Overlapping Time and the Nature of Humanity

Previously on the blog mwinters wrote a post about the use of dialogue in Richard McGuire’s graphic novel Here which you can read here. In this post they discuss the sparse use of dialogue in the book and how the dialogue that is used helps link together the panels. In this post I will be expanding on McGuire’s unique narrative style and use of overlapping panels to convey movement through time.

Here is a graphic novel by Richard McGuire, originally published as a six-page comic strip in 1989, appearing in vol. 2 of RAW. McGuire then went on to develop it for over 15 years before publishing it as a 304-page book. I first encountered Here in a bookstore at the age of 13. I had sat myself down in the graphic novel section of the store and randomly grabbed a book of the shelf. I was only a couple of pages in before I was hooked. I went to go find my mom and tell her that I needed this book. Here was unlike anything else I had ever read, and it completely blew my 13-year-old mind.

McGuire describes Here as “An artist book disguised as a graphic novel about one location over time.” The cover flap of the book describes it as “the story of a corner of a room and of the events that have occurred in that space over the course of hundreds of thousands of years.” These descriptions might make Here sound like a very static story when it reality it’s an extremely dynamic story moving through time and exploring the lives of individual people and families.

Here doesn’t convey time in a linear fashion, it opens with the room in 1957, then showing the same place in 1623, now a forest.  The next page is in 8,000 BCE when the room was a swamp, overlayed with a panel in 1989 of a woman telling a joke. The time frame of Here spans from 3,000,500,000 B.C. to A.D. 22,175, and throughout the book we get to see the house being built in 1907, the many people who lived there over the years, and the flood that destroyed it in 2111.

Here demonstrates that as much as people change, in many ways we stay the same. This is illustrated on pages were people from different moments in time gather on the page to perform the same activity. Dancing, holding a baby, having a party, dressing up for Halloween, calling someone a name, or breaking a wine glass.

Here is known for its usage of overlapping panels to tell a story. Often Maguire uses this technique to bring moments throughout time that are thematically similar. He also uses this technique to make characters from different points of time appear to be speaking to one another, or about the events of a different panel. The usage of overlapping panels is very effective in conveying the passage of time, as well as the cyclical nature of humanity.

Here has often been referred to as a groundbreaking piece in the comic and graphic novel world. Departing from the traditional up-down and left-right reading of comic strip Here introduced a new type of visual narrative that no one had seen before. What continues to strike me about Here is McGuire’s ability to tell an emotionally moving story about time and the nature of humanity while never moving from one location, or even naming a character.

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