Welcome to Comics Bulletin’s team review of Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá’s Daytripper. This is the sixth part of an ambitious twelve-part series of articles on this powerful and much-loved series.
Read the introduction here.
Read Jason Sacks’s look at Chapter One of Daytripper, titled “32”, here.
Read Keith Silva’s look at Chapter Two of Daytripper, titled “21”, here.
Read Chase Magnett’s look at Chapter Three of Daytripper, titled “28”, here.
Read Daniel Elkin’s look at Chapter Four of Daytripper, titled “41”, here.
Read Paul Brian McCoy’s look at Chapter Six of Daytripper, titled “33”, here.
Read Chase Magnett’s look at Chapter Seven of Daytripper, titled “38”, here.
Read Jason Sacks’ look at Chapter Eight of Daytripper, titled “47”, here.
Read Paul Brian McCoy’s look at Chapter Nine of Daytripper, titled “dream”, here.
Read Daniel Elkin’s look at Chapter Ten of Daytripper, titled “76″, here
Read our Postmortem on the series here.
Today Keith Silva looks at Chapter Five of Daytripper, titled “11”.
The writer in me wants to articulate the exact words to describe my daughter’s accident. The father in me simply says, ‘she fell.’ What matters most is she’s alive.
A little over a year ago our family is on a hike at a nearby state park. Guidebooks rate the difficulty level of the trail we’re on as easy and that’s being generous. My oldest daughter walks a few hundred feet ahead of my wife and me as we herd our youngest daughter, then four-years-old, along the path. The trailhead stands less than a half-a-mile behind us. When we talk about where she fell, we all call it by different names, but we always use the adjective ‘that’ as in ‘that’ rock, ‘that’ ledge, ‘that’ boulder.
Pause. I have walked this trail several years before with a television camera in one hand and the other shouldering a heavy tripod like a soldier with a rifle. I stop in about the same place my daughter will have her accident years later to set up a shot of mid-morning autumn sunshine as it blazes through the remaining tree canopy. I had recently re-watched Days of Heaven so I shot towards the sun as it backlit a massive boulder. A breeze kicks up and causes the leaves to fall like rain. As they spiral down to the forest floor the sun picks them out for a brief second and makes them glow like fireflies in mid-summer instead of leaves in early fall. I happen across this shot by accident not too long ago and realize the boulder was ‘that’ rock. Un-pause.
The four-year-old becomes ‘fatigued’ and is in need of a granola bar. So she stays with my wife in the lee of the boulder. I walk around the backside to hunt up my older daughter. I find the water bottle she was carrying, but didn’t find her. Recently, we’ve been talking a lot about personal responsibility and if this discarded water bottle is any indication those talks will have to continue.
I turn around and head back to where my wife and the four-year-old are standing less than twenty yards away. My wife looks up so I do too. And then we watch as our oldest daughter falls through forty feet of nothing. Seeing someone fall through empty space is a mind-boggling sight. She fell so fast. The only reason she is alive today and not crippled is because my wife broke her fall. What I know about physics fits in a thimble, but I know enough to know my wife couldn’t have caught her and so she did the next best thing, she broke her fall. My daughter bounces off of my wife’s body and when she lands her head strikes a rock and she loses consciousness. How she misses larger rocks, pointier rocks, trees, fallen trees and whatever else is a miracle in itself. Not as miraculous, however, as my wife being in the right place at the right time as I stand too far away to be any help.
My daughter sustains a concussion which causes a very small bleed on her brain — by ten o’clock the next morning the bleed is of no longer any interest to the eager neurosurgeons ready to cut — and that is the extent of her injuries. She doesn’t break any bones and only gets a small cut on her head. A nurse in the ICU closes the wound with less than half-a-dozen stiches. My daughter spends a week in the hospital. Her only side-effect is it takes her three months to fully regain her balance.
Call it luck. Call it grace. Whatever the reason or the result; she comes close to the edge, but she doesn’t go over and neither do we.
Brás de Oliva Domingos is a fiction, a simulacrum of a real person. The lives and subsequent deaths he endures are made-up, imaginary, dreams; yet Daytripper feels so real. Story makes for powerful stuff, it creates emotions and realities, but it’s not real life. Fiction generates distance, the allowance of enough space to feel without the experience of first-hand knowledge. In the days, weeks and months after the accident people would often say to me, ‘I can’t imagine …’ their sympathy was either in the context of what took place or the trauma our family continued to experience. Left unsaid in each of those conversations was what didn’t happen. Trauma results when the brain is forced to compensate for an unexpected outcome; a reminder of how our primal wiring always overrides our more recently developed intellect. Trauma is a symptom of living. Dead is dead.
It takes a few chapters to understand Daytripper’s rhythms. The shock of Brás’s death in the first chapter lessens as the reader moves through the overall narrative. As with any serialized storytelling, the reader wonders ‘what’s next’ or ‘how is s/he going to get out of this.’ Daytripper allows for a more morbid and ghoulish question: ‘how will Brás die this time?’.
In chapter five, the halfway point in the series, Moon and Bá shake up the reader’s expectation once again, but still remain true to the structure of their design: Brás must die. When eleven-year-old Brás (the ‘little miracle’) appears at the bottom of page one of chapter five, the reader’s gut reaction is ‘no,’ not a child; what does a child know about life, about living? At its quantum level, Daytripper functions as a moral and Brás acts as its takeaway message. My parochial education makes me think of Daytripper as a requiem, a celebration about the deceased from the safety of life and in the case of Daytripper, fiction. That’s storytelling, plain and simple, recourse for the unexpected and as close to the real thing — in the case of chapter five, the loss of a child — as anyone wants to get.
It’s said, ”In the midst of life, we are in death.” If so, than Moon and Bá outdo themselves as they stock this fifth chapter with as much life and as many idyllic moments (those ‘quiet moments’ Moon refers to in the afterward) as each page can contain. For all its heavy subject matter and reflections on mortality, it’s too easy to forget Daytripper seethes with beauty. The images of the children chasing after the angolas, the generations of family wedged around the dinner table and crowded on couches in living spaces, games, first kisses and frogs, it’s damn near Rockwell-ian.
This is life through a child’s eyes when all there is is the bliss and comfort of repetition and routine. Where time gets measured by place and being present; the immediacy of observation. In addition to pulling off this perspective, Moon and Bá capture the moment of transition when the child realizes what’s to come and what remains unwritten. The narrator says, ”it had never occurred to Brás that people got older. One day his mother would be like grandma … and his cousin would be naked parading on TV.” It’s another of Daytripper’s transitions, another of its insights into the regularity of change within the fragility of life.
Speaking of being regular — one should never pass on the opportunity to drop some scatological humor into a discussion of one’s mortality — like any other animal on the ranch, Brás relieves himself outside. Once he’s done his business, he walks over to where his father is sitting beneath a tree. Benedito is ‘writing.’ In a small rectangular panel composed as a wide shot, Brás asks his father, ”Dad, why do we have to take a shit in the woods, if we have a bathroom in the house?” At first, Benedito answers his son’s question with a question, ”Can’t you see I’m writing?” Moon and Bá cut to a close-up of the journal in Benedito’s lap. His pencil is poised over a blank page.
Through a protracted and overlong metaphor (the way only a writer would explain something) Benedito talks about water and the conservation of resources, all resources. He explains the page is blank because: ”I’m collecting all the ideas in my head, ordering the best ones, the ones that are rare. So afterwards I can write without wasting too much water.” Oh to be so wise and to not waste so much water. Benedito’s tree on its pastoral hillock with its exposed roots will again be the setting for an important lesson in chapter nine when Brás is lost in dreams and in search of a way out, an end.
As has been discussed throughout this project, Brás is a cipher, a manifestation of the blank page. Moon and Bá trust the reader to fill the page with ideas, theories and experiences. Comics have the singular advantage of being able to allow readers to read, write and draw ourselves into a narrative, to search for meaning in our human condition. We become them. If we’re lucky, this transference allows us to retain bits of their essence so we can order the best ones, the rare ones, as we write our own stories.
I’m sure I read Daytripper prior to my daughter’s accident. To be honest, when I asked to write about this chapter, the ending, the death of ‘the little miracle,’ didn’t cross my mind. Like most, I find fiction to be, certainly in times of stress, a solace. At other times, fiction functions as a key to unlock emotions or the cookie crumbs and lime tea to bring about memories long forgotten. For me, Daytripper provides shape, a scaffold for telling stories. No matter how melodramatic these depictions of Brás’s life get, it’s all fiction. I don’t believe Moon and Bá set out to sensationalize loss, especially the loss of a child. The gift of fiction is its remove from reality, its ability to provide context, to write a requiem. It’s personal.
I don’t know why my daughter was spared, why our family was spared, when so many others are not. I think that’s the point. There is no explanation, only cruel and meaningless irrelevance. It’s a blank page. How we choose to carry the water, provide words where only empty space exists, gives shape and meaning to the page … a conduit for order in the chaos.
Keith Silva spends too much of his time staring into the middle distance and trying to think of something witty or erudite to say. He writes for Comics Bulletin and a blog he never updates. His latest venture is A$$ Pocket of Whiskey: The Podcast. He also writes jokes for Twitter: @keithpmsilva