Books

A Black-and-White World

Venturing into Gilbert Hernandez's Childhood

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GILBERT HERNANDEZ has been living in a clean-lined world of his own making for 30 years now. Longer if you count all the time he spent with his nose in comic books as a kid. The inestimable comic book pioneer, co-creator of the seminal Love and Rockets, is used to seeing things in black and white, but what used to be a cut-and-dried fact—kids probably shouldn't read his comic books, raunchy and awesome as they are—has been upended with his new all-ages comic book Marble Season.

I spoke with Hernandez on the phone from his home in Vegas, and while I giggled like a dunderhead, he was charming and erudite about his semi-autobiographical foray into funnies. "I'm really happy with Marble Season. I can actually show people my comics. At least my daughter anyway, she's 12. So she has to wait [to see my other comics]." Um yeah, just like I'm probably going to hold off on introducing my niece to the big-boobied, gun-toting, sex-filled world of Fritz Martinez in 2010's High Soft Lisp. But Marble Season is great for kids, and especially for adults who remember being kids.

It's an appealing book, autobiographical in that Hernandez took chunks of his childhood in Oxnard, California, and interspersed them into a drugstore comic book world, à la Little Lulu and Dennis the Menace. But unlike those static comics, Hernandez's characters learn and fight and change like real kids. Marble Season's vignettes center on Huey, a comics-lovin' kid with a panache for storytelling, as he and his brothers get into suburban neighborhood adventures with their gang of friends. "I took the more amusing bits of my childhood and strung them together in a story. I wanted to be specific... specific TV shows, specific commercial jingles, specific songs of the era," he says. "I do fudge it a little bit though. It takes place in a generic 1964, but some of the things they refer to didn't happen for another couple years."

In many ways, Marble Season is not that different from Hernandez's amazing Palomar stories from Love and Rockets. Okay, well, it's hugely different—it's not an epic, there's no serial killers or big boobs or magical realism, no Luba—but the underpinning is the same. All of Hernandez's all-ages characters are curious, thoughtfully nuanced, and full of the vivid expressions and body language of his adult worlds, as if the Riverdale of Archie Comics suddenly acquired a previously unknown depth. Or Little Archie & Co. came face to face with the fact that it's super frustrating to be a kid and like Huey, your mom might trash your prized and near-complete collection of Mars Attacks trading cards. "That's a funny story because that's very accurate to what really happened. I like to rub it in—I tell her, 'You know how much those Mars Attacks cards are worth now!?' Oh my god, if she knew what they were worth..." Hernandez says.

And if all-ages comics aren't your normal Gilbert Hernandez bag—no matter how well done—then hold onto your britches 'til later this year when he burns his family-friendly bridge with Maria M., "an ultra-violent gangster saga" with tons of sex and violence, he promises. But for now, Hernandez revels in the simple pleasures of a neighborhood where little girls swallow marbles, war games prevail, and comic books are king.

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