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Dream time 

For a cartoonist whose first big exposure to U.S. audiences was as well received as Epileptic, it’s a bit of a surprise to see the second English-language graphic novel by Frenchman David B. (born David Beauchard), Nocturnal Conspiracies, coming from the publisher NBM ( The company has nothing like the reach of Epileptic’s promoter Pantheon, but maybe the modest splash suits a book that, instead of offering the former’s big topic and narrative scope, collects more than a dozen individual dreams gathered from as far back as 1979.

The scattered stories certainly look like they belong together: B.’s expressionistic figures, chiaroscuro effects, and blue overlays immediately convey the out-of-time sensation of a dream. The fragmentary tales incorporate universal themes of shut-eye narrative, like the endless pursuit of our hero by menacing strangers — whether abstract and all-seeing, like disembodied eyes and windows; mythically significant, like bulls and housecats; or prosaic, as with silent gangster-movie villains led by “The Mexican.” If it’s taking B. a while to come up with another long-form narrative that matches his fantasia-prone style as well as Epileptic did, more translations of short works like these will tide fans over nicely.

Less easy to follow but fascinating and unlike anything on shelves now, Red Colored Elegy (Drawn and Quarterly) reissues an early ’70s graphic novel by Japanese cartoonist Seiichi Hayashi. Though not technically a dream, Hayashi’s story tumbles forth in such a weird, disjointed way — in just its first half-dozen pages, a character’s inner conflict takes the form of dialogue with a headless cartoon character, a plea for clarity from the man in the moon, and a series of television storyboards — that if you weren’t around for the avant-garde cinema of the era it’s hard to see the author’s jump-cut shifts in technique as anything other than a fever dream. The story itself may be less compelling than the style: As From Hell illustrator Eddie Campbell says of Elegy’s two main characters, a young man and woman with high artistic ambitions, “If occasionally you confuse the two of them, well hey, welcome to 1970.”

For a more easily digested Asian fantasy, see Matthew Forsythe’s cute-but-not-cuddly Ojingogo, also from D&Q, a nearly wordless yarn in which a little Korean girl tussles with nasty mummies, a puppydog-like octopus, and a big square dude suspiciously similar to Domo, the fuzzy mascot of Japan’s NHK TV station.

Some teenage boys may fantasize about being the sole surviving male on a planet of women, but that dream’s a huge drag for Yorick Brown, the hero of Brian K. Vaughan’s Y: The Last Man. The comic-book series concluded last year and is being collected in a set of hardbacks whose first volume (combining the stories from issues 1-10) comes along just in time for Vaughan’s latest moonlighting gig — as a writer/co-producer for TV’s Lost. Check out Y to see why Vaughan was recruited by that series when it started to veer off-course in 2006: The man isn’t afraid of following harebrained story ideas through to their weird but logical conclusions. In Y, that means the last human with testicles travels not with an adoring harem but incognito, lest he be assassinated as the last reminder of an oppressive patriarchy. I can’t wait to find out what that means for Lost’s infamous Smoke Monster. •

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More by John DeFore

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March 25, 2020


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