Welcome to Comics Bulletin’s team review of Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá’s Daytripper. This is the second part of an ambitious twelve-part series of articles on this powerful and much-loved series.
Read the introduction 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 Keith Silva look at Chapter Five of Daytripper, titled “11”, 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 Jason Sacks looks at Chapter One of Daytripper, titled “32”.
You don’t choose family.
Our connection with family can be the most profound connection we can have in life, and almost inevitably is also the most complex. No aspect of your life can bring more joy than your family and nothing can bring more pain. Fathers leave legacies for their sons, which can enrich the lives of both men, provide a livelihood, set of passions and a framework in which to live your life, but sometimes that legacy can feel like a straightjacket. Some parents cast long shadows from which their children have trouble escaping, even when they reach their 30s.
As we meet Brás Domingos in chapter one of the luminous Daytripper, he’s 32 years old. He’s an adult, with a committed relationship to the woman he loves. He owns a house and a dog, has an adult job writing obituaries for a national newspaper in Brazil, and has dreams for success that take him far away from the newspaper.
But Brás isn’t the man he wants to be, and creators Gabriel Bá and Fabio Moon provide the perfect prism in which to see that ennui: Brás’s 32nd birthday coincides with a big ceremony for his father, a nationally-acclaimed author and major cultural force in the country.
On one level it’s absurd to conflate the two events with each other, but Brás can’t help but to feel resentment: his father is taking away from Brás’s special day. But isn’t it short-sighted and immature to think in that way? Shouldn’t Brás simply be happy for his father’s success and be adult about everything? Isn’t it symbolic that in the image above, the newspaper article about the father is in the foreground and a small image of a playground is in the background? Is the family leaving Brás’s childhood behind? Did the father overshadow the son during childhood? The implications of the symbolism are compelling and intriguing.
But of course, it’s never simple when it comes to family. Things never proceed the way we hope; family can surprise and shake you up. In the shocking climax of this issue, we see the ways that a truly dysfunctional family creates real chaos and pain.
This chapter is an intriguing scene-setter in many ways. In major part that comes from the way that it sets up aspects of future chapters in some ways and deflects future chapters in other ways. This chapter is full of scene-setting and theme-building, with its focus on Brás’s ennui, the overwhelming force of family and the complex ways that everything interacts in his life. There is foreshadowing of future events and the beginning of concepts that will reoccur throughout the book, including Brás’s very close relationship with his friend Jorge and, of course, the motif of Brás dying at the end of each chapter.
But this first chapter also begins things on a note that is different from what will be presented elsewhere in the book. Most notably, Moon and Bá seem to take pains to keep Brás isolated and alone. It’s striking to notice the omissions in this issue: we never see the face of Brás’s mother or his wife, though he talks to them on the phone. That’s a touch that strikes strangely as future chapters spend much time with all family members but here we just get shadows, wisps of people hovering in the background.
If we’re to take the attitude that nothing is unintentional in this chapter, then what are we to make of these close family members being treated like shadows in Brás’s life? We can sense the relationships that he feels with these people – his annoyance with his mother, his love for his wife – but they are turned away from him and from us as they talk to him. Only Jorge is shown as a fully-fleshed man. Is this intended to imply that Brás is deeply embedded in his own world and own head, that he can’t escape his circling thoughts and that only his closest friend, Jorge and his dog can help him break away from them? Or is it simply a reflection of the fact that when Brás can’t see these people, they exist only on the periphery of his mind?
I love it when stories have enigmas like this in their hearts because they grow and transform as the reader experiences more of the story. There’s a pervasive feeling in this chapter that Brás is in transition at age 32, truly emerging as his own person and learning his place in the world. He’s at a selfish point in his life, and though his wife and best friend truly love him, the point is made repeatedly in this chapter that he always sees everything through his own eyes. It takes truly shocking events — as depicted in the framing sequence — to literally open Brás’s eyes.
Of course, hovering over this issue is an even more important force that is also disembodied: Brás’s father. As we’ll see in future chapters, Benedito de Oliva Domingos casts a long shadow in his life. He’s a man who is complex in his own right, a very unusual and deeply inwardly-focused person who clearly always felt somewhat estranged from his family. It’s striking that while Benedito hovers over this story like a somewhat benevolent ghost, he never appears directly, or even speaks on screen, but simply exists as a driving force for everything that these characters do in the book.
So when Brás finds himself at the Teatro Municipal, and as the caption informs us, “he remembers reading somewhere that on its opening night in 1911, the Municipal hosted a performance of Hamlet — this great hall has been echoing with fathers and sons from the very beginning”, it’s fraught with meaning and significance. We get Benedito the ghost, a man with secrets, haunting his neurotic son.
Of course, that’s a pretty good metaphor for how parenting works when you have an adult child. You are a ghost in the child’s head, leading them to make the decisions that they make in their lives in ways that reflect on your parenting of them. There’s no way for Brás to escape the legacy of his father because (in a phrase that will become significant in this chapter) “you can’t choose family” and because, well, that’s what parents do. They leave a legacy.
But their legacy is complicated. The latter section of this chapter brings Brás to a bar in which the bartender has kept the name of his father on the bar despite the fact that dad’s been gone for many years. That father’s legacy also lingers as a ghost in his son’s life; it’s a fascinating fun-house reflection on the way that Brás lives with his father’s legacy to see that the bartender kept the name Genaro’s on the sign and took the diminutive nickname Genarinho as his own.
That’s a tremendous tribute to his dad, as a statement of affection and respect that stands in contrast with the complicated relationship that Brás has with his dad. “It would still be his bar, and I would still be his son.” Wonderful words spoken by Genarinho, then a cut to Brás’s face as he seems to contemplate the thought before turning back to the bartender (whose back is to him – again, a symbol of the disembodied father?) who says “We just don’t get to choose our family.”
It’s interesting that Brás seems to have been struck by that simple bit of wisdom; from age 32 onwards in the other chapters, he seems to become more himself by embracing the fact that he’s part of a legacy. Brás becomes a writer of his own type – his father’s son but also his own self. “We might be through with the past, but the past ain’t through with us.”
And then, as Bá and Moon do all throughout this book, a moment is embraced and then rejected. As that quiet reverie and connection between Brás and Genarinho floats, Genarinho’s nephew runs into the bar, waving a gun. What had been a quiet moment of connection becomes a screaming, yelling confrontation. Family demands help, family requires taking in the difficult moment as well as the good moments. “You don’t choose family” are the final words spoken in this issue as the gunman pulls the trigger and kills Brás.
That moment defines and defies the book, bringing a central theme to the surface: the ability for family to both destroy and bring meaning to life. Family is complicated, family is tough. Family asks the unreasonable from you and sometimes demands a sacrifice that you’re not willing to make. Sometimes family means respecting your father because you have to. Sometimes family means respecting your father because you want to. Sometimes it means obligation and duty; the continuing of life and the severing of life. You must sacrifice yourself sometimes for family.
One thing we discussed quite a bit in our intro was the fact that Brás is a bit of a blank slate, and that’s absolutely true in this chapter. There are many times when it seems like he’s 22 rather than 32, still a bit undefined in his life and living in the shadow of his father and his controlling mother. In some ways he’s still learning how to get along in his life, living in a quiet house with his dog as his companion, hanging out with his best college friend and with a wife who travels while he stays home. The wife has moved ahead with her adult life while Brás is still figuring out his.
We pondered whether Brás is intentionally blank or if his blankness is intended by the authors. I’m sure we’re going to argue this topic extensively in this series, but to me this issue shows that our protagonist was intended to lack some character. His family – and his father in particular – cast a long shadow. Brás just seems like one of those weak, maybe over-indulged personalities that can sometimes emerge from complex families. He’s an only child and frequently was given a surfeit of attention from his parents. In fact, as we find further in the book, his father was absent even when he was home – always sitting in his office, chain smoking cigarettes and living in his own dreamworld.
That is the male role model that Brás grew up with (and a point that’s paralleled in chapter eight, which I’ll write about next week). Brás was shown that dreaminess and diffidence were virtues, that living in your own head can bring you beautiful rewards, that keeping your feet on the ground in the real world is not always a virtue. Thus he has his father’s dreaminess but he doesn’t have his father’s drive. Dad worked long hours for his fame and sacrificed much. Brás, our void at the center of this book, doesn’t have the same drive. He’s a dreamer without a goal. He aspires to write, dreams of following in his father’s footsteps, but there’s just something lacking in him to help him do so.
Even when writing obituaries of men whose lives truly impacted others, Brás is stuck in a life where he has little influence – even on himself. And though that at times makes him a vague protagonist in his own story, his questing eye and dreams of success still make him a character worth reading. They are hagiographes of august men who achieved much in their life, and seem to be men who were giving and loving people (though obituaries usually exaggerate and are swayed by memory) — a fascinating counterpoint to Brás’s relationship with Benedito.
Thus issue #1 sets the tone for the rest of Daytripper: our protagonist is diffident, a little dull, but also always questing to learn something about his life and the world around him. In some ways he’s a void but in other ways he represents all of us: buffeted through our lives, impacted by friends and especially by family, just trying to find some sort of connection to the things that we aspire to learn about.
Jason Sacks is the Publisher of Comics Bulletin as well as the co-author of several books about comics, includingThe American Comic Book Chronicles: the 1970s, released by TwoMorrows Publishing. He tweets (usually in a great flurry) @jasonsacks