My parents met in the throes of adolescence. She was fourteen, he was sixteen. He lied about his age, his mother outed him some time later. They fought, and nearly broke up. A few years later, I was born. This much I’ve known for a very long time.
There’s also much that I didn’t know for a very long time. I didn’t know that their relationship was a source of conflict between my father and his parents, and may have forced him out of their house. I didn’t find out until I was an adult, piecing the story together from things uncles and cousins told me. I found out about the miscarriage that preceded me the same way. There's a lot I still don't know. Maybe I never will. Sometimes we never get to fully grasp the circumstances that lead to us having the lives we do.
To me, that's what Julio's Day is all about.
Written and illustrated by Gilbert Hernandez of Love and Rockets fame, Julio’s Day is ostensibly about Julio—it begins with his birth in 1900, and ends exactly one hundred pages later with his death in 2000. But for much of the story, Julio is only in the background—in the fore are his family and friends, who deal with illness, misfortune, and tragedy spanning generations. As a family, they hurt and help each other, just as they find and lose themselves.
It is through family that Julio and his relatives discover humanity’s capacity for both love and cruelty in events that are never spoken about to one another—and we, as readers, are hardly able to piece them together ourselves at first. Hernandez drops in and out of scenes and years at will, electing to omit captions entirely. Instead, the story of Julio and his family is conveyed solely through art and dialogue, and it’s absolutely wrenching to see all that they suffer through, often in silence.
But that’s how life is, isn’t it? There are countless events, blessings and tragedies large and small, that happen in the lives of individuals in a family, and each has the potential to drastically impact the life and circumstances of every other family member. Most times, we’ll never find out about them until much later, if at all.
It’s hard to say what Julio knows of his family’s secrets and what he doesn’t, but Julio’s Day does an incredible job of portraying the ways such secrets guide our lives—sometimes to sorrow, and others to joy.
I don’t know what my family will look like if I ever have a child, although I suspect it will be something like the one I have now: full of love and hurt and wonder and secrets, with things we can’t wait to share and others we wish we had the strength to. And despite the things we know and the things we don’t, I’d hope that my child’s day could begin and end like Julio’s, regardless of all that happened in between:
With a small smile.