Daytripper, A Life Examined Chapter Four: "Everything Else Seems So Minor and Silly"A column article, The Full Run by: Daniel Elkin
Welcome to Comics Bulletin’s team review of Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá's Daytripper. This is the fifth 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.
Read Keith Silva's look at Chapter Two of Daytripper, titled "21", here.
Read Chase Magnett's look at Chapter Three of Daytripper, titled "28", here.
Today Daniel Elkin looks at Chapter Four of Daytripper, titled "41".
Birth is the capital letter that begins the sentence that is life, and Death, its end punctuation, completes the thought. The subject is us. The verb is of our own making. In between we surround ourselves with direct and indirect objects and prepositional phrases. Everything is linked, complex in its diagramming, yet, if lived well and fully, grammatically correct.
Fabio Moon and Gabriel Bá's
Sure, it's a well-worn and ham-fisted trope at this point; as a baby is born into the world, the elder must die to complete the cycle. It accentuates the fragility of existence, underlines the rhythm of being. Nowadays it's a go-to metaphor for lazy creators and an easily digestible reminder for the masses. Yet here it is, tucked away in this fantastic story. Out of all the chapters in this book, chapter four appears, perhaps, the most trite in its thematic execution. It seems the most forced, as if Bá and Moon felt obligated to put it in and, once they had succumbed to that obligation, felt a degree of disconnect to what they were doing.
There are moments here, incidents of craft, where even this stodgy cliche’ transcends. Moon and Bá are damn good at what they do. Even when they seemingly distance themselves from their work, what they create still leaps over intent.
Take, for example, the first page of this chapter.
Three panels, back and forth, an entire story plays out. Those of us who are fathers know this story well. The panic, the “It's time! It's time!” of the moment where underneath your rush, you clamp on a mask of gentleness. You tunnel-vision intensity, yet somewhere in the ether of your subconscious you know everything is about to change. What once was will never be again.
A child, an entrance into a new realm of responsibility. Becoming a father is a pivot point in a man's life. As he turn on it, he turns into someone else. Gone now is one definition of self as a new one comes to the fore.
Look at this page, these panels, and in your regard -- there it all is. The stasis of the background full of squares and rectangles slightly – sketchedly – askew, an open door to your left, what is dropped from the bag ignored. Brás' stride in panel one is extended in panel two as he hurries back to lead his pregnant wife slowly, carefully, reassuringly to the momentousness that awaits. Only then does the dog lift its head. Only then is the pattern in the rug revealed, echoing the open door, another passage perhaps, but leading to where? Which do you choose? What becomes of you by making that choice?
You become a father.
And the door shuts on the darkened room containing the dog and what has dropped from the bag as the phone rings.
And the cycle is marked, the Wheel of Fortune spins, the son becomes a father as the father leaves the son. We know this story as it is threadbare from all the journeys we have taken across it. For us, as observers, it is hard to connect to the intensity of such a moment in this fiction as we have become cynical with its ubiquity. That nail hole in the wall above your desk that has been there for years – do you even see it anymore? But then, again, there's that moment. At the bottom of the page in one rectangular panel, Bá and Moon draw us to Brás' eyes. It's there that we see what our disinterested repose has masked.
The rest of the story unfolds from here – while meditating on matters of life and death we learn more about the characters in the story as a whole. We hear stories of Benedito de Oliva Domingos the writer, yet little is said of the man. He was distant, “He always kept that side door locked” – an enigma as much as a man of ideas. We're introduced to Brás' half-sister born of an affair. Is it to humanize this figure, this father – to show that under it all, he was just a man?
Yet even that relationship was distant. His illegitimate daughter had never read any of his books. What other function does she serve as she never appears in Daytripper again? Is she just a conceit, a vessel to mouth the words, “Death gives us a whole new perspective to living and everything else... everything else seems so minor and silly” – words that should serve as a slap in the face to Brás as he now assumes the role of the father? Or is it something else? The waveringly drawn thin line between illegitimacy and … what is its opposite? Legitimacy?
Was this young woman born of a different sort of passion than Brás ? Does the physical distance Benedito had from her somehow emblematic of the emotional distance he feels from his son? How different are the expectations between fathers and daughters compared to that of fathers and sons?
Questions, yes. But there are more, each still just as unanswerable.
What are the responsibilities a man has towards his children? What comment does this moment between half-siblings make about the relationship between men and their offspring, especially in light of the fact that above them in the hospital, Brás’ own son is on the very cusp of being born, birthed into the world as his boy, a tabula rasa on to which Brás can write a new chapter of his self.
Ah, there it is again. A complex and enigmatic father dies and his children gather to reminisce about the past, while a new child is born to give us hope -- the unending possibilities of the future.
And yet throughout the whole echo of this cliched metaphor, this circle we've traveled so many times before, we never see the baby.
These sort of stories demand that we bare witness to some moment – the smiling infant, perhaps, even, sucking from its mother's breast, filling the page with life, Life, LIFE. We've had our casket, now let us revel in the wonder that is the child. You are too, too cruel Bá and Moon! Affirm our need to believe that, though “People will keep dying” so too does the cycle continue. By keeping the little nipper from us, we remain in that agitated state, full of pity and fear, in stasis, craving Aristotelian catharsis.
But remember, Bá and Moon are craftsmen. They know what they are doing. The absence of the baby is purposeful.
Perhaps, just perhaps, this chapter isn't about death and birth at all.
Perhaps it is about, as the whole of the series is about, defining the self. Perhaps it is about fathers and sons.
Brás descends into his father's office carrying a paper bag within which resides the baby gown he wore as an infant, the one chosen by his father, the one his father insisted on keeping for the birth of Brás' own child, the one Brás will now dress his son in. The room is dark and quiet, yet suffused with presence. This is the role model, the definition of self, the rule book for understanding.
On his father's desk is, of course, Brás' first novel, Silken Eyes. We know that, for Brás, with the publication of this book “he could assure his place in his father's heart.” But his father's heart has stopped beating. Brás' life up until that point had been full of the expectations of his father, of a life led trying to connect with a man who eschewed connections. At the moment of connection, the publication of his book more so than the birth of his child, the father is gone and the son must become the father.
What has it all been for? “After years spent pursuing the wrong love and the not-quite-right job” Brás finally fit the mold of his father's expectations. A novelist, a husband, now a father – following a path, a set of calculations, all in the name of approval. To be the son, one must become the father. But the source of all this – the goal in and of itself – is gone now, for he was mortal and, as such, is destined to die.
Was this a life wasted? What do the eyes, our emotional access point throughout this story, tell us?
They speak of realization. Of an epic sadness. Of regret.
Who could have Brás de Oliva Domingos been had he not wanted so desperately to be that which was set before him?
As a father and a son, I see myself reflected in Brás' eyes here at the end. So much of how I have defined my success in these roles is based on the expectations I felt emanating from my own father. Many of the choices I have made that have brought me to my present self were either an acceptance or a refutation of those expectations – they have been my compass throughout my journey. Who would I have been had I different father? Who would I have been had my father not been there at all? Who will be the judge of my life once my father has gone?
Sure, on the surface, the end of Chapter 4 is predictable, trite, and kind of hard to swallow. It's as if the structure of the overall story was, in a way, dictating the action therein. But Brás has to die here in order for these larger questions to surface. The final look he gives – gray, exhausted, askance – provides answers that otherwise would have only fluttered on the edges.
And Brás’ son will be raised without a father in the conceit of Chapter 4. Certainly he will mature within the echos of the men who came before him, but in the absence of their presence, he will get to make his life what it is through his own expectations.
Daytripper is all about the moments that define who we are, the choices we make that lead us to our understanding of self – both the man we project to the world and the one whose voice is constantly chittering away in our heads. In a way, Chapter 4 walks into the party wearing the same beige suit as everyone else in attendance. It doesn't stand out because we're convinced we've seen it so many times before. But maybe you end up seated next to it at the dinner table later in the evening, and as you engage with it, ask questions of it, you see that in fact, it has something valuable to say.
It's all in the eyes.
Daniel Elkin trips over all sorts of things during the usual course of his day. You can find him on twitter @DanielElkin blithely missing the point.