Guttergeek Review: Daytripper

Posted by on April 11th, 2010 at 4:59 PM

Gabriel Bá and Fábio Moon, Daytripper (DC/Vertigo, 2009-present). $2.99, ten-issue limited series.

“I’ve never read anything like this before” is not always a compliment. It’s a declaration that can go either way. I’ve read many books that were all new and all different, but they weren’t necessarily all good (or good at all). Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá’s new Vertigo series Daytripper, however, is a book unlike any I’ve ever read. And thus far, that’s working out fine.

Daytripper centers on an man named Brás de Oliva Domingos—an obituary writer for a newspaper in São Paulo, Brazil. Brás aspires to be a fiction writer like his father, Benedito, but his progress is slow and difficult. The real world—his own life and the lives of the recently deceased—offers constant distractions and complications. For a man whose profession consists of finding the extraordinary elements of people’s lives, Brás finds it difficult to contend with the ordinariness of his own life.

Daytripper is a quiet, contemplative book. It would be easy (if trite) to call it life-affirming. In fact, this is a mistake Vertigo (including Bá and Moon) made repeatedly in the media run-up to Daytripper’s launch. In an interview conducted by Newsarama last December, Moon explained that “I guess we can plan all we want, but sometimes life has other plans for us, and so life, for all of us, is an adventure worth discovering every single day. Every single day, life can change, life can start, end, change it’s [sic] course or just get a lot more complicated. Every day, we can fall in love, fall out of it, be happy and sad and all in-between, so it all comes down to this: as we live life, are we paying attention?” This sounds great, but it gives potential readers the wrong impression of just what this book is about.

Daytripper may be largely about life, but it hinges on death—not just the deaths of Brás’ obituary subjects, but also his own. Each issue of this series focuses on a day in the life of the main character (each at a different age), and each issue ends with a twist involving Brás’ death. It’s an unconventional, intriguing way to tell a story, and the mystery behind Daytripper’s ending(s) has yet to be revealed. The contrast between the quiet moments of Brás’ life and the shocking end of each issue creates a jarring but rewarding reading experience—much like the emotional jolt of last year’s Oscar nominee Up In the Air. Daytripper’s single issues tie together to create an overarching narrative, but each issue stands well as a complete story on its own.

Daytripper is also a book about various types of art—visual, cultural, and literary—but the prose that Bá and Moon use for this book is not overly ornate. Given the fact that these twin brothers have made their marks in the comics world as visual artists (most notably on The Umbrella Academy and Casanova), this makes sense. Their dialogue is generally clear and believable, but narrative prose does not seem to be their strength. More in the tradition of Will Eisner than Neil Gaiman, Bá and Moon are telling a story that employs the full range of the comics medium. Visual and literary art work together on equal (or at least mutual) footing to narrate the story. If there is poetry in Daytripper, it’s largely visual. Set primarily in São Paulo, the landscape is lush and exotic but not inaccessible. The visual minutiae—sweat, raindrops, ashtrays—work together to create a vital, almost tangible environment. It takes me longer to read an issue of Daytripper than it does most other comics, largely because I spend more time dwelling on the beautifully-rendered faces, landscapes, and panel designs than I usually do.

If I have a criticism of Daytripper after its first four issues, it’s that the prose occasionally doesn’t match the strength of the visual art. There are moments when I can’t help but think that this book is too young for me (not too immature, but too young). This was especially evident in issue #3, which focused on the romantic difficulties of a 28-year-old Brás. Some of the dialogue and narrative captions made me roll my eyes, and I found myself getting irritated with Brás’ theatrics. (Think Stephen Dedalus and Holden Caulfield.) But issue #4, which presents a 41-year-old Brás, was much more calm and measured, leading me to believe that the narrative approach of each issue is suited to match specific moments in the development of a modern man.

Daytripper is a book that sits with me for weeks after I finish an issue. As I read Brás’ story, I find myself thinking about the people and moments I’ve valued most in my life and the people on whom I’ve wasted far too much time and energy. Daytripper bothers me in meaningful ways. It’s a story that lingers. And ultimately, these are the stories that matter most.

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