Fellini & the Orixa: on “Daytripper”

The following is an archival piece from this blog’s early days, back when it was on Tumblr.

Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá’sDaytripper” is so good it makes me wish we lived in the Star Trek universe and I could pop it into a replicator and pass out dozens and dozens of copies of it to everyone I know. I read the whole thing on the long bus ride from Scottsdale to downtown Phoenix in the middle of the day; I reread it on the long bus ride from downtown Phoenix to Scottsdale in the middle of the night. Both times it elicited the same reaction: I felt as though someone had filled my brain up with air, inflating it like a balloon. My mind felt larger and full of more space. My spinal column felt like a narrow string tethering my brain-balloon to the earth.

“Daytripper” is a hard book to talk about. Even attempting to discuss the plot on a structural level runs the risk of spoilers, so I’ll refrain. All I’ll say is that the book chronicles the life of Bras, a Brazilian writer (at first a newspaper obituary writer, and later in life a best-selling novelist), from his childhood into his twilight years, jumping back and forth through time. It focuses on the major relationships in his life: with his wife, Ana; his best friend, Jorge; and his parents. Much of the book is rooted in “reality”: despite it being on the “Vertigo” imprint, there aren’t any surly Irish vampires or crazed demigods or kinky fairy tale beasts running around. If “Daytripper” was a novel instead of a graphic novel, its relatively “realistic” storyline wouldn’t make any literary critic start hissing and making the sign of the cross and screech “FANTASY! SCIENCE-FIIIICTION!” as they hurled it across the room.

And yet there are those pesky quotation marks around the word reality. “Daytripper” is a dreamy book, in more ways than one. It reminds me of Fellini’s “8 ½”: not just for that film’s vivid fantasy sequences, but for the tone of the film (whimsical about the creative life, and yet also showing an underlying resignation about life itself). There is hope and love and family and the sublime in “Daytripper”, but there is also death, lots of death: it’s a long shadow cast over every page of the text.

Strangeness haunts the margins of it (like the talk of Orixa spirits during Bras’ trip to Salvador), and the very nature of the world we’re reading about is called into question with each new issue. You’ll understand what I mean if you do yourself a favor and read it: every issue of “Daytripper” feels like it could be referring to a whole new universe, even though the characters are the same. I’ve read it twice and I’m still not sure what is “true” and what isn’t. Hell, I’m not sure if wondering what’s “true” is missing the point in the first place. The beauty of the book, though, is that solving the mystery of it doesn’t matter. The central story is so heartfelt, so well-written, so goddamn life-affirming that I could never figure the whole thing out and I’ll be okay with that.

The art is as great as the writing. “Daytripper” is a colorful, lovely book. What leaps out the most is the eyes: they’re so expressive. Even the animals in the book have soulful eyes: frogs squint menacingly, family dogs glance up with slobbering joy, angola birds light out into the sky in terror.

The highest praise I can give the book is this: “Daytripper” makes me want to WRITE, write until my fingers wither away and fall off of my hands. It makes me want to be pounding away at my keyboard when Judgement Day comes, telling Saint Peter and the Four Horsemen that they can wait until I’m done before they do their work. And it makes me wish scientists would get around to making those damn replicators already so I can share this wealth with all my peeps.

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