For 25 years, Richard McGuire’s career in comics consisted of six pages. His short comic Here, which appeared in 1989 in RAW, Art Speigelman and Francoise Mouly’s groundbreaking comics periodical, consisted of just 36 panels and was a formal innovation that stands out in the history of comics. Using space to show time, the book manages to show the history of the earth through one tiny “window” that becomes many things over thousands of years.
Now McGuire has released his first graphic novel, an expanded version of Here, published by Pantheon in December. McGuire spoke with PW about the quarter-century path that the story took to its new publication, its inspiration, and his future ambitions.
PW Comics World: Where did the idea for Here originally come from?
Richard McGuire: I heard a lecture Art Spiegelman made about how “comics are diagrams,” and that got me thinking. I had just moved into a new apartment and was thinking who had lived there before me. I started to make a strip that was a split screen, I framed it into a corner of the room to use that as the dividing line, I had half the panel going backward in time, while the other half was going forward in time. This was back in 1988, a friend showed me his new ‘Windows’ program and that’s when I had the idea of using multiple frames of time. But I think another possible seed for the idea was from my dad taking family photos every year with us posed in the same location.
PW: At what point did you want to make a novel-length version of this story?
RM: About ten years after the six-page version appeared in RAW magazine, it occurred to me that the story might be worthy to expand into a book. I was introduced to the publisher, Pantheon, through Chris Ware. I pitched the project, signed a contract, and then I just couldn’t wrap my head around how to do it, so I put it in a drawer. Around the same time I was offered the opportunity to be a director on an animated feature film in France, not exactly something to say "no" to. So I went off intending to be working on the book as a side project, which was impossible.
One film led to the next, I stayed in France longer than I thought I would. I came back to the US when the health of my parents began to fail. It wasn’t until I received a fellowship at the New York Public Library that I was able to really give it the attention that I needed to. It took me a while to figure out how exactly to do it; there were a few false starts.
PW: How did you go about writing the story?
RM: The original was loosely based around my family and the house I grew up in. I knew I had to dig deeper for the book so I started by doing research on that area. I read old newspapers, letters, diaries, I looked at maps and photo collections, I made a timeline and would add things I discovered that I thought I could use. I found things like a lexicon written by a missionary in the 1600s of the Lenape language, it was kind of like a phrase book. I used that to cobble together a little dialog. There was of course a ton of things I found that I didn’t use, it’s like an iceberg—the book is the part you see sticking out of the water and there is a whole lot more research not seen.
PW: I kept thinking of the book as representing how memory works or how our mind functions, where in any given moment we remember and fantasize and daydream and really see only a fraction of what’s in front of us.
RM: Our consciousness is so fragmented. We are thinking of what it is we have to do, and suddenly we are remembering a conversation we had earlier, and then we see something that reminds us of something else. We are all tripping-out in other times constantly.