Here by Richard McGuire (2015) 304 p.
I recently moved into my own apartment for the first time, a one bedroom place in a two-storey complex at the edge of St Kilda Junction. St Kilda is one of those inner city Melbourne neighbourhoods currently in a state of flux, as developers buy up properties, demolish them, and build a new tower as high as they can under the council regulations, to the very edge of the property line, full of as many rabbit warren apartments as they can to flog off to Chinese buyers or our own home-grown all-Aussie negative-gearing baby boomer caste. There are no less than two huge, loud construction sites outside my bedroom window.
My building is from the 1950s. It occurred to me the other day that I will probably be one of the last people to live here; I give this place another ten years before a developer tears it down and throws up something fifty storeys high (which, before I start sounding like a writer for the Age, is exactly what should exist in a location like this). But how many people have lived here before me? How many families, couples, young single professionals?
Even if the building itself goes, this space will endure. People will still live in this same air, whatever kind of building surrounds it, just as the indigenous Kulin people lived here for tens of thousands of years before us. It’s just a patch of ground, but those generations stack up. In the tiny space of my living room, how many human stories have played out over tens of thousands of years? How many arguments, insults, first kisses, agreements, fistfights, break-ups, deaths, murders?
Richard McGuire’s graphic novel Here takes place entirely within a single room in a house somewhere in the north-eastern Unites States. The setting is static, but it ranges enormously over time, from the primordial swampland of 3 billion BC to the far future of the year 22,000, when strange new megafauna roam across a tropical landscape. Most of Here focuses on the 20th and early 21st century, when the house exists, and we see a parade of those seemingly banal events that make up a life: children playing, people dancing, lost keys, parties, family photos, sickness, birth, death, and the whole gamut of life.
None of this is chronological (McGuire apparently considered having the publication process jumbled, so that every reader would have a unique book with a different progression) and neither are the years separated. Different panels show different events unfolding in different years; a woman scrubbing the floor on all fours in 1986 is juxtaposed against a wolf in a forest with a fresh kill in its jaws in 1430. A woman reads on a couch in 1999 while a pair of Native Americans make love on the forest floor in 1609. A man practices his golf putting in 1958 while people in radiation suits inspect a desolate landscape in the 24th century.
There are no distinct narratives to follow; no names, no families we can trace through the house as they grow and pass on. The constant cutting and chopping and the blurry, pop-art nature of the illustration make this impossible, and in any case this wasn’t McGuire’s intention. “Graphic novel” isn’t the right word for Here; neither is “comic,” not that I’m prejudiced against the word. Here is a creative work unlike anything else I’ve ever seen; a wholly original and fascinating concept executed beautifully. What seems at first an amusing gimmick develops into a meditation on space and time, the indifference of the planet, and the impermanence not just of our own lives but the human species as a whole. Here is one of the most unique things I’ve read in years.