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Chicanos Volume 1

Written by Carlos Trillo and illustrated by Eduardo Risso
Idea and Design Works
196 pages, $19.99
ISBN: 1600100112


Evil gangsters, racist cops, Jalisco stuck knee-deep in shit — in short, a typical scene from Chicanos, ©2006 Strip Art Features.


In theory, Chicanos is exactly the sort of crime comic that I try to avoid. It's stuffed with noir clichés and two-dimensional supporting characters, for one thing, and I must confess: I'm really not that big on crime comics unless they bring something besides slick, high-contrast art to the table.

So why do I like this first volume of Chicanos so much? Two reasons. The first reason is the lead character, a private detective named Alejandrina Jalisco, who's quite possibly the biggest shit magnet this side of Frank Miller's Marv from Sin City — only where Marv wears his bad choices and hopeless luck like a suit of armor, Jalisco's rotten fortunes are a suffocating cloth sack from which she's forever struggling to escape. Life hasn't handed the poor woman a single break. Physically, she's the least stereotypical heroine in comics this year: short, with enormous breasts, comically skinny legs and big buck teeth. She's not ugly, precisely, but you could easily see how she'd think otherwise when looking in a mirror. It's her personality that makes her a truly fascinating character, however; she's as plucky a heroine as you'll find, stoic and inventive in the face of a never-ending series of rotten situations, and you're likely to find yourself caring about what happens to her from the word "Go." Writer Carlos Trillo lavishes a lot of attention on making her the book's one three-dimensional character, and her endless uphill climb thus becomes the emotional hook that redeems what would otherwise be a by-the-numbers set of crime stories.


Alejandrina Jalisco, shit magnet. Sequence from Chicanos, ©2006 Strip Art Features.


Chicanos' other redeeming feature is artist Eduardo Risso, who here shows a nuance and gift for caricature that I really hadn't noticed in his Vertigo series 100 Bullets. There, he's mainly drawing stereotypical rock-jawed heroes and sexy whores. By contrast, nearly everyone in Chicanos looks like someone you'd see walking down the street rather than stepping out of a pulp novel. The number of face and body types he's capable of rendering is impressive, and it suggests a sense of character that the writing often forgets to impart. Further, the lack of color actually does wonders for his high-contrast layouts; there are pages in this book that suggest what the aforementioned Sin City might have looked like if Miller were more interested in visual storytelling than mere atmosphere. One has to wonder if Risso's DC Comics dayjob might just be holding him back artistically — I don't think I've ever admired his work as much as I do here.

Chicanos is fairly empty calories, but it manages to be an entertaining read despite being a book you've probably read half-a-dozen times before. There's just enough artistic embellishment and craft in this collection of short noir stories to keep you turning the pages, and enough heart to make you care.


This essay appeared on the then-website of The Comics Journal sometime between 2006 and 2008.


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