Sloth, by Gilbert Hernandez (Vertigo Books, 2006). If ranking in an art form is a simple function of quality times quantity, then Gilbert Hernandez is nearly unchallengeable as the greatest comic book artist of his time (with only his brother Jaime, with whom he has produced the comic periodical Love and Rockets in a couple of formats for 25 years now, on and off, as serious competition).
While we are lucky to get even 40 pages every couple of years from some of our greatest comic book artists working in the non-superhero realm, Hernandez is unfailingly prolific on a variety of projects. This, Sloth, is his first standalone "graphic novel" produced without earlier serialiation in a comic book, done for DC Comics' "adult" imprint, Vertigo.
Sloth isn't among his best work–which is done with the cast of characters and their relatives living in or from the fictional Central American city of Palomar that he's been developing lovingly and elaborately for decades in the pages of Love and Rockets and other comic book series' for the indie publisher Fantagraphics–but it's still impressive.
It's both dizzying in its conceptual tricks and twists and deeply humane. It tells the story of a teenage rock band in a town troubled by waves of bordeom and ennui, said boredom becoming mysteriously reified in the form of year-long comas that come to touch the lives of the three central characters, bandmates involved in a love triangle of sorts.
Sloth is constantly switching up our sense of what is "really" happening; not in the service of random mindfuck bewilderment but always giving further insight onto the nature of the three lovable central characters and the meanings, both surface and mythic, of their relationships.
Hernandez's black and white pages contribute complete clarity and vividness to a world of mystery; he's especially gifted in facial expressions and body language and unfailingly creates a visual world that's clean and elegant while still vivid and quirky. Not a place to start with him, necessarily, but another impressive contribution to an important and wonderful body of work.