The creators of Daytripper want nothing less than to convince you that the world is a wonderful place. Its themes are grand, ambitious, and writ in big, bold letters: Life is full of beauty, mystery, and magic; minor miracles occur every day; the tenuousness of it all—that a seemingly random event could snuff out our life—is what makes existence so precious; and despite whatever pain and sorrow we experience, it’s all worthwhile.
To which I want to add, “Yes, but only sometimes.” Life can be inexpressibly rewarding and beautiful, but it can also be savage and unrelentingly brutal, and to focus on the sunny side of the road while forsaking the other is to give in to a lop-sided sentimentalism. I’m not sure that many of those who are living in the worst sort of poverty, under oppressive regimes, or suffering from severe illness would appreciate creators Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá’s central thesis. It’s not impossible to feel the sort of appreciation that the cartoonists seek to cultivate, but certainly it helps if you're not worrying about where your next meal is coming from or if you will be tossed in prison because you forgot to wear the proper pin. I’m always wary of throwing out Marxist terms, but Daytripper strikes me as a very naïve, and very bourgeois, book.
The comic follows the life—or lives as the case may be—of Bras de Oliva Domingo, the son of a famous Brazilian novelist who struggles as an obituary reporter before finding his voice, becoming a respected writer in his own right, and finding not only success, but also true love and a dutiful son.
The catch is that a) Bras’ life story is told out of order; and b) he dies at the end of every chapter. Yes, the final page of each chapter, which to some degree relates a pivotal or at least memorable moment in Bras’ life, ends with him dying, violently or otherwise, only to have him reappear one page later, seemingly none the worse for wear. (This effect can at times be frustrating when a particularly intriguing cliffhanger is arranged only to be quickly forgotten so Bras can tackle another of life’s rich moments.) Whether these deaths actually occur, whether we’re seeing Bras from parallel universes, or whether he’s simply imagining the whole thing is hinted at but never fully explained.
No doubt the central idea behind the constant, seemingly random deaths is to underscore the aforementioned tenuousness of life, how things can be seemingly thrown into chaos at the most random times, and how such a realization should force us to better appreciate the moments we are allowed to live and experience. By about halfway through the book, however, it starts to feel like little more than a plot gimmick, with the reader no longer thinking such thoughts as, “Oh, how tragic,” or, “This sad ending reminds me I must reassess my own priorities and values,” but instead: “Gee, I wonder how he’s going to kick the bucket this time?”
The central problem with Daytripper, though, lies with the character of Bras himself, who lives one of the most charmed lives ever depicted in comics (which is saying something). Yes, life surely is a magical fairy tale of wonder and happiness: if you happen to be the son of a famous novelist, get to become a famous novelist yourself, find true love, have a wonderful marriage, raise a great son, and live your old age out on a beach where goldfish kites continually sway in the breeze. Despite his repeated deaths, Bras never really suffers; not in any way that seems unjust or tragic, as happens to the rest of us sooner or later (even his father’s death has a poetic resonance, as it just happens to occur the same day his son is born). Bras’s sweet life is a gift; it’s never earned and never questioned.
As a result, Bras becomes a bit insufferable. He seems to suffer from a bit of narcissism. His wife and son seem less like characters than extensions of himself, ways to help him appreciate the beauty of it all. The few times that the book starts to take an interesting turn is when other characters—a rarely mentioned illegitimate half-sister, a friend who for inexplicable reasons goes off the deep end—force their way into the narrative. But their perils are quickly abandoned and forgotten, perhaps because examining their plights might force the authors to reassess the book’s values.
Moon and Bá are considerable talents, as Casanova, Umbrella Academy, and other works have proven. They remain astoundingly good craftsmen here as well—the book moves swiftly and concisely, and is filled with lovely vistas and some wonderful character types and expressions, all nobly abetted by Dave Stewart’s lush colors. The dialogue never feels forced or awkward, even in its more high-handed moments. It’s a well-made comic. But the ultimate question is not whether Daytripper is well done, but whether it is saying anything worthwhile. Not for me it isn’t.