Here, by Richard McGuire, is no less than the zenith of the graphic novel as an art form.
It is one of the most profound things I’ve read.
Based on the six page comic that appeared in Raw magazine in 1989, this was something I’d missed until Chris Ware reviewed it in the Guardian.
I can only express my pleasure alongside his, though less eloquently.
Here takes a point in space, which, for most of the narrative is in the corner of a room in a house, but as you turn the pages the clock winds backwards and forwards, billions of years backwards on some pages, thousands forward on others, but most concentrate on the time humans are around.
On each page the elements of narrative, such as it is, are presented as panels tagged with the year that each moment took place in.
All of human experience is here: Love, death, growing up, growing old, telling stories, play, sorrow, laughter, work, survival.
The great achievement of Here lies in the form, because it achieves the above so effortlessly. Perhaps this could have been done with moving images. I don’t believe it would have worked as well principally because of the art, the flat almost idealised drawings are devoid of detail, the humans standing out, for it should be as blank, as ‘everyman’ a canvas as possible, this point of view in space. It should be anywhere.
Inevitably, life is represented as a series of stills and there are some beautiful miniatures, in particular the sequence of family photos near the beginning, through the mid to late 20th century, where the expression in one face diverges from the others, a worry or sorrow there. Later, a sequence in 1870 at a picnic portrays the emptiness of a wasted love, perhaps the end of a relationship, all in a few drawings and a couple of sentences. Every word is carefully chosen, layering and gluing the thematic structure together.
Here, the fixed camera and the infinite reel of time allow McGuire the space he needs to show that from anywhere we stand, moments full of meaning to the protagonists can be found. He exemplifies it most in a sublime moment when a group of historians are invited into the house to talk to the woman living there, in 1986, telling her that her house may be on a culturally very important site for the American Indians. Of course, we’re in the middle of a graphic novel that asks us to consider how, from an immortal perspective, no one place need be historically more important than any other if what we’re looking for is meaning.
And this comes to the heart of it. Meaning. Quite apart from the strings of narrative that thread together clusters of pages either contiguous or, in the case of the opening question, closing the entire loop a book later, you must look at this as you would any fine art. What is it saying? How do I feel about it?
These moments in time are overlaid, many beautiful resemblances and contrasts that I won’t labour here, for that pleasure is all yours. What arises is our fragility as a species, our ‘specks on a ball of mud-ness’. The form these moments take are most like memories in their nature. There is a tiny hand grasping two grown up (father’s?) fingers, a joke (about death of course), images or sequences of a few seconds, moments that would stick in the mind though they do not appear to be important. I doubt I’m the only one confused by why it is certain moments of my life stick in my head as vividly as photographs and not others. McGuire understands this perfectly.
But if I were a god and chose to stand ‘here’, for long enough, these would be my memories. The lives of many generations are spanned, and while each moment itself seems ordinary, my nose is pressed to history by this novel, a grander narrative appears that summarises the irreducible beauty of a godless universe, from His perspective. If atheists were defined by something positive and not something negative (to wit – ‘without theism’ or ‘without belief in God’) then Here would be the manifesto.
Take a step back, reflect on the ephemerality of your life in its totality, face with a glad heart and bubbling curiosity the two axioms from which you can build meaning.
You are mortal. Life’s what you make it.