Monday, April 1, 2013

Opening Contract - Daytripper #2

This weeks Opening Contract is taken from Issue #2 of Daytripper from Vertigo by Fabio Moon and Gabriel Ba.

The question “What are the most important days of your life?” is asked on the back cover of the collected trade. It’s a question loaded with possibility and one that Moon and Ba’s narrative explores fully.

Join me after the break to learn why I think Issue #2’s opening panel is the key to unlocking the answer Daytripper gives to this question.

Warning: Spoilers abound for Daytripper, including the conclusion of the final issue.

For the uninitiated, Daytripper is a 10 issue mini-series that follows the life of Bras de Oliva Domingos, the son of a world-famous Brazilian author. When we meet him Bras has the depressing job of writing obituaries, but he harbors ambitions of following in his father’s footsteps.

Firstly though, we need to discuss the structure and execution of Daytripper as they're somewhat different to the norm. Each issue of the series finds Bras at a different point in his life. Each issue does not follow in a traditional, linear manner, nor do they seem to emanate from the same timeline. It’s not a spoiler to say that in almost every issue of the series, Bras dies at the end. Each issue is a different iteration of Bras’ life. What would have happened if he’d done X? How would his life be different? This allows Moon and Ba to tackle the big questions such as death, life, family and love and what it all means. It’s this last notion that’s central to the panel I’ve chosen here.

The panel in question occurs in the second issue (entitled 21 after Bras’ age in the chapter) of the series and follows Bras and his friend Jorge as they visit Salvador with the intention of witnessing the celebration of Lemanja.  This is a festival celebrated by the Candomble whereby thousands of people line up at dawn to give their offerings to the goddess. These offerings (usually flowers and objects of female vanity) are then put out to sea by local fishermen in large baskets. Lemanja herself is viewed as the Queen of the Ocean and, perhaps more importantly, the feminine principle of creation (it’ll be important later, honest).

The opening panel itself is dark and foreboding, a contrast to the warm, orange hues presented in the last issue. We’re out at sea, the night sky against the horizon. We see a number of baskets containing offerings bobbing up and down on the water’s surface in the foreground and background. In the background of the panel, in the centre of the frame, is a single boat, a candle stuck to its prow the only source of light. In the boat sits a woman (seemingly naked) with her back to us.

Three captions accompany this page wide panel, their text touching upon one of the books central themes; the uncertainty of life. They describe how the future can seem so bright and welcoming but, in reality, holds no such promise. It’s just “another annoying question mark”.

The panel certainly evokes that with its dark, foreboding color scheme (there seems to be a promise of a storm brewing in the way the scene is depicted). At this point in the series, and the issue, the Lemanja festival itself hasn’t been explained. Therefore even the setting, and the floating baskets give the image a surreal, dream-like quality.

As mentioned, each issue of Daytripper explores pivotal moments in Bras’ life, moments that if a different choice had been made would have had huge ramifications for his life. The uncertainty of life hinted at in this opening panel is made manifest with each issue. Life’s big moments are thrust upon Bras, they’re never expected, can never be predicted.

As a result of this ,and the different iterations of Bras’ life, we often see images, characters and scenes reoccurring but in different configurations. The first panel of Issue #2 is an example, but one that perhaps gives us a clue to the narratives true meaning.

The imagery and location at play in this first panel are also evoked in this issues final one too. Here a solitary basket floats on the waves as the captions describe Bras’ fate. They point out how the Lemanja festival claims more lives as each year passes, but that the number of children conceived on the beach there has also risen. Life and death, hand in hand. Lemanja can “give life as well as take it away”.

The opening panel then works as a great visual metaphor for the uncertainty of life. But it also serves as a signpost, a Rosetta Stone we can use to begin to unravel the nature of the narrative and perhaps why it’s being presented the way it is. Further evidence for this comes in the opening panel of Issue #9 of the series (entitled Dream). Everything seems the same bar a slight difference in angle and the presence of Bras himself in the boat with the strange woman.

This time around the captions speak of Bras dreaming of the future and how he “knew everything that was going to happen”. The woman even talks to Bras. She warns him that, “in order to go after your dreams, you must live your life. Wake up before it’s too late”.

This issue involves Bras walking through an ever shifting dreamscape made up of a number of locations, elements and characters from the series. In the issues closing moments Bras explains that through his dreams he understands where he came from, where he wants to go and who he is. In light of this, the woman in the boat (Lemanja herself) depicted way back in Issue #2’s opening panel takes on a different meaning. Have all of the different iterations and choices we’ve seen so far all been flights of imagination?

Paul McCartney once said that the song Daytripper was “about someone who was committed only in part to the idea”. Dream depicts Bras as an old man, nearer to the end of his life than the beginning. It involves Bras reasserting control over his dreams and, as a result, his life. It’s about endings, accepting those endings and letting go, committing to the life you’ve lived.

The final issue in the series, entitled 76, develops this further, completing the trail begun in the second issues opening panel. In this issue Bras is an old man. He’s told that he has cancer, but he meets this news with a strong sense of acceptance. He’s had a good life. He’s ready.

In the issues closing moments he kisses his wife on the forehead and tells her he’s going to take a walk down to the beach. Once there, he lights three candles. In the panels up until now depicting the boat and Lemanja on the waves there was just a single candle stuck to the boat’s prow. It could be argued that the three candles here are representative of himself, his wife and their son. Before, Bras only thought of himself and how his life could be better. Now, finally, he realizes that it’s the people he’s shared his life with that have made it what it is.

These closing moments are depicted with captions reading “Only when you accept that one day you’ll die can you let go and make the best out of life”. And with that Bras throws a single flower into the sea, a last offering to Lemanja perhaps. Our final shot is of Bras, ankle deep in the surf as he looks out at the ocean.

I’ve expanded greatly beyond the scope of that single panel back in Issue #2, but I believe it’s the key to understanding what Daytripper is all about. It could be argued that each issue is Bras pondering and dreaming about all the different directions his life could have gone as he tries to make sense of it all and answer the big question. Lemanja and his dreams are his guide. They’re his key to figuring out what truly matters in life.

This opening panel then, is rife with mystery, allure and danger. It conjures up notions of death and rebirth expanded upon later. And it’s this that what life is ultimately about. As Bras comes to find, the tides of life can carry us to many places, but it’s only when we accept death as part of that cycle that we see what truly matters.

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