Everything all at once.
The dominance of panels can often be overlooked, as typically they are laid side-by-side, one atop the other, conformed to a set of predestined style and structure. However, the same can not be said for the avant-garde piece crafted by Richard McGuire.
Here (1989) is a six-page and 35 panel black-and-white graphic short, housed within Art Spiegelman and Françoise Mouly’s RAW avant-garde comic magazine. The comic was later extended in a 300 page color-filled version by McGuire himself in 2014, inspiring an upcoming film adaptation, and virtual reality experience among others. However, despite the impact garnered by the more recent rendition (covered by users such as unofficialmargs, in their article, “Overlapping Time and the Nature of Humanity“, on 2014’s Here) I have chosen to delve deep into the original six-page comic strip given its boundary breaking status at a time of conformity. How might narrative and space be backdropped for the sake of confronting structural break such conformity?
McGuire’s Here forces readers to juggle chronology, with the dominant image, that of which is displayed in the first frame, overlaid with smaller panels of differing time periods. Such relation of time is vastly different, consisting of seemingly entirely separate plotlines. However, differing from the (2014) rendition, Here focuses largely on a character named William, showing the entirety of his life from birth until death. Plotlines are not uniform nor are they conventionally straightforward, being fairly abstract. Panels become filled within panels, and transitional structure begins to blend together.
One example, as shown in the left aligned page (the first page of the graphic comic) in the sixth panel, displays a mother nursing her child with milk (1957) land a cat (1999) brushing up against the backdrop of the room (1971). Throughout the comic, the story of a room is depicted, progressing through time and predeceasing space through the intrusions of panels.
A second example, the second panel of the right-aligned image (the second page of the graphic comic) portrays four distinctly different time periods, chronologically 1850, 1987, 2027, and 2029. Often certain frames transition from panel to panel, with some panels leading into one another, creating the illusion of opening onto a scene, and dating centuries of time and generations of people.
What I find most striking about this piece is its description of the human condition, of regular people living their lives, all within one set location, a singular room. How might changing the order of these frames impact our interpretation?
Pictured above are two frames, the first from page one, and the second from page two, 70 years a part. Juxtaposing these together shows a common relationship, with uncertainty and worry displayed on both men’s faces, albeit more so in the more recently dated panel. The relationship establishes a common fear that transcends time periods, that of uncertainty. As is shown, one might put panels side-by-side and gather a stronger interpretation of space, as putting these two panels together allows for similarities to be drawn, and therefore reduce the metaphorical space between them.
However, my central point here, to differ from other articles on the subject of Here, is the abstract form and how said form is a backdrop for both time and space. Space is rendered through an empty room being filled through daily living, and one might argue that McGuire’s piece, given its more abstract form, is more art than comic. Redefining what “space” within a comic is meant to look like, be it an establishing shot of an empty room — a good way of demonstrating progression of time through juxtaposing with the farthest of earliest time periods shown — or panels stacked together, McGuire tackles comic conventions head-on.