Last post, I started discussing Nate Powell’s “Conjurers” and the ways that comics provide a unique medium for bringing the past, present, and future together in a singular manner. Today, I want to finish that discussion by looking at the latter half of “Conjurers.” I’ve written about that the ways that comics flattens time, specifically in connecting the past and the present. Powell does this in Two Dead when the private who makes racist comments towards Jacob Davis comes and wraps his spirit around Jacob’s face. Hugo Martinez does this as well in Rebecca Hall’s Wake: The Untold Story of Women-Led Slave Revolts when he brings together present-day New York City with the past, linking the ways that slavery continues to shape and construct the Big Apple and the nation. Powell does this same thing in “Conjurers” through the movement from Rose, to Rose’s daughter, to Rose’s great-granddaughter and beyond.
Since Rose’s great granddaughter did not write the recipe down when her grandmother taught it to her, she must figure out how to make the fried chicken, and in order to do this, she must, as she puts it, “start by carving through the layers.” The “layers” have a literal and figurative meaning. They refer to the layers of the chicken, but they also refer to the layers of her ancestry, the lineage that connects her to the woman she never knew in a personal manner. She never visited Rose. She never sat down and spoke with her. She never cooked with her. Instead, the knowledge she has of Rose, and her connection to Rose, comes from her own grandmother and the stories that others have passed down through the years.
After Rose leave the movie theater, she gets a chicken to bring home for dinner. There, her mother helps her gut the chicken, pulling out the gizzards, liver, and other bits buried deep inside the carcass. She has Rose pay close attention the wishbone, and the two break it together, making a wish. During this whole process, the Rose’s great granddaughter stares at the chicken, performing the actions that Rose does within her memory as she constantly asks, “What happens now?”
Each of these moments is interspersed with Rose and her mother preparing the chicken, Rose’s mother detailing the instructions to her daughter along the way. Rose asks her mother what will happen when they don’t need every part of the chicken, and her mother tells her, “Dear, if you’re lucky enough to have it, don’t let it go to waste.” At this moment, we see five panels depicting Rose’s great granddaughter in the present. She looks at the ingredients, and in one panel, she touches her stomach. The following panel shows the woman’s face as she asks, “You gettin’ all this?” This question can be taken in two ways.
For one, it could be the woman’s grandmother, not the woman, asking the question. It could be her grandmother’s voice coming to her, asking her if she will remember the recipe. On the other hand, it could be the woman asking her unborn child, connecting the fetus back to Rose and Rose’s mother. We see her touch her stomach, and at the end of the story, we learn that she is pregnant. In this manner, we need to read the panel and this sequence as a movement through time, a movement that depicts, visually, the woman in the present, but textually causes us to think about who utters or thinks the words that we read. Thus, we see the connection of the past, present, and future played out in the “juxtaposition of text and illustartion.”
The sequence ends with the woman tying the wishbone onto a string as she makes a necklace. The narration reads, “I hope you don’t forget–I shoulda had you write it down.” Here, we know that the woman’s grandmother is speaking to her across time, placing us back at the beginning of the story. As the woman places the necklace around her neck, the voices intermingle. We hear Rose, we hear Rose’s mother, we hear Rose’s daughter, but we do not get visual clues as to who speaks. One says, “Now you remember how to do this every time.” Another, “I ain’t always gonna be here to help you.” Each of these, paired with the image of the woman putting on the necklace, can be read as the woman’s grandmother speaking to her.
When we see the chicken and flour in a bowl, we get a question: “When I’m older, when the power’s everywhere, can I call you?” Here, we know that this is Rose speaking. The power lines are approaching her house, and she asks her mother if they she can call if she needs help with the recipe or anything else. With this knowledge, we move back to the previous panel and begin to see that the two lines there, while emanating from the woman’s grandmother, also emanate from Rose’s mother, again linking the generations. This becomes clear in the next two panels, a closeup of the woman’s eyes and a panel showing the woman, on the right, cooking, and her great-great grandmother on the left doing the same as a question lingers on the panel: “Even if we’re far apart?”
A voice answers the question by saying, “When you’re all grown up you can call me whenever you like.” The last question and its response does not merely refer to physical distance. It refers to temporal distance as well, spanning generations. This becomes clear through the merging of the women in the panel and through the bottom of the page which is black, only with the narration and two small panels on the bottom right showing two women, in different decades, lighting candles.
The final three pages move back and forth between Rose and her family eating as the power lines get closer and the woman’s partner coming home as she tells him they are having a baby. Here, the links become even stronger, leading up to the final panel where we see Rose’s mother and father out on the porch, the moon above, as they wait for power to reach their house. Her father says, “Someday we’ll all be connected. Neighbors everywhere, even as strangers.” As Rose’s mother looks into the distance, she replies, “Even those great-great granddaughters we’ll never know.” She sees into the future, looking past her own self to the the generations yet to come, the generations she will impact with her life, even though those generations will know her personally.
This is what makes comics a powerful medium for depicting the overlapping nature of generations and time. In prose, we have authors such as William Faulkner moving back and forth through time in works such as The Sound and the Fury, but we do not get the visual linkage of these connections. Within comics, we get the linking of these moments through words and image, a linking that provides us with the experience of bringing moments together, showing us the ways that we impact one another over the generations.
What are your thoughts? As always, let me know in the comments below. Make sure to follow me on Twitter @silaslapham.