07 April, 2014

Review: Julio's Day by Gilbert Hernandez

Anne Elizabeth Moore wrote a pretty excellent review of Julio's Day. You should probably click through and read it first. My experience is less with the text of this specific book and more with the Hernandez brothers body of work. Love & Rockets is so popular there's an even more popular band named after it. Any best of comics selection invariably includes a few pages of Hernandez work, invariably featuring murder or sex (generally non consensual).  Their art falls into the stylized realism end of graphic novels. The lingering focus on physical imperfections lets you know this isn't some lightweight superhero stuff. The grunts come off the page when they fuck. This is how you know it's literature, darling! Life isn't pretty!

Julio's Day is the work that finally convinced me I just don't like the Hernandez's work individually or collectively. No matter how much critical acclaim they accrue, they leave me feeling bamboozled. In the case of Julio, the conceit is that we're going to follow this man through the hundred years of his life, a page at a time. (His mother lives to about one hundred and thirty because that's how Gilbert rolls.) We hit all the predictable points for a Hernandez work. People will be molested, people will be murdered, ugly diseases will strike, sex will be shown, women will go mad. It's all so meaningless in it's meaning laden run through history. The plot twists are cheap and random, unearned left turns taken for the sake of exploration looping back into pulled punches of revelation.

Darling, listen, life is filthy. It's a filthy place. The very earth we depend on for our food will send parasites to kill us and poison future generations. The mud will rise and destroy our homes, obliterate our families. (Often at the exact moment the plot demands inexplicable random deaths to smooth over pointless truths.) Death cannot be sanitized. The past is a place where everything was left unsaid, the forefathers kept their secrets in their chests, their loves silent, their desires repressed. It has to be that way! If it isn't then our glorious open freedoms are nothing but brightly colored flags waving in the hot breeze of self satisfaction! What's the point?

Literature requires a point. Too often dark themes are mistaken for depth. There's no depth to Julio's Day. A man is born and a man dies. In between he is a witness to other's lives, living almost none of his own. His experiences are alluded to, they are suggested, where the experiences of those around him are flung out like depressing offerings to the fates. When Julio's great-nephew urges him to walk out of the closet and embrace the sun I wonder whose sun is he referring to? In their family legacy of early death, molestation, abduction, murder and madness where does Julio's great nephew see himself? His casual devaluation of the sum of his great uncle's scarcely examined life is the ultimate rejection of Julio himself. Julio's true day is being lived inside himself, away from the reader's eyes. The parade of anguish that we're offered is to let us know we're reading something capital-I important without rising to the challenge of really showing us the depths of the man.

1 comment:

  1. Just read it and totally agreed. Wondered what I was missing in this highly-lauded work.