“Daytripper,” Gabriel Ba and Fabio Moon’s attempt to bring magical realism to the pages of a comic book, is a lovely reflection on death’s power to define a life and bring it meaning.
The ten issues of “Daytripper” tell the life story of Bras, an obituary writer who works in the shadow of his celebrated novelist father. At the end of each issue, Bras dies, with the next issue picking up at a new chapter of Bras’ life as if nothing had happened.
What sounds at first like a sick gimmick actually turns into a profound reflection on the interplay between death and meaning. By variously punctuating Bras’ otherwise unaltered life story, each death casts Bras’ life in a different light. In Bras’ obituary, he can be an anonymous celebrant in a festival, a doomed but admirable idealist or a beloved patriarch.
If some of the above descriptions sound worn, it’s because they are. A fifty-word obituary can only capture so much.
What animates the pages of “Daytripper” are the vibrant details that a newspaper’s print can’t capture. The books are at their best in the small moments when Bras seeks relief from his father by joking with a college friend or reassures his wife back home during one of his cross-country tours. Cast within the grand narrative of Bras’ life, the sweet simplicity of these moments takes on a special charm.
Then there are Ba and Moon’s breathtaking spreads, spreads that meld Brazil’s natural wonders and urban environments with the otherworldly landscapes of their characters’ minds. If you find yourself wondering why this story needs to be told in a comic book, check out a few of them. Your doubts will be resolved.
While I’m at it, here’s another thought as to how a comic book was the right choice for “Daytripper.” With each issue showing a pivotal moment in Bras’ life, “Daytripper” is a novel of snapshots. So it only makes sense that the action is frozen into a series of comic book frames, single moments that define and explain the action surrounding them.
“Daytripper” is not perfect. Occasionally the multitudinous death scenes are more melodramatic than they are affecting. And around the middle of the series, it becomes hard to be invested in the plot when you know that it’s only a few pages before Bras gets killed off again.
But “Daytripper” more than makes up for these mistakes with what it does accomplish. “Daytripper” succeeds as a reflection on life, death and meaning, and as a showcase of the oft-overlooked strengths of serialized graphic novels.