Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Julio's Day

Julio's Day covers much more than a day as it takes place from Julio's birth in 1900 until his death in 2000. Over those hundred years, he ages, family members and friends die, and others are born. The effects of major events, including both world wars, the 1929 stock market crash, the Vietnam War, and the first Gulf War ripple through people's lives. The setting is an unnamed, rural, American village that calls to mind Palomar in its bucolic aspects.

Most of the pages in this volume were published in much shorter 1 and 2 page comics over the course of 6 years in the second volume of Love and Rockets, but here are combined to depict an entire lifespan. The cast of characters is large, and they age, appear, and disappear from the narrative, but Hernandez provides a handy reference page at the front of the book.
Reading the book as a whole, I am struck by how it is a deft combination of iconic and monumental scenes of family and childhood mixed with very local and personal happenings. This book displays some impressive vistas, and sometimes seems like a parable of sorts, with many versions of traveler tales. But it is also full of small, evocative moments, such as short exchanges, prayers, and glimpses into people's hope and aspirations. Also, love is a big part of the proceedings, because Julio spends his entire life living at  home with his mother as he cannot reveal or come to grips with his homosexuality. He has a few relationships over the years, but they are covert and unspoken.
I read this book at a brisk clip, finishing it relatively quickly, but there is so much here to digest and chew over, that I see myself coming back to it often in the near future. As The Comics Journal's Charles Hatfield wrote, it is pretty interesting to read and compare this book, which is about a century's worth of lives and societal changes, with Marble Season, which is much more about Gilbert's childhood and a specific moment in time. Certainly both offer different views of Hernandez's impressive range of artistic and narrative prowess.

All the reviews I have read about this book have praised its beautiful art and intricate storytelling. In a starred review from Publishers Weekly it was called "a marvelous and tightly scripted epic whose last page is a heart-stopper." Tom Spurgeon spoke to its complexity, "I felt this work more than I processed it intellectually, which is odd in that I think it's relatively complex and will lend itself to multiple readings and a truckload of spread-across-a-table analyses." Andy Shaw summed up, "Julio’s Day is a literary classic, and another incredible piece of work from a true master of comics."

Julio's Day was published by Fantagraphics, and they provide a preview and much more here.

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