Saturday, January 16, 2016

Here by Richard McGuire

Richard McGuire's Here is the visual story across time about one small corner of the world. It's a literal corner: in contemporary times, it's the corner of a living room in an American house. Through full colour images and a very few words, readers experience the diversity of events that have happened in this spot. Most of the action takes place in the twentieth century, but some scenes stretch as far back as primordial history, while others imagine near and distant futures.

Several years are usually represented on one page, in overlapping panels. It's remarkable how well this works to build a rich sense of the passage of time. The circle of life is timeless, so the overall narrative can be read in any order. I comfortably flipped backwards and forwards through the book to confirm details and sort out sequences. To make it easier, each panel is labelled with a small date in the upper left corner and the colour schemes remain consistent for each year. The prominent shades are mustard, grey-blue and plum.
Here (partial page detail): against a background scene from 1775, 
an inset labelled 1564 shows the maple when it was a seedling, 
while a man hopes for the best in 1953.
There is meticulous attention to small details. For example, a museum poster advertising a Vermeer exhibit occupies the same place on the wall in 2015 where a print of Vermeer's The Letter hung in 1943. A child hiding behind a tree in 1775 echoes a child hiding behind a window curtain in 1936. 

In the same place where a circle of chairs are set up for a children's party game in 1993, a dinosaur walks in 80,000,000 BCE, a bison rests in 10,000 BCE, a buck forages beneath the snow (moments before being struck by an arrow) in 1402, a wolf carries a deer leg in 1430, indigenous women scoop water from a stream in 1553, an indigenous couple flirt with each other in 1609, a cow grazes in 1869, we see the house being built in 1907, and a child builds a tower of blocks in 2017. One of the final images is of children playing ring-around-the-rosy outdoors in that spot in 1899. "Ashes! Ashes! We all fall down!!!"

We all have a place on this planet we call Earth. For McGuire's humans and nonhumans alike, that place is Here.

Readalikes: One Soul (Ray Fawkes); Building Stories (Chris Ware); and several picture books by Jeannie Baker: Where the Forest Meets the Sea, Home, and Window.

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