Review by Frank Plowright
Richard McGuire first dropped onto the radar within the content of 1989’s relaunched paperback digest version of the Raw anthology. ‘Here’ garnered considerable attention. That original strip is described on the dust jacket of its 2014 successor as a transformative work that expanded the possibilities of the comic medium. That’s no word of an exaggeration, and 25 years on we have more of it. Much more. A couple of hundred pages more.
What McGuire achieved so succinctly in 1989 was to take a fixed point and hone in on it through a period of roughly 300 years, with a final panel set in the distant future. The fixed point was a corner of a room for most of the time covered, and almost all the 36 panels McGuire used had little insets featuring activities or people from other years overlaid. It was a new way of looking at the possibilities of the comics medium, innovative and interesting, but equally artifice and a relative dead end. Chris Ware acknowledges ‘Here’ as an inspiration, yet his own groundbreaking work displays he’s also aware of its limitation and has moved on.
McGuire hasn’t. To be presented all these years later with the same idea stretched into infinity, is extraordinarily puzzling. There’s no great narrative strength propelling the images, which occasionally follow a sequence to present minor incidents. Others can be deduced from close study of the illustrations, each clearly labelled with a year. Ghosts of the past are intercut with later residents. We see the families who’ve occupied the room as part of their home since its 1907 construction, events occurring in the vicinity before there was a building, allowing for a wider perspective on the area, and occurrences from pre and post-history when there is just nature or devastation.
Here is wonderfully presented in vivid colours, mashing classic painting and retro-design. It’s a playful exploration of mutation and evolution, yet beyond the colour offers nothing further than the 36 panels in 1989.
There will, of course, be plenty of people coming to Here completely unaware of its predecessor, yet the fundamental problem persists. There is no strong narrative structure, so once the novelty has been assimilated over the first twenty or so spreads, the remainder is page after page of what might as well be gallery pictures. Yes, the events and passage of time required some consideration to construct, but Here is a one trick pony. Robert Crumb didn’t use overlaid panels, and worked sequentially, but he achieved the same effect in twelve illustrations with his poster A Short History of America.
Plenty of others would disagree completely, and gushing reviews abound in serious publications such as the New York Times, which offered “moving and mind-expanding” as part of its evaluation. Furthermore the presentation of 2016’s grand prize at the Angoulême International Comics Festival cements Here as a landmark graphic novel.