For the final installment of this series about comics and representations of everyday life, I will be considering a short comic by Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá called “Happy Birthday, My Friend!” The collection of comics is called De:TALES and its subtitle is Stories from Urban Brazil, which describes the setting of each story perfectly: city streets, restaurants, night clubs, homes, art museums.

To me, the idea of a birthday seems pretty routine. After all, everybody has a birthday and birthdays happen every day. On the other hand, each person has only one birthday each year (the complications of February 29th birthdays notwithstanding). So how routine, ordinary, or ‘quotidian’ can a birthday celebration be?

In this case, the birthday boy is one Calea, and his friends have made arrangements for a celebration at a local bar, where many friends have gathered. Calea doesn’t live near these friends anymore, though, so he’s been gone for a while. In this panel, we see his girlfriend in the extreme foreground playing a song on the jukebox while Calea walks toward her. (The song lyrics read “and everybody hurts,” which possibly cites a song by the U.S. musical group REM.)

 juke box everybody hurts

The physical setting of the panel is utterly ordinary. People are occupying the sofa and chair in the background, the lighting in the room seems dim, and the darkness of the night sky shows through the window above the sofa.

 

As the night progresses, Calea decides to make a toast, and the friends raise their beer bottles. (The lone female is holding a water bottle rather than beer, and that may be the reason why she doesn’t raise hers.)

Calea proposes a toast

The three friends participating in this toast are celebrating friendship, although they acknowledge the fact that they don’t get to see Calea like they used to.  These friends don’t seem sad. On the contrary, they seem very happy to spend time with Calea.

 friends toast the birthday boy

The built-in tension of the birthday celebration grows even greater as we near the end of the story. It is clear that Calea cannot remain with his friends and must be going back to where he came from. The friends say their goodbyes, and Calea is gone.

Whether birthdays are quotidian on one hand or special celebrations on the other is an important question here. But this question is made more difficult by the fact that Calea is a ghost. He “moved away” because he died, not because he took a job in a different city or moved to a different part of Brazil for the sake of a relationship. Thus, his visit with his friends for a birthday celebration is highly remarkable and quite out of the ordinary.

My two previous posts on comics and the quotidian explored the way characters manage their everyday lives vis-à-vis the danger of bombings in one instance and in interactions with robots in the other. But how do we read this comic…this story about a birthday party for a ghost? To what degree is this a comic of the quotidian?

About Frank Bramlett

Until June 2014, I am a visiting lecturer in the English Department at Stockholm University, where I offer seminars in Sociolinguistics; Language and Gender; and Language and Comics; among others. For Fall 2014, I will return to the English Department at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.

4 responses »

  1. This is fascinating, Frank. Love the surprise twist! One of the interesting effects of combining the quotidian elements of a birthday party with a ghost story is that the realization of Calea’s death refocuses our attention on his friends and their actions, rather than the person being celebrated. So we have to re-read the comic and reflect upon the assumptions that we may have brought to that first reading – about the REM song, the toast, etc. On the other hand, a case could be made that the comic actually normalizes the fantastic notion of ghosts, making Calea’s presence seem just as quotidian as the party. (I like this idea a lot, but would need to know a little more about how the characters interact in the comic first.)

  2. Qiana: I don’t want to mislead you. The reader knows from the outset that Calea is a ghost (or at least a spirit of some kind). So your take…that the the comic normalizes the fantastic notion of ghosts…strikes me as an important point. There are several details in the story that I left out of my post, for example, the method that the friends use to bring Calea back for his birthday party. It’s all planned out in advance, and they purposefully contact Calea. Another example is the nervousness that some of the friends feel.

    I appreciate that you brought up the concept of normalizing. That’s a process that I’m going to have to think about some more!

    • Oops! Okay, I see – so the second point does seem more relevant then. But it does sound like from the rest of your description that despite the fact that the birthday party is for Calea, the reader’s focus is on his friends and their actions instead. I’ll have to add this to my reading list!

  3. roytcook says:

    This is totally not what you asked about, but it is interesting anyway, I think. Looking at the panels you included got me thinking about the ambiguity of some visual information in visual (narrative) art like comics. In this story, we are meant to ‘see’ Calea, but the characters in the story cannot see him (in addition, this sets up a nice pun – unintended by the character but immensely important to the story – in the middle panel of the last image you included).

    Now, this effect can also be achieved in film and television (e.g. The 6th Sense), but it is perhaps a bit more interesting here. The reason is that with comics we are already open to the idea that some visual information in the panel might not represent elements that are visually perceivable by some or all of the characters in the panels (e.g. thought balloons, sound effects, narration boxes, etc., etc., etc.) As a result, Calea in this story functions more like narration box than a typical character, since his depiction within the panel is meant to represent information (his ghostly presence) that we the readers are aware of but the inhabitants of the panels are not.

    Anyway, nifty example, and great post.

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