When was the day that the person you were died and a new person began? That’s the question Daytripper asks of its reader and damn if it it doesn’t hold back.
Now my regular reader may object, “Didn’t you already review this book? And why didn’t you come to MeeMa’s birthday party?” But I would like to remind my steady reader that MeeMa’s apartment smells like cat-piss and death and this is the woman who called me butt sniffer at my last birthday party, so she can jump in a lake. As for your first question you’re right I did write about my latest reading of the book, however my review left me unsatisfied. There’s a reason I read this book at least once every year: I’m going to die, but in a way I’ve died already several times in my life.
You see before Neville Longbottom reminded us that people die every day, Daytripper was doing just that through the life of Brás de Oliva Domingos. Brás is the son of an internationally acclaimed novelist who writes obituaries for a living while trying to find something in his life worth working towards. Often the dialogue is centered on either the importance of family, friends, or living life, but beneath all of these concerns is the larger question of whether Brás life is living a dream. This may sound esoteric or, lord forbid, pompously intellectual and everything a regular comic book reader would detest. Normally I would agree were it not for the introduction that establishes the ethos of the book immediately:
This Introduction sets the reader up for everything they’ll hope to expect in Daytripper, namely a blending of the supernatural so often found in superhero comics, while a careful balance of reality so often found in depressing unreadable novels by Samuel Becket (You heard me existentialists, come and get me). I think this balance is found in the breathtaking artwork, but also with the general questions put forth by the author. There’s a point in Chapter six when a plane crashes into the city and Brás has to write the obituaries for the victims all the while his best friend in the world Jorge is missing. After a week of work he receives a phone call:
I was on the next flight you know. I was already inside the plane when they took us out, and we heard the news. I flipped out, man! It could’ve been me on that plane. And for What? No job is worth dying for. So I wondered what is right? I thought I had a great life, great job, fun with the chicks…but nothing in my life is extraordinary. Nothing in my life really matters. Life is too short man. I’ve been wasting time. I can’t go back to that life. I’m never coming back.
Brás: Jorge wait a minute let’s talk this through.
Jorge: Card is running out of credits. I gotta go. Take care Brás. Do something with your life. Something that matters. (148-9).
The next shot is of Brás in a car off to Rio to find his friend only to be stopped by a pair of crashing eighteen wheelers that result in one of the many deaths described at the end of each chapter.
Speaking of which the narrative rhythms of Daytripper will probably bug some readers since, as I’ve mentioned before, Brás dies at the end of each chapter. The first time I read the book I will admit it was a little confusing, but to be fair so was Prometheus and now that’s one of my favorite films of all time. Daytripper regularly challenges its reader to decide for themselves if Brás is really dying, or else he’s writing obituaries for the man he was before this new event came in and changed his life. These death’s include being shot at a bar, drowning in the ocean during a festival, being hit by a food truck, having a heart attack in his father’s study, being electrocuted by a telephone wire, being struck by the eighteen wheelers, being stabbed to death by Jorge, and finally dying in surgery while on a book tour (the last two deaths are implied but I’ll get to that later). Now looking at each of these deaths there doesn’t immediately appear to be to be any significance to the deaths. It’s only when looking at the context that meaning becomes clear. Looking at them again it’s important to note that: the first is when the bartenders nephew robs the bar needing money and Brás was just talking about family, he drowns while looking for a girl he met and fell in love with in town, he gets hit by the truck when running back to meet a girl he saw in a market realizing that she’s the one, he gets electrocuted when he’s only a few years old and chasing after a kite following a visit to his grandparents, he suffers the heart attack on the same day his father dies and his son is born, he’s struck by the car when he decides to drive to Rio to find Jorge, when he finds Jorge he discovers his friend has gone completely insane, and his final death isn’t even seen since it’s presented through the reaction of his wife and son.
Each of the deaths may at first appear kitsch or gimmicky given Brás’s profession, but if the reader writes them off as a weak narrative strategy by the artists they’re only missing the opportunity Daytripper offers.
There are moments in our life where the person we were, for lack of a better phrase, dies and we become someone new. It may be our first kiss, it may be the day our children are born, it may be the day we meet the person who we’ll marry, it may be the day we get divorced and have to start over, it may be the day your father or mother dies, it may be the day you lose your virginity, or it may even be the day you die or at least recognize that you’re going to.
These moments are what gives life its wonderful and fucking annoying as hell quality that it does. We’ll never know who we will be or what choices we will face because life changes so suddenly, almost abstractly, and we have to find a way to create meaning from the deaths of these people we thought we knew or else pretended to know.
I know I’m sounding like a fucking poetry slam right now dear reader but it’s only because this book isn’t soft. It’s fucking hard and pushes you to ask these questions. My previous review of this book was incredibly emotional and dealt with my question of my own masculinity and mortality, and it’s most likely because so much has happened to me over the course of the last year. I’ve been married, moved out of my parents house, lived with my in-laws for several months, moved into a new house, figured out the rhythms of married life, and am about to graduate with my masters in English in which case I now begin to look for a job…so if you don’t hear from me for a while it’s because I probably died alone and poor in a ditch somewhere, at least that’s what engineers and business majors tell me.
I’ve hit the point in my life where I read Jorge’s advice and I ask the question: What have I really done?
It’s the question Brás keeps returning to over and over no matter how old he is. On the one hand it may just be that he’s trying to live up the image of his old man, the internationally acclaimed author, and to be fair…those are some pretty big shoes to fill, but I think beyond the writing is something else, some desperate search for meaning between the odd moments of his life.
The next to last chapter of the book is a dream, that’s the only way to describe it. It begins on a boat with a goddess and ends with Brás on a beach in front of his typewriter writing:
My name is Brás de Oliva Domingos
I can’t really tell how old I am, only that I’m too young to wonder if I asked the right questions in the past, and too old to wish the future will bring me all the answers.
In my dreams, I am the writer of my own story although I never write about myself, this obituary being the first and last exception.
All the places my dreams take me, no matter if I’ve never been there or never will be…help me understand where I come from…and where I want to go.
So what my own dreams show me is what my life can be once I open my eyes.
My dreams tell me who I am.
My name is Brás de Oliva Domingos. This is the story of my life. Take a deep breath, open your eyes and close the book. (222-4).
When I first read Daytripper, the book was about how to be a writer, but as I’ve grown I’ve begun to realize that the book is more about family. What you inherit from them, and what you leave behind. When Brás’s son talks to him at the end of the book there’s a simple line:
That’s not strange at all. That’s family. We carry our family around inside of us. It’s who we are. (239).
Now once my reader puts down the wine bottle and groans that they have their mother inside them and their kids are screwed they should really hold onto that sentence for a moment and let it sink in. In our life we carry our dreams close to our heart and we feel that they are what makes our life what it is, and I won’t lie that dream is what certainly pushes us into the paths in life we most desire, whether we follow a straight path is all up to the individual experience. Family however is what tends to make us for inherit something from the ones that came before.
I spoke in the last review of the book about fathers, but I’d like to end this one on mothers. There’s a story Brás’s mother tells the children about the day he was born: I apologise for the poor quality:
Just about every mother, at least every good one in my experience, has a narrative surrounding the birth or some moment in the life of their child. It’s an aspect of motherhood that gives it its charm and definitive quality in many ways. As such my own mother story is the story of how I got my nickname, or really name at this point since more people know me as Jammer than then do my actual first name.
They way she told it was after she married Dad she became an unofficial member of the rugby team Dad played with at A&M. Now the thing about the team was that everybody got a nickname at some point. Dad’s was Andy Capp because he used to always wear a cap like the cartoon character you probably don’t recognize. Along with him there was Pisser, Whale Bait, Hands, Hollywood, Little John, etc., and Mom of course was Sniglet…to this day nobody remembers why she was Sniglet, but fuck it her name’s Sniglet move on, gah! Well one night they were out drinking, Mom was drinking club soda or at least I hope lest many of my sparkling personality traits become obvious to the reader, and I began to kick. As of this writing I’m 6” 3 but even back then I was large baby and since during the gestation process the babies head is pointed down towards the vagina and the feet are pointed towards the ribs, and if you factor in the fact that Mom was a small woman, my kicks were pretty damn hard. What happened next set the stage for everything. One of the rugby guys saw Sniglet hopping at each kick, he stumbled over, pointed to my stomach and slurred out, “Hey’s he’s jamming her, jamher jammer!” And so, as the saying goes, the name was made.
My name is now more a part of me than the name Josh and, while I can thank that drunk rugby player for his contribution, it’s my mother gift of the story that it exists at all. Our families give us our power and identity and we strive to achieve it.
It’s easy to dismiss Daytripper as yet another book on the market of a self-analyzing neurotic writer worried about whether he’s attained his dreams, but if the reader does that they’ve missed the point of the book. We work towards our dreams every day. Whether we attain them in the end is immaterial, but as we work towards them we become more and more complex as individuals because of the people we meet, or because of the people we come from. Our families are in our bones, for good and for bad, and they don’t leave us as we move forward, and our friends, if they’re the right ones, become just as much a part of us as our families. Daytripper is about the death of the people we were as we develop into the people we become, and Moon and Bá show their reader that, even if it is a death of some kind it’s not to be mourned because those people don’t leave. We just carry them with us as we move forward.
Daytripper can be found on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and wherever graphic novels are sold.
I told you the last two deaths would come back but I just plain forgot about them. The next to last chapter is a dream, a reflection on the summation of Brás’s life, while the final chapter is the actual end. Brás is diagnosed with multiple brain tumors and the closing shot is him standing on the beach at night looking out over the ocean. I know he dies, intellectually I know it, but in that moment is a sublime sensation of the life.
Life is a fucking weird-ass abstract term that we’ll never truly appreciate till we’re dead, about to be. It’s the mark of a great work that can make me feel even a hint at that wonder with just a few lines and color.
**Writer’s Second Note**
I’ve included a link below to a review of the graphic novel done by NPR. Enjoy.