Q&A with Gilbert Hernandez

A chat with comic icon Gilbert Hernandez about his new autobiographical book, Marble Season, and what led him to look to his own childhood for inspiration, rather than his “usual rude sex and violence.”

Panel from Marble Season, by Gilbert Hernandez.

Gilbert Hernandez is to comics what the Ramones are to rock. He didn’t invent the form, but he threw down a radical new way to think about it. Guided largely by his interest du jour, Hernandez raised the bar on graphic storytelling with his invented Latin American village, Palomar. Now, with over 30 years of ink on his fingers, Hernandez has drawn comics for every genre, from straight-up superhero adventure to surreal adolescent epic. With his new release, Marble Season, Hernandez delves into new territory: the semi-autobiographical memoir.

Cult MTL talked to the comic icon by phone about the new collection, his other projects and his long history of comic-making.

Rachel Levine: What is the premise of Marble Season, and why tackle a new genre now?

Gilbert Hernandez: Marble Season is observances of childhood. I just wanted to write about how cool it was to be a kid. I wanted to capture what it’s like when you’re 10 years old and you have a decent life with not too many troubles. You float through it. You take the slings and arrows and keep going. Even though things don’t all work out, you’re still living and still alive.

I simply got to that point where I hadn’t done an autobiographical work. All my kids’ stories were part of an adult story that was gruesome. My work had become pretty gruesome. I wanted a break for myself and for my readers.

Marble Season is autobiography in the sense that it shows some of the nonsense I endured as a child, and friends of mine as well. Some of the stories of my friends were put into the main character, Huey. About 75-80% is based on my experiences growing up in the ’60s. The rest is made up to link the story together.

RL: The kids in Marble Season play a lot of pretend games. Does this reflect something of your own experiences?

GH: Yes. Basically, it was just playacting. We’d be grabbing our toy rifles and killing Nazis. What boys do now on video games, we did in the streets. I guess it would look strange to see it now (laughs). We did all different things. We played superheroes. Sometimes we were in a haunted house. I had a vivid imagination. I would instigate the play. I’d suggest stuff and everyone would go along with it.

RL: How would you characterize yourself as a kid?

GH: Just like Huey. Sometimes aggressive, sometimes introspective. Neurotic and self-aware. Very self-conscious.

RL: How have things have changed for kids today from when you were growing up? Do you think anything has been lost?

GH: Today, kids stay inside playing video games, texting each other. The parents aren’t there. The video games are taking care of them. We had nothing but a stick and our imagination. Sure, we were indoors a lot watching television. The rest of the time, we were outdoors wreaking havoc.

I know one thing has changed — kids’ attention spans are non-existent. They watch two minutes of a movie and if they don’t like it, they’re out of there. They can leave if they’re bored after 10 minutes. That’s a luxury for them. We had to wait for movies to be scheduled. We had to wait a year to see the Wizard of Oz. To avoid that with my own daughter who is 12, I would sit with her when we watched a movie. If she got bored, I would talk her through it and explain it. I taught her to “read” movies early on. Now she enjoys black and white movies.

To go back to your question — things have shifted. I noticed that there is more willingness to be hostile, because kids can be that way on the Internet. They type away. They can say whatever they want, however they want. They feel that nothing is going to get back to them. There’s more arrogance. We had our own arrogance, but in different ways.

There were bullies who would knock you down and steal your mask, for example. The bullies weren’t the criminals they are now. Then, you just had to deal with them. They were part of the landscape.

RL: I’d love to know more about both Lucio and Chauncy.

GH: There are two sides of people you meet as a kid. Lucio — you would meet a kid who was so out of control, yet he had some kind of appeal with his reckless abandon. He’d get in trouble. Lucio isn’t really based on anyone specific, just kids in the neighborhood. They never went as far though. You’d meet one and think, this kid’s going to get in to trouble. But I never saw any of them get in trouble. If I did what those kids did, I would get in trouble.

Chauncy — completely the other side. He’s the sensitive, intelligent child, but also very appealing to hang around with. I had them on both sides and appreciated them both.

RL: Anything particularly challenging about creating Marble Season?

GH: Once I started working on it, it came together fast. It wasn’t easy to draw, because of the microcosm — it was so repetitive. The last few pages, there’s no background. I’m sure I’m going to get crap for that. I had penciled in some backgrounds – but when I started adding them, it worked better without. It took away from the intimate world of the kids. I erased all the designs and it worked better for me. They’re in a ghost world, but an innocent place.

RL: What comics are you reading at the moment?

GH: I’m not reading comic books right now because at this point in my career, I’m always writing or thinking about writing. Unless I go on a vacation, it’s what I’m doing 24 hours a day. I’ll look at old reprints from the ’50s of horror comics to get away from what I’m doing, but I don’t look at too many new ones.

RL: Anything else in the works?

GH: I have a collection, Julio’s Day, that I’m proud of. I added 10 pages to that. It’s 100 years of a man’s life. That worked well and is getting a great response. Julio’s Day and Marble Season are coming together at roughly the same time. I am really happy about both books. Of course, I’ll by spoil that by having another graphic novel at the end of the year — my usual rude sex and violence. ■

Gilbert Hernandez will give a slideshow presentation at the launch party for Marble Season, Wednesday April 17 at Librairie Drawn & Quarterly (211 Bernard W.), 7 p.m., free

Leave a Reply