Saturday, December 8, 2018

Chapter two: 21 - Daytripper reread

I was aiming for one chapter a day, right. It's been a busy week of sleeping at the wrong times, back pains and a scanner that just barely works 10% of the time. Apologies if anyone's actually been reading this. But anyway, onto the thrilling lives and deaths of Brás who this time around doesn't talk or think about his father at all.

Although his mother does get one mention due to her ability to ruin his sex life from another country.

"This is too big for a photograph"
is probably not something a real photographer has ever said. But Jorge gets away with it because none of this seems real. In a vacuum, this chapter reads like a fable, a ghost story. Brás and Jorge are traveling in exotic Salvador. Brás dreams of a woman in a roawboat on a churning dark sea littered with baskets of flowers, who's telling him to bring her gifts, and this dream seems to pull him towards the strange woman he meets, and she joins them on their trip and she's clever and caring and sweet as anything, and she tells them his dream was about Iemanjá, a water spirit who just so happens to be the object of a celebration on the beach tomorrow and won't they stay to join in, and Brás drowns in a scene just like his dream.

So I gave up wrestling with my scanner and went looking for scans online. This is certainly better than what I could accomplish, but it's worth pointing out it looks a lot flatter and paler than the real thing. 
In Daytripper, though, this is just the second chapter: A straightforward plot that expands on the throwaway line from the first chapter about Brás' and Jorge's trip they made when they were young, and introduces important secondary characters and settings, and gets us used to the many deaths of Brás and how they impact the larger narrative. (How the main character dying over and over impacts the larger narrative is this: It doesn't. That does take some getting used to.)

I'm posting this scene mainly to protest the Internet's recent outburst of galloping oppression-masquerading-as-morality. Let's see how long it takes the censorship to get to old forgotten blogspot, and then recognize these female-presenting nipples of color.

This issue is short and to the point. It states its theme very literally:
"If you travel too fast, all you're gonna see is a blur and you'll never meet anyone interesting."
And it drags you along to the next one with harsh efficiency. That may be ironic. There is a nice little scene in a market where the mystery woman - Olinda, she says - talks about being defined by more than her job and puts on a whole case study of Jorge who's living in the moment and photographing everything and telling us who he is through his pictures, an it's possible all this is just because she doesn't want to say what she does for a living. Because she's a ghooost. Or juust maybe she's a bum or unpaid maid to her mother or sex worker and ashamed to talk about it. The magic is very ambiguous, with full deniability.

Hey, maybe she's Hobbes!

But there is a distinct surreality going on here. People keep having conversations I just can't imagine happening in real life. Heck, Brás meets Olinda on a rowboat: he goes for a dive, finds a pair of feet dangling in the water, climbs into the boat and starts talking, and suddenly they're opening their hearts about loneliness and the meaning of life and stuff. I can imagine that something like this may happen in this country, very far away from any place I know, but I guess it's dreamlike either way. For me and the intended north American audience.

(It's still very hard to believe the part where Jorge ribs Brás for being really white on the beach and Brás goes on a speech beginning with the words "We're all born equal".)

But, aside from the actual dream episode later on, I don't remember the comic being this casually fantastic. It may have been too long since I read it, or there's something off about this episode. As much as I like the barrage of profundities and want to believe it works by creating its own style of internally consistent dialogue, as Tarantino does so well. Chalk it up to early installment weirdness/sophomore slump I guess.

Back to ch. 1 | Index

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Chapter one: 32 - Daytripper reread

Jeez my cheap scanner does not like the nuanced earthy palette on these pages


I heard somewhere, I think in the director's commentary on the Boys Don't Cry DVD, that the first two minutes of a movie are free. You can show anything, any abstract series of non-events, and people will bear with it because they don't think the show has "really" started yet. And you can use those two minutes to set the mood, to draw people in, to make impressionist paintings in light and motion, to establish the rules of reality or tell an oppressively moral story, to do all kinds of things that nobody expects because at that point there really are no expectations. At all.

What's funny about this theory to me is the very precise time frame of two minutes. In prose or comics or music or what have you, there are no such hard rules that anyone's figured out yet. Common wisdom, according to Warren Ellis, holds that you have a maximum of three pages to draw a reader into a comic, which would suggest the space to just go wild like the surreal freeway ride that opens Boys Don't Cry is smaller than that.

So it's a pretty bold move when Daytripper opens with a montage of obituaries of a handful of famous dead fictional people, accompanied with sepia pictures, for most of page 1. It turns out our hero Brás is just thinking about work as he stands in a bar dressed in a black suit and bowtie and covered in blood with a dead body in front of him. He's having a sort of stunned existential crisis about being unexpectedly covered in work despite being off the clock. It's dreadfully clever because he's an obituary writer. Juxtaposing the shocking, bloody murder with the line
"Isn't it funny how easily people forget about work the moment they leave for the day?"
really tells you a lot about what comic you're reading. And we're only up to page two. The killer is left out of shot here, because he's not the point. There's a quiet, a patient savoring of this moment as it is drawn out over three pages with nothing actually happening other than Brás making some different faces. There's a warmth and ease in the linework and the colors, soft even though the whole scene is tinged in blood red. The atmosphere in this small, dark, depopulated bar is thick, so much that it's barely disturbed even with the murder scene taking center stage.

Okay, I'm just trying to summarize the narrative here to begin with, so before I lose myself entirely in these depths maybe we just have to move on. Brás reflects, in third person narration, how he's always found a grim comfort in the idea that he's always going to have his business because people die every day, as his day shatters when confronted - obviously for the first time - with death up close. And we fade into earlier in the day when he reads about his father in the morning news.

Daddy Benedito de Oliva Domingos takes up the whole front page of the culture section, on account of a gala in honor of his 40 year career being scheduled tonight. On the day of Brás' birthday. He spends all day trying not to be bitter, but the truth is he's feeling forgotten. His mother calls, but only to inquire about if Brás and his wife Ana are coming to Dad's thing. He puts off working on his own novel.  At work all three of the big name obits he works on somehow end up heaping praise upon the men for their dedication to their children. We get the feeling Brás is more bothered about living in his father's shadow in general than about the birthday thing.

Putting yourself in your work can be bad for journalism
And we're introduced to Brás' friend Jorge, and barely told anything about him. We get to know they grew up together and made a memorable trip together, but mostly we get to know more about Brás. It could be Jorge being considerate to a friend who has a lot on his mind and also a birthday.

I shouldn't try to be clever and insinuant about this recap. Jorge drags Brás away from work with sassy cheerfulness. Over coffee, they share an elaborate in-joke about how the minister of culture is not coming to see Benedito. Brás is bothered by life becoming too loud, too complicated, too busy for him to write the book he wants; Jorge snarks that he's feeling old.
"I wanted to write about life, Jorge. And look at me now, all I write about is death."
is a great line, delivered with heavy pathos. But Jorge is having none of it, observing only that death is a part of life. And so is family. In a quick, effortless burst of clichés he manages to cheer up Brás and make him commit to showing up to honor his father. Jorge may be some kind of friendship genius.

And on the phone there's Ana, off in an airport somewhere buying a book for hubby's birthday, revealing she can't make it tonight. But they'll have their own celebration later, at home. Wink wink.

This, and a birthday card from Jorge waiting at his desk, seems to cheer Brás up further, and we cut to him in his suit, standing outside the Theatro Municipal and philosophizing about fathers and sons. The building's opening night in 1911 had Hamlet and it seems a lot conceited to me to connect this historical coincidence to his own daddy issues, but I suppose we can allow Brás some melodrama in his inner monologue.

And to kill the time before he has to be in there, Brás goes across the street to buy a pack of smokes (his father's brand) and gets into a conversation with the barman about his father who left him this bar and its name and his own nickname, and how you don't get to choose your family. I think there's some kind of theme here but I just can't put my finger on it.

But at least it's not Genarinho, son of Genaro's, own son who shows up to rob him and kill him. It's his sister's son. He needs money because his girl is pregnant and his mother won't do a thing. This is all very touching and would pass for an ordinary heated family argument if not for the gun. Brás does look like he think that's what's going, and he's just trying to make himself invisible, and he's completely surprised when the boy - Joca - points the gun at Genarinho's face and shoots him. And then Brás. As will turn out to be the one reliable pattern, the chapter ends with Brás' own obituary


My favorite part is Brás' conversations with his dog, Dante.

For context, Brás' mom calls him her "Little miracle" for reasons we don't know yet.
Followed by the scenes of the streets of São Paulo, vibrating with life. The crowds and motorbike flocks are drawn with simple lines, but every single person is at least a unique silhouette, and you could look at them for hours and never suspect they don't all have lives and stories of their own.

This somewhat of a "default" chapter, a gentle introduction to the characters and the concepts, with no particular points of interest. It's a day in an ordinary life of an ordinary working adult. It may be his first birthday that's not been a big deal, such a standard step on the road towards the grave. (Mine was when I turned fifteen, so it's a little hard to dig up any sympathy for Brás here. Until the moment of his death anyway.

But then, that's the point. The final little twist of unexpected death puts a light of ultimate significance on the most average of days. If we're looking for a moral here, "consider the possibility of death and you will find every moment in life matters" is not such a bad one.

Coincidentally, yesterday I got drunk and watched Grave of the Fireflies. Not that I'm on a death trip or anything, I just wanted to cry a bit. The bit that stands out to me - always has - is when Seita and Setsuko take a bath, and Seita makes an air bubble with a rag and lets it burst in Setsuko's face, to her delight. It's such an extremely simple technology and method for entertainment it's sort of primal; you can imagine people doing such things for as long as we have been people, as long as we have had brains capable of experiencing pleasure. A simple moment of happiness for a child who's lost everything, cutting away the desperate poverty and the trauma of the bombs and their dead mother and the hideous demands of the adult world. There's comfort and laughter and love in a tub of warm water and a plain white wash-rag.

And, this is the important part, their happiness cuts like a knife because we know from the start that the children are going to die alone and forgotten and resented and slowly and in pain and the whole time just a few short steps away from safety. This truly, madly, deeply mundane moment becomes unforgettable. It's burned into your heart forever. Because you know, deep in your bones, the way we spend most of our days denying to ourselves and can only acknowledge from the safe distance of this fiction, it's not going to last. They're going to die. Even this moment of simple innocent joy will be taken from them, like it never happened. Everything they are and everything they do will be wiped away. They will stop being.

So it matters so much. It's infinitely precious, while it's happening. It's life.

So we're starting out easy. Softening our heads and hearts up to withstand the impacts when the story gets going. Just the basic experience of life and death and the lightning exhilaration of the awareness of life that accompanies the presence of death.

Index | On to ch. 2

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

A Daytripper reread

A confession: I pirated Daytripper as it came out. For a year or so I'd steal each episode and read it and then work hard to forget that there was such a thing as this comic, to lessen the pain of waiting for the next one. The last issue I read was #8, after which I forgot all about it until I saw the paperback collection at my local bookstore and bought it without a second glace. Literally. I didn't even look at the price; about 2% of my monthly disability allowance. Including rent supplication. But I wanted it, and I wanted to know how it ended, and I wanted to support the people who made it, and this was my first realistic opportunity for it.

The moral here is that piracy works, and I'm not sure that the traditional serial publication of comics in little advertising-riddles pamphlets printed and sold at newcomer-hostile specialty stores does.

Not that I've ever been to a comic store, personally. I spent decades collecting the Sandman books out of order from my local bookstore. . .but okay, that's a story for another reread. This is a haphazard, a pell-mell, and a lackadaisical account of my experience with Daytripper. We don't care about spoilers; the basic conceit is that the main character dies in every episode, and I don't think the story holds any twists to match that one.

So. How do we introduce this comic? It needs to be said, sadly, that it's a self-contained one-volume book of some 250 pages. By Brazilian nationals and twin brothers Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá. No superheroes, no canon stretching back to the 1930s, none of the things that make the large majority of people despise comic books as an art form. Aside from the fantastical element of the main character dying over and over, there isn't even anything going on anywhere in this story world that you'd not see in the real world. The best word for this genre I believe is "Slice of life". Brás de Oliva Domingos is (in almost all the timelines) just a regular guy in Brazil. Obituary writer for a mainstream newspaper. Famous literature writer for a father. Cares a lot about the work of words, and his friends, and family. His story is almost always a tragedy, but it's a small tragedy, easy to understand, to encompass, to believe. No mysteries, no great struggles, no allegories or morals. Just the basic stuff of humanity.

It stays with you.

And I'm writing this mostly to help myself understand it.

Ten issues, ten days. That's the plan. Perhaps I should cover the intro here, today.

Introduction, drawn by Craig Thompson

The first thing that stands out in this one page comic is that it is a comic. Mr Thompson, whose work I'll surely have to cover in a future reread, fills the comics page with words in a way not even David Mack dares, making no distinction whatsoever between images and the written word. I've never seen an introduction in the form of a comic anywhere else, not before or since, not in comic books or prose books. It works to set the tone that this is something different from what you're used to. It really does.

Craig's sensitive lines touch on the subject of the division between "fantasy" and "realism", and posit the authors dance between the two, "infusing reality with the sacred". And he posits it alongside of the image of a superman flying horizontally above a numb man lying on a bed and consuming potato chips (guilty, at the moment of this writing) above a dead man reduced to a skeleton in the ground. This is communication on a level I don't have the words to pin down.

But he submits the one line "Daytripper is an honest meditation on mortality" which in stark white on black stands out on the very busy, active page, and those seven words I believe is the plainest summary of the story one could make. The "ten words or less" option.

To be honest the black and white drawings with a great emphasis on geometric (diagonal square) patterns, pretty as the page is in a vacuum, do not communicate visually anything of what the comic does; I think Craig's particular style, which helps a lot in his own work about religious scripture and lives directed by it, might have been better served by some direction here. Well, the authors could hardly script their own introduction, "direction" is not the right word. "Consideration of context" maybe.

I mean, I'm just pedantic. It has to be hard to add anything at all to the twins' obvious chemistry. As someone who's writing a novel about a pair of twins whose collaborative creative work leaves the world gasping for its breath, I find it hard to imagine the book is written/drawn by two separate people. It has the intimate, personal feel of a solo work, so rarely seen in American comics. There's David Mack, who seems to have finished Kabuki in 2009. Art Spiegelman, who did finish Maus in 1991. The works that stand out are few an far between indeed.

That's just to say I appreciate what Misters Bá and Moon are doing, which probably no one else on Earth could do. Which is what writing, or cartooning, is all about. I can't imagine how hard it would be to find such a common purpose with your twin, if you had a twin.

Aanyway. Onward to chapter one.