In this quasi-autobiographical tale, comic book legend Gilbert Hernandez paints a vibrant and pragmatic view of his memories of suburban family life in California during the 1960s. Firmly affixed in time with popular culture references from television programs, music, and, of course, comic books, the book navigates the reality of childhood, school and family dynamics, friendships, and self awareness and identity within and without the borders of this specific community and family. Significantly, Hernandez’s coming-of-age story is as relatable to contemporary readers as to those who grew up playing marbles and continuously engaging in role-play without the aid of electronic means.
While the protagonist is essentially Huey, the book reveals the inner workings of the relationships of other characters as well, highlighting the interconnectivity of childhood dreams, ideals, and coping skills among members of the nuclear family and the neighborhood residents. Huey is an individual, but he is also an everyman, identifiable and relatable for most readers, regardless of gender. It is a story fueled by male memories of brothers, but it does not overlook the female members of the neighborhood in the telling. All of the characters are fully developed, and nary a stereotype jumps off the page.
The worldview offered here is one that is nostalgic but also child centred. It is a world populated by iconic signs of childhood: the worshipping of comic books and other elements of popular culture, the diverse age range of the main characters, and the almost complete unawareness of intolerance.Hernandez subtly offers insights into racial divides and distinctiveness in the community, all through the eyes of its youngest members. While adults are invisible in this world, readers see their influence on their children. For example, comic books are taken away until marks improve, revered collector cards are trashed, siblings are babysat, and loud playing in the yard is forbidden.
This is a colorful and noisy world, ironically portrayed in black-and-white, cartoon-like illustrations. The panels, uniformly six to a page, offer only basic background vistas, focusing instead on the body language and facial expressions of the participants in this character-driven collection of vignettes. This is not to say that there is not a great deal of action in the comic; there are, in fact, constant interactions between Huey, his siblings, his friends, and other neighborhood children. The illustrations and layout are reminiscent of both the world of Peanuts and of Archie’s Riverdale, but still present a world unique to the tale. The attractive hard-cover package includes an extended essay by comic scholar Corey K. Creekmur on childhood as portrayed in this book and in other comic book worlds. The essay may be of interest to educators and librarians, but its adult worldview and dense type will probably discourage younger readers.