Review: ‘The Night of Your Life’ by Jessie Reklaw
The Night of Your Life
By Jessie Reklaw
Dark Horse, September 2008, $15.95
For the last thirteen years, Jessie Reklaw has been turning dreams – mostly those of strangers – into comics, on his website and in a growing number of alternative weeklies nationwide. (Not to derail my own train of thought, but are there any non-alternative weeklies, to which those “alternative weeklies” are the actual alternative?)
Each comic is a four panel grid, two over two: distilling a dream to its essential elements and telling however much of a story there is to tell. The stories are all bizarre and strange – they’re all dreams, after all – but, boiled down to four panels, they also have a lot of similarities. There’s a reason people call it “dream logic;” that’s the way the human mind organizes itself, so the same kind of transitions and imagery come up in many different people’s dreams.
[[[The Night of Your Life]]] collects about two hundred and forty of those “[[[Slow Wave]]]” strips, in black and white. The strips are printed one to the page – large enough to be clear and readable, but only slightly larger than on the web, so they don’t look blown up in the book. The strips are divided into ten parts, each part named for the first line of text in the first cartoon in that part…but the strips don’t otherwise seem to be organized. It’s clearly not by theme or imagery, and the strips aren’t dated, so there’s no way to tell if they’re in chronological order.
There’s not much to say about the strips as a whole: each one is a piece in and of itself, and Reklaw does a good job of boiling down the often long-winded and confusing descriptions of dreams (“and then I was driving a car – it was the blue Chevette my cousin Harold had when I was young, only it didn’t look like that car, but I knew it was, because there was a bird in the ashtray – sideways down the Chalmers Expressway on the first day of Lent, because I needed to buy hard rolls for the Pope…”) into pleasing, and often funny, cartoons. The Slow Wave strips are funny a lot of the time – their humor coming out of dream juxtapositions and weird ideas rather than through making fun of the people and their silly dreams.
According to the website, this book collects most of the Slow Wave strips from the years 1999 through 2003; those strips are no longer available on the website. (Which avoids the common webcomic dilemma: am I a schmuck for paying for something that’s on the web for free, or am I a freeloader for not paying for it?) It also points out that a book called [[[Dreamtoons]]] collected the best of the late-’90 strips, for those so inspired by the book and the website that they want even more.
The Night of Your Life is a lot of fun: Reklaw is a solid cartoonist with the skills to draw whatever bizarre whatever his mailbag throws at him any given week, and the ear to boil down long descriptions of dreams into just what will fit (and be pleasing) in four panels. I’m very glad Dark Horse introduced me to his work; I’ve now got a new web cartoonist to follow.
Andrew Wheeler has been a publishing professional for nearly twenty years, with a long stint as a Senior Editor at the Science Fiction Book Club and a current position at John Wiley & Sons. He’s been reading comics for longer than he cares to mention, and maintains a personal, mostly book-oriented blog at antickmusings.blogspot.com.
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