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Julio’s Day is the story of Julio’s life, spanning one hundred years, and covering approximately the same amount of pages. The pace of this graphic novel, which compiles a story originally serialized in Love and Rockets comics (with the addition of 36 pages), is set by this century timeline that runs through it. Just as clocks tick away lives in the real world, the turn of the page echoes that heartbeat of time for this tale.
The story follows Julio’s life from 1900 to 2000. The outside world changes—we read about it as characters mention wars, the changing presidents, the fluctuation of fashion—but the place where the characters live stays relatively the same. It’s a locale of Hernandez’s creation, where real-life events are as inexplicable as imaginative ones. Wars and mudslides plague multiple generations, but so do dangerous blue worms, parasites that guarantee their human hosts certain and painful death. When it turns out a severely injured World War I vet has been returned to the wrong family, and then years later, the real son shows up, the real-life mix-up seems as bizarre as tacos tainted by blue worms.
Early on in the comic, readers realize Julio is probably gay, and that he and his friend Tommy have feelings for each other, even as kids. But given the time period, neither of them is free to act on their feelings, or have any alternative context to turn to. Years later, Julio’s sister’s daughter’s son, Julio Juan, who’s also gay, but proud and out of the closet, confronts Julio, saying, “I’ve allowed myself my day in the sun, Julio. Allow yourself yours.” Sadly, it’s already too late; Julio is an old man, Tommy has died before him, and all Julio can do in recognition is visit the tree where his friend Tommy is buried.
This is a story about familial generations, both vertical progeny, and horizontal co-existing relatives. The book’s opening pages include a family tree of sorts that wisely informs readers both of characters’ relationships and of their appearances as they age.
Time is the ultimate motivator in this book, the invisible force that inevitably wrinkles faces and pushes down mountains. Julio didn’t get his day in the sun, but his younger ancestor did. The blue worms that unfairly plague Julio’s father later bring justice to his uncle, whom some of Julio’s relatives recognize is a pedophile.
Hernandez is a master at recognizing how these large scale plots play out against very particular details and character traits to make a good story. He’s especially adept at capturing children’s behavior and how it differs from that of adults.
This book opens with a black hole and closes with one, too. The strength of Hernandez’s art is that it shows us how giant voids in the universe, and human mouths crying at birth or gasping at death are all one in the same.
By Gilbert Hernandez
Hardcover, 9781606996065, 104 pp.