From Cover To Cover

Explore the Mystery of Time in Richard McGuire's Here (1989)

Take a trip through time in Richard McGuire's Here.

Explore the Mystery of Time in Richard McGuire's Here (1989)
From Here by Richard McGuire (Raw Volume 2, Number 1 (1989))

Tucked in the pages of 1989’s Raw Volume 2, No 1 sits Richard McGuire’s original take on Here, a short story that a couple of decades later he’s expand into a much larger work. In six pages in Raw, McGuire challenges the way that we look at time, both in our everyday normal world and also in the way that time works within the visual plane. Each panel captures a moment of time from one specific location. In 1902, a house was built and McGuire plants us concretely in the living room, watching time move forward and backward from this one spot. The first panel in the comic establishes the corner of the house and the second panel shows 1957, a woman tells her husband that it’s time for their baby to be born. In the next panel also set in 1957, the father talks on the phone, telling someone that the baby’s name is William, 10lbs 6oz. One more 1957 panel shows the mother, cradling her son as she sits on the sofa, the father from off the panel asking if he can get her anything. These three panels are the only ones that are told in a normal flow of time and progression, with one panel leading to the next. They establish our point in space and the idea of a family that is central to almost everything that comes after this. Yet, from here McGuire weaves through time, flowing forward and backward to tell the story not only of these people but of this location, taking what looks to be a normal mid-century suburban living room and turning it into something reverential and constant even as life changes all around it.

It’s a fairly innocent opening, those first four panels establishing the basics of storytelling; a setting, a time, a group of characters, and an event in their life. So far, so good. But what’s going on in those last two pages, where McGuire starts manipulating time? He eases us into the fluidity of time with the inset panels of 1957. We’re still part of 1957 but it’s shrinking, losing its importance as we see the room 35 years earlier and then 11 years in the future (dig that great shag carpet and note the round ceramic cigarette tray that was a fixture of seemingly every house at the time.). 1957 and William’s birth recede into the background, both the past and the future of this story.

The second page is even more chaotic at first glance, offering us glimpses of 18 other moments spanning from 1860 to 2000. It all feels random, haphazard even, as McGuire shows a New Year’s party in 1940 and then William’s birthday party in 1975. But even those aren’t just simple jumps in time as he inserts other time jumps into the main panels. But he does something brilliant starting in the last panel of the previous page where a cat in 1999 shows up and then almost imperceptibly walks across the room in the first 3 panels of the second page. It’s a wonderful way that he anchors us in space and time without making it too simple and obvious. With that anchor, we can see that even as we’ve moved through time, we’re still in the same room, looking at the same corner, witnessing the lives that are being lived in this room.

But wait? What about that last panel and the animals in 1860? Could a cow be in the room?

On the third page, McGuire continues to push what he can do in his story. In the first two pages, he establishes the rules of this little world that he’s created and on the third page, it’s time to see how far he can start pushing those rules, going to a time before the house was even there and providing a glimpse of a fateful future in 2029. In the progress of the panels, whether time is moving forward or faster, we can start putting William’s story together but also the story of this room. And McGuire is also having a great time, making some fascinating connections between the years, such as in the last main panel, with a man in 1955 asking “who’s a chicken?” even as he cuts to 1870 in an inset panel, showing the chickens who once called that piece of land their home. Probably not the kind of chickens that the man was talking about but McGuire uses these moments to start bringing time together, condensing it just as he’s condensed space in his comic.

By the fourth page, we know what we’re in. We know the shape of the story as McGuire has provided the guidelines through his storytelling. So what better way to upset our expectations than show a wrecking ball demolishing the wall that we’ve come to know through the years? But we follow the story of this house, piecing the years together to see everything the events that McGuire has pulled together. This isn’t the complete story but it doesn’t have to be because McGuire shows us the life that this place in space nurtured.

Reading Here is like watching an old filmstrip in school (and that may be a too-out-of-date reference today.) You see one image at a time as your brain tries to process it, to connect it to the other images from the strip in its jumpy style. It wasn’t a smooth process or high fidelity but it had this way of imprinting itself on our minds almost through the repetition of the flickering light.

McGuire’s 6-panel foundation on each page replicates that repetition, image after image after image, burning itself onto our retinas before jumping to the next panel and the next year. McGuire uses the space that he has to distill a portion of this story down to one meaningful image but then he still finds ways to surprise us with all of the inset panels, playing on these moments that comment and contrast eachother. Through the repetition and the way that he manipulates that, he keeps his story lively and fluid.

Here is a story that makes you take a step back out of your own life, to take the time to look around you and take in your environment. It’s constantly in transition; it’s temporary and won’t be the same tomorrow, next year, or 10 years ago. Richard McGuire takes a grand concept like time and personalizes it; he contracts time to where all of these events are happening in quick succession in the present, in the past, and in the future. It’s almost even deconstructing the through of time and how it flows in a comic to make it something that can be completely experienced in just six pages. Time is condensed into a single point in space, something that should be relatable for anyone right now. Just take a look around you and imagine everything that has happened and will happen where you are.

A fixed focal point would usually make for a boring and tired comic but McGuire keeps Here dynamic through the panel transitions. Once you glom on to what he’s doing, it’s exciting to see what’s next, figure out where it relates to in the story of this spot, and mentally try to asemble the continuity of McGuire’s story. It’s a snappy six pages that brings all of this into a nice and tight package. McGuire brings time together, condensing it into this thing that we can experience. Time is a grand concept that seems to far beyond us in certain scales that McGuire peels back the grandness of it to expose a simpler experience of it.