First published by Nobrow in 2013, Map of Days is coming to new release this spring and once again available to a new wave of readers who might not have encountered Robert Hunter’s work, or may know him from some of his shorter, more commercially available work instead in newspapers.
An angular, lavishly colored, paper-bound hardback, Map of Days is definitely one of those conversation starter books, and one you’re likely to give copies of to other people having read it. It’s mysterious, unusual, haunting, and leaves you with the sense similar to the less than explicable illustrated books you might have read as a young child. The kind that lodge in the back of your brain and from time to time the colors and shapes come back to you, thinking, “What was that book…” and never quite getting the title or theme straight. This is that kind of book.
Only now you can get it in your hands and really puzzle over it. While the story is told in comics format, laid out in panels, there predominantly silent panels with speech isolated into a single box or to a lower area under larger panels to tell the prose narrative. This actually opens up the page to be read in multiple ways, in multiple orders for the panels, and also tends to guide the reader into the page rather than around the edges. The art style feels as designed as it is intricate, with surface edges marked by blocks of color for characters, objects, decor, and landscape. This contributes to a sense that this story is communicating as much in symbols as in narrative.
The story is somewhat magic-realist, though it might be more accurate to call it mythic-realist. It opens with an alternate cosmology for the universe, or at least a universe, positing strange beings flung into space to create our reality. And tells the compelling story of one being, who became earth, longing for the love of the sun, a sun who seems indifferent to his affection.
But watch out for the realism, which is what will affect you most in combination, really. We are caught up in the life of a boy, Richard, going to visit his grandfather in a house by the sea, a grandfather who obsessively tends grandfather clocks, filling the house with their motions and noises. And a mystery Richard discovers about a world his grandfather is hiding–a clockwork world that ties us back in to the mythology of the opening of the book.
Fascinating, tragic, strange, and composed of very basic emotions like curiosity, sympathy, guilt, and acceptance, Map of Days is a truly unique work with art as compelling and complex as the subject matter.
Make sure to have a look at this new edition from Nobrow. It arrived in shops recently, on March 28th, 2017.