Daytripper, A Life Examined Chapter Two: "Transitionspotting"A column article, The Full Run by: Keith Silva
Welcome to Comics Bulletin’s team review of Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá's Daytripper. This is the third part of an ambitious twelve-part series of articles on this powerful and much-loved series.
Read the introduction here.
Read Jason Sacks's look at Chapter One of Daytripper, titled "32", here.
Today Keith Silva looks at Chapter Two of Daytripper, titled "21".
The 'BANG' that punctuates the final panel of chapter one and the images of Iemajá on the first page of chapter two establish the Janus-like nature of Daytripper writ large: stops and starts, reality and dreams. Each event depicts the precise interstice between one space (one reality) and the next; imagine how these juxtapositions must have read in singles.
Co-creators Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá mean to disorient the reader. Perhaps, re-orient is a better word choice. Daytripper isn't all a dream or all a reality as much as it is a perpetual redux, of series new presentations. Moon and Bá constantly reframe realities throughout the story. This (re)framing technique gives the book its structure, while simultaneously acting as a primer for the reader to recognize how each chapter is connected as the narrative follows the forks in Brás's lifetime(s). The barrier between life and death is slight, delicate and thin and it must be crossed.
Before swimming out to greet Iemajá, I'd quickly like to look at how Moon and Bá transition between realities in chapter one. Brás first appears at the bottom of page one at the center of a rectangular panel, colorist Dave Stewart casts him as a study in scarlet. Brás's head and shoulders are all that's visible as if he were a news anchor and the narrative boxes were over-the-shoulder graphics. A page turn reveals Brás in a much larger square panel, half the size of the page, he's seen from the waist up, a maple leaf-shaped splash of blood coats the bottom-half of his tuxedo. His eyes like pin holes, Brás looks like a reluctant witness as he edges away from the bloodshed. The final image of Brás on the top of the following page shows his face close up, a swathe of light highlights his eyes. The chapter title appears on the right-hand-side of the panel, 'Chapter One: 32.' And then time stops.
The panel below the close up of Brás shows an above-the-fold newspaper headline: 'A Life Of Words.' Whose life? Whose words? Those questions get answered over the course of the story. It's not until the final few pages -- when Moon and Bá reveal the (literal) smoking gun -- when the reader realizes this is the reality and the previous pages were a flashback, a vision of the past in the reality of the present. Stewart's 'magic hour' reds and oranges do the heavy lifting to provide the narrative frame. The medium of comics (like everything else) is all relative. Comics depend upon text and image, information outside of the panel borders often informs what happens within the context of the page and the narrative.
Through the use of these recurring ephemeral moments (both large and small), Moon and Bá play with the structure of comics, the binary of text and image; sometimes it's the colors, sometimes an image; this repetition and doubling-back cues the reader to witness the exact moment the change occurs; the moment the dream ends and reality begins or the transition between life and death … Daytripper depends on the circumspect observation of small details.
In Brazilian culture, Iemajá is regarded as the Queen of the Ocean, the essence of motherhood, a god. If Brás 'dies' at the end of chapter one, it should come as no surprise he meets (a) god at the beginning of chapter two. Births (and rebirth) are a recurring theme in Daytripper, and so, where better to begin (again) than the ocean, the birthplace of all creation. Except it's not the ocean, it's Brás's unconscious, a dream, a wet dream, so to speak, about a mysterious and veiled woman.
Twenty-one-year-old Brás has his entire life ahead of him at the beginning of chapter two. Like most twenty-one-year-olds, he is too naïve to appreciate his fortune and too young to understand why, he is all idealism, glands and urges. Brás and Jorge are traveling across South America, they wake up on a mesa to watch the sunrise, crash in hostels or stay with nearby relations. Bliss. They are flotsam and jetsam and go where the tide takes them -- a young person's dream if there ever was one. They wash up in Salvador, a seaside metropolis on Brazil's northeastern shore on or around the first of February, in time for the Festa de Iemanjá which takes place on February second. Jorge says it best: ''Life is good.''
Each chapter of Daytripper offers at least one image that crystallizes 'feels' in the reader. Perhaps the image with the most feels -- and arguably one of its most iconic -- is of Brás swimming underwater off the beaches of the Rio Vermelho. So iconic, in fact, that the cover illustration to the second issue becomes the back cover illustration in the softcover trade. The choices of art director, Louis Prandi, and design director, Robbin Brosterman aside, this image and this sequence serve as the transitional moment in this chapter. The Brás who goes into the water is not the Brás that comes out. Once his head breaks the surface, he has crossed over. His fate is sealed and his life is no longer his own.
As Brás swims through the water, he thinks, ''there is no sea like ours ... where you can see so clearly … and with so much to see.'' The playfulness of the words 'sea' and 'see' lighten what is an otherwise awe-inspired image of the hulls of boats as they float on the surface of the water like blimps on tethers. Moon and Bá's choice to imagine this scene from below reminds the reader the ocean remains the most alien of Earth-bound places. Stewart's blue-green palette shot through with shafts of light perfectly captures the feeling of both the ethereal and earthly. This perspective also creates the sense Brás is ascending. Perhaps, that's Moon and Bá's intent or at least the ghost of an idea; as above so below.
The reverie ends when Brás spies a pair of feet dangling below the surface of the water. Those feet serve as the transition point that will guide (walk?) Brás between this world and the next. Like the gun which, at first, was left outside the frame when Brás is first shown covered in blood in chapter one, so too is who belongs to those feet and those well-turned ankles. Moon and Bá hold off the reveal as long as they can, it's an entrance worthy of Lauren Becall (in anything) or Barbara Stanwyck at the top of those stairs in Double Indemnity.
Lechers familiar with the hairpin curves and sultry lines of Bá's Zephyr Quinn or Moon's backup story about Night Nurse from Casanova: Luxuria will recognize Olinda. If nothing else, Bá and Moon appreciate and celebrate the female form and Olinda is as idealized as it gets. She is a border crosser. She exists both in dreams and in reality. A true myth, Olinda is both siren and a primal force, the sea, a god and she giveth and taketh. And yet, she is also a beautiful woman in the stern of a rowboat, a lover and a free spirit, out of time and ever-present in the moment. Later in the market Brás asks if she has a job, what she wants and what are her dreams (damn, Brazilians move fast!). Olinda says, ''My job won't tell you who I am. And especially not what I want.'' So what does she want? On this, Moon and Bá don't show or tell. Perhaps it doesn't matter. If this is Brás's story, than give to Brás what is Brás's.
Olinda finds meaning not in the action, but in the motivation of the action, what lies under the surface, below the waterline, in reasons and dreams. It's easy to be drawn in by Olinda's beauty; Brás is certainly no match for her. Hand on his hip in a heroic pose, he looks out from the prow of the boat and says, ''I'd stay if I could, but I've got a thousand things to do, a thousand places to see, still.'' No you don't Brás. Perhaps in all his idealistic rambles, this 'beautiful boy' has never heard, ''life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans.''
Is Brás a gull, an unfortunate soul, a victim? Olinda means protector. Who is she protecting? The ocean? Does that make Brás the aggressor? Bá and Moon won't say. In leaving it up to the reader's interpretation (and getting to have it both ways) what gets lost? Are all Brás's deaths a result of random chance? How does Brás's story change if Olinda isn't the physical manifestation of a god, but the lover of an unfortunate boy who drowns during a festival? How does this 'other' Olinda, the less primeval and yet no less fiery inform the events in Chapter three? Is drowning at 21 (somehow) better than having to experience heartache at 28?
Bá and Moon seem to think the answer to every question is (or could be) yes.
Daytripper exhibits a cruelty in line with the Hobbesian notion that life is ''solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.'' Now, ol' Hobbes was talking about politics, the social contract and noblesse oblige, but the result is the same: death. In these first two chapters, Bá and Moon appear less interested in the moment of death -- each occurs off-stage -- than the moments (the details) that lead up to those deaths. They are transition-spotters, walking the cat back and mapping out specific moments when 'change' occurs. What those moments, details and dreams mean is for the reader to decide. As Olinda/Iemajá says, it's the ''living in the moment'' that shows others what we want. Death is a circumstance, life is the action.