The year is 1959, and a man is preparing to leave his home for work. His wife stops him and asks, “Do you have your keys? Watch? Wallet?” He responds with an affirmative, “Check.” Despite their apparent insignificance — creations of mere animal hide and metal — our dependence on the material world actually reveals the true nature of humanity. Personal belongings, time, and money are three of the most revered things to humans, and their importance is apparent from the moment of conception until long after death. In his graphic novel, Here, Richard McGuire uses the constantly ticking clock as a medium to critique human nature, putting our rituals and interactions into perspective.
McGuire takes readers on a journey through time, offering a new point of view on a seemingly mundane room. Challenging the belief that stories must be told within a linear timeline, he illustrates how an unexciting room contains much more than what initially meets the eye. The human mind thinks linearly, and this constricts our attitudes to the world around us. Everything is considered on a cause-and-effect basis, prioritizing the anthropocene and giving very little credit to the agentic capacity of the things and animals around us. By breaking up the traditional process of time, McGuire enables readers to acknowledge that although the house was built less than two centuries earlier, billions of years of history have occurred in the same place: here.
Lost — adjective — no longer possessed. The concept of being lost, or losing something or someone, is all too common for humans, yet something cannot be lost if it was never possessed in the first place. We lose our wallets, umbrellas, keys, pets, minds, eyesight, hearing and eventually our life. Master — verb — to gain control of. We often feel that we are at the helm of our own life; masters of our own destiny, creator and user of all things, and ruler to all animals.
Although the story may seem to be centered on the anthropocene — a room created by people, for people — the scenes exhibit the overarching insignificance of humanity. The things we create are no match for nature: a flood in 2111, fire in 1996, and leak in 1998 regardlessly destroy our creations. A wolf from 1430 holds its captured prey, a leg from an unknown animal. On the next page, a dog from 1986 barks at the door, juxtaposed with a man from 1954 stating, “Every day the mailman comes, the dog barks, the mailman goes away. The dog thinks he has protected us once again from an intruder.” By definition, a true master would be able to gain control of this animal, and although domestication provides the illusion of dominance, humans will never be able to fully eradicate the wolf’s instincts. A family gathers around their television set in 1999 as a show describes the inevitable death of the sun, a catastrophe that will destroy planet Earth. No human action can change this fate, for we are at the complete will of the material world: lost somewhere along the seemingly infinite timeline, masters of nothing nor anyone — not even ourselves.
A scene from 1998 questions, “What do you want to be remembered for?”, and in 1916 a casket is positioned in front of the fireplace. When a human dies, he or she becomes nothing less than material — the same material the person interacted with from birth to death. When researchers from the Archeological Society visit the room, they are searching for artifacts left behind by Native Americans who once lived on the same parcel of land. When you and those who created memories interacting with you die, you are remembered exclusively for your material remains — a trail of complex interactions and symbiotic relationships. Like the melting cone of ice cream in the bottom corner of the page, everything will return to its most basic form — a testament to our place in the material world.
Despite the apparent chaos of the story’s timeline, it begins and ends with a woman searching a room. In her mind, she struggles to remember her purpose for entering the room in the first place. Although a minor part of the story, purpose is a major non-material aspect of life, a concept that has been contemplated by humans for millennia. People often spend an entire lifetime in search of their purpose, and many come up empty handed. The rituals we complete in life, from changing a room’s wallpaper to having children, are all steps in the quest for finding a meaning to our life on Earth. When one’s mind is stuck thinking only about events in sequence, like a stack of playing cards, these rituals may seem to be of the utmost importance. Richard McGuire creates a paradigm shift, however, spreading the cards out so they lie adjacent rather than above or below, exposing the trivial nature of these rituals. When we look at the world from this perspective, the assumed dominance of humans in the anthropocene looks more like a servitude to a material world that will continue with or without us.