Sleepyheads, Good Night & Sleep Tight

Posted by on October 27th, 2010 at 2:45 AM

Come climb on my back and slumber
While I carry on apace
I vow not to stoop or stumble
For fear you would smash your face

– Randall C.

This time readers, you are in luck! Usually I carry on and on about the virtues of Franco-Belgian comics while there’s narry a translation in sight for all these beautiful comics but luckily, there’s been a staggering amount of interest in the new crop of Belgian comics makers and the latest of which is Randall C with his debut graphic novel Sleepyheads. UK publisher Blank Slate Books (of Oliver East fame) provided me with the opportunity to preview their english language copy so I grabbed my chance to immediately rectify actions for which I have been forever shamed. Upon publication of Slaapkoppen in Belgium by Oogachtend, I chickened out of reviewing the book for Broken Frontier. There, I can finally admit it. It is a rather dense and playful book but at the same time also a very difficult book to review.

What is Sleepyheads about, you ask? Well, a better question would be ‘What isn’t it about?’ There are the two main characters who take a walkabout through dreams and stories; there’s a talking wolf; there’s the lovable submarine sailors slash philosophers duo of Igor and Olaf, stranded on an island; there are dinosaurs, phantasmagorical animals, mating elephants, witches and so on.

Randall C.’s stories are a Chinese puzzle box of which Neil Gaiman even would lose track of the pieces. He exells at metaphoric storytelling jumps, literally letting the characters dive into their own stories and incorporating that story into the main storyline where borders between dreams, stories and reality blur into one whole beautiful cuddle. All of this is accentuated with meanderings on life and love, wrapped in allegory, metaphore and playful language. Because of the essential non-sequitur involved in this process though, it becomes very much a ‘love it or leave it’ book. There’s no character arc to speak off, just a nice subtle ending where subtext stands in for growth.

Randall C.’s linework is a beauty to behold. The lines swerve over the pages, encapsulating characters, fore- and backgrounds in one fell swoop. The muddy earth and pastel colours seem applied by a mad midget who loves to fingerpaint outside of the lines. This only adds to the surreal visuals and storyline though. Everything works together to enforce the dreamlike occurences that the protagonists float through. Even the typography twirls across the page, word balloons hovering buoyantly over the characters. Style wise Randall harkens back more to illustrators than a true comic style. It reminds one most of a Manu Larcenet or Blutch in their respective hatching phases, adding illustrative elements to their cartoony artwork except that Randall does it all the time (there’s also a bit off Christophe Blain from  Isaac the Pirate). But comparison can be a most deceptive beast and in the Belgian market at least, I know of no equal to Randall’s style. In spirit, Brecht Evens comes close but that should not come as a surprise since Randall C. is Evens’ tutor in the gentle ways of comic making.

Immense pains have been taken to reproduce the original graphic novel in English. I’m happy to say that the translation by Rhian Heppelstone for Blank Slate Books honours the original text quite closely, if not literal than definitely in spirit. The typography has been completely redone in – I suppose – Randall C.’s own handwriting. And on top of that, Blank Slate chose to reprint Sleepyheads at the same size as the Dutch edition meaning that it is a beautiful hard- and soft cover oversized book (well , oversized if you take US comics as the norm). Together with Drawn & Quarterly’s release of Brecht Evens’ The Wrong Place (my review), this will be one of the must-have books of the year. Highly recommended!

Sleepyheads by Randall C is published by Blank Slate Books. It is a 112 pages full colour graphic novel available in soft and hardcover. It will be in selected stores from the first week of november 2010.

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