Monday, August 25, 2014
This year's Life of the Mind book for incoming first-year students (formerly called freshmen) at The University of Tennessee, Knoxville is Daytripper. It is the first time a graphic novel has been selected for this reading, selected to go with the general theme of Creativity for the year. In a horrible twist of fate, for the first time in six years I did not get to be a discussion leader for this book, even though it was a graphic novel, and by now you have surely realized I am very much interested in teaching with and talking about them. Instead I was in The Hague for a conference presentation. Ah well, timing, right? In any case, I did have a part in the initial assignment incoming students had to do and also in trying to demystify reading a graphic novel for first-time readers. If you are interested in hearing what I sound like, you can find an introductory video for this book where I go through the basic mechanics of reading comics here.
In any case, this book was originally published as individual comic books, and it won the Eisner Award for Best Limited Series. Its plot follows Bras de Olivias Dominguez, an aspiring author who writes newspaper obituaries. He is described as a "miracle baby" who was born under unusual and difficult circumstances. His father is an internationally acclaimed and awarded novelist who casts a large shadow. We get to see multiple moments in Bras's life, and each chapter is set at a different age, and in magic realistic fashion, at the end of each chapter Bras meets an untimely (and often surprising) end. Unlike the multiple deaths of Kenny, these events only highlight the themes of life and love in the main narrative.
This book could easily be described as nostalgic or melodramatic, but I think that its emotional nuances and fantastic artwork raise it beyond treacly sentimentalism. It is a beautiful and evocative book, full of relatable moments and fantastic imagery. It hits on multiple ages, as well, and there is something in here that speaks to the innocence and realizations of childhood, the trials and tribulations of romantic relationships, the worries and joys of parenthood, and the awareness and (hopefully) acceptance that comes with old age.
Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá are twin brothers who have been making comics together since childhood. Moon is probably best known for his collaboration with writer Matt Fraction, Casanova, a science fiction spy story, and his Eisner Award winning webcomic Sugarshock. Bá also collaborated on Casanova and is well known for drawing The Umbrella Academy, a celebrated tale of super-powered siblings written by rocker Gerard Way. The brothers collectively blog about their works here.
As might be expected from an award-winning graphic novel, its reviews are excellent. The Comics Alliance's Chris Murphy called it "one of those books we should set aside specific adjectives for, to be used only when a book this incredible is created." NPR's Glen Weldon summed up that it "invites repeated, even recursive reading, as elements in early chapters find themselves echoed or entirely inverted as the book comes to a close. It's a book with the subtle intelligence to deal with death in a way that affirms, and delineates, life." comicrevolution wrote that it consisted of "magnificent storytelling and artwork that is equally stellar."
Daytripper was published by Vertigo.