Spoiler Alert: Bras de Oliva Domingos, main character of the lushly drawn graphic novel Daytripper, dies in the first chapter, on his way to a party honoring his father. It is Bras’s birthday. He is 32 years old.
He dies in the second chapter, drowning, at the age of 21. He dies in the third chapter, struck by a car, at the age of 28.
And by then I was beginning, but only beginning, to understand the book.
Daytripper is written by twin graphic artists Fabio Moon and Gabriel Ba. I have no idea what their last name is. They are Brazilian, born and raised in Sao Paolo, where Daytripper is set. Bras de Oliva Domingos works for a daily newspaper in Sao Paolo, writing obituaries. He has great plans to be a novelist, like his famous and honored father, but it hasn’t quite come together when the book opens. He has a girlfriend and has weathered a harsh breakup with an earlier girlfriend, a mystical free spirit he met in his early 20s when he was traveling through Central America with his friend Jorge, in the second chapter. As the story progresses, leaping back and forth through time, we see Bras and the circle of his life flowing outward like ripples. We see his dramatic, eccentric mother, who calls him her “little miracle;” his famous, distracted father, his wife Ana, their son Miguel, and Jorge. In one devastatingly sweet chapter we meet his grandparents as he reminisces about weekends and summers spent on the ranch.
The artwork in each chapter matches the tone of the story and the ranch is my favorite; big exuberant frames with chaotic dinner scenes filled with faces, food and wine, and simpler line drawings, evoking a child’s world, on the pages where the cousins play and explore.
The second chapter includes a beautiful ritual, an offering to Yemaya, the goddess of the ocean. At dark on the goddess’s night, women wade into the ocean and strew the water with flowers and paper boats with candles. This event plays an important role in the chapter, Bra’ss relationship with the woman he meets at the beach, and the nature of Bras’s “death.”
We live every crucial moment of Bras’s life; we see the transitions, the triumphs, the losses. We don’t see the process of him writing his first novel, but we see the aftermath. The loss of his father, drawn in mauves, blues and shadowy grays, is bittersweet in contrast to other events in the same chapter. Creatively, Bras reaches a kind of breakthrough when the paper assigns him the task of writing “feature” obituaries for the families of people killed in a devastating plane crash. Bras succeeds and prevails, touching people’s hearts with his words. The assignment is even more difficult because Bras thinks his best friend since college, Jorge, was on that plane.
I think “memoir by obituary” is an original idea; while this would not have worked as well as a prose novel, Moon and Ba synthesize words and art to create a thoughtful, dramatic, moving work. The brothers manage to bring the story full circle, in one way; in the first chapter Bras is hurt because his father has forgotten his birthday. He is resentful of growing up in a great man’s shadow – but by the end, a successful writer and also a father, he discovers something that paints his father in a different light.
Complex, thoughtful and heartwarming, this might be a good graphic novel to try if you think graphic novels are only for superheroes.