Everybody wants to be Captain America– thoughts on Gilbert Hernandez’s Marble Season

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Our childhood feels timeless, especially when you’re older and looking back at it. But even when you are smack dab in the middle of it, the days go on forever and blend together. You remember those times and you know everything happened on different days, maybe even different years, but all of those experiences exist in an eternal day that never ended. In Marble Season, that’s how Gilbert Hernandez tells Huey’s story. It hardly feels like any time passes even though Hernandez very deliberately but quietly shows us all of the different days of Huey’s childhood. He draws all of these visual clues that show us that we’re constantly moving forward in time, one experience at a time. The weather changes. Characters wear different clothes. Friendships evolve. While it may seem like all of the days blend together, Hernandez that the days of our childhood were just as limited as our time now. And maybe we need to learn to cherish our time and memories of today just like we do our childhood.

Framing these memories and events in ways that owe more to Peanuts than Love and Rockets, there’s a timelessness to Huey’s story. While it clearly takes place in the early 1960s, this isn’t a story about childhood in the 1960s. Like Charles Schultz, Hernandez taps into an idea of a pure childhood. It may not have been the childhood we had, but it’s a childhood we would have wanted. Comics, friends and a whole neighborhood owned almost strictly by kids creates a kingdom of adolescence where a kid can be a kid. Like Schultz, there are no adults in the story but the presence of parents hang over the kids activities, ready to throw their authority down if the kids playfulness gets too far out of hand.

Last year, a collection of Hernandez’s Venus stories came out, providing another look at childhood. But in Venus, Hernandez had a much more cynical point of view. Venus is written and drawn by the same cartoonist who drew stories about buxom Luba and Fritz. Without the explicitness of those stories, Venus’s childhood is much more cynical and maybe just a bit more realistic look at kids today. Marble Season’s Huey is pulled more from nostalgia for the stories Hernandez read as a kid and for his own childhood. Hernandez wants you to know about the parts of his own childhood that he loved while Venus is a collection of his observations of children who are growing up now.

Marble-SeasonMarble Season shows Hernandez’s love of community. This Palomar stories are built around it and even as he moved away from Palomar, his casts around Luba and Fritz continued to show those characters in identifiable groups. Huey, his brothers and the boys and girls of his town show a tightly knit group, thrown together by geography more than anything else. But that’s how childhood works. You get to know the neighborhood kids because they’re always around. Hernandez recreates that sensation for the reader as he throws us into Huey’s life. We may not always know the names or the kids but Huey doesn’t either. There are surface relationships and then there are the truer friendships that we build with these characters. Kind of just like childhood.

Comics, girls, neighborhood bullies, the friends we make for a day and the memories of a lifetime are all right there in Gilbert Hernandez’s Marble Season. But it’s also there in so much of Hernandez’s comics. It may be trite to say it but he draws the stuff of life. He draws all of the people, all of the little incidents and all of the day-to-day happenings in so much of his work that it makes sense that he’d apply those skills to a more nostalgic childhood one day.

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