Graphic Novel Friday: David B.'s Nocturnal Conspiracies


Continuing with this week's theme of visionary, surreal, and literary fantasy, a look at a recent title that embodies many of these same qualities...

The inspired grotesqueries of dreams haunt or delight those who experience them, become ready-made anecdotes to tell to friends and family at least in part to dilute their power, sometimes even to reassure the dreamer that there's no reality to them. Opportunists like writers and artists go a step further and use dreams as the fodder for inspiration. Sometimes the final drawing or story, painting or novel, strays far from the original sleeping vision, with the less organic but often necessary accoutrements of plot or of a larger context added to give the spark a greater or more complex or just more logical life. But at other times, the temperament of the creator--for example, an Alfred Kubin or a Franz Kafka, an Angela Carter or a Rikki Ducornet--is perfectly suited for taking dream and making it powerful for an audience without adding much. Simply by reporting back from the realm of the subconscious, their voice, their style, their view of the world, creates a satisfactory reaction from the reader or audience.

For this type of art to work, it must be composed primarily of what I call "charged" images. On a basic level, an image in a book or a painting can either be inert or charged, with other descriptions of this latter state ranging from "luminous" to the banal and simplistic "symbolic" (because the term inevitably reduces image to one thing or another, and evokes the word "Freudian," which imposes strict purpose on imagery in a way I find distasteful). An inert image is one that more or less is what it represents, without any further life inhabiting it. A charged image is also what it represents, but contains some other quality that animates it in the reader's mind. It has a resonance that connects with something universal, or perhaps even something personal.

In addition, because a dream-story or dream-art tends to bring the stylized, the ritualized, to the fore--in a sense making subtext physical--there's a kind of intensity of detail that must occur to make the surface of the story or art work. Let's say a bear in a dream has some psychological or other significance beyond being simply a bear. Placed into a story or piece of art in a dreamlike way, that bear must still function at some level other than symbol--although its actions may be symbolic or in some way use other-logic, the physicality of the bear provides the surface or skin of the story or art. This is why so many surreal paintings, for example, require a realistic approach on the micro level of detail to make the macro level of grotesquery seem convincing.

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