I Found This Stimulating (Intelectually): Portillo's Gabriel
That’s not fiction. It is interesting to me as I learn more about El Paso and the comics scene here to note that there are comic creators in the region who are actually exploring this reality in their work. Take, for instance, Jaime “Jimmy” Portillo’s recent graphic novel Gabriel. A mature title that won a Xeric Foundation grant, Gabriel suggests that the motive behind many of the killings may not be greed or drugs as the news media is reporting, but hunger.
Portillo’s eponymous character is introduced to readers as a decent enough fellow who has a penchant for hanging out at goth bars and taking in the scenery, which is often exotic, dark, and beautiful. But he doesn’t appear to be the go-getter type. He comes off as a “safe” fellow, the eternal friend, until he hooks up with a very attractive young woman who turns out to be a vampire. As they copulate in her car, she turns him and informs him of his new powers, weaknesses, and desires. It takes little time for him to accept his new situation.
Indeed, along with an excessive wordiness that often manifests in the form of repetitive phrases, Gabriel’s quick transition from “anyman” to mass murderer feels like a weakness of the text. Perhaps this is a sign of a young author, or perhaps Portillo is making a statement that given the proper positioning and power, mankind is not a particularly benevolent species. Even as he meets his end, Gabriel has no regrets for killing, maiming, and raping scores of young women. “Of course not, I’m a fucking vampire,” he states several times. It’s as if being a vampire is what we all really aspire to, deep down.
No, this Gabriel is not an angelic messenger from God. Or, if he is, the message is not a pleasant one. Indeed, even though the power-lusting blood sucker dies, the spirit he seems to have imparted over the region lives on as corrupt officials, thugs, and police officers copycat his tendencies and further cement a murderous legacy that is revealed to have super-natural roots from the beginnings of the region’s reputation as a lawless Western oasis for outlaws and renegades.
Crafted using Ka-Blam’s print-on-demand digital services and utilizing heavy photo-manipulation, the visual tone, layout, and feel of the graphic novel is impressive. The saturated and inky feel of the photos translates well into black-and-white and help to make Gabriel seem familiar yet distanced from his readers. At any moment we feel we are a part of his excitement, the thrill and eroticism of his hunt and kills but are just as likely to be his next victim.
And Portillo does do the vampire sub-genre justice. As noted, the sexual element associated with vampires since Stoker and before is very apparent, especially in a scene in which Gabriel meshes cunnilingus schemata with the vagina dentata mythos. Gabriel has the typical vampire strengths of flight, even teleportation, and the standard aversion to sunlight and heart-piercing stakes.