I wrote a piece three years ago about Casanova, the comic book written by Matt Fraction and drawn by Brazilian twin artists Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá. I was raving about the fourteen issues that had been published to date (comprising two full-length volumes out of a proposed seven), and expressed my frustration at Fraction’s suggestion that the next issue was at least a year away.
That issue of Casanova still hasn’t come out yet – currently it’s scheduled for later this year. That’s not to say its creators haven’t been busy, though. Matt Fraction has been making a name for himself with the big boys at Marvel, with a successful three-year run on Uncanny X-Men just coming to a close. Marvel are so keen on his work, they’ve actually bought out Casanova from its original publishers at Image: for the last few months, they’ve been reprinting the first two volumes as a series of reformatted, recoloured and relettered comics. The last of those monthly reprints will be published in April, followed shortly afterwards by the start of the third volume, and I for one cannot bloody wait.
But what about Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá? Well, they’ve done something that could be considered a little more ambitious: they’ve produced a comic that could genuinely be described as a work of literature.
Daytripper started out as a ten-issue series of comics, published to the usual monthly schedule. In each one of those comics, over a mere 22 pages, we follow Brás through a different red-letter day in his life. As we zip backwards and forwards through the years, we start to build up a picture of the man: we get to know his family, his friends, his lovers. But there’s something else going on here too: something that a reader of the recently-published graphic novel collection won’t experience in quite the same way as someone who read this as a monthly serial.
Speaking as someone who falls into the latter category, I can vouch for what an intellectual and emotional rollercoaster ride the first few issues of Daytripper were. You get to the end of issue #1, somewhat surprised by the turn of events in the final few pages, and wonder where they can go from here. After a wait of one month, you start reading issue #2, and a few pages in you say to yourself “oh, yeah, that’s what they’re doing.” And then you get to the end of that issue and realise that that wasn’t what they were doing at all. And it’s another month till you get to see issue #3. And so on.
There are a few dim people out there on the internet who think that just because you can see the structure of Daytripper after a few issues, this somehow makes it a bad piece of storytelling. This is why comics have the bad reputation that they do: the stereotype of the ultra-linear comic-book plot is still holding fast, even a quarter of a century after the likes of Alan Moore started looking into ways of tearing it apart. What we’re seeing here is a good old-fashioned literary device, a way of presenting a man’s life from an angle that makes it look like a story nobody’s ever told before. Nobody would bat an eyelid if a novel attempted to do what this comic does.
From the simple beginnings of that first issue, Daytripper expands into a meditation on the choices we make through life, what happens when they go right, and what happens when they don’t. And the setting up of a rigid narrative structure makes it all the more dramatic when, as we get further into the book, some issues start deviating from that structure in interesting ways. This becomes even more apparent in the collected edition: the comic could almost be considered as ten individual standalone stories, but when read back to back there are all sorts of links and parallels in those stories which open up whole new layers to the narrative.
The book’s jointly credited to Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá as both writers and artists, with no real indication as to how the workload is split between the brothers. The closest you get to a clue is in the occasional signature on the page: Moon signs the last panel of most issues, while Bá signs the cover art. Presumably, we therefore have to consider them as a single four-armed, two-brained storytelling organism. And as such, they’ve produced an incredibly warm and readable piece of work.
The plot of Daytripper works both with and against your expectations in all sorts of subtly brilliant ways, to the extent that one of the saddest things you’ll encounter in the book is that one of the chapters is titled Eleven. Their characters are elegantly drawn, in both the literary and the artistic sense. And the whole thing looks gorgeous, switching between grimy cityscapes and tropical vistas without breaking a sweat (partly down to Dave Stewart’s exquisite colouring).
Warren Ellis – and yes, it would appear that by law any comics piece I write here has to namecheck him at least once – started up a discussion on his messageboard a while back on one of his usual bugbears: the way that all too often comics are treated as a genre, rather than a medium. He plaintively asked if there was anyone out there producing comics that were operating in the same territory as what we call ‘literary fiction’. Well, I think that Moon and Bá have done precisely that with Daytripper. Have a look at the first eight pages (courtesy of the DC Vertigo blog) and see if you feel the same way. Even if you don’t normally do comics, you really should do this one.