Welcome to Comicscape! Each week we'll be taking a look at a few of the week's new books in hopes of informing your comic shop purchases, or at the very least giving you 4-color thrills and chills. This week we enter the theater of dreams, a book that clouds our minds and takes us to some strange places. Enjoy!
The Dream Merchant #1 (by Nathan Edmondson and Konstantin Novosadov) personally, I'm a bit obsessed with the time between dreaming and waking, it's a fleeting, yet potent, few moments where things bleed together. Despite the physical lethargy, it's also a time where our senses seem hyper attuned, and memory is strong. The Dream Merchant deals with these ideas in its story of a man named Winslow, and his inability to live a normal life due to his strange and all consuming dreams.
The Dream Merchant uses a wonderful pace to weave its tale of dreamlike malaise. It's not slow by any stretch, but it has the extra pages to make sure the story feels like a complete first chapter. There are plenty of strange things afoot, but they are not too obtuse from lack of space or time. I can't help but feel many comics still try to cram stories into page counts that do not match what they are trying to convey, so it's always refreshing when a book like The Dream Merchant is able to have the space it demands.
So what's taking up all these extra pages? The story of Winslow, a man who has been haunted by the same dream since he was a boy. When he was younger, dreaming was an escape from his uncaring adoptive parents, when he was a teenager it consumed him to the point where dreaming was his normal state, and being awake was like being asleep. He drifted through High School until he finds himself in a mental institution in his adulthood. He's not crazy, but he can't function in the real world. In his dreams he is falling or floating in an alien landscape full of purple and pink skies; it's become his only place of true familiarity. He goes through the motions everyday- conversing with his schizophrenic pal Ziggy, and brightening up when he sees Anne, an orderly who slips him books about dreams. Winslow has been assigned a new doctor, who he has little hope will get different results, but it turns out he might be wrong. This new doctor wants to cut right to the chase, and try hypnotherapy. He puts Winslow in a trance to find out just what he sees when he is adrift in the unconscious. Winslow floats through his normal dream haze until something feels off. In his own words "Something isn't right", there is someone else there, in the landscape, and that's never happened before. That night the hooded figures Winslow saw in his state of trance appear in the hospital, and suddenly Winslow's dreams and reality are bleeding together. His world quickly becomes a nightmare, and he finds himself on the run with Anne, patient gown and all.
This is a fantastic first issue. It's one of those books that has an immense amount of talent handling the writing and the art, creating the balance good books always have. Nathan Edmondson has a real knack for making Winslow a likable character regardless of the fact that he has some very sad experiences. It would be easy to throw a pity party right off the bat, but instead we get tragic realities delivered with some poetic flair. For example, when Winslow talks about his adopted parents- "It was from them that I learned the idea that life could be a burden. I don't know of an idea more alien than that." Or when waking up in the wee hours of the morning to the sound of rain "At this hour it's easy to mistake the chill down your spine for the morning air, and the whisper of evil for silence." Combine that with the faint light of the morning through a window, and shadows creeping down the hall, and you've got one hell of a potent mix. Edmondson also seems very adept at sidestepping cliché and the typical characters as ciphers trap. As I said before- Winslow is a sad character, but without the "woe is me", and he actually shows signs of real personality, he's just been stunted by his consuming dreams. Even Anne is given a level of depth I didn't see coming. She could easily be the winsome love interest along for the ride, but once she gets the chance to speak her mind, we find out she has a lot more going on than anyone probably expected, and it's not (so far) that she is the key to Winslow's problems, she just has a very real and troubled past.
Konstantin Novosadov's art is to be loved. His loose lines are the perfect compliment to the dream-like world the book inhabits. From the quiet early morning shadows to a daring escape along a highway bridge, Novosadov handles it with ease. It's always very clear what's going on in the panels, even a smaller one at the bottom of the page conveys everything we need to know, and does it with style. Special attention should also be paid to the coloring. The pink light of the dream world, sometimes reflected in a character's eyes, is a gorgeous splash of color in the blue/grey hue of the asylum, or the earthy browns of Winslow's adoptive past. Fantastic stuff.
I highly recommend you pick this book up, it's a nice change of pace from the superhero genre, and promises to have much more in store as the story goes. If you do indeed pick it up, please leave your thoughts in the comments below.
Joel Rickenbach is a curator of cult cinema at the Colonial Theatre in Phoenixville, PA, and can be heard every week talking film, TV and other geekery on the You’ve got GEEK podcast. Follow him onTwitter and hilarity will no doubt ensue.