Flick through the pages of DreamKeepers the next time you’re in a comic shop and the chances are you’re going to get the wrong end of the stick. It looks like it’s made up of stills from a hand-drawn animated film, created somewhere in the mid-Pacific, equidistant between Hollywood and Tokyo. This is no Disney production though. As Lillie makes clear in both his introduction and the first few pages, the characters may look like cute talking animals but the world they live in is a harsh and violent reality.
DreamKeepers is set in a fantasy world, where anthropomorphic half-animal/half-human creatures, which vaguely resemble animals we have on Earth, live in a bizarre world that has elements drawn from both fantasy and science fiction settings. While we’re tempted with a hint of a rich back-story, this is clearly going to be a voyage of discovery across multiple volumes. Instead, it’s the characters who take the main stage in this book and, despite their animal-like appearances and obvious relation to some over-arching plot, they’re actually wrapped up in some very normal human situations and emotions.
The back story sounds like a humdrum fantasy affair: each of the characters is actually the dream guardian of a real person, but things have been going so quietly in this dream world that generations have passed and the guardians have become complacent. Enter an ancient evil, about to resurface and threaten the foundations of their world and ours.
If it sounds derivative, well, it is. But it’s derivative from a lot of different genres and ends up being far more than a sum of its parts. Certainly, if you balk at fantasy or talking animals, then you may not get past the first few pages. But we’d urge you to stick with it, as this simply isn’t run of the mill.
Although the characters are solid and the plot will keep you guessing, it’s Lillie’s art that’s the real star of the show. He’s a stickler for detail, making it well worth poring over his beautiful characters and background images as you read through the book. He reminds us of this occasionally, by having the characters talk about something that happened visually, possibly even in the periphery of a previous panel. It’s a welcome reminder – the artwork is a feast of detail you really don’t want to skim over.
The overall result has the feeling of a Disney animation from the time before they started computer generating everything, but with a plot written for a more discerning audience. If this were 101 Dalmations, for example, you’d be left with the unsettling feeling that Cruella DeVil actually might whip out a butcher’s knife and make herself fur coat at any moment. It’s charming, disarming, shocking and very compelling – and we’re looking forward to seeing volume two.
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