Comic Review: “In Our Dreams Awake” Issue 1

The Kickstarter campaign for John McGuire’s In Our Dreams Awake issue 1 (here) is now in its final days of funding.* The book is a blend of multiple genres and art styles, all tied together by the broader themes of love and questioning reality.

The story of In Our Dreams Awake follows Jason Byron, a man who falls asleep in one world and awakens in another, and neither world is an exact parallel of the “real world” (that’s where you live).

The first reality is a fantasy world where advances in magic have overtaken technology, and the ruling magi have banned everything technological. In this world, Jason is a portrait painter for the rich and powerful, but he also harbors a resentment for the ruling class, and secretly keeps a family heirloom hidden in his home, a contraband telescope. This world’s rulers are actively conducting purges and inquisitions targeting anyone suspected of undermining their control and the primacy of magic, and the proverbial noose is starting to tighten around Jason. Fortunately, he still has powerful friends who look out for him, and a modest, loving wife named Laura (who is a an absolute doll).

The second world is a cyberpunk, sci-fi vision of London inhabited by both humans and fishlike aliens. This reality is gritty, dingy, and gives off serious Blade Runner vibes. Jason is the leader of an underworld gang that deals in “chum”, the hottest new drug on the streets. He is also secretly in love with an alien fugitive named Fem’a Lin, and the two of them are trying to escape the earth. The interspecies love might not settle well for some, and I’ve personally never understood the love stories between humans and fishlike creatures (The Shape of Water, Mass Effect 2, etc.). I mean, doesn’t that scaly skin cut and scratch when you slide wrong way? Eh, it’s sci-fi. Get over it, ya’ prudes!

Smells like fish, tastes like fish

There is quite a bit of story packed into the 26 pages of In Our Dreams Awake, which are evenly split between these two “dream worlds”. Each reality is illustrated by different artists (Edgar Salazar and the other by Rolands Kalniņš). I had my own preferred art style between them, but both complement the atmosphere of the story being told. Having two different art styles may be jarring for some readers, but it visually reinforces the break between the two realities.

This first issue does a fine job setting up what is a interesting concept, but the connection between both worlds has yet to be established. Jason himself doesn’t seem to be aware that he is shifting between these two realities, and as such, they felt like two completely different stories in one book, at least so far. At least there is the thematic thread of Jason “looking to the stars” to tie them together, but there’s not much else to drive tension between Jason’s separate lives. I have to imagine that the narrative will ultimately land on questions of which world is the “real” one, and perhaps larger questions of the nature of reality itself. If I was going to predict, I’d guess that the magic world is the fake one, because Laura is too perfect to be real. Of course, there could be the added wrinkle of a third, really-real reality later, but that’s just my speculation at this point.

Did I mention that I like Laura?

Issue 1 of In Our Dreams Awake is intended to be first of a four-issue series, so there’s still three issues left for that broader narrative to emerge. It’s definitely a cool, interesting concept that is executed well, but as a standalone book, I found that issue 1’s value is really going to be tied to how the rest of the series pans out.

The In Our Dreams Awake Kickstarter campaign (here) is scheduled to end on Wednesday, 27 April, so if you’re interested, don’t sleep on it… (Kill me)

*Disclosure: a digital version of In Our Dreams Awake was provided to The Splintering for the purpose of this review.

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