Marble Season isn't straight autobiography, Hernandez says, but it has autobiographical elements. "It's nothing specific," he says. "Just experiences. I exaggerated the true things. It's the best accurate representation of things that happened to me and my brothers and the kids in the neighborhood."
Not a lot happens in Marble Season. Kids hang out after school and play baseball and marbles and GI Joe and swap comic books. Hernandez would like to clarify that, unlike his alter ego Huey, he never stole a comic book. Nor did he eat a comic book, like Huey's little brother Chavo. He and his brothers did, however, cut up their comic books and paste their favorite panels into scrapbooks.
"Those are all gone now," Hernandez says a little wistfully.
But Marble Season isn't an exercise in nostalgia—or at least not just an exercise in nostalgia. True, it's set in the past, in a time before video games and after-school programs, when kids were largely left to their own devices to amuse themselves.
Marble Season, says Hernandez, "is my valentine to the good and funny parts of being a kid."
There's not much trauma in Marble Season, aside from standard childhood traumas, like bullies and the crazy lady down the street. And the moment when Chavo sees a dead bird, which is based on an incident from Hernandez's own childhood. "It looked like a baby to me," he remembers. "It freaked me out. I didn't know what death was like."
Hernandez is not above poaching from his daughter's experiences. In one sequence in the book, Huey buys a joke lottery ticket for 50 cents. (It says, "You can collect your winnings when hell freezes over.") The only difference between fiction and life is that Hernandez's daughter paid a dollar. (Inflation.)
"I got mad at her," he says. "I said, 'What did you spend a dollar on that for?' And then I could see her start to sink. She got a little sad. The air had gone out of her balloon. I had to remember to stop being a dad."
Hernandez's next book is an abrupt turnaround from the gentle, peaceful world of Marble Season. Maria M. is a companion to Love and Rockets and is full of gangsters, sex, and violence. It'll be out before the end of the year.
"I usually plan things five years in advance," he says. "It percolates until I'm ready to write. I never get writer's block."