It’s August and I own a physical copy of Matt Huynh’s Magpie, Magpie now. I sent for it in the mail, and I have it right here. It’s summer, and sunlight is filtering in and reflecting off the black, white, and grey of the pages. The book is paperback. It has only a small amount of heft but it has weight. It’s here in the room with me. I feel its texture under my fingers and I feel the breeze from the electric fan across my bare feet and shoulders.
I was sitting in this same purple chair on New Year’s Eve when I read Magpie, Magpie for the first time. I didn’t have the physical book yet. I only had a link to the webcomic. I had resisted clicking over to it because I love and need physical books. Screens and computers are a barrier to me. I just want to hold something in my hands. I want to read it on the bus. I want to be able to cry on it.
I was alone on New Year’s Eve and enjoying my solitude. The person I thought of as my new boyfriend was on a road trip with his friend, and I thought we would have some kind of text exchange that would stand in for a midnight kiss. I thought 2015 was going to be better than the years before. I thought I would be falling in love, and building something up. I did not think I was really alone that night.
In my expansive mood, I clicked on the link to Magpie, Magpie. It’s not that I was transported into the story, it was more that somewhere someone turned the crank that opened all the apertures, and the rain and the crows blew in.
The background and gutters are black. The panels are white and black, brushy illustrations.
First the panels overlap, rising and falling like music beds under the voice of a radio story.
Then the page scrolls down smoothly, unreeling panels one after another in a neat row.
Then the panels wink on and off like lighted windows in the darkness. Opening and closing.
Windows, mirrors, magpies. Blackness.
Then panels fade in and out from the blackness. They don’t overlap now; they are discrete. It is like driving from one town to the next at night, when it isn’t a smear of towns and you feel the darkness and quietness of woods. And then, after a while, the lights of the next town.
There has been a dust storm. There is confusion and movement.
There is a long wait in the darkness at one point as my heart beats and I keep pressing the down arrow. These waits are proscribed.
Sometimes I roll down into the next panel and it rises up in a fluid motion. But sometimes the panel edges into view. Click the arrow down and a bit of it comes up. Click it again and a bit more comes up. It’s like pulling a rope hand over hand, pulling the weight of something heavy up off the ocean floor—an anchor or a crab pot. Finally that thing emerges from the black water.
Then to go back, to review, you click up and the thing inches down again like a coffin being lowered down into the dark ground.
There is white, very bright white. It’s a dark story but saturated with brightness.
The panels can overlap gently or smash into each other.
The panels accelerate and swirl in a feeling of panic, circling, confusion, speed, breathlessness when the panels overlap each other so swiftly that you can barely make them out.
And then the panels speed into frames and there is just a white bird, flying against the black background, a couple of bold feathery brush strokes, only the suggestion of a bird, but very clearly it is a bird. It is not feathery in a delicate sense. It takes up most of the frame, dominating, alone, flying there. Beat after beat, it flaps and flies.
Over and over, again and again, I scroll through Magpie, Magpie, past midnight and into the New Year. It’s later where my sweetheart is, and I know he has stopped somewhere and isn’t driving through the night. He just never sent word back, and I crossed over into the New Year alone.