Saturday, December 27, 2008

Order Out Of Chaos: Nocturnal Conspiracies

Rob reviews the collected translation of David B dream comics, NOCTURNAL CONSPIRACIES (NBM).

Upon reading David B's intriguing collection of dream comics, NOCTURNAL CONSPIRACIES, I was struck by just how apt the title was. David B carefully selected dreams that had a similarity of theme: dream adventures involving skullduggery, mystery and a sense of trying to make connections and hint at vastly enigmatic scenarios. In much the same way our unconscious creates dreams as a way of processing our fears, fantasies and random images, so too does the creation of a conspiracy theory serve to establish connections for events that are otherwise too overwhelming to even contemplate. A conspiracy theorist is a sort of detective, somehow managing to ask the "right" questions and make connections that "they" don't want you to know about--"they" representing the overarching masters of whatever fuels that particular conspiratorial paranoia. Conspiracies serve to explain evil, chaos, misfortune and anything else that is terrifying in the world. In both our daytime and nighttime identities, there is always this urge to impose structure on what we experience.

In the case of NOCTURNAL CONSPIRACIES, David B at first seems just a step behind the overarching menace of his unconscious. He is an active agent in his dreams, sometimes working within the conspiracy, sometimes working against it. He had long ago framed the woes in his life in militaristic terms, so it's no surprise that as he grew older, these terms would subtly shift to more closely resemble guerilla warfare, terrorist activity, gangster movies or spy stories. The dreams in this book are part of a shadowy world where every action has melodramatic overtones, as though it were part of a vast adventure story where David B is an essential character. He notes that many of his dreams have a cinematic feel, where he is "performing", but that sense of being an actor in a plot (in every sense of the word) pervades every dream.

The narrative nature of David B's dreams lend them a ready-made structure that lends itself well to the overlay of dream logic and jarring transitions. Beyond the organization of imagery, it's David B's shadowy, angular art that draws the reader in. The comic is mostly in black & white, with streaks and shades of midnight blue. It's that blue that gives the comic its night-time feel, that sense of moving in shadows. The first few dreams of the book offer variations on assassination plots, gangsters, terrorists and the secret masters of the world. "The Attic", dreamed in 1983, dips into horror. What makes this dream so unsettling is not just that the attic in question is inhabitated by Bosch-like monsters, it's the control they have over the other people in the space, forcing them to have sex. When the dream shifts scenes to a more typical "adventure" mission, David B can't shake the feeling that the dream really ended in the attic. It's one of the more chilling images in the book.

Other unsettling dreams include "Massacre", where we see stark images of human brutality in Africa; it's interesting that in the dream David B personalizes this kind of image in that one of the dead was a friend of his. "The Eye" finds David B killing an innocent man so as to avoid the Khmer Rouge, while "The Children" combines the action-adventure elements of his dream with the horrific notion of terrorists gunning down children.

There are lighter notes in this particular dreamscape, however. "The Cat" is a short dream where David B turns the tables on a guardian animal (it's one of Giacometti's elongated cats), eats its tasty, pate'-like brain and rides it around. "The Serials" finds him looking at a series of unusual, attention-grabbing drawings; he discovers that they were favorites of his grandfather. "The Heads", unlike most of the other dreams in the book, leaves off David B's narration as we see the fate of a giraffe-headed butcher, his head bouncing down the street and winding up as head cheese for a rival.

As the years go on, David B starts gaining more control in his dreams. In the early 90s dreams like "Fat Cop", "Blind" and "The Eye", he not only manages to evade danger and outwit his opponents, he starts to wield genuine power. In "Fat Cop", he's a detective and uses mental powers to push around a corrupt commissioner. In "Blind", he and his wife turn the tables on assassins invading their homes and strike out to recruit help against whatever other forces are arrayed against them. In "The Eye", he evades both an assassin and a guardian bull thanks to his own cleverness.

Arranging the dreams chronologically subtly gives them an overriding structure, even though none of the dreams are directly related to each other. They naturally flow into each other, with dream logic allowing the reader to except rapid changes in scene, theme and tone. This makes an interesting companion piece to Jesse Reklaw's THE NIGHT OF YOUR LIFE; in both cases, the artist has to interpret imagery that was half-remembered and fuzzy, yet at the same time vivid and immersive. David B's dream comics are where the conscious meets the subconscious and both his wit and visceral sense of storytelling shine through.

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