Here by Richard McGuire (Pantheon Graphic Library, 2014)
Standing on the steps of the Washington Monument, exactly where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech was, for me, a surreal moment. Time loosened its reigns on my reality: the significance of that space, of what has happened there over fifty years before my standing there gave me chills. It gave me an overwhelming sense of wonder, of appreciation. Not just for the man and what he did, but for that place.
Allowing one to transcend time, to recognize that all times are in their own way connected, is very much at the forefront of artist/writer artist/writer Richard McGuire’s objectives with his graphic novel, Here.
Fifteen years in the making, Here is an incredibly ambitious, inventive work of literature. With this sprawling graphic novel, McGuire tells a unique story that is far more about place than it is about people.
Set primarily within the physical space of one room in a house, the graphic novel shows the reader a series of moments from different times, all existing in the same location, all shown from the same fixed viewpoint, each revealing truths about humanity. On each page, McGuire takes his reader on a journey through time: fragments of conversations and actions from past, present, and future. While the majority of the story takes place during the past century, Here also ventures well beyond, exploring times as early as 3 billion BCE and imagining times as distant as two hundred years into our future.
The pages themselves are quite innovative, typically featuring windows over small sections which allow glimpses into various moments in time simultaneously. The effect of this is fascinating. Throughout several moments in the graphic novel we see that while times may change, people (and the things that people experience) stay very much the same.
As for the visual style, McGuire masterfully plays around with colors and textures, to elicit different moods and the feeling of existing in different time eras. The art itself, particularly the rendering of people and furniture, could arguably be labeled simplistic, but at 304 pages, the volume of art in Here is staggering. There is nothing simple about what McGuire has done with this graphic novel.
While there is much to be enjoyed in Here and, in particular, its experimentation with storytelling, I would also issue a warning of sorts: Here will ultimately not be for everyone. While there were dozens of individual story-lines in the book, none of them bear more fruit than a couple, quick dialogue exchanges or some simple actions. These moments have little, if any, narrative pull in and of themselves. As such, these fragments of individual stories will most certainly not satisfy the cravings of readers who want a traditional narrative complete with character development.
For me, and I suspect for many, Here’s originality, its experimentation with what constitutes a story makes it a work to be admired. What makes Here so special is the very thing that will make it off-putting to some readers. I just hope you choose to give it a chance. You might just walk away with a new appreciation for the places you find yourself.
Brian Burmeister is a regular contributor to the Sport Literature Association, Cleaver Magazine, and Compulsive Reader, and he can be followed @bdburmeister.
All reviews by Greg Bem unless marked otherwise.
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