Well, well, well, look who’s running the show now. I’m sorry to say that Durandal came up a little late in making payments on his “don’t break my computer” insurance. It’s a shame just how fragile our modern technology can be…
While my esteemed colleague is busy contemplating the merits of not being a wise guy, the duty falls upon me to keep you entertained with insightful commentary. This week, I bring you a review of a graphic novel series called DreamKeepers.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “Geo, you’re an engineer. Engineers are social outcasts so crippled by their overwhelming genius, that they could not possibly provide any sort of legitimate commentary on a work which requires a real soul and human emotions to appreciate.” And, in truth, that’s a fair point. However, if I am to ever learn to know what it is like to feel love, I must attempt to communicate with you, the reader, through a critical examination of modern graphic novel media. It says so in the rules.
So, let us begin.
I stumbled upon DreamKeepers entirely by accident, by clicking on the wrong ad banner whilst browsing one of my favorite webcomics, Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal. It turns out it was a very fortuitous event, as rather than being led to some internet flash game promising “intense space battles”, I instead found myself on a site advertising some form of fantasy-ish setting graphic novel series with anthropomorphic animal characters.
Now, normally I see fantasy and go ‘meh’, and I see a character with a tail and go ‘meh’ some more. I normally confine my attention to things involving a lot more lasers and spaceships and human or robot characters. But, being an inquisitive young lad, I poked around the DreamKeepers site a bit, just to see what was going on.
What really made me stop and take notice of DreamKeepers was a sextet of articles written by the one of the creators, explaining the state of the modern day comics industry, why comics are marginalized as a medium, and what he plans to do to change all that. I certainly can’t do the articles justice by summarizing them myself, so I’ll simply say that if you go to the DreamKeepers site, you should give them a read. It really opened my eyes to a world I frankly know very little about, and it was also a very entertaining read that managed to present facts in a fun way that made me actually care.
Unlike my friend and colleague Durandal, I my greatest aspiration in life is not to make love to both Batman and Iron Man simultaneously. I’ve never bought a traditional comic book in my two and a half decades of existence. I *do* have Watchmen the graphic novel, and a very small collection of manga, but that wraps up about anything I read that has also pictures in addition to words. So, when I say that DreamKeepers interested me enough to buy both volumes that very night, you understand the context of my experience.
Reading what the DreamKeepers author was attempting to do with his work, and understanding his road map for success made me sit up and take notice. This isn’t some teenager sketching catgirls to satisfy his secret sexual fetishes (as far as I know), this is a man with a head for business, a passion for his work, and the determination to take the difficult first steps towards creating something that never existed before, like starting his own publishing company. Entrepreneurship always gets my motor running, so I forked over the $4 to buy digital versions of both DreamKeepers volumes published so far, and dared DreamKeepers to impress me… As it turns out, it did.
Super quick synopsis: The story is set in a fictional dreamworld which ostensibly parallels our own reality. The characters in this world (called Dream Keepers) have no awareness of our own world, yet their reality is the the line of defense between our real world, and the so-called Nightmares which seek to gain influence over us. After several hundred years of relative peace between the last war between the Dream Keepers and Nightmares, the dreamworld society has become disarmed and complacent, setting the stage for the story as the Nightmares plot a new uprising.
The main protagonists of DreamKeepers are Mace, an orphan, and Lilith and Namah, the legitimate and illegitimate daughters respectively of the world’s primary political figure. The three of them quickly find themselves drawn into events far larger in scope than they realize, and the conclusion of Volume 2 promises that the events depicted so far are just the tip of the iceberg of what’s in store for future installments of this franchise. If you want to learn more, you should pick up a copy of the story yourself, so instead of prattling on about background information, I will proceed with a topic by topic breakdown of the series.
Setting: I suppose the best way to describe the environment of DreamKeepers is as a fantasy-hybrid setting. A fantasy foundation with an anachronistic smattering of more modern day and sci-fi technology, such as telepads, computer-like “data scrolls”, and firearm analogs called “springers”. It doesn’t perfectly fit the mold of any traditional genre setting, but for me, that’s appealing. There’s enough commonality with the world we live in to feel familiar and comfortable to the reader, yet at the same time its uniqueness is alien enough to draw you in and elicit emotions of wonder and exploration. The various discrete elements of the setting combine to become one which is fresh, engaging, and surprisingly believable.
Characters: I was very skeptical about how the characters would flesh out in DreamKeepers. Anthro-style characters and works have a bit of a bad rep out here in the cyber world, and the stereotype was a hard one for me to see past when deciding whether or not DreamKeepers was even worth my time and attention. I’m not a “furry” fanboy, and I didn’t really want a story that specifically catered to that demographic subset. Thankfully, my wariness disappeared relatively quickly once I started to get through the first chapter. Yeah, the characters are all some form
of anthropomorphic animal or combination of animals, but it didn’t feel like I was just watching a bunch of foxes and cats with clothes on running around and doing things. These characters were individuals, each with a personality and perspective on events that grew far larger than their mere physical appearances. As a matter of fact, I started to really appreciate the diversity of appearance of the inhabitants of the DreamKeepers universe. Each character was his or her own person, but being based on different creature foundations gave them a physical uniqueness which seemed to further individualize them in my eye. My favorite character in the whole series so far is actually one of the secondary protagonists, a badass bionic snake-like character called Scinter. You’ll see who I mean when you read DreamKeepers yourself(which you should).
All in all, the cast of the story is very organic and original, with my only complaint being that one of the antagonists, Tinsel, seems a bit too over the top in fitting the “evil, conceited, hot girl” mold for my personal tastes. I prefer villains who are more akin to misguided heroes, who firmly believe that they are acting in the right, yet find themselves at irreconcilable odds with protagonists due to differences in philosophy and perspective. However, since DreamKeepers is only two volumes into the story so far, there admittedly hasn’t been enough time to gain more than an introductory glance at some characters’ ultimate goals and motivations.
Writing: Overall, the script of DreamKeepers is very good. The maturity level is somewhere in the PG-13 ballpark, not in your face graphic or intense, nor sugar coated and dumbed down for younger audiences. I personally enjoy the flexibility a middle of the road approach provides to the writer and the reader. The serious moments are
certainly serious when they’re supposed to be, but interspersed are laugh out loud nuggets of wit that I couldn’t help but chuckle at. The overall gravity of the story seems to be at a balanced level, starting on the lighter side but slowly building up a sense of weight that sits in the back of my mind, leaving me with the unmistakable impression that events will continue to get darker, deeper, and more epic in scale as the characters of the story get drawn further and further into a conflict of which only the surface has been scratched. I’m eagerly awaiting the release of Volume 3, hopefully the later half of this year, so I can see the next iteration of events (to use a cliche) as the plot thickens.
Artwork: This, for me, is really the biggest selling point of the DreamKeepers books. Yes, it’s a fun story with engaging characters and a well developed setting, but when I buy a graphic novel, I want my eyes to have something to enjoy too. As you can see from the example pages I’ve posted throughout this review, the DreamKeepers artists are not only talented, but committed to producing artwork with depth and color and scale which, frankly, I didn’t expect to see. The artwork in DreamKeepers Volume 1 seems to be slightly rougher and less refined than that of Volume 2, at least by my limited inspection. That’s not to say that it’s not excellent artwork, but there seems to be more complexity and more layers of effect in the second volume than the original.
The characters are very expressive, and the art style does and excellent job of conveying emotion. Then again, I suppose that’s one of the great advantages of cartooning. As a man who couldn’t draw a properly expressive cartoon character to save his life, I’m suitably impressed, if not totally unqualified to make any sort of judgement on the matter. We’re going to ignore that little detail though. Some people believe that because I’m some sort of new fangled rocket scientist I’m an expert on all things, and I’d hate to shatter their innocent illusions.
Anyways, what really grabs me about the artwork is the art direction of the natural environments of DreamKeepers. The flora, fauna, and especially the natural terrain depicted in Volume 2 is just absolutely breathtaking. I could lose myself for hours in the alien landscapes, and I can think of no more accurate adjective to describe them other than “beautiful”. Even the interior or city backgrounds can be quite elaborate, and the level of detail provides a real tangibility to the universe as you read through it. I could have posted dozens of pages to illustrate my point, but the three shown to the left should be sufficient to give a general impression of what I’m talking about. If you don’t like what you see on this page… you should probably go home and re-think your life.
Bottom Line: If you’re the sort of person who enjoys excellent things, then you will very likely enjoy reading DreamKeepers! It has beautiful artwork, excellent writing, characters, and a setting which borrows from many sub-genres yet feels entirely fresh and new. I don’t want to sound like some brown-nosing asshole, but seriously, if you have $4, support the talented creative duo behind this series and purchase the first two volumes to enjoy at your leisure. It’s less than you’d spend at McDonalds for a Big Mac, and it’s way nicer to look at than a Big Mac could ever be! Or you could shrug indecisively, mumble something inaudible and go back to poking around the internet like a normal boring person who has no sense of adventure. Your call man, whatever works for you.
If you’re poor and destitute without any money to spare, DreamKeepers
also puts out a weekly “Prelude” web comic, which examines the lives of the protagonists several years before the start of Volume 1. I haven’t read through all of it yet, but hey, I’m not the cheapskate here.
In any case, if you’re reading this sentence, I appreciate your patience in
getting through this review. If you have any complaints, please remember that this is Durandal’s fault. Had his computer not kicked the bucket, you could read little snippets about indie games on xbox network, or whatever it is he goes on and on about these days.
The DreamKeepers website can be found here.
DreamKeepers is copyright of David Lillie and Vivid Independent Publishing. Images reprinted with permission.
No bribes were accepted prior to publishing this review ;).
INTRUSIVE EDIT: Learn to position pictures, Geo. Now that Durandal is back up and running and people are linking this article for some damn reason we can’t have this sort of slapdash getting thrown around.
INTRUSIVE RESPONSE TO THE INTRUSIVE EDIT: Gimme a break man, it looked super sleek on my monitor at my resolution, and now that you’ve dicked with the formatting it looks like ass on my screen. You have failed me for the last time…