“Isn’t it strange how we always seem to remember the trivial things from our daily lives… yet so often we forget the most important ones?”
In the opening chapter of Daytripper, Bras de Oliva Domingos, main character of this lushly drawn graphic novel, stops for a beer and a pack of cigarettes on the way to a gala honoring his famous and powerful novelist father. He becomes involved in a shocking event, one that leaves the reader reeling.
The second chapter is titled 21 and follows Bras, at age 21, on a post-college trip with his friend Jorge. They are in El Salvador. While they are there, Bras meets a mystical free-spirit who invites him to join her at a twilight seaside ceremony that evening. Jorge, a photographer, is caught up in the beauty of the natural world and the teeming human marketplace, but Bras is a bit withdrawn, remote, although he has had strange and vivid dreams of the ocean. Having seen Bras at 32 in the opening, there is a poignancy in this look back at the younger man with his future spread out before him like the ocean – and like the ocean, filled with secrets that are both beautiful and deadly.
Daytripper is written by twin graphic artists Fabio Moon and Gabriel Ba. I have no idea what their last name is. They are Brazilian, born and raised in Sao Paolo, where Daytripper is set. Bras de Oliva Domingos works for a daily newspaper in Sao Paolo, writing obituaries. He has great plans to be a novelist, like his honored celebrity father, but it hasn’t quite come together when the book opens. He has a girlfriend and has weathered a harsh breakup with an earlier girlfriend, that mystical free spirit he met in Chapter Two. As the story progresses, leaping back and forth through time, we see Bras and the circle of his life flowing outward like ripples. We see his eccentric mother, who calls him her “little miracle;” his talented, distracted father, his wife Ana, their son Miguel, and his best friend from college, Jorge. In one sweet chapter we meet his grandparents as he reminisces about weekends and summers spent on the ranch. The artwork in each chapter matches the tone of the story and the ranch is my favorite; big exuberant frames with chaotic dinner scenes filled with faces, food and wine; simpler line drawings, evoking a child’s world, on the pages where the cousins play and explore.
We live every crucial moment of Bras’s life; we see the transitions, the triumphs, the losses. We don’t see the process of him writing his first novel, but we see the aftermath. The loss of his father, drawn in mauves, blues and shadowy grays, is bittersweet in contrast to other events in the same chapter. Creatively, Bras reaches a kind of breakthrough when the paper assigns him the task of writing “feature” obituaries for the families of people killed in a terrible plane crash. Bras succeeds and prevails, touching people’s hearts with his words. The assignment is even more difficult because Bras thinks that Jorge was on that plane.
It took me to the end of the third chapter to begin to understand what the writers were doing in Daytripper, and I will have to read it again, because I know I missed nuance. Daytripper is not just pretty pictures; it is the story of a life. In a prose novel the chapters, each focused on a different event in Bras’s life, would read like flashbacks, or the reader would bring that label to the reading. With a graphic novel, there is an immediacy that washes away the psychic distance of a flashback. (This would have been even more obvious when the work was being published monthly in serial form.) This does not read, or look, like someone reflecting back on a life. It feels like we experience each moment as Bras does – even the moments that are dreams or fantasies.
Many chapters are sweet or bittersweet as I’ve said; several are dramatic, tragic and dark. The writers took a risk in Chapter One, ending a monthly serial on a devastating note. Did they worry that readers would turn away and never come back? The brothers manage to bring the story full circle, in one way; in the first chapter Bras is hurt because his father has forgotten his birthday. He is resentful of growing up in a great man’s shadow – but by the end, a successful writer and a father himself, he discovers something that shows him his father in a different light.
Complex, thoughtful and heartwarming, Daytripper shows what the graphic novel form can do. This is a great book to read if you don’t want to read about costumed superheroes.