Doesn’t Go Gently Into that Long Night
I never have dreams like Mr. D, even after reading books with extremely dense dream-logic. (Though, I did once have a nightmare about my dissertation committee chasing me around a desk.) Mary Shelley is said to have composed Frankenstein after eating too many pickles and sleeping badly as a result. I don’t know what the hell Max ate, smoked, or drank before sitting down to work on The Extended Dream of Mr. D, but, whatever it was, I think I’ll avoid it. Not that I didn’t enjoy reading the book; I really like it for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the incredible fluidity of Max’s artistic styles. But this is weird, scary, wonderful stuff that I am very glad did not come out of my head. However, if you believe the foreword, the story didn’t come out of Max’s head either.
Originally serialized in 1999 as a three-issue mini-series, this collection of a long dream story by Max won the Ignatz Award for Best Foreign Material. The Drawn and Quarterly press release states, plainly, that “veteran Spanish cartoonist Max vividly chronicles a mans disturbing dreams as he slips in and out of consciousness in a hospital ward over a period of forty days.” But, have you recently read a comic book where the lead character makes love to himself . . . and I’m not talking about masturbation? Opens up his chest to take out his heart literally and give it to a woman he’s suddenly fallen in love with? Yeah. This book has all of those things, and quite a bit more.
Let me explain, sort of. It kind of goes like this: The foreword states that the book is based on the dream of one Christopher D., who went to bed on 17 March 1993, and woke up at seven in the morning . . . forty days later in the intensive care unit in Palma, Majorica, Spain. Upon learning what day it was and where he was, he began scribbling frantically. Some extracts from the hospital and his doctors reports follow this explanation, and it is insinuated that what follows is a direct transcription of that dream (the patient apparently filled three notebooks with the details from his forty-day dream).
I wasn’t sure if this story was, in fact, true. I thought of another Drawn and Quarterly artist, Seth, whose 1996 collection It’s a Good Life, If You Don’t Weaken concerned itself with the rediscovery of obscure New Yorker cartoonist, Jack Kalo Kalloway. Except, if I remember the story correctly, Kalo didn’t exist Seth had made him up for narrative purposes and drew Kalo’s drawings himself. A brilliant narrative purpose, mind you; it isn’t as if anyone perpetuated a hoax, exactly, since the story only came out after a few people long on spare time and curiosity did a little digging and didn’t find Kalo where Seth said he had been.
I am not one for digging. The frontispiece cryptically says that the book includes Su’s Dream, Sara’s Dream, and Scallywax’s Dream. Trust me, it makes a little more sense at the end of the book; the ending is predictable, but it’s the only predictable thing in there, so I’m not going to harp on it. Su is a Chinese man who Christopher D. meets in a hotel lobby, which becomes a moving train Remember, it’s a dream. All kinds of weird stuff ensues. It turns out they’re waiting for the same man, one Mr. Scallywax, who they later find dead (except he isn’t). They also meet Sarah, with whom Christopher D. falls in love. She leaves, only to reappear as a licentious train conductor (except she isn’t), and here’s where things get even more fuzzy.
Max has an amazing range of styles, from scratchy black-and-white lines in one sequence to smooth, bold black backgrounds and increasingly wavy panels. In fact, as Christopher D. falls further and further into his dream-within-a-dream as Sandra the train conductor severs Christopher’s head and ushers it into her womb. Inside, he actually meets Samantha (sister of Sandra and Sarah), who then swallows his head and gives birth to him in a new body except the body’s a female. “It’s only a phase you’re going through, Sonia,” Samantha states, as she vanishes from the frame. And Christopher D. sneaks up behind Sonia and proceeds to unwittingly seduce . . . himself. Herself. Whatever. Christopher’s awoken, out of the bold lines and wavy panels back into scratchboard, black, and trains. The train derails, Christopher D. is confronted by a giant horse, catches Mighty Mouse, and . . . well, the story wraps up in a rather detailed plot twist that even dream logic can’t totally disentangle (and certainly not review logic, if such a thing exists). But, regardless, it is a stellar read. Strange, weird, sick, disturbing . . . yes, you could use all those words to describe it. Nonetheless, remember it’s just a dream . . . I think.