David B., writer/artist
NBM, December 2008
However their images may resonate with the Jungian collective unconscious, dream comics really do exceed even autobio as sequential art’s most solipsistic genre, a relentlessly inward-looking cataloguing of the contents of the artist’s own head. They’re personal. So I don’t mind filtering this review of a collection of dream comics by the great French cartoonist David B. through my own, equally personal primary reaction to it: They remind me of my own dreams! Like B., I frequently return to action-adventure-thriller scenarios in my dreams, violent vignettes involving skulking, spying, fleeing, and above all the imperative to kill or be killed. Given B.’s background, his antagonists are frequently figures from France’s World War II experience, or terrorists; given mine, my enemies were usually figures from popular culture–zombies, Aliens, mafiosi (terrorists were late entrants). It was enormously comforting for me to discover another mind so consumed with murder and mayhem even when asleep.
The greatest pure stylist of any of the big European cartoonists whose work gets translated these days, B.’s genius lies in how his comics do the same thing that dreams do: Break down full-fledged ideas into simpler, more symbolic totems that remain recognizably of a piece with some waking concern or other but gain power through their abstraction and fluidity. His angular, expressionist style is complemented with both an equally proficient use of curves and an equally stark and judicious deployment of thick blacks and midnight blues–it’s really perfect for evoking the half-remembered mystery and chaos of dreams, even though in actuality those dreams are at the time as realistic-looking as our waking lives. Though the comparatively rigid layouts and the placement of narrative captions at the top of most panels leads to an unpleasantly staccato feel at first, eventually you get used to it–or B. does, I’m not quite sure which; at any rate he occasionally abandons the captions altogether, usually to enhance the shock and the you-are-there feel of what he’s presenting. Beyond the engrossing dreams themselves, Nocturnal Conspiracies of course serves as a showcase for the many, many things David B. draws as well as anyone in the business, from warriors and weapons to hair and breasts; there’s a panel in here that’s the loveliest depiction of sexual penetration I’ve ever seen in a comic. Though less ambitious both narratively and visually than Epileptic, Babel, or the fable comics he’s done in MOME, this is delightful work.