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Exploration of past, present and future surrounds single home

Richard McGuire layers time periods of the same space through time.

RICHARD MCGUIRE / PANTHEON

Richard McGuire layers time periods of the same space through time.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 31/1/2015 (1851 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Ever wonder who else has lived in your home and what dramas of decades past have played out in your living room? This is the premise of Richard McGuire's innovative and thought-provoking graphic narrative, Here.

Somewhere between a comic book, artist's book and visual puzzle, Here starts with the past century in the life of one American living room. It then expands backwards and forwards, imaginatively using one fixed space to travel from planetary beginnings to a future apocalypse.

Here has been in the works for 25 years since a short sequence appeared in the iconic comics magazine RAW. McGuire is a cartoonist, illustrator and musician who was the bassist for cult New York post-punk band Liquid Liquid. Here is being widely acclaimed as a pioneering and game-changing work of graphic narrative, and rightly so.

McGuire tells the story of this one space non-chronologically — the reader must put together a narrative from the images layered on each page. The book is visually stunning and finely crafted. McGuire's style ranges from pencil illustrations and lush watercolours to flat drawings that mimic architectural renderings.

Each double-page spread contains multiple time periods, which are thankfully tagged with the year but also become quickly recognizable by the wallpaper, furnishings and characters. Images in panel borders are laid out like a scrapbook over backgrounds from a different period.

On one early page, we see a woman in a 1957 Mad Men-style pink dress, inset against a watercolour landscape of the woods in 1623 before the house was built, and in the bottom right is an inset of a black cat in 1999. Seeing the same space in three eras is at once fascinating and puzzling — this book rewards active and recursive reading to piece it all together.

Individual behaviours such as looking for one's keys repeat themselves, and much of the book's pleasure comes in recognizing these rhymes in different eras.

Richard McGuire layers time periods of the same space through time.

RICHARD MCGUIRE / PANTHEON

Richard McGuire layers time periods of the same space through time.

McGuire also depicts this space before and after the house was built. Scattered throughout are drawings of animals that roamed there before humans arrived. About halfway through, we go back to the 17th century in a sequence depicting a Delaware couple (speaking Lenape with English translation) in the woods that were later cleared for the house. And then McGuire takes us even further back, as a dinosaur strides across the page.

Conversely, the book also imagines the room in the future. One funny sequence set in 2050 depicts two old men playing some sort of holographic 3D board game, while a sobering vision of 2313 suggests there has been a radioactive apocalypse.

Relatively few speech balloons offer snippets of conversation between the characters, leaving the larger historical changes for the reader to fill in. Those familiar with key dates in U.S. history may instantly recognize the significance of some events. Without any narration or endnotes that are becoming typical of historical comic books, Canadian readers may want to consult an external source to fill in some of this information.

Even though it alludes to real events, Here is very much open to interpretation. Some may see it as an investigation of the built-versus-natural environments, others as a meditation on transience and mortality, and still others may take away the idea that human behaviour is fairly consistent.

Equally interesting is McGuire's meticulous attention to design details, as his drawings of period furniture, décor and even televisions remind us of how we associate specific decades with certain objects and aesthetics.

This is a high-concept, interactive book that demands repeated reading. It will appeal as much to artists, architects and philosophers as it will to readers of novels. An interactive e-book is also available on iTunes that allows readers to shuffle the panels around and create new narrative combinations.

In both versions, Here pushes the limits of graphic storytelling by using a deceptively simple premise to explore our complex relationships to the spaces we inhabit.

 

Candida Rifkind teaches Canadian literature and graphic narratives in the English department of the University of Winnipeg.

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History

Updated on Saturday, January 31, 2015 at 9:01 AM CST: Formatting.

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