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Ana. Written by Gabriel Solano Lopez. Illustrated by Francisco Solano Lopez. Seattle, WA: Fantagraphics Books, 1991. 112p. $11.95. ISBN 1-56097-066-9.

Surrealist fiction; science fiction (sort of)

Adults, teens; language, sexual situations, gratuitous violence

NOTE: Gabriel Solano Lopez is the son of Francisco Solano Lopez.

This book follows the French girl Ana from her days as idealistic student to adult burnout and beyond. The setting is Paris; Simone de Beauvoir is still alive, but the French government has apparently turned fascist. Because war is threatened, tanks roam the streets. After speaking with de Beauvoir, Ana gets the courage to throw a rock at a tank. The tank disgorges soldiers, who chase, capture, beat, and imprison Ana, later returning to gang-rape her. The policeman who interrogates her afterwards is surprisingly lenient toward her and allows her to leave. She returns home, either fantasizing or hallucinating that the policeman and de Beauvoir are speaking with her, then has another fantasy about her former lover, Jacques, whom she both hates and loves.

Some time later, Ana is planning to attend a de Beauvoir lecture and rehearses the things she wants to say to the philosopher. However, de Beauvoir doesn't show up. Terrified, Ana rushes to the woman's house and finds it ransacked. Then she hears a gunshot. Pierre, the boy who went with her to the apartment and was waiting outside for her, has been shot by Ana's policeman. Ana is arrested again, but the policeman assures her that he'll do everything he can to get her out of this mess. Indeed, he arranges to have her sent to Mexico in two days. After she's freed, she finds her policeman driving a car, ready to take her home. He's clearly infatuated with her. She tells him to take her to dinner first. After an awkward beginning (she's been referring to him as a murderer), Ana warms up to him; they get a little drunk, and when he takes her home, they have sex. Afterwards, as he's driving her to the airport, she can't understand how she's forgotten that he's a murderer. "Because you love me," he replies, and hands her his gun to prove that she won't shoot him. But she does shoot him, and walks away as he clutches himself. Eventually she gets to the airport and flies away.

Some time later, the policeman is boozing it up at a bar, trying to forget Ana but unable to. While commisserating with another drunk, the policeman hallucinates Ana at his table. He and the drunk go to the drunk's house. Later, at his own house, he fantacizes a conversation with Ana and the drunk. In what may be a "real" encounter with the drunk, the drunk urges the policeman to resign. Then he gets a phone call from Ana, who verbally abuses him and urges him to come to Mexico to learn "a way to forget."

The policeman, thoroughly beaten and alcoholic, arrives in Mexico to be greeted by the self-confident Ana. He goes home with her and basically becomes a slave to her dominatrix. She renames him "Fool" and orders him around; he willingly obeys her every command. However, she grows so jaded and bored that she eventually has her policeman murder two innocent people just for the thrill of it. Then she breaks down in abject guilt, and he kills himself. Meanwhile, the world has gone to war, and atomic bombs are being dropped in France.

We next find Ana in a Mexican prison, where she spends her time either silently sweating, yelling at her cellmate, or hallucinating about lovers and about wandering through the streets of her vision of a ruined Paris, with its mutated inhabitants.

Released from the prison, Ana takes a job as a barmaid on a cruise ship in order to get back to France. A small, ugly, old, fat, wealthy man takes a fancy to her. She dislikes him, partially because he was a war profiteer, but she accepts his wooing because she "can't think of anything better to do." But she despises herself for making this decision. At one point she tries to commit suicide by going out on deck during a storm [this is a different boat than the one she worked on], but she's retrieved. She shows little gratitude for her lover's concern, which pisses him off; he slaps her and warns her that he could send her back to her job on the ship. She ultimately chooses him as being less worse than everything else.

In Paris, a mixture of martial law and anarchy, the now-wealthy Ana still feels comfortable walking her new puppy down the street--though she does it mostly because she really doesn't care if she lives or dies. However, she's mugged, and the dog is killed. Although her doorman wants to pursue the mugger, she prevents him from doing so. She gives him the dead dog and vanishes into the dangerous part of Paris. We are then subjected to a series of flashbacks about how she received the dog, how she was made into a lady by her lover, and how she found and tried to speak with Simone de Beauvoir--but the old woman doesn't recall her. As Ana wanders the streets at night, her lover appears in his car and requests that she return. But she stays and joins the company of an old hunchbacked man.

Some time later, a private detective beats up the hunchback, trying to learn Ana's whereabouts. Meanwhile, vultures have arrived by the thousands in Paris and are feasting on the many corpses lying in the city. The hunchback hallucinates about Ana and about vultures, and finally ends up hanging himself. And the private detective locates Ana and brings her lover to the top of a garbage heap, where vultures are feasting on her corpse.

This book embodies the phrase "Life's a bitch, and then you die." This is one of the most depressing, unrelentingly bleak books I've ever read, when it's coherent enough to understand. It's the sort of pretentious twaddle that passes for "literary" among graphic novels, with weird notions of time, no real plot, supposedly clever (but really just confusing) intermingling of reality and hallucination and of present and past, "profound" soliloquies that sound a lot more like the author than a character, and a set of characters so uniformly unpleasant that when bad things happen to them, you couldn't care less. (I will briefly put on my writing hat here for all you wannabe writers: The hero [or anti-hero] of your story has to be attractive in some way--a sense of humor, a charming manner, a tragic past that needs avenging, whatever--or you're going to alienate your reader. Remember, watching a character's world collapse around them is a lot more affecting when you care about that character. And now the hat comes off.)

I don't have much to say about the writing in this book; it inspired little thought and much annoyance because of its pretentiousness. I will say, however, that the ending was really awful. I guess it was supposed to symbolize the total collapse of idealism, or the decay in Ana's soul being expressed in her physical body, or something like that, but it was so heavy-handed and played for so much shock value that it became essentially meaningless.

The black-and-white art is an improvement over the story--you can tell that Francisco Lopez knew a lot more about telling a visual story than his son did--but it is very light on depicting transitions between scenes, times, etc., which contributes to the incoherence in the book. Also, there are a lot of head shots of Ana (and other people) staring straight into the camera. But in general it's appropriately moody, and there are some very cinematic constructions, as you'll see below:

 Cop through Ana's legs

 Ana threatening
 Ana confronts the policeman in Mexico. One of those ubiquitous head shots.
 Copyright 1991, Gabriel Solano Lopez and Francisco Solano Lopez.

But good art is not enough to make Ana a worthwhile read. There isn't one fun moment in it. Even the sex comes off as self-loathing. (Dan Clowes did the sex-self-loathing thing much, much, much better in Ghost World. There, it meant something. Here, it's just another piece of bleak in Ana's life.) I guess people who find high art in incoherent grimness will enjoy this title; others may safely pass.


Copyright 2000, D. Aviva Rothschild


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