A fun, stylish manga about a boy and his teddy bear fighting his nightmares? I’m sold.
'DreamState' Review: Style, Substance, and Fun
If I’ve learned anything from watching The Great British Bakeoff, it’s that
you need both style and substance to make something good. While there were many
SaturdayAM’s ‘Summer of Manga’ competition,
DreamState is one of my favorites because it nails the fundamentals: It has
style, it has substance, and — most critically — it’s fun!
The premise of DreamState is simple: A kid and his teddy bear fight
against nightmares in the world of dreams (the DreamState). Yet, while
the concept might be simple, the execution is near-flawless, and
captures a zany Saturday morning cartoon feeling that I loved.
I also appreciate that the author, Tremaine Johnson, is able to introduce the
characters, detail a compelling fight scene, and end the story conclusively in
just 20 pages.
That detail is important — for those who are unfamiliar, SaturdayAM runs several
comics/magna publications (including the eponymous SaturdayAM, where this
comic appeared), and bills itself as the most diverse manga company. One of the
reasons their comics are so varied is they hold open competitions every year for
new submissions (their ‘Summer of Manga’ event). Writers from around the world
can pitch their comics and publish a first issue of their work. Readers then get
to vote on which submission should be offered a spot in the monthly magazine.
This provides an interesting challenge for the entrants – they need to build a
comic that is compelling as a single issue, but can also serve as a launching
pad for a long-running serial. Several of the submissions had issues here; they
tried to set up too much with their limited page count.
But DreamState excelled here. Even with the low page count, Johnson managed to
give the characters a surprising amount of emotional depth. The comic opens with
12 year-old Leon Davis receiving a package from his dad, and recalls how his dad
(now absent) used to read him bedtime stories about the world of DreamState.
This will feel familiar for those of us, like me, whose parents split up when
they were younger. But it manages to deliver the small emotional hit and move on
without feeling the need to explain it.
The largest point in DreamState’s favor is that the work is
uncomplicated fun. The teddy bear, Mr. Cubo, has a fight sequence with a
creature that could have come from Lovecraft’s nightmares. Leon wields a
glowing pocket watch from his father that gives him the power to find
his courage and fight back against his nightmares. This feels like a fun
Saturday morning cartoon: It’s not trying to introduce a major cast of
characters, or set up a byzantine plot – it’s a boy and a teddy bear
fighting nightmares, and looking cool doing it.