Gilbert Hernandez is the co-author of Love and Rockets--the sprawling and influential alternative comic book series. Since 1981 Gilbert and his brother Jaime have written and drawn stories about art, love, earthquakes, revolution and more.
Gilbert's latest graphic novel, though, tells a much more focused tale: Marble Season is a semi-autobiographical story that follows 10-year-old Huey and his brothers in 1960s suburbia. Hernandez talked with Off-Ramp producer Kevin Ferguson.
For those who aren't familiar with your work, or Marble Season, tell me about the book.
Marble Season is a book that took, say 50 years in the making. It's basically about a ten-year-old boy who grows up in the early 60s and he's trying to figure out what the world's all about. So he only understands comic books and horror movies and playing marbles.
It's about the neighborhood kids. It's just basically a semi-autobiographical story. What it's like to be ten years old, where you basically run the universe. There's no past, no future, nothing in between. You're just existing in this sort of imaginative state.
You said in an interview that your previous work was dense. And that you wanted Marble Season not to be dense. First off: I want to know what you mean by that, and I also want to ask how Marble Season differs from your previous work?
Well my earlier work was more dense, in the sense that there was a lot more panels, a lot more characters crowding the panels. Same with my writing: I was putting in 40, 60 words in a word balloon. And maybe there'd be three balloons in one panel.
And with Love and Rockets there were different stories going on at the same time too.
Right. What I wanted to do was have something read more like a comic strip, like Peanuts. Where it's just very simple and very easy to follow.
I was kind of excited when I read your bio, because you grew up in Oxnard. What was it like back then?
Oxnard is mostly an agricultural place. It's most notable for it's strawberries. You can still get the best strawberries in California in Oxnard! But it was pretty quiet growing up, and it was pretty quiet. We grew up in a pretty new neighborhood, so it was nice and clean, sparse. That was also what I was going for in the backgrounds and the settings for Marble Season.
I couldn't wait to get out of Oxnard, myself. As a teenager, it drove me crazy. It was fine for little kids, when you're just playing baseball and running around. But as you get older, you start to burn it out. And pretty soon it becomes claustrophobic. And you don't feel like there's any future there.
You were saying earlier that you tell the story from the point of view of a 10-year-old and that the 10-year-old is the center of the universe. Every time if you're going out, and you meet some parents or one parent with a kid. The parent's always fighting to get that kid to acknowledge adults—to not just stay in your own world.
It took me about two thirds of that book to realize there weren't adults anywhere. And I realized I was taken into that mindset!
Yeah. When you're in that zone, when you're in that part of your life as a kid. Parent's aren't around. They're just sort of in the way.
You were also saying earlier that you were taking inspiration from comic strips that you'd see in the newspaper. Peanuts also managed to keep adults completely out of the picture.
One thing that I saw in Marble Season that I did not see in Peanuts ever, I don't think, is that the characters at least in a couple scenes were pretty conscious of race. Huey's older brother Junior is accused of having a crush on a white girl. And that's the main thing: "I can't believe you have a crush on a white girl." Since it's semi-autobiographical, was that a big part of your childhood, too?
Most of that stuff comes from observation. I really didn't have to deal with that too much in my own crowd, because nobody really cared. But I would hear that. I would hear things like that. Like for example: The Beatles are introduced to some of the characters. For me and my little neighborhood kids, the Beatles were fine. We loved them. We thought they were great. But there were other kids who said "Oh, you're not supposed to like that music. That's what white people like."
So I'm just pointing that out—that was an attitude of the time for others. But you'd run into that once in a while. And yea, if you had a crush on a little blonde girl with freckles, eyebrows were raised.
What—if anything—do you want readers to take away after reading Marble Season?
I guess the main point is just that I'm still interested in the shared experience. I still want to connect to readers, to be able to relate. This is stuff you don't really see too much in movies. For example, if you try to get something done like Marble Season before it was a comic—like just an idea for a television show or a film—it's more compromised. It's like, "Yeah, you can have so much of that stuff but we have to have the slapstick and we have to have the funny voices and that kind of thing."
I think they would also want a huge narrative arc and a really overriding conflict to happen in that if they were trying to put it on a big screen. And I think that's one of the things that made Marble Season interesting to me. It's episodic. It's something that's ongoing. And it's like what life is when you're a kid.
Yeah, that's what I was going for. Basically, Marble Season is the moment you're ten years old. Only toward the end where he kind of hints that "Well, I'm not going to be a little kid forever. I hope I like it when I'm not a little kid forever."