Daytripper TPB

by on Feb.09, 2011, under Comics

I had to read the Daytripper trade paperback twice before I could make up my mind whether or not it works. The book is structured around a strong, repeating device that is never overtly explained, and I had to decide whether I thought it justified itself.

The device is this: Every issue of Daytripper tells an episode in the life of the protagonist, Brás, at a different age. Brás starts his working life as an obituary writer, then becomes a novelist in his thirties; at the end of each issue he dies and we read the opening lines of his obituary. Though the episodes are told out of order, we realize very quickly that we are to read each one as if none of the preceding deaths happened, but everything else we’ve read about did.

In the end, I decided that device not only succeeds, but does so beautifully.

I had two reasons. The first and easier to explain is simply that their outstanding art builds up their credibility as storytellers enough that I’m willing to swallow things I might have resisted from lesser writers.

The Brazilian wonder twins Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá are best known for doing the art in other writers’ stories (Moon on Casanova, Bá on Casanova and The Umbrella Academy), though we’ve seen from their introductory collection De:Tales that they’re more than capable of telling their own. They’re in demand for good reason. They’ve developed an instantly recognizable style of long-limbed, broad-shouldered, highly expressive human figures, and they understand much better than most comic book artists how to manipulate the composition of panels to draw the eye where they want. They use only as much background as they need to set a scene and yet their pages always feel full, even when there is little action, or mainly internal action.

Beyond their simple artistic talent, though, I realized on second reading that those backgrounds away from which they directed my attention were actually full of carefully placed details whose significance is only revealed in other episodes. Moon and Bá always know exactly where they are in their hero’s life and how the current story relates to what comes before and after, both chronologically and in their own non-chronological construction. Technology changes unobtrusively in concert with Brás’s age. Brás’s wife appears in an episode before the one about their meeting but her face is artfully hidden, so that in that later episode Brás and the reader both see her for the first time. Brás meets his father after a big event—in a setting that reveals it to be right after his death in a different episode.

It’s reassuring to a reader when authors show this much control and planning in an unconventionally told story. It becomes easier to give them credit for knowing what they’re doing with everything else too.

And once they’d earned that trust, I was able to consider the obituary device seriously. That led me to a second reason for buying it: it’s thematically consistent with the rest of the action. Episode after episode in Brás’s life confronts the same central issue of loving in the face of death. Brás has many loves in his life—a girlfriend, a wife, a best friend, a father, a mother, a son, a dog—and there are episodes touching on each of them. Brás is built up as the sum of these many loves and remembered in relation to them in each of his obituaries.

I’ve struggled to find a better way than this to describe the book’s thematic arc, but I kept coming back to the thought that if it were possible to summarize it properly in a short review, there would be no need for fiction like it to exist. The best I can do is to describe the feeling it gave me: that it’s good to be alive, though we could die at any moment. It’s a remarkable book. You should buy it and read it many times.

Preview here.

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