Life is built from a collective series of small moments, which may seem unimportant as they occur. At other times, we recognize them, are compelled by them, and they loom large within our own personal narratives. A small shy glance can lead to a life-long love, and a brief conversation with a stranger at a coffeehouse can form the strongest friendship. Moments of chance and quirks of fate define each of us. They form the threads of the stories that shape us, and impact how we will be remembered by others. This is the story of Daytripper, and it is the story of us all.
A thoughtful mediation on life itself, the creators—twin brothers Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá—explore the existence of Brás de Oliva Domingos. Domingos is an obituary writer for a newspaper but aspires to be a novelist despite living in the shadow of his famous father, an iconic literary star of Brazil. In his short columns, Domingos celebrates the life of those who have recently passed, while struggling to define his own life. Each chapter is structured around a moment of time in his life, the milestones of his first kiss, his true love, the birth of his son and the death of his father. The uniqueness of each story is that, at their close, Domingos dies.
Each of his various deaths are a tragic reminder of life's fragility, a reminder that any day could be the last. Although one quickly becomes accustomed to the narrative hook of Daytripper, much credit is due to the wonderful scripting and engaging visuals from Moon and Bá, which work together to prevent the repetition from becoming a mere gimmick. Where other works may try to draw attention to the repeated deaths or rely on fanciful genre conventions, Moon and Bá wisely avoid those traps, opting for a smoothly paced, quiet manner of storytelling.
Although some of Domingos's deaths are shocking, at no point in the story do they feel cheap or tiresome. If anything, as the story progresses and Domingos grows more and more into a familiar character, the looming specter of death serves to heighten the reader's emotional involvement, ratcheting up the tension for an increasingly sad release. One particularly moving segment comes late in the book, and is told from the perspective of Domingos' wife and child, while he is traveling on a book tour. Although the central character is absent, the entirety of that chapter is haunted by his presence. His eventual death, as viewed through his family, is made raw and painful. The visual elements provide all we need to know about the devastation inflicted upon his loved ones, and it is utterly heartbreaking in its potency.
At first, given the nonlinear narrative and the deaths and rebirths of Domingos, Daytripper feels more like a series of well-told vignettes. However, the book quickly takes on a novelistic approach as the story grows and events become linked across space and time. Moon and Bá have crafted an exquisite study in existentialism, emphasizing the importance we, as humans, attribute to our own stories, our own personal narratives. We define and assign value to particular moments in our life, shuffling the events that happen around us, or simply forgetting some entirely, while ascribing moments of epicness to our own individual existence. We struggle to define our place in the world as we separate ourselves from those around us in order to create our own identity. We seek to make sense of not just our life, but of life itself.
Daytripper is a story of the human condition, of the joys we all share in, and the tragedy and losses we must all face. If anyone out there is still arguing that comic books cannot be true works of art, Moon and Bá's story should silence them. A highly literate work, there is a poetic, lyrical sense to its language and visuals, which capture not only a strong command of words and character development but of place as well. Brazil and its outlying locales are beautifully drawn and is almost as much a character as the people that inhabit the vibrant cityscape or visit its beaches. The story stands on its own as strong, dramatic fiction embedded in a real place, in a specific time in the life of one man. Ultimately, Daytripper is an ode to the power of storytelling. Although it has its share of death and melancholy, it is a reaffirming and beautiful narration about life and its many surprises. An intimate, emotionally engaging work that is by turns tragic and lovely, it stands as proof that no man is an island unto himself and that every moment is filled with meaning.
Reviewed by Michael Hicks on July 11, 2012