In Brief : Daytripper

2016 ReadingTitle: Daytripper : Deluxe Edition
Author: Gabriel Ba & Fabio Moon

Pages: 256

The premise of Daytripper is fascinating. Bras de Oliva Domingos is an obituary writer. It is fitting, then, that in each issue this man, whose vocation is death, would himself meet his end. Ba & Moon have masterfully written a unified arc that is unexpectedly cut short in every episode. I can only imagine they began by writing the life of Bras, and then explored what it would have looked like had he perished in various circumstances that came to define his life.

The stories are not chronologically arranged, a detail which shines light on the grown man before considering the possibility of a much earlier demise. It is helpful to catch a glimpse of the man Bras will be before looking, for example, at his childhood.  

The series itself stands, in the writers’ own words, as an honest meditation on mortalityThey’ve succeeded. Daytripper raises wonderful questions as to the significance of a life, and the value of knowing the full story before casting a lasting judgment.

I can honestly say that the final two issues of the series take an interesting story and infuse it with meaning. Without them, the story would be far more tragic. These final reflections frame the authors’ efforts and make the story extraordinary. I share this, not as a spoiler, but as an encouragement to see the parts in light of the whole. In that regard, their story writing mirrors the story they wrote.

As a fair warning, the book does contain panels that are inappropriate for children. As much as I’ve grown to love the graphic novel as a medium, I sure wish folks believed they could write a real story without necessarily showing everything. It’s almost as if there’s an unwritten code in the industry that there must be at least a few nude panels, some blood, and  curse words. As it turns out, humans have been blessed with a certain creativity that enables us to fill in blanks. But that’s a commentary for another day.

 

 

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Ba & Moon, by varying the timing and circumstances of death, demonstrate their point, that the end casts its shadow over the minutiae of the middle. What might have seemed a tragedy in the middle becomes a mere stepping stone, and what appeared to be the best day proves to be nothing more than a dangerous snare. The final perspective is set by the instance of death. Unforeseen fatalities keep the tragedy a tragedy, and the best the best, removing the opportunity to see growth dependent upon survival.

Were the authors to lay out all of the possibilities and then choose a particular instance of death and declare, “this is how it really happened,” (something like the end of one of my favorite movies, Clue) they would have introduced an entirely different effect. In light of the proposed possibilities held within the life of Bras, this would have stirred a set of emotions and forced a particular judgment. But by merely exploring the possibilities, Ba & Moon have instead raised a number of wonderful questions on the effect of mortality and the valuable process of life.

Daytripper calls upon the reality that moment by moment our stories are being written, as are the stories of all humanity. Every encounter might be a piece of tragedy, or a slice of the best. The final determination will become clear when death enters the picture. In many ways, Daytripper awakens the sense that our limited human perspective means that we rarely (if ever) understand the purpose, effect, or alternative possibilities of any given moment. We cast our efforts, be they in love or enmity, without any substantial perspective. We inherently lack divine perspective.

 

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As an honest meditation on mortality, the effect of death upon life is central to Daytripper. Ba & Moon offer encouragement to embrace the reality of death, without being so bold as to suggest exactly what that will look like. Instead, their engaging efforts allow you to walk away into meditations of your own.

If you are not easily offended or tempted by the more depraved panels, I would highly recommend the series. The challenge within is compelling.

 

A Christian Consideration

Our brains may acknowledge death, but that doesn’t mean our hearts are prepared. In reality, we fear death. Death raises questions we aren’t, by nature, excited to answer. But just because we fail to see the baby grand piano hanging by a frail thread above our heads (a la Looney Tunes), doesn’t mean it’s not there.

I am thankful for Christ. He has not only conquered death, but the fear of death as well.

“Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself [that is, Christ] likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.” (Hebrews 2:14-15)

Death has no hold upon the Christian heart. Death has been defeate, losing its sting. The slavery of fear has been eternally broken by the Son of God who died in our place. This does not mean death is no longer a reality. Sadly, we must still face death until Jesus returns to make all things new. However, death has been put in divine perspective for the Christian. The work accomplished by Jesus has enabled the Christian to see death through God’s eyes, and to rest confident that the enemy has been defeated, that resurrection is the final reality. Resurrection and life embraced by grace through faith.

For the Christian, the consideration of death being in a state of care by the Lord Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit, the concern moves as well to the life and death of others. I meet Bras every day. Men and women, created in the image of God, growing by their experiences, unwilling to face the fear of death and unaware of the hanging piano.

Even with a hint of divine perspective, though, I am incapable of fully discerning the heart condition beneath the surface. What I see as tragedy, God may be working for their glory. What I see as joy may be nothing more than the deep and dangerous snare of sin. How do we move forward in such ignorance?

With love.

Love meets the tragedy and the joy as a single facet of a much larger picture over which we have no control, and over which Jesus is Lord.

When we reach the end, I mean the REAL end, the picture will be clear. The moments will make sense. The minutiae will have had a purpose. And Jesus will be praised.

For now, I rest my ignorance at the foot of the cross, gaze upon my Savior, and go out to love.

Make no mistake, Daytripper will awaken something in your heart.

 

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“Death is swallowed up in victory.
O death, where is your victory? 
O death, where is your sting?”
(1Corinthians 15:55)

 

 

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In Brief: The Contract with God Trilogy

Title: The Contract with God Trilogy
(click image to view in Amazon)

Author: Will Eisner

 

I am treading on hallowed ground with this review. Will Eisner is nothing short of an icon in the world of comics, and in particular the graphic novel. The Contract with God is widely considered the very first graphic novel. The Trilogy is a work composed over a lifetime, a work Eisner revisited and completed across decades.

The framework itself is, I believe, quite genius. The centerpiece of the story is not a particular person or group of people, but rather the life cycle of a particular spit of land. Dropsie Avenue, a neighborhood in the Bronx, NYC, is fiction rooted in the experiences of Will Eisner. The novel traces the land and the personalities that came to call the land home. The bulk of the time is spent in the early 20th century. Time is best marked by the Great Depression and the various wars mentioned throughout.

 

“The tenement… always seemed to me a “ship afloat in concrete.” After all, didn’t the building carry its passengers on a voyage through life? (Eisner) 

 

Book One, A Contract with God, traces the stories of four individuals – the Jewish man, Frimme Hersch, the man who made the contract with God; the Super at Dropsie Avenue, Mr. Scuggs; a lowly street singer; and a collection of individuals from the neighborhood on the farm for the summer. Book Two, A Life Force, features Jacob Shtarkah, a man whose stories are inspired by Eisner’s neighborhood. The third book, Dropsie Avenue: The Neighborhood, was written almost 20yrs after the publication of the first, an effort to trace the history of Dropsie Avenue, the immigration & integration, the rise & fall, the circle of life. Because the story traces a century, there is no one protagonist, though certain figures do play prominent roles over the decades.

The book is masterfully illustrated. Eisner is a legend, and so this should come as no surprise. It is the kind of book you can read quickly, while at the same time being the kind of book from which you can appreciate every pen stroke. He uses negative space with brilliance – probably my favorite aspect of the artwork. From a pastoral standpoint, I am most disappointed in what I would consider excessive nudity in the first third of the Trilogy. I get it, art often includes nudity for one reason or another. But I would argue the nudity in this work is gratuitous and often unnecessary. However, it serves to feed the story, the arc of which I can only describe as an unfortunate exploration of depravity and empty religiosity. I found myself often describing the book as void of all hope. Dropsie Avenue is depicted as a neighborhood where many are born, barely survive, and die. Perhaps the only source of hope is for the few who escape. 

Though not prominently featured throughout, the recurring character of most significance (or so it seems) is the cockroach. The cockroach is described as living millions of years, never changing, always surviving. Generations of humanity as well pass through Dropsie Avenue – of varying ethnicity & socio-economic background – portraying the same bleak outline. Never changing. Always – though often barely – surviving.

 

Contract Samples

 

 

Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity.
What does a man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun?
A generation goes, and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever.
The sun rises, and the sun goes down, and hastens to the place where it rises.
The wind blows to the south and goes around to the north;
around and around goes the wind, and on its circuits the wind returns.
All streams run to the sea, but the sea is not full;
to the place where the streams flow, there they flow again.
All things are full of weariness; a man cannot utter it;
the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing.
What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done,
and there is nothing new under the sun.
Ecclesiastes 1:2-9 (ESV)

 

As I closed the Trilogy, I realized that it stands as a powerful, and therefore very sad, depiction of the themes of Ecclesiastes. Qoheleth, the Preacher/Teacher of Ecclesiastes, spends a dozen Old Testament chapters trying to find meaning in all that the world has to offer, only to find that all is vanity – chasing after the wind. The conclusion of Ecclesiastes is that humanity, viewed strictly within an earthly context, has no meaning. Purpose, therefore, must find its source outside this world, because even the most thorough exploration of this world yields unhappiness. Self-indulgence, wisdom, work, wealth and honor are cast aside by Qoheleth as ends in and of themselves. The residents of Dropsie Avenue chase these dead ends with reckless abandon in their efforts to survive. All along the way they question God’s existence, his motives, his purposes, but without the humility that yields godly fruit or any remote glimpse of righteousness. Every question, selfish in motive and tone, only presses the passengers aboard the tenement further into their own depravity. How could there be hope in such a story?

I considered putting the Trilogy down a fraction of the way into book two. I struggle pressing into empty hopelessness. I insisted on finishing for a few reasons. First, I bought the book. In my frugality (Bob is cheap!), I find encouragement to press on! Second, when a work is celebrated, I often want to know why. Third, because I have hope, I move forward hoping to find hope.

I am glad I finished the work, but not because I found what I was looking for. In fact, I am glad because I didn’t find what I was looking for. I couldn’t help but muster a faint smile upon realizing that Ecclesiastes is absolutely true. My heart is sad that so many, in the absence of hope, press inward rather than Godward. Yet my heart rejoices that, for those who are drawn near in his grace, God reveals a hope more glorious than words can describe. I am sure there are countless neighborhoods just like Dropsie Avenue around the world, though each may take a different shape and supply a different flavor. After all, Qoheleth teaches us that there is nothing new under the sun.

Had the novel attempted to provide an answer outside the solution of Ecclesiastes & the breadth of Scripture, I might not have been able to smile. But the overwhelming conclusion that the stained cycle of fallen life is indeed perpetual and inescapable by human means affirms everything the Scriptures reveal as a doctrine of man.

At the beginning of the Trilogy, Frimme Hersch makes a contract with God. He makes the contract based on his own expectations; expectations which were cultivated over years of misapplied promises. So many of us are guilty of believing that it is we who draft the terms and conditions of the relationship between God and man, when it is God – and God alone – who has determined the conditions of his gracious covenants with his creatures born of dust.

Because we are prone to misinterpret, misapply, and otherwise misunderstand God’s truth, I can absolutely see why a book like this is appealing. There is, after all, a healthy dose of earthly reality preserved in the ink. But it is an incomplete reality. It is a reality that points the finger at God without any attempt to know him. With the cycle of sin and devastation humanity has wrought on the earth, still God remains in perfect righteousness, love, and justice. The devastation of sin met the depth of divine love at the cross of Christ, justice and mercy at the intersection of two beams of wood where earth’s only pure and innocent blood was shed. Therein lies the hope the Trilogy, and humanity, so desperately needs – heavenly hope.

 

Am I glad I read this book? Yes. Would I recommend this book? Probably not. For those who struggle with images of the flesh, either for reasons of offense or temptation, I certainly do not recommend the book. It is in many cases offensive for my taste, and probably far too tempting for  many. Beyond that, I can hardly say it is edifying to explore meaninglessness as an end. Ecclesiastes, for all its despair, is seasoned with glimmers of hope, a feature sadly avoided in this classic work.