhinged older woman. The only real point ever made about her is when she meets Lita, who comments in passing that she is the saddest person she has ever met.

Due to the parallel universes that spin from the incident in the lemon grove, we come to view events from the perspective of Lita for a while. She becomes the object in a love triangle between Miguel and Romeo, who she ends up seeing simultaneously. Although the story takes on the voice of Lita at this point, I found her portrayal throughout the comic entirely unsatisfactory. There is nothing genuine or believable about Lita, she acts entirely as an empty figure on to whom which the fantasies and desires of the male characters can be projected. The only concession made to Lita having a personality of her own is her obsession with urban legends, which ultimately is only a way to serve a necessary plot device.

The physicality of Lita is the most important thing about her. She possesses strong thighs, large round buttocks and wears revealing tops and leggings. She is drawn continually throughout the comic in positions that show off her physical form to the their best advantage. . She possesses no more depth of character than any other sub standard comic book female, and is drawn with the same voyeuristic slathering as any Power Girl comic.The only difference being that she appears in an ‘indie’ comic and therefore plays in a band and wears kooky hats.

To be honest, I found this entire comic unsatisfying. It felt like a self-indulgent and pointless exercise in surrealism, with poor character development and sexist portrayals of women.

The art work is dull and repetitive, with standard black and white depictions of suburban homes, schools and rock concerts. The dialogue has that lacklustre emptiness of self-consciously indie art. The lack of consistency regarding the plot was not intriguing or magical, instead it was merely frustrating.


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