Deep Sleeper #1-2

Written by Phil Hester
Art by Mike Huddleston
32 pages, black and white
Published by Oni Press

A few years ago, Oni Press published Phil Hester and Mike Huddleston’s The Coffin, a mini-series that took the old comic book standby of suits of armor and turned it on its head into something far more interesting and different. Now they’re back with a brand new project, Deep Sleeper, and what could have been a very standard tale of journeying spirits seems to have that same spark of something more.

Cole’s life is a struggle. Not just by trying to make a living as a writer while his wife Lauren supports him and the two children, but also in his dreams. Or rather, his nightmares. Each worse than the one before, Cole is hardly getting a “good night’s sleep” by any stretch of the imagination. When a stranger starts acting like one of Cole’s stories is perhaps real, though, that’s when Cole’s life turns a corner and the struggle really begins.

It’s interesting sitting down and reading the first two issues of Deep Sleeper back to back because they’re such different beasts from each other. Hester’s script for the first issue is very dreamlike in its storytelling, letting you drift through Cole’s life with him as you get a feel for his situation and his thought processes. In many ways, the first issue of Deep Sleeper is more atmospheric than plot-driven, immersing the reader in the story’s surroundings. By way of contrast, the second issue is much more focused on the overall plot, moving the mini-series forward now that you understand just where everything is coming from. It’s a very good progression, one that works well because of the contrast. Things are starting to spin out of control for Cole as he begins to understand his real position in the world, and the increasing pace and intensity let the reader feel what Cole is going through, understanding the sudden urgency that is developing with each passing moment. It’s a small risk to take shifting gears so suddenly between issues of a mini-series, but I think that it works quite well.

Huddleston’s art in the first two issues of Deep Sleeper remains internally consistent, on the other hand, and that’s consistently good. From the opening splash page of Cole asleep in bed, laid out like a playing card, to the eruption of tentacles and worse onto the page, every panel is full of rich detail and nice heavy ink lines. There’s an amazing amount of texture that comes across on the page, from the wrinkles of pillowcases to the hairs on people’s heads. The larger-than-life character designs really spring off the page as a result; you get such an intimate look at these creations that they can’t help but feel real. In many ways Huddleston’s art reminds me of people like Troy Nixey or Paul Pope, with an almost liquid feel to his inking as they wiggle and slide across the page. It’s a gorgeous look to the book, and you’ll look at the art wondering why Huddleston isn’t a bigger name in comics already.

It’s been four years since The Coffin, but Hester and Huddleston are showing that the time elapsed hasn’t diminished their partnership—it’s just made it stronger. It would be easy to make a joke that the comic is a “sleeper hit” but the reality is that with the first issue going back for a second printing, it’s not just a sleeper, it’s a bona fide success. With a sharp cliffhanger for the second issue, too, you’ll definitely want to come back for the third and fourth issues. A nice usage of the mini-series format, and an overall winner to boot.

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