Recommended Reading: Richard McGuire’s Here

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Richard McGuire’s Here imagines, in the pages of a comic, the same thing that I often have: what happened here, in this spot – our house, our town, the grocery store, the lake, the highway – one hundred years ago, one thousand years ago, one hundred thousand years ago? What did it look like? Who, or what, stood in the same spot as I do now, in the year 2016, on the brink of the year 2017? What did it look like before Europeans set foot on these shores? What did it look like before any humans lived here at all? Who lived here? Fell in love here? Died here?

Looking out from my own window, I often imagine what people have stood in the same spot as I do, looking up into the sky, or down onto the yard which stretches out to a small lake. And it is not only at home that I think this, but at work, or when I travel as well.

I do not believe this to be a terribly common type of thinking – or at least, it does not border on obsession for most people – but regardless, McGuire’s beautiful book, as all one’s favorite books do, feels as if it were written directly for me, personally.

The book takes place viewed from one angle. Often, this view shows us a living room. Sometimes it is painted different colors. A year – 1957, for instance – is set in the top left corner. But then other windows open in the living room. Some of these boxes show us other times, with other people – or maybe the same people, only aged – in the living room. Other boxes show us a forest. Or a view of another house, up to the right, in the distance. Some show Native Americans trading with European colonizers. Some show dinosaurs. Or dancing. Or melting ice cream. Or family disputes.

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McGuire orchestrates these scenes in a way that sometimes seems random, only to have the various random instances begin to line up, to harmonize, in a kind of symphony of time. He has taken brief moments from the years and years of time that have passed here, in this spot, and given them meaning through their mosaic juxtaposition with other, disconnected moments. Divorced from the context of their time, these moments gain force and sublimity when placed alongside other, disconnected images because they establish a kind of fraternity between all these people, and all these slices of time, which are separated by degrees on the linear spectrum of space-time. Looping back and forth between past, present, and future, McGuire demonstrates the connectedness of everything not through some corny anecdote about all these people being related, or all of them remembering everything that has happened in this spot (they surely don’t, as they are attached, like all of, primarily to their own existence) but through the simplicity of shared, finite space which stands in contrast to the infinite march of time.

McGuire illustrates the book to reflect this. The living room is solid, blocks of color and definite lines. But the people who move through it are often fuzzy, not quite defined. And the further into the past we go, the more the people, and the space itself, begin to blur. The space itself (sans living room) becomes a lawn with a scribbled house in the distance. Then, further back, a forest, which becomes murkier and murkier as we are transported further into the past, until it becomes primordial ooze, ill-defined space, but still our space, the space we see when we look into the living room. In the future, the house is gone. Overtaken by the ocean. Then dried out, but unlivable. Then slowly but surely, life emerges again.

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A late foray into the future: where a group of tourists enter the frame, led by a guide who begins to explain some customs of the 21st century – the carrying of wallets and keys, etc. – and then uses a device which gives the onlookers a view of the past, a view not dissimilar from the one McGuire has given us in the pages of his comic. This breaks, somewhat, the spell of the book – as if McGuire is trying to explain the magic of these windows into the past and future. For a moment, the imaginative and metaphysical experience of watching the pages of time flip, seemingly at random, is understood as merely a function of some future device, meant to intrigue bored tourists. But then that window collapses, and the chorus of voices, the painting of rooms, the noise of television and radios, the waves of future seas all come crashing in again overwhelming the tourists (of which we are now one) with the weight of time and the countless lives lived in these brief windows into the past and future.

McGuire’s book is a kind of miracle in that I cannot imagine it taking any other form. He uses the medium of comics to do something only comics can do – utilizing the boxy frames so often associated with comics to stunning effect. It is an elegy and a celebration of time and space and the moments we find together in the madness of the here and now, and the moments that led up to this one, and the infinite moments that will follow our forgetting.

 

Beasts of Burden: Animal Rites by Evan Dorkin and Jill Thompson

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Welcome to October here at Deja.Revue. If you have not noticed already, I tend to be a fan of the creepy, the weird, and the left-field in comics. So I though October would be a perfect time to indulge those predilections even more than I already have. Horror, as a genre in comics, has always been just off to the side. Less flashy than superheroes, and something of a mutant child of crime comics, the genre has a breadth and depth which is, in my opinion, almost unmatched. I do not hope to cover the whole diverse range of the genre in the coming month, but I do hope to give you a survey of some of my favorite works on page and screen. If you would like to read further, Paste has an excellent list of horror comics you should read. For further reading on the history of horror comics, check out Mike Howlett’s essay in the back of this excellent horror anthology that I will not have the time or space to write about this month. If all goes according to plan, I will have a column each Monday for you, culminating, fittingly, with Halloween at the end of the month. Don’t forget to turn off the lights.

It is important that you know that this book is all about neighborhood pets roaming the neighborhood and running into paranormal phenomenon and, eventually, become guardians of the neighborhood from such phenomenon. It is important that I get this out up front because despite a premise that in lesser hands could easily result in nothing more than inconsequential cartoonishness, Beats of Burden is a dark, moving, and melancholic comic. Danger is real. People Animals die. Burden Hill, where the action is set, is not normal or safe, and our intrepid heroes become all too familiar with the darkness creeping in from the outside.

Evan Dorkin centers the book around a group of canine (and one feline) friends whose bonds of loyalty are tested and strengthened as the events in Burden Hill become weirder, more frequent, and more dangerous. Most of the stories in the book are shorter than the average comic. As a result, Dorkin uses some narrative shorthand to make the characters recognizable and memorable. Their personalities are archetypal and fixed. They grow into their heroism by pushing their best qualities to the fore, and by sticking together. This is not really a criticism of the book, as the characters are endearing and the narrative is mythic, employing moments of graphic realism sparsely, and to great effect.

Jill Thompson’s art is a great compliment to the story partly because of how well it switches modes between the quotidian, the gruesome, and the fantastic. Once again I must display my slavish devotion to the use of watercolors, for it is their diverse range of light and texture that allows Thompson to seamlessly enter these different modes – moving from sunlit suburban streets, to foggy graveyards, to murky woods. Most comics are the result of a partnership between writer and artist, but oftentimes the latter serves a subordinate role. Not so here. It is Thompson who renders so delightfully the world of Burden Hill, filled with beasts both noble and ignoble. She gives vital shape and form to Dorkin’s mythic heroes (who just so happen to resemble the menagerie at the local pet shop).

Humor is an essential counterpart to horror. Beasts of Burden can be quite funny, offsetting the pressing darkness and lending the book a sense of adventure amidst the looming peril. It leans toward the lighter side of horror, but this only makes the moments of violence and gloom more effective. Beasts of Burden is a classic yarn, a tale of good against evil, which is not meant to send you to bed hiding under the covers, but to send you out into the world with the hope that good can still be done, and the the unrelenting darkness can be beaten back.

 

-Ian

Awakening from hibernation

Hello faithful Revuers! Sorry it’s been so long. I am happy to announce that Deja.Revue will once again be up and running after a three month hiatus. We had some staffing issues combined with just lack of time. I am proud to say that starting Wednesday we will have fresh new content. So stay tuned. We will be bringing back the ever popular “Tales from the pull list” segment, as well as our fan favorite top “Ten 10 Lists”, and my personal favorite “Savings Bin Sundays”.  Plus we will be adding a few other new and exciting segments.

We are also interested in what you, or readers, want. Have an idea for a segment or a topic you would like us to cover? Then leave a comment and let us know!