HERE (barnacles & footnotes)

15 Mar

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OK,I found the graphic novel HERE by Richard McGuire on Friday and read it cover-to-cover-3-times-since.

HERE is a close-up of the life of a corner of a house. Through this tight focus HERE travels through vast time: generations, civilizations and epochs. A living room, the same room 10 years later, the same room 50 years later. The wallpaper and furniture change. Life is punctuated with babies, dancing, arguments and confusion. Dinosaurs roamed there, a beast slept right where the rug is now. Native Americans lived there. Water will pour through the window one day and the land will be covered by deep-sea. In HERE life on earth in the form of plant, animal, sea creature, dinosaur, generations and civilizations of human and post-human life …  are the equivalency of short-lived barnacles on this living beast.

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The language of visual storytelling in HERE teaches you how to read it from page to page while simultaneously teaching you what the possibility of a book can be. There is poetry and mystery in its use of omission and deep clarity in its repetitions. (There is even a Benjamin Franklin telling us, “Life has a way of rhyming events.”) The construction of the book, the overlapping windows of images, reflects the way photos and memory work. The function of image also resembles the way our brains operate somewhat like a computer desktop with documents from different time periods simultaneously open and taking up a varying amounts of space on the screen: each representing its own wormhole or thread.

I haven’t met anyone yet who has read HERE and so I crave discussion. But check out how Chris Ware describes it: “It was the first time I had had my mind blown. Sitting on that couch, I felt time extend infinitely backwards and forwards, with a sense of all the biggest of small moments in between. And it wasn’t just my mind: “Here” blew apart the confines of graphic narrative and expanded its universe in one incendiary flash, introducing a new dimension to visual narrative that radically departed from the traditional up-down and left-right reading of comic strips. And the structure was organic, nodding not only to the medium’s past but also hinting at its future … A book like this comes along once a decade, if not a century.”

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McGuire’s depiction of the eventuality of a post-human earth is vivid and peaceful and beautiful. I’ve been studying the 5 mass extinctions as well as the likelihood that we are currently experiencing and participating in a 6th. And it calms me down just like McGuire’s images do. But it does have the effect of creating a kind of pop-up or obsessive footnoted experience in almost every situation. Even in something as benign as this Emily Dickinson poem:

I’m Nobody! Who are you?
Are you – Nobody – too?
Then there’s a pair of us!
Don’t tell! they’d advertise – you know!

How dreary – to be – Somebody!
How public – like a Frog –
To tell one’s name – the livelong June –
To an admiring Bog!

“Frog” has always been the perfect word here. There is nothing more perfect in the english language than the word “frog” placed right there by Emily …  unless you are reading this in 50 years when there are no frogs. Frogs will be rare green things (or gone). Never observed in nature. Ribbits and croaks will be heard only in recordings made by endangered species reserves and filed under, “mating-songs-to-no-one” by the last male frogs of each species. So a future reader will need a footnote about frogs and Dickinson’s intention there. (A footnote too for the reader of Tyger, Tyger.)

There is a common cognitive shift that occurs among astronauts who have viewed earth from space called “the overview effect.” When they leave earth, they can truly see the reality of it. They don’t see countries and the conflicts among people. They see an unlikely rock with life on it, floating in vast space, protected by a tremendously thin atmosphere holding it together.

With HERE there is also a cognitive shift, but its the inverse. HERE is an imagistic series of footnotes upon footnotes of the present moment: “the footnote effect”.

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