Which isn’t to say that formalist experimentation can’t occasionally produce absolute total genius. Richard McGuire‘s earliest fame came as bassist for early 80’s minimalist funk band Liquid Liquid, authors of “Cavern” (or “White Lines,” more or less), and who apparently just played a reunion show. But he also fell in with Art Spiegelman and the RAW anthology crowd and drew comics. And one of those, “Here,” from RAW 2.1, is a concentrated masterpiece.
“Here” is six pages long, drawn in a clean, neutral, almost nostalgic style. Its main construct is that each panel portrays the exact same location and space at different, marked times, non-linearly. The space mostly a corner of a living room, of a house built in 1902. A family moves in, a child is born, he grows up and continues to live in the house, he leaves and another family moves in, the house burns down. McGuire subdivides each panel into multiple time periods, so that the bottom left quarter of the corner can portray 1948, and the rest portray 2032, with an inset in the middle from 1968.
The device is so overwhelming that McGuire keeps the story as neutral as the artwork. Some of the juxtapositions make simple points (kid in 1955 says “Who’s a chicken!”; rest of panel shows chickens in a pen in 1870) and get out of the way; others seem to be assembled through pure intuition. Perhaps McGuire sought a neutral tone to mirror the implacability of the passage of time, which, unsurprisingly, weighs heavily here. But that pathos still dwarfed by the pure elegance of the structure itself; the impact is sublimely aesthetic above all else. The achievement of “Here” beneath that is to take material that normally could only be treated in highly subjective fashion and decontextualize it without producing alienation. (The base material is so traditional, down to the retro-futuristic fashions in the 2020’s.) It’s a strange, unsettling effect, numbing but not unpleasant.
McGuire was rumored to be expanding “Here” to book length. I’m not sure how it could be done, since the six pages succeed through rejecting traditional notions of “depth.” But the thing is seminal and deserves to be reprinted.