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La Perdida Paperback – May 20, 2008

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Carla Olivares, a young Mexican-American woman, goes to Mexico City to try to get in touch with her Mexican side. She's got her own, distorted ideas about what that means, and her annoyance with an old boyfriend who's leading his idea of the romantic expatriate life (by hanging out exclusively with other expats) makes her even more nervous about coming off like an outsider. She starts hanging out with a bunch of local lowlifes and blowhards who feed her guilt about being a privileged "conquistadora." They talk big (about stardom and revolution), but barely scrape by on petty crime—which eventually becomes not so petty, and sucks Carla into a vortex of fear and violence. Abel's published several books of her shorter comics stories, but for her first long-form graphic novel she's developed a new, impressively assured style, built around bold, rough brushstrokes. She's got a telegraphic command of body language—her characters' faces are simplified to the point where their eyes are usually just dots—and the backgrounds nicely evoke the architecture and heat of Mexico City. What really makes the story compelling, though, is Abel's sensitivity to character and dialogue—Carla is the narrator, but she's hardly a heroine, and the way crucial meanings are lost in translation ratchets up the dramatic tension. (Mar.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From School Library Journal

Grade 10 Up–Twenty-something American slacker Carla moves to Mexico, land of her long-lost father. She crashes at the apartment of her ex-boyfriend, a wealthy, WASPy American who socializes mostly with people like himself. Carla soon meets some locals, wannabe revolutionary Memo and wannabe DJ Oscar. After moving in with Oscar, she becomes less engaged in society, rarely interacting outside of this limited group. As she becomes even less involved, her naïveté allows some horrible events to occur. While readers see the writing on the wall long before Carla catches on, she is still a sympathetic heroine. This is Abels first full-length graphic novel after her Artbabe comic and collections (Fantagraphics), and its both simple and ambitious. The black-and-white artwork is sketchy, but evocative. The story is intricately plotted and suspenseful. The decision to write the first chapters dialogue in Spanish, translated at the bottom of the panels, is interesting. Later, when Spanish is spoken predominantly, all of the dialogue is in English, putting words that were actually spoken in English in brackets. This not only reflects Carlas move into Spanish, but also allows readers to feel more strongly her lack of knowledge upon arriving in Mexico. The lengthy glossary defines Spanish words, phrases, vulgarities, and characters and places referenced in the text. Abel has successfully portrayed characters both on the fringes of society, and those who wish that they were.–Jamie Watson, Harford County Public Library, MD
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Pantheon; Reprint edition (May 20, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375714715
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375714719
  • Product Dimensions: 6.6 x 0.9 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #414,670 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Cartoonist and writer Jessica Abel is the author of two textbooks about making comics, Drawing Words & Writing Pictures and Mastering Comics (First Second Books), written in collaboration with her husband, the cartoonist Matt Madden; and the graphic novel La Perdida (Pantheon Books). She's also the co-writer of the graphic novel Life Sucks. Previously, she published Soundtrack and Mirror, Window (Fantagraphics Books), two collections that gather stories and drawings from her omnibus comic book Artbabe, which she published between 1992 and 1999. She collaborated with Ira Glass on Radio: An Illustrated Guide, a non-fiction comic about how the radio show This American Life is made. Abel won the Xeric Grant, both the Harvey and Lulu awards for "Best New Talent" in 1997; La Perdida won the 2002 "Best New Series" Harvey Award. She teaches at New York's School of Visual Arts and is at work on a new science fiction comic series called Trish Trash: Rollergirl of Mars, for Dargaud France. Madden and Abel are also series editors for The Best American Comics. They live in Brooklyn, New York, with their two children.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

18 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Guy L. Gonzalez on April 23, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Jessica Abel crams heaping handfuls of story into each chapter of her gripping tale of self-discovery and self-deceit, an excellent, completely engaging and essential graphic novel that belongs on every discerning comics fans' bookshelf.

Carla, Abel's titular "la perdida" -- lost girl -- is a half-Mexican twenty-something who moves to Mexico City on a whim, looking to get in touch with her Mexican roots by fully immersing herself in the culture, quickly rejecting her fellow American expatriates in favor of two natives who (with a peculiar mix of selfish sincerity) embrace her: Memo, a Communist pseudo-intellectual, and Oscar, his good-looking if somewhat simple-minded friend. The first three chapters are Carla's story of trying to fit in and find her place in a culture that is completely foreign to her and not always welcoming, despite and in spite of her half-Mexican blood, and Abel does an excellent job of establishing a rather large cast of supporting characters so that in the fourth chapter, when things take a dramatic shift that in lesser hands would qualify as jumping the shark, she's able (no pun intended) to pull it off without derailing everything that's come before. Because she tells the story from Carla's perspective looking back on what happened, the reader is cued into details that Carla herself is missing at the time, so as events unfolded, I found myself cringing at some of her choices while always remaining engaged with her story. When it ended, somewhat abruptly, I found my head spinning a bit, chock full of images and anecdotes from Carla's experience as if she had shared them with me personally over coffee.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful By MT on July 20, 2006
Format: Hardcover
I read and heard a couple rave reviews about La Perdida, but I have to say I was disappointed. I speak Spanish and have spent time in Mexico City, so I agree that Abel gets a lot of the details right, but I found that the characters were types who didn't really develop. That is, I'm sure, part of what Abel wanted to convey...characters trapped in an approach to life without much insight into themselves or others, so it's possible I had the wrong expectations for La Perdida. The book does effectively show a woman struggling to find herself and does make make us wonder about how many women form relationships with men with so little insight into the power they give up and the jerks the guys are. But, overall, I think that creating a lurid comic book surface was a way to avoid developing fully human characters having real interactions. But, it's a pretty good graphic novel. You might enjoy the movie "Y Tu Mama Tambien" by Alfonso Cuaron if you want drugs, sex and swearing, but also insight into human characters and a brilliantly vivid picture of Mexico.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Esther on February 10, 2007
Format: Hardcover
I am a fan of indie comics (that is, not superhero stuff-Persepolis, Blankets, Peepshow, etc), so I was very excited to find La Perdida, especially because it was done by a woman. The artwork is sumptuous: rough brushwork, great expressions, evocative landscapes, especially the view of Mexico City on page129. Hats off to Ms Abel for this.

The story is what's lacking. While artfully executed, the story halts occasionally because there are no indications of scene changes, or even flashbacks for that matter. While most of the time I can intuit this, I really stumbled in through the beginning when more flashbacks were employed. Then, I have to chime in with previous reviewers. It is incredibly frustrating reading about a main character, Carla, who has no self-respect nor awareness, and does nothing but unwittingly sabotage herself (and others). The men she chooses for her friendships and relationships are all fairly abusive (verbally); they clearly don't respect her. She chooses the crowd she does simply to compensate her overwhelming lack of identity. (She loves Frida Kahlo, but when her new Mexican friends mock Frida, Carla rips her poster of Frida down!) While that's fine okay in a coming-of-age story, there is NO redemption. You do not feel as if she's learned from her mistakes. She recognizes she's messed up, but in the end, she's simply wondering where her innocence (read stupidity) went!

This is incredibly frustrating. The events of the story are interesting; the characters, if a bit one-note, provide a fascinating point of view (for a capitalist American like me). And if nothing else, the setting is stunning. Abel's images of the city and foliage are gorgeous.

But this isn't a graphic novel I would recommend to first-time comics readers.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Amherst College student on February 7, 2009
Format: Paperback
Carla, the narrator, is really oblivious. She is charmingly oblivious when she can't hold a taco right in the first few pages, but becomes more and more frustratingly oblivious as the story progresses: she has little direction or common sense, and so quickly gets dragged down by her circle of low-life "friends." Such a weak central figure deflates the work as a whole. Although readers are made to care about what happens to Carla while reading the story, afterwards, reading the book just feels like a waste of time. Carla is a dumb girl who learns very little, and doesn't apply that in life.

The narrative gets very tedious at points. The story does go quickly, I suppose, but reflects the directionlessness of Carla's life. The plot is rife with little characters that make brief cameos, muddy the waters, and then disappear.

Character development for recurring characters is a little flat; the characters don't flesh out much beyond the description in the dust jacket -- Oscar as a "pretty-boy who sells pot and dreams of being a DJ," and Memo as "a left-wing, pseudo-intellectual ladies' man." Harry is one-sidedly painted as a capitalist pig and privileged brat, and not allowed to develop much beyond that.

That said, there are some good points about Abel's graphic novel. It captures Carla's reasons (albeit vague and poorly thought-out) for going to Mexico and her desire to find her roots, although more attention could have been given to the culture shock that inevitably comes with entering and living in a new country. The culture shock is basically glossed over; she finds a few aspects of Mexico grimy but nets herself into even-grimier situations.

The artwork is pretty good, but one or two panel transitions are confusing. The aesthetic is also very cluttered.
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