Shuteye: Six Tales of Dreams and Dreamers

By Sarah Becan
300 pages, black and white
Published by Shortpants Press

Shuteye: Six Tales of Dreams and Dreamers is a collection of Sarah Becan’s six Shuteye mini-comics, each dealing with dreams in some way, shape, or form. I’m glad that I hadn’t read any of these mini-comics before getting the Shuteye collection through a Kickstarter drive, though. Individually, I think each of these stories is good. Read as part of a greater whole, though? Shuteye takes on a very different and more powerful feel, one that begs for them to be read as a complete unit.

On their own, each story works as a strange little vignette into people’s lives. "Night and Day" is probably the best individual chapter with which to get a feel for Shuteye as a whole; a couple goes for a hiking/camping trip and discover a house that isn’t on the map. But once inside, the two find themselves unable to leave; one always falling asleep while the other is awake, and all paths looping back to the mysterious mansion. Stories in Shuteye always start off on a benign surface, but Becan slowly and gracefully tips the playing field until by the time you realize that what was one level is now slanted, it’s become too steep to keep from sliding the rest of the way to the edge. Even the story that initially looks to be the most downbeat ("Castling," where a woman whose father deserted her family fourteen years earlier suddenly re-appears in her life) has a surprise shift waiting for you, moving into directions that you wouldn’t otherwise expect.

Shuteye isn’t a "gotcha!" kind of book, though. These aren’t bizarre twists that come out of nowhere, but rather a gradual shift into the fantastical, and that’s one of Shuteye‘s big strengths. I love that Becan can lull you into a false sense of security over and over again, even as she presents the out-of-the-ordinary in a way that makes you accept it as much as the parts rooted firmly in reality. It’s not an easy storytelling technique to pull off, and it’s why I appreciate Becan’s writing ability.

When taken as a whole, though, Shuteye shifts into something larger. Each story bleeds into the next, the first story becoming a dream from the protagonist of the second, and so on. You end up with a darker, cyclical nature of the world of dreams as a result; the feeling that all of Shuteye itself is one massive dream where no matter how far you run down that hallway, the end is forever out of reach. Shuteye as a single graphic novel instead of six mini-comics feels impressively cohesive, like they were always meant to be read together and in a specific sequence.

The art in Shuteye is pleasant, drawn over the course of years as Becan produced each of the mini-comics. Even the earliest story, "Veá," looks good; I could stare at the whorls and patterns in the clouds that she’s drawn for hours, and she makes the plains that form its setting look both barren and somehow appealing. By the time we arrive at "The Fetch," we get to where Becan’s current art style resides. Lines are slightly thinner and more clean, with Becan having learned how to impossibly accomplish more with less on the page. Eyes are now simple circles instead of containing an actual pupil and iris, and hair has shifted from more textured to a simple outline. As nice as the early art is, it’s Becan’s later work that captures my heart. The art in the later part of the book feels iconic and classic, able to bring across emotions like Sabine’s confusion when confronted with what’s really been happening around her.

Shuteye: Six Tales of Dreams and Dreamers is a strong graphic novel, and it’s a pleasure to see a fundraising technique like Kickstarter make it possible. Because while the mini-comics are still available, this attractive collection of the stories is well worth your time. With attractive cover stock and end flaps, and a pleasant reddish/sepia printing ink, Shuteye is a book I’m delighted to have on my bookshelf. If you haven’t checked out Becan’s comics before (and her online food comic I Think You’re Sauceome is a blast, I might add), this is a great place to begin.

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