Richard McGuire’s groundbreaking six-page comic “Here” was first published in RAW magazine in 1989. This is desscribed by Hamish Hamilton as a ‘short black-and-white strip by Richard McGuire about a living room in which the present is locked in a constant conversation with the past and the future. McGuire then developed a book based on this short story over a period of fifteen years.
If Here is about one thing, it’s that nothing lasts, whatever it is or however permanent it seems.’
McGuire explains that Here is not about his house or hometown but an abstract or symbolic idea of home. Whether portraying prehistory, recent events or dystopian future, he focuses on the moods and events of daily life, passing by in a perpetual present tense.
The evolution of Here itself has also come to reflect its creator’s changing perspectives over time. The comic strip, completed when McGuire was in his early thirties, uses the spare visual language of the strip medium to put all of history on a shared, chiefly humorous plane. In Here the book, finished twenty-five years later, the stage of action has grown wider, the palette of colors and emotions more nuanced, as its author ponders the relationship between memory and history and the lasting pleasures of living in the moment. (hamilton)
a review for the Guardian by Chris Ware:
But who or what is the main character? Is it the man who seizes up at a joke told in the first few pages (yet dies, moments later, halfway through the book, after the reader has already ricocheted back and forth through millions of years of history)? Is it the indigenous couple, looking for a place to copulate? Is it the cat, the cat’s cradle, the elk, the builders, the partygoers, the weeping woman? You could say it’s the space of the room, the arbitrary geometry imposed by a human mind on a space for reasons of shelter and as a background to this theatre of life. But you could also claim it is the reader, your consciousness where everything is pieced together and tries to find, and to understand, itself.
The year each image is taken from is dutifully reported in accompanying captions. The year comes to figure as a reading anchor, stabilizing our navigation through vastly disconnected images. Most grounding of all is the image of a corner within a house, the very spot from which all the scenes of the graphic novel are taken. That corner undergoes momentous change over the decades, witnessing history remixed, as visual mélange. By reducing humanity as well as history to so many discreet units of possibility, Here presents captivating alternatives not only to comics narrative but also to the presumed subjects of autography. In its pages, place seems able to possess a life worth recounting, but not always according to the same standards of human reason or emotion common to autobiography.
The graphics use flat colour to represent different moods and emotions. The removal of distracting detail enable a combination of distance and intimacy.
Evolution of the idea and working process
An interesting compilation of the mixed media visuals – old photos, watercolour and gouache sketches and pencil sketches that were part of his process can be seen in Hamish Hamilton’s Five Dials: Richard MacGuire Makes a book.
MacGuire speculates that a seed for ‘Here’ was planted in his mind by posing with his siblings for a Christmastime group portrait each year. The ritual impressed upon him both the cyclical nature of human affairs and the irretrievability of the past.
Set in an ordinary room, its panels would be split down the centre: history would move backward on the left side of each frame and forward on the right. When a friend showed McGuire the new Windows operating system, he dropped his split screen idea for a looser approach in which year-labeled ‘windows’ of time would float freely into each frame of action.
The separable objects inside the room began as monochrome drawings, often based on photographic sources – amateur snapshot photographs, which he mined for fragmentary narratives, gestures, and outfits he never could have made up. Each drawing was scanned, digitally textured and colorized, and inserted into the room.
McGuire set Here in the corner of a living room based on that of his childhood home in Perth Amboy, New Jersey. The comic strip ‘Here’ orbits loosely around the life of a man who is born in 1957 and grows up in the house. In the book, builders construct the house in 1907. It is inhabited and refurnished many times over, undergoing a fire (1996), a burglary (1997), a partial collapse (2015), and a flood (2111).
The book allots more attention to the remote past and future of the location.
- Situated on a clay peninsula at the edge of the continental shelf, Perth Amboy is variously revealed as a dinosaur’s hunting ground, the floor of a future ocean, and a stop on the tour for a group of visitors to a museum about twentieth-century life.
- In a scene lifted from McGuire’s youth, archaeologists from the local university come calling and seek permission to dig for Indian artifacts in the back yard. (McGuire’s mother said no.)
- In a scene dated 1624, the Dutch meet the Lenni-Lenape Indi- ans, whose peace offering—a sack of local soil—they mis- take for a practical joke.
- In 1775, Benjamin Franklin visits town and has a rancorous reunion with his illegitimate son, William.
- a century later, the painters William Dunlap (1776–1839) and George Inness (1825–1894) are joined into a composite figure, an artist who sketches on the grounds of William Franklin’s onetime mansion.
An interactive eBook edition was produced in 2014 and published through Apple. Unfortunately it is no longer available, but an overview and selected content is available on:
The promotional description reads:
In the eBook, scenes can be shuffled and reshuffled, leading to new narrative combinations and connections. Visual surprises await you at the turn of every page. The eBook uses multiple panels to convey the different moments in time. Hundreds of thousands of years become interwoven. A dinosaur from 100,000,000 BCE lumbers by, while a child is playing with a plastic toy that resembles the same dinosaur in the year 1999. Conversations appear to be happening between two people who are centuries apart.
Meanwhile, the attention is focused on the most ordinary moments. The reader becomes the guide through the events that have happened HERE, where time and space are anything but finite and the only limit is the screen itself.
This black and white video version gives a very powerful accessible presentation of the graphic novel. The video format enables very quick juxtaposition of fleeting images of far pre-history and dystopian future in a way that is not possible in sequential narrative.