Welcome to Comics Bulletin’s team review of Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá’s Daytripper. This is the seventh 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 Keith Silva look at Chapter Five of Daytripper, titled “11”, 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 read Paul Brian McCoy’s look at Chapter Six of Daytripper, titled “33”.
“Every dead person I write about, I’m writing about him.”
We are storytelling creatures. Always have been. But we don’t just tell our stories to others, we internalize our stories until eventually we are our stories, with distinct beginnings, meandering middles, and finally a definitive ending — even if the details get a little lost along the way. And I’m pretty sure there’s not a one of us, those of us who try to put words to paper, who try to crystallize a moment into an image, a phrase, who have looked at what we’ve written and thought, “I’m a fraud.”
One of the greatest strengths of Moon and Bá’s Daytripper is the way they are able to investigate the mundane and invest it with magic. And is there anything more mundane than a nine-to-five job that has a creative core but has devolved into mindless rote repetition? When Chapter 6 begins, Brás de Oliva Domingos has spent most of the last six years of his life sitting at his desk typing out obituaries for the dead of São Paulo. But for the first time in the series, we’re not beginning a chapter from his perspective.
Instead, we begin at a truck stop watching a nameless truck driver pop a pill, finish his beer, and head out to his truck with only the Lord as his co-pilot, secure in the knowledge that nothing bad can happen to him inside his ride. As framing devices go, given the deadly inevitability of the previous five chapters, this one wears its ultimate end on its sleeve. Is this Moon and Bá rubbing our noses in the inevitable, or is this an attempt to break up the routine and maybe, just maybe, open up our expectations for the ending and a possible change?
The routine is definitely broken up, as we move from the truck stop to an airport one month earlier. What can be more mundane than waiting at an airport? Here, we are presented with fragmented bits of conversations as a group of people opt to switch up their travel plans in order to catch an earlier flight to São Paulo. It is an intriguing shift from the romanticized narrative of the previous five chapters, moving into a more naturalistic mode of storytelling — giving the readers a slice of chaotic life, glimpses into multiple stories, multiple lives.
The scene then shifts to São Paulo, but utilizes the same fragmented narrative approach, as we move through a traffic jam, immersed in stress and tension as people reschedule meetings, radio announcers are cut to and from, until ultimately hints of a disaster are revealed. In this chapter, this new approach to the Daytripper narrative, Brás’ wife Ana becomes our opening point of view when her job as a tour guide to the Martinelli Building (the first skyscraper to be built in Brazil, completed in 1934) is interrupted by the crash of TAM Flight 3905 and what will be the death of at least 93 people.
Death has always been a presence in Daytripper, serving to emphasize the inevitability of our own mortality. It’s always been there as a narrative tool to drive home the point that every moment in our lives is precious, that we always have the potential for greatness, for love, for failure, for anything. But once death makes its fatal appearance, we are finished and our lives can be finally be summed up once and for all, our stories done, our narratives complete. This is pure Sartre — specifically it’s pure Being and Nothingness (1943) — translated to the comics page. The repeated deaths at the end of each chapter are probably not what Sartre was thinking of when he wrote about needing to experience “death consciousness” in order to understand the importance of authentic experience — as opposed to knowledge — before we die and become objects to be described rather than free beings, living and changing, undefinable.
For the first time in the series since the opening chapter, however, these lives that become objects, that become finalized stories, are not directly related to Brás.
The crash of TAM Flight 3905 is inspired by the actual crash of TAM Airlines Flight 3054, the deadliest aviation accident in Brazilian history. On July 7, 2007 the plane overshot the runway at São Paulo and crashed into a nearby warehouse and a gas station. All 181 passengers and 6 crew members on board were killed, along with 12 people on the ground. For the first time in the series, we have the outside world viscerally intruding on the internal narrative of Brás, and we have events from the real world intruding on the narrative of Daytripper.
This is important.
Not only because it is a dramatic moment of real, albeit fictionalized, history incorporated into the fictional narrative in the manner of Gabriel Garcia Márquez, Isabel Allende, or even Salman Rushdie, but because it pushes Brás into creative action in a way that nothing in the series has so far. We’ve already seen that at some point in his life Brás writes a novel that is a success. We’ve seen it on his father’s desk, but we know nothing about how he transformed from the tedious journalist to the creative artist.
At the urging of his editor, Brás is tasked with writing the obituaries for the 93 victims of Flight 3905, and as we discover in the next chapter, this is where he found his voice and “the strength to write and release his successful first novel Silken Eyes.”
But that is another chapter. Another Brás. A Brás that survives his 33rd year.
Is there a symbolism being utilized here with that 33rd year? The age of Jesus (purportedly) at the crucifixion; the age of Alexander the Great (within a month) upon his death; John Belushi or Bon Scott, perhaps? Look at what they’d achieved by this age. 33 is also the numerical equivalent of AMEN (1+13+5+14=33) and when tripled corresponds to the names of God in Islamic prayer, as symbolized by prayer beads arranged in sets of 33. Perhaps it equates to the highest degree in the Scottish Rite of Freemasonry?
33 is a loaded number, a shorthand way of establishing an almost mystical element to a character’s development. What happens in the 33rd year becomes transcendental. It is the year of death and rebirth. The year of change. This is the year that Brás writes his 93 obituaries and finds his voice.
Or does he?
Here’s where the death cycle of each chapter becomes problematic, because when we reach this end, Brás is done. His life has crystallized into an ending of unsatisfied potential. His obituary points out that the 93 obituaries “could have launched his career” and “success was not in [his] destiny” yet the very next chapter picks up five years later and he has become a successful writer who found his voice. Given that both that chapter and this turn not on the crafting of words into memorials, but on concepts of friendship and betrayal, we have to ask whether or not it was actually the loss of Brás’s best friend Jorge from his life that triggered his transformation instead of the disaster of Flight 3905.
While Brás is interviewing relatives and providing closure for nearly a hundred families over the month following the plane crash, his best friend Jorge has gone missing in Rio. He was supposed to be on the next flight back to São Paulo, but instead just didn’t return. And his absence is something that Brás cannot reconcile with his own continued existence — despite the fact that he has a loving wife who seems remarkably supportive.
When she praises the depth and compassion of his obituaries, he refuses to accept it. “They’re all crap. I’m a fraud,” he snaps. “I don’t care about anything. All I can think of is Jorge. Every call, I think it’s him. Every dead person I write about, I’m writing about him.”
This stands out as a startling admission in the context of the overall story, and really forces readers to go back and reevaluate the relationship between the two men while also drawing a thematic comparison between Brás’ work and that of Schlomo Lerner and his Lola paintings. Jorge has been a constant at Brás’ side since their college days (as we’ll discover next chapter), and without his influence Brás may never have traveled across the country at 21; he was there for him when Brás was 28 and Olinda left, providing support and comfort. When Jorge tells him the “we all fall down” and trusts that Brás would do the same for him, Moon and Bá were laying the groundwork for this chapter and the next.
The level of commitment that Brás has for Jorge almost feels snuck in, given that while Jorge has been around all along, he floats on the outside edge of the story, with Brás often moving off on his own and having solo experiences. Jorge returns to comment on Brás’ mindset often enough, but if it wasn’t for Chapter 2 and the road trip across Brazil, I don’t know that I’d really get a sense that Jorge was that important to Brás.
Of course, that’s how nearly all the characters are presented throughout the work; circling on the periphery of Brás, only coming into focus when he needs support or when something bad happens.
The obsessive impulse in Brás to find out what happened to Jorge in this chapter is perhaps the first time chronologically (although not in chapter order) that we really see this concern with another person that doesn’t apparently begin self-centeredly. He’s not trying to sleep with Jorge. He’s not trying to wrangle parental affection from him. Aside from Olinda leaving him, this may be the first time that he’s been abandoned physically as well as emotionally. His wife clearly isn’t a concern at this point, as she can provide little or no comfort, despite being honest, caring, and supportive.
And when Jorge does reemerge, he’s a very different character. A single brush with his own mortality and he has gone completely off the rails, abandoning everything and everyone in his life in a pursuit of some sort of abstract meaning. When he tells Brás, “Nothing in my life is extraordinary. Nothing in my life really matters. Life is too short, man. I’ve been wasting time,” how must this sound to Brás? If the only constant source of emotional support he’s had for the past fifteen-odd years suddenly doubts their entire life, then what was the value of all that support?
By abandoning his own life as meaningless, Jorge inevitably casts Brás’ life as just as, if not more meaningless. And then signing off the phone call with, “Do something with your life. Something that matters,” becomes the nail in the coffin. All support has been severed and Brás is forced to confront his own existence without the buttress of other egos. He’s not yet at the stage of emotional development where his wife is anything other than another woman who will possibly abandon him and throw his shortcomings in his face.
Remember, at this stage he was with Olinda two years longer, and she had no qualms about cutting him lose.
So while it seems to come out of the blue, this devotion to a friend we’ve mostly seen in brief moments of sarcasm and snippets of supportive talk, does actually have a psychological grounding. Jorge is his lifeline, but has also become a tether. When Brás tells Ana, “Every dead person I write about, I’m writing about him,” what he’s not saying, and may not be aware of, is that he’s also writing about himself. Every obituary that he wrote wasn’t just about bringing peace to the families of the deceased, but were steps toward bringing peace and closure to the death of his own support system. The words are directed outward, but are sourced inwardly. As he cuts away at the limitations he’s accepted and virtually stopped questioning, he suddenly begins to step into the light.
As his editor tells him, “Everyone’s got their eyes on [him] now.”
So of course he runs away. He’s suddenly responsible for his life, his successes, his failures. He’s desperate to grasp at that support one more time, and he abandons his wife, his job, his world, to get Jorge back in his life. Despite telling himself that this is what friends do, is this really just another an act of self-centeredness?. A way of avoiding growing up and taking responsibility for his own life?
And then when he dies in the process, leaving behind a life, a story, that falls far short of what it could have been, what are we to make of it? The enigma of the deaths at the end of each chapter becomes even more problematic here. When we find out next chapter that Brás has searched for Jorge repeatedly over the years, should we just skip the death here and treat it as the first of his attempts? If we do, then how does that change the impact of this ending? Of the series of endings?
If this were a stand-alone story, then it would easily be brilliant; insightful, profound, sublime. As a chapter in an ongoing life, it unravels at the end. The closure that death provides, sidestepped; a plot devise; a shortcoming. Essentially each chapter of Daytripper is two works in one; the reader’s challenge becomes holding both of those chapters in their minds, overlaying them, observing two narratives at the same time and reconciling that cognitive dissonance individually.
It’s a lot to ask of the reader, that level of engagement. Is that a way for Moon and Bá to avoid some responsibility themselves? Or is it another way of investing magic into even the mundane act of dying?
Paul Brian McCoy is the Editor-in-Chief of Psycho Drive-In and writer of Mondo Marvel . His first novel, The Unraveling: Damaged Inc. Book One is available at Amazon US & UK , along with his collection of short stories, Coffee, Sex, & Creation (US & UK ). Paul is unnaturally preoccupied with zombie films, Asian cult cinema, and sci-fi television. He can also be found babbling on Twitter at @PBMcCoy.