Sarah Becan’s comic book series Shuteye is, appropriately enough, about dreams. In the dream world of the comic book, logic becomes symbolic, coincidences become fateful, and characters learn about themselves in surprising ways. Readers are teased as well; strange things happen in comic books all the time, so how are we to know that this isn’t real? For Becan, the dream state becomes a narrative and stylistic testing ground.
Becan published the first issue of Shuteye in 2005, when her brother had been trying to get some of his stories published. Instead, Becan transformed them into comic narratives, and the first two issues of Shuteye were born. Several more issues followed, each with a silk-screened cover and zine-style binding. The final issue was completed in 2011.
In Shuteye’s sixth and final issue, The Fetch, overworked waiter and boyfriend Jan finds an answer to all of his problems in a mysterious doppelganger. After complaining of a bizarre dream in which his phone call to his mother was answered by Jan himself, Jan’s dream plays out exactly in a Christmas-themed miracle that allows him to be with his mother and girlfriend for the holiday. Soon, the two Jans have a system worked out to their mutual benefit (with doppelganger Jan doing most of the chores), and everything seems fine – until Jan’s girlfriend learns the truth. A surprisingly poignant ending rounds out an entirely unexpected and interesting narrative.
Other installments of Shuteye are similarly labyrinthine in structure and interested in exploring the many facets of the dream state. An estranged father and child swap dreams one night, a soldier discovers a desert city that reorders and reconstructs itself each night, and a hiking trip takes a turn toward the impossible. In each case, Becan plays on the relatable and experiential nature of dreams and what they mean for the dreamer (and ourselves).
Becan says of the series concept, “Some of the stories are based on dreams that I’ve had; some are just about the nature of dreaming, or the shifting logic of dreams.” She adds that the stories are “loosely connected”; at the end of each issue, the protagonist falls asleep and wakes up in someone else’s dream in the next issue.
Some writers might choose the more language-heavy and intellectual short-story medium when writing about dream narratives, but Becan sees the comic-book medium as something special. This type of storytelling has a strong connection with readers, she says: “Comics also have a kind of primal appeal for most of us. Just about everyone read the funny pages as a kid; we’re all familiar with the lexicon. We all know how to read comics. They’re approachable; they’re not intimidating.”
Comics also present Becan with unique opportunities to represent the dream state artistically, as her characters are all rounded outlines and soft curves, often with a brushwork backdrop. The art recalls a children’s book and reminds the reader that he or she is entering a blurry state between reality and imagination.
Having completed a successful Kickstarter campaign, Becan will publish the completed series of Shuteye in one volume with, she says, an epilogue that ties back to the first story. Cyclical storytelling makes sense in a narrative about dreams; you end where you start, but it feels like you’ve grown and changed anyway.