What if that snarky comment that you thought was so clever was preserved forever, and not on some server, but in the very room that you first gave thought to it? What if every thought, every act, everything, in that room, were saved forever, beyond deletion? That is what this graphic novel is about. “Here,” by Richard McGuire, invites you to observe one particular spot through hundreds of thousands of years. Often, we see that spot as a room, a living room, in a house. But, at other times, it’s wide open to the forces of nature, both in the past and in the future.
Considering that all of time is fair game for this story, with all the vast possibilities, we do spend a considerable amount of time, a relatively brief speck of time, in a room. It’s that space, when it once was a room, that would seem to be significant. We relate to a room best, especially one in or around our own time. The ability to dwell, just dwell, in a room is the cornerstone of civilization. And the last one hundred years or so have been a golden age for room dwellers. That’s the lifespan of our main character, a living room. It helps to anchor us, being in a relatively familiar room. In this narrative, we observe a cast of characters also anchored, biding their time, wasting their time, anchored by conformity, domesticity, and convenience. What is anyone really doing? They’re dwelling.
It’s the little things that count, we are told. But it’s the big things that really get our attention, once a myriad of little things have taken place. Little. Big. Lives are made up of both. As McGuire observes, there sure are a lot of little moments. Even the big moments aren’t so big. We see a lot of accidents take place among the characters. Accidental moments that go off with a bang. A man slips from his chair. Another man falls from a ladder. The biggest incident seems to be a man struggling to breathe, perhaps having a stroke. In all that time, that space has one noteworthy moment, a visit from Benjamin Franklin. And that, my friend, is life, in a random little space, and is par for the course.
McGuire finds the compelling within what seems quite the opposite. A random little space, what does it really matter? Ah, well, humans have loved and lost and lived over many generations upon this stage. And, if you observe the flickering images long enough, you find patterns and you find something of a story, a universal struggle. McGuire’s style is wonderfully lean, low-key, and pared down. It has as much to do with comics and it does with painting, easily evoking the world of Alex Katz, peopled with lost souls floating along in the suburbs. In the end, though, it’s all about comics as the interplay among panels heats up and we learn all sorts of things all from the vantage point of one spot somewhere in New England.
What is impressive about this book is that McGuire took a clever concept and fully followed through. As you open up the first pages, you know what may follow. Will he pull it off? I mean, look, he’s set up a premise, a room with a year in the caption box above. Is he going to really take us for a ride and have the years change in interesting ways and have us see that space in interesting ways? Yes! That is what McGuire accomplishes. And, if that’s not enough for you, then you’re one cold snarky so-and-so. The premise is ambitious and the vision is sincere. These are not things to take lightly.
The idea is that McGuire has taken us on a new kind of ride. That was the goal when this graphic novel was first just a six-page work of comics in 1989, in “Raw” magazine, volume 2, number 1. That was certainly a postmodernist shot in the arm for comics. “Here” articulated an intriguing storytelling tool with how it arranged a number of panels on a page all taking place at different times. Of course, it’s not completely new. Comics, after all, by its very nature, involves panels playing with the notion of time. Still, McGuire was introducing something new into the comics landscape. He was offering up some original ideas on points of view. He was also playing with tempo. And, he was most certainly fascinated with the quotidian, an almost morbid fascination with the minutiae of life. It was something new and in step with a rising sensibility to celebrate the mundane and everyday. His particular take on things would be taken into other directions by Chris Ware.
“Here” is a beautiful realization of an intriguing concept. It is a pleasure to read.