Welcome one and all to the first comic review of 2017. Today, I’ll be looking at the independently published Dreamkeepers Volume 1: Awakenings. Now, I’ve owned this for a while, and truth be told, I meant to do a proper review a long time ago, but just never got around to it. One thing to note is that the book won the bronze award in the 2007 Independent Publisher Awards for the Graphic Novel/Drawn Book – Humour/Cartoon category. With that in mind, it would be reasonable to expect some high-quality work here. Does it live up to that expectation? Let’s find out.
Background: Dreamkeepers is written and illustrated by David Lillie, and is published through his own Vivid Publishing imprint. The copy I own is the 2010 second edition (I’m not sure what the difference between this and the first edition is as I never saw the original pressing). The book runs to 100 full colour pages and covers the first three chapters of the story.
On the story front, we’re cast into a universe linked to our own, where ‘Dreamkeepers’ (anthropomorphic creatures with supernatural powers) fight hordes of living Nightmares that are intent on destroying all sentient life. As humans, we are safe, just as long as our own Dreamkeeper lives. But that’s all ancient history. When we join the tale, there hasn’t been a Nightmare sighting for centuries, and the violence free city of Anduruna has outlawed all Dreamkeeper powers. And why wouldn’t they? The city is perfect, and Nightmares are just old wives’ tales … aren’t they?
The Good: As you can probably guess from the above, Nightmares do indeed return to the city of Anduruna. The premise itself should also make it clear that there is scope for the story to get pretty dark … and my word, it certainly does that. Why, we open with a graphic sacrifice and the return of the big bad, and from the presentation, this is set as a clear warning shot for what’s to come. The whole scene introduces Lord Void as a truly menacing force, and it lets you know that death is a distinct possibility in the story. That, thanks to the art style of the book, is an important thing to set straight early on.
So, what do I mean by that? Well, the art is very cartoony. To me, it’s how I would imagine a collaboration between Disney and Tex Avery, and I truly mean that as a compliment. The feel of the art for everything that sits between the opening scene and the end of chapter two is that of a decent quality children’s book, and that is, I would guess, a stylistic decision made to create a certain amount shock when the darkness creeps in. Hell, if the first few pages are the warning shot, the end of chapter two is the first assault. I won’t give away what happens, but I will say this: it caught me off guard, and part of the effect it had is due to the art being of a high enough quality that the combination of style and content brings a superbly jarring effect into play.
Character wise, we have a few leads introduced here: an orphan named Mace (as well as his cutesy fuzzy companion Whip), the Viscount’s daughter Lilith, and her half-sister Namah. All three are given plenty of time to show their personalities to us in the three chapters, and their individual arcs are set up and nudged along well enough that you’re left with both a comfortable familiarity for each and a desire to see where they’ll end up. There are other characters too, of course, but outside Grunn (the orphanage owner) and Tinsel (the narcissistic fiancée of Lilith and Namah’s father), we only get a bare snapshot at this point. That’s no bad thing though; while the book is a good size, packing it out with too much would have interrupted the flow far too much.
The Bad: There isn’t too much that I can say here, and what I am about to say will not hold true for all readers. First of all, while I loved the conflicting feel of the art style and dark content, this won’t suit everyone. It was a bold move on David Lillie’s part, and I’m happy that he did it, but if I’m being objective, then it would be fair to say that someone flicking through the middle of the book may get a bit of a shock when they read the rest of the story. That’s also not helped by the category that the book won the award for: while not without humour, and certainly cartoony, that label will likely be read by some as meaning that the story will be closer to what you’d expect from the art style.
Secondly, the price is an issue for me. The book is absolutely beautiful, and you certainly get what you pay for, but if you’re buying from outside the USA (like I am), the postage is going to be hefty. Yes, the electronic version is dirt cheap, but I personally prefer something solid in my hand when it comes to comics. I don’t want to seem too negative about this though, I am certainly aware that international postage costs are not under David Lillie’s control, it’s just something that bugs me a bit, and may be a sticking point for others.
Final View: Much like most first books, Dreamkeepers Volume 1: Awakenings is surpassed in quality by the books that followed, but don’t let that put you off. If you’re a fan of stories that mix humour and darker themes, you have no objection to anthro art, or you simply want something more than a little surprising, it’s a worthwhile purchase. Be warned though; it’s an easy story to get hooked on.
Final Score: 4 / 5
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