The history of this much-discussed and highly-influential graphic novel extends back to 1989, when a six-page strip showing the story of the corner of a room over many millions of years was featured in Art Spiegelman’s anthology comic RAW. Since then the strip has garnered considerable praise and admiration from critics and authors alike.
Now this graphic novel sees that initial concept developed into a large, full-length, full-colour graphic novel, that’s taken 15 years to complete. The book, which spans from the beginning of the Earth to the distant future, is a dizzying and experimental example of what comics can achieve.
Here is a reflective, existential piece; an imaginative meditation on time. The book’s field of vision centres exclusively on the same corner of that single room. While never wavering from this viewpoint we witness the passing of millions of years.
Although the book extends as far back as 500,957,406,073BC and as far forward as 2033AD, the majority of the book features scenes from the past hundred years. There is no linear narrative, instead we are presented with a variety of innocuous scenes from just about any point in history, often at the same time, with panels displaying a scene of a 19th century painter juxtaposed on top of kids playing in 1920, for example. At times, there are as many as 20 years displayed on a page at the same time.
The significant achievement of the book is that in the midst of showing us millions of years of existence, it retains an intimacy, with moments of real poignancy. Series of panels showing elderly relatives joking, children playing and bad jokes at house parties are not dwarfed or diluted by the mind-bending enormity of their universal backdrop, rather they are illuminated and held up against the relentless sweep of time, revealing a beauty from the relative mundanity of human existence.
The art in the book is exquisite throughout. With understated drawings and soft, faded colouring it manages to achieve a hazy, dreamlike quality. The full page sequences of Earth’s earliest days and the futuristic landscapes are dizzying and particularly beautiful, with some pages looking like abstract paintings.
Here is a bold graphic novel that shies away from narrative and doesn’t present a story with any of the usual paybacks. Instead the author explores conceptual themes of time and impermanence in an unpretentious manner that is both mesmerising and highly emotive.