The PopCult Bookshelf
I’m already on record as being a huge fan of Gilbert Hernandez. I’ve been on board since the first Fantagraphics issue of Love and Rockets over thirty years ago. As one of “Los Bros. Hernandez,” Gilbert always seemed to be more prolific than his brothers, Mario and Jaime, and has produced work of an amazingly high quality on his own for three decades now.
Marble Season is unlike any of his previous work. This is a semi-autobiographical snapshot of what it was like growing up in a largely hispanic Southern California suburb in the 1960s. Being a kid in that era meant a steady diet of things like comic books, GI Joe, monster movies, Sea Hunt, Mars Attacks cards, and games like Marbles. With this work, Hernandez has dared to tell a story that isn’t epic. So much of his work has world-shattering or life-changing plot points. Marble Season does not. It’s a simple, months long slice-of-life showing kids in a neighborhood, facing everyday situations and just beginning to learn about the pitfalls of growing up.
It’s hard to compare Marble Season to other works. In comics, it’s like a more realistic Peanuts, with darker themes. There are elements of Truffaut’s kid-centric movies here. I think the closest analogy I can make is that Marble Season is like Harper Lee’s classic novel, “To Kill A Mockingbird,” only without the trial or any adults showing up.
And that is another remarkable feat that Hernandez pulls off. No adults appear in Marble Season. They are present “off page,” but, just as they do in the world created by Charles Schulz in Peanuts, the children in Marble Season exist in their own world.
We see this world through the experiences of Huey, a middle child in a large family. Things happen, some of which are open to adult interpretation by the reader, but are not noted by Huey. He’s interested in playing with his friends, reading his older brother’s comics, watching TV and trying to figure out what the deal is with girls.
Rather than one big story, Marble Season is a series of vignettes: the loud obnoxious new kids; the fights; the quiet kid with the killer comic book collection; the tomboy who suddenly starts wearing a dress; the pointless club initiation; and lots of kids just being kids.
The genius of Gilbert Hernandez is that he makes this all so compelling. Marble Season draws you in and makes you care and wonder about the characters. This simple, 120-page comic book story about kids is more real than anything else you’re liable to experience in any novel, movie or documentary this year.
With Marble Season, Gilbert Hernandez has crafted the most human, universal story I’ve read in ages. Like much of his and his brothers’ work in Love and Rockets, the only disappointment with Marble Season is that it ended. I’d love to read more about these characters.
Marble Season is easily the finest graphic novel I’ve read this year. It’s a testament to Hernadez’s reputation that the book also includes an in-depth essay discussing his work and how Marble Season fits in with his canon, written by Corey K.Creekmur, an associate professor of English and Film Studies at The University of Iowa. We also get a page indexing and explaining the pop culture references.
I highly recommend Marble Season to anyone. It’s that good.