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Every day this year, I will be examining the first pages of random comics. This month I will be showing pages that are either scary or are part of “scary” issues (as scary as a comic can be, of course), because it’s October! Today’s page is from Deep Sleeper #4, which was published by Image and is cover dated Septemeber 2004. This scan is from the trade paperback, which was published in 2005. Enjoy!
Deep Sleeper is a wonderful mini-series from Phil Hester and Mike Huddleston, the kind of book that not many people know about but which everyone who actually reads seem to really, really dig. I’m not going into the plot here, but let’s just say that the dude on this page has … issues. It involves ghosts. And stuff.
Hester writes quite a bit on this page, mainly because he has to establish that Cole, our hero, is not quite who or what or even where he says he is. It’s complicated. It’s actually a nice piece of writing – it’s very sweet, as Lauren reminisces about a corny-but-sweet sentiment Cole shared with her in college (where corny-but-sweet totally works, man!) and then expands it to get a bit more metaphysical about reaching someone from across the universe. This ties into one of the themes of the comic, and then she gets to the “funny” part – although given what we know, it’s the creepy part: Cole is coming home, even though he’s right there. It’s a dream, of course, but as we know, in fiction dreams are completely different from those in reality – they always mean something. In Deep Sleeper, dreams mean even more, so it’s not surprising that Lauren had this kind of dream – it’s, to piss Travis Pelkie off, portentous. Hester does a nice job slowly moving the dialogue from a sweet remembrance of new love to something a bit darker. Even if we don’t know what she’s talking about, Hester relies on our knowledge that dreams are always important in fiction, so even if we didn’t read the first three issues of the series, we still know something bad is about to happen.
Huddleston does a fine job with this page, too. In the first four panels, he both pulls outward and turns Lauren against the grain, from her left to her right, where we see Cole sitting on the side of the bed. This accomplishes a few things – it sets the scene well, and it allows her to move from radiant and angelic, as Huddleston draws her just coming out of sleep (in fiction, people waking up are far more attractive than people waking up in real life) and slowly coming back to reality as she recounts her dream. Huddleston moves our point of view in Panel 5, the middle panel, as we’ve been concentrating on Lauren but in the fifth panel, we see Cole first. Lauren is still the focus of the panel, because she’s in the foreground and is larger, but Cole has gone from almost an abstraction in Panel 4 – the first time he appears – to a focal point. The first four panels are about Lauren reminiscing about a long-ago story, while Panel 5 introduces the fact that Cole is “coming home soon,” so Cole needs to be integrated more into the scene. But Huddleston wisely shows him from Lauren’s point of view, so we get a sense of how she’s seeing him at this moment, and you’ll notice that the bed seems far wider than it should be, making the gap between Cole and Lauren – a gap only Cole is aware of – greater. He’s also much more in shadow than Lauren, even though the window is on his side of the bed. The light is angled (because it’s morning) so that some of him is lit, but there’s still a good deal of darkness around him. Huddleston moves our eyes from the back to the front and from the left to the right, and he does it well. Finally, in Panel 6, we see Cole for the first time, and Huddleston makes him look terrified – of what, we don’t know yet, but that’s the point. The bed is a more realistic size, probably because Huddleston wanted to make Cole the largest thing in the panel but didn’t want to put Lauren too far in the background. Notice that her eyes are hooded – she almost looks like some kind of spirit. Lauren is certainly real, but Huddleston is implying that things are so topsy-turvy in Cole’s world that he’s not sure what’s real anymore. His eyes look directly at the reader, drawing us in with their utter terror and daring us to turn the page. It’s a very effective build-up from Hester and Huddleston’s rather idyllic top row to the weirdness of the bottom panel. Huddleston uses Ben-Day dots to good effect, too – when he uses them, the book is more grounded in “reality,” while his smoother work is for the strange mystical world that Cole visits. Ben-Day dots “rough” up the art without doing anything to the line work, and Huddleston does a nice job with them.
I know this isn’t the “scariest” page, but I think it does a nice job building dread as we find out what’s going to happen with Cole and his weird dream life. I encourage you to check out Deep Sleeper. It’s pretty damned good!
Next: You know, there once was a time when Marvel published really, really gory stuff. I mean, gorier than the Blob eating the Wasp, even!* Let’s journey back to that magical time! There are plenty of non-gory Marvel stuff in the archives!
* Okay, maybe not. Can you believe they actually published that thing?