Review by Allen Rubinstein
Fabio Moon and Gabriel Ba’s Daytripper may be the best crossover graphic novel ever created. While any veteran comics reader can enjoy the luscious art, intelligent writing and ingenious premise, its greatest gift will be to new comics readers who will find any negative preconceptions confronted with the sublime joys of a book created with an abundance of care and skill. Daytripper balances cinematic, novelistic and artistic elements perfectly in a story that is accessible, relatable and deeply resonant.
Twin brother collaborators Moon and Ba crafted a story around “ordinary man” and frustrated novelist Bras de Oliva Domingos who we meet in his thirties while he’s writing obituaries for a local newspaper. Setting this story in their native Brazil was the first right move, because of their clear familiarity with the environment, but also to drive home the universality of a story that could take place anywhere on God’s Earth. Bras’ life story covers the vagaries, joys, doubts and risks of adulthood, romance, marriage, parenting, family of origin, career, living in the moment, letting go of the past and anticipating the future.
Here’s where Daytripper goes from meaningful to brilliant. We start when Bras is 32 years old, struggling with a routine job and feelings of jealousy toward his famous father. At the end of twenty-two pages, he is caught in a robbery and shot dead. Chapter two picks up when he is 21, and by the end of the chapter, he drowns. Bras isn’t a superhero nor a Christ figure; this is the novel posing very cogent philosophical questions on life as it’s impacted by the ever-present possibility of one’s death. What is the significance of a life that ends at 21? At 76? At 11? Is the great tragedy to pass before realising your life’s work, or is one’s greater impact on the family you leave behind? Is it better to die having found love, or to live on and watch that love decay? Can even cherished memories have meaning when someone dies as a child? Wisely, Daytripper invites this kind of deep consideration only in subtext, through its deliberate structure, eloquent prose, a surfeit of great character work and in the means of Bras’ death at the end of nearly every chapter.
The collaboration between the creators is seamless, with both men sharing writing and art duties. It would be difficult to over-praise the art, which is gorgeous to look at throughout, warm and inviting, never skimping on foreground and background details, and with exquisite depth and texture added by Dave Stewart’s coloring. Each emotional beat is handled with such deft pacing and confidence, and even a small number of confusing moments (the drowning in chapter two is mystifying) feel like they’re confusing on purpose. Even more impressive, the brothers have done something very rare in graphic novels – serialized a story in individual “issues” that were satisfying as one-a-month installments, which then cohere perfectly when read as a complete work (see also: Watchmen). It’s obvious an extraordinary amount of thought and care went into Daytripper at every level.
When all is said and done, this birth to death, to death, to death, to death, to death story cannot help but reach into the readers’ sense of mortality and make us question whether we are living to the fullest. It’s perhaps the finest work to be issued by DC’s Vertigo imprint and has the potential to be read twenty and fifty years from now. The vivid, absorbing and profoundly spiritual world of Daytripper is the kind of tale that graphic novels are meant to tell. It’s also available as a hardcover Absolute Edition.