The Cosmic Treadmill takes us back in time to those summer days of reading comics, collecting baseball cards and watching everyone grow up around you, even if it seemed as if you would never get older.
This year saw the release of Marble Season from Gilbert Hernandez (Love and Rockets).
As the summer starts to wind down and kids go back to school, what themes will resonate from this book to an all ages audience?
The book is not merely a nostalgic retread of Hernandez’ childhood, but rather an account of growing up, family and the livelihood of a neighborhood when kids still played outside.
Writer/Artist: Gilbert Hernandez
Publisher: Drawn and Quarterly
BUY IT HERE
Marble Season is an excursion to the past, referencing the dawn of Marvel Comics in the ‘60s, Adventures of Superman on TV with George Reeves and Topps narrative trading cards Mars Attacks.
Brothers Huey and Junior join in the reading fun and both share access to Junior’s box of comics—that is until Mom puts an embargo on comics for the both of them until Junior gets his grades up. Their younger brother, the toddler Chavo is too young to read, and prefers to tear the covers from the books.
Around the neighborhood are a whole host of boys and girls of differing ages, playing marbles, stickball and even a It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World party.
Everyone seems to get along, except for when they don’t, which usually ends up in an honest to goodness old fashioned fight with little boy punches and slaps (remember those?).
A tomboy swings her stickball bat, some bad kids move into the neighborhood briefly for the summer and the star football player decides he is more interested in cooking than playing ball.
The little vignettes of Huey walking around the neighborhood as time passes takes the concept of Billy in Family Circus running around the block and elegantly captures the sense of time passing in the summer, and the myriad of adventures one finds themselves experiencing. The story is told through the eyes of Huey and Junior but also with the gift of play and imagination.
The story is semi-autobiographical, and it might be hard to cast Huey as Gilbert and Jamie as Junior, or if the roles are switched. The characterizations of neighborhood kids make for a rich tapestry of different cultures colliding and laughing by the wooden fences. The girls are obsessing over pop band The Beatos, the new kids are breaking toys and stealing dimes out of unlocked cars, and the Tom and Jerry parents are never seen or heard from directly, but the parental rules certainly are enforced and are abided by.
Huey writes plays about Cap and Red Skull in his spare time and uses his imagination in other ways, delving deeply into the comics from the stack, stocking up on his creativity meter as the days of summer fade away. Junior even helps create a Captain America shield out of a frisbee for his brother. A G.I. Joe loses an arm, not in battle, but because he was washed from being covered in mud.
These stories, fantasies and musings of collecting cards, comics and toys for the pure enjoyment and ritual remind me of stories from my own family. My dad taught me how to make a motorcycle sound out of putting baseball cards on my spokes, and it broke my heart to hear him lament about how my grandmother threw away his cards when he moved out of the house. He’d get in trouble for getting grass stains on his Sunday church clothes by playing with his cousins.
Huey’s interactions with new friend Chauncy are a highlight of the book.
Chauncy is the kid that knows more about comics than you do, and can recite the history of Captain America’s creation and origin.
The best part, he doesn’t make Huey feel bad or stupid about it, he is genuinely as excited about comics the brothers are. He doesn’t even get mad when Huey steals a copy of Captain Marvel from his box.
Marble Season allows you to go back in time, and nearly experience the childhood of your parents or grandparents in a world much different from our own.
The book does a lot of other things, and all of them very well. It illustrates that comics are truly meant to be read and enjoyed, and that as comic collectors—or the dreaded enemy of the more casual fan, “The Speculator”— we might be missing the point of the thing. But, the dichotomy of collecting and reading cards and comics is that we are completists, and that if Gilbert’s mom did toss his 96% complete Mars Attacks card set, he’s probably resentful a bit about that.
I’m unsure if comics written and drawn by modern masters are automatically deemed masterworks, but this is a book to hold on to, read again, and pass on to others (perhaps your children someday).
The all ages story that shows the stages one goes through growing up in just one summer without too many growing pains is really delightful and fun.
Of course the black and white artwork is amazing, with clean lines and traditional illustrative style you are accustomed to from Hernandez’ previous work.
Enjoy this book on the last days by the pool this summer, and don’t get mad if a kid gets peanut butter an jelly stains on the cover.