Hernandez, Gilbert. (2013). Julio’s Day. Seattle, WA: Fantagraphics Books.
Julio’s Day is a beautifully illustrated story of one man’s life, told in 100 pages from his birth in 1900 to his death in 2000. Rather than an even linear timeline, Julio and his family have several narrative arcs, with some events given detailed attention while others receive a cursory glimpse. The sparse narration and selective focus makes for a gripping and highly readable text, with plenty of room for audience interpretation.
The action takes place in an unnamed border town, probably in the Southwest, and the cast of characters are Julio’s family and friends. Although historical events touch the characters, the story is really focused on familial relationships and personal motivation. Major themes include sexuality, child abuse, poverty, and war, and ways in which these affect families through time.
I really appreciated Hernandez’s choice to provide a list of characters, showing their appearance over time and the relationships among them. He has a real gift for differentiating characters through simple lines, movement, and personality, but in a story that leaps ahead in time, it was helpful to have a cheat sheet. The art overall is masterful; Hernandez imbues even the most simple scenes with movement and emotion. I read the book three times through: the first time quickly, the second time just to enjoy the art, and the third time to explore the subtle narration.
Julio is deeply closeted throughout the entire book, but manages to steal bits of happiness where he can find it. He remains committed to his family and community and seemingly accepts the harsh sexual mores of the time. His grand-nephew, though, is fortunate to be born in a more sexually liberal time, and moves away from the small town to pursue a satisfying career and live out and proud. This theme is significant, but Hernandez doesn’t hammer it into the reader—like the rest of the narrative, the reader comes to their own conclusions through hints and ephemeral gestures.
Much of the content in Julio’s Day was previously published in Love & Rockets between 2001 and 2007, but Hernandez added significant plot exposition, character development, and scene transitions. Love & Rockets fans who are already familiar with Julio will definitely appreciate the fuller narrative and more comprehensive storytelling style.
Julio’s Day is on the 2014 Over the Rainbow book list and is also one of The Advocate’s five best LGBT graphic novels of 2013.