Review: Waking Life (Comicker Digital)

Ben Humeniuk’s Waking Life is the tale of a princess and her young buddy in the world of dreams and was a recent discovery from our #DiscoverIndieComicsDay event on Twitter. But will it be a book to keep us wide awake, or one which will cause us to drift off to the land of nod?

Publisher: Comicker Digital
Writer: Ben Humeniuk
Artist: Ben Humeniuk
Price: £0.69 from ComiXology

Robbie is a teenager struggling with the usual problems of family, high school and homework. But in his dreams he is the all-action sidekick to the princess of the dream world and he gets up to all kinds of exciting adventures. However, as he gets older their friendship starts to drift until an invasion of nightmares makes the princess choose to come to Robbie’s world and join her best friend in high school.

Waking Life has that classic streak of YA fantasy fiction to it. While writer Ben cites Degrassi Junior High and Windsor McKay’s Nemo in Slumberland as influences, for us it had elements of Neil Gaiman Sandman (in particular the emphasis on and personification of dreams) with a bit of the The Never-ending Story and CS Lewis’ Narnia books thrown in for good measure (especially with the juxtaposition of reality and this hidden fantasy world which only children seem to know about.)

Waking up to Waking Life

With it being aimed at a YA audience, the story has that slightly slow burn to it, with not all the action blasting through in the first 20 pages. There are a few set pieces, but the story is very carefully plotted out and nothing rushed.

This slower pace is helped by some quite simplistic page designs which has, at most four panels on a page, and regularly have just one or two. This gives it a formality which feels quite old fashioned, but it also allows the story time to really breathe and build, as well as giving the book a unique subtle feel.

Humeniuk pulls double duty on the book, providing the story and art. Again, the art is relatively simplistic and unfaddy, but it suits the tone and style of the story. It has quite an old fashioned feel to it, feeling a bit Bronze Age rather than anything too much further back. And while it might not have the sophistication of it’s Windsor McKays inspiration, it still does a great job of conjuring up a world of nightmarish demons and surreal dream creatures – not to mention all those high school misfits!

Overall this a very solid first volume, which has enough accessibility for younger readers, but without dumbing it down too far for older readers. It also avoids getting too dark and convoluted (as books involving dreams and other words often can) and trying to be something which it isn’t. (Leaving that to the likes of Fearscape!)

With future volumes focusing more on the high school side of the story, this has the potential to grow and grow and become something really fantastic. So make sure you don’t sleep on this one, as there is plenty to keep you wide awake here!