The Webcomic Overlook #47: The Dreamer
With Independence Day fresh in our brains (and barbecued meats fresh in our stomachs), I think that it’s high time to visit a webcomic that explores the themes of our Founding Fathers and the American Revolution. For far too long, young people associate the name Sam Adams with a defensive tackle and Paul Revere as a Beastie Boys song with a pulse-pounding bass beat.
While other wars in American history tend to get their due in popular media, very few people bother with the Revolutionary War. On the other hand, there are several hundred stories set in the Civil War, several hundred more set in World War II, and a bunch of downers set in the Vietnam War. Outside of a documentary done for the History Channel, the only major project set during the Revolutionary War that I recall is that one Mel Gibson flick where he spears a horse with The Stars and Stripes. USA! USA!
Part of the problem is that it’s set in an era so long ago that today’s modern readers cannot relate to the cultural nuances of earlier culture. They were just so … European, you know? They were the sort where generals met over tea and crumpets once the sun set. Not at all like the beer drinkin’, steak eatin’ men that stomped the beaches of Normandy! Another problem is that the baddies were the Brits. They were our hated enemies 200 years ago — plundering seas, ravaging Coasts, and burning towns, like it says in the Declaration of Independence. Yet, time heals all wounds. Right now, those limey Lobsters are our best buds… unlike those French, our friends and allies during the Revolution (and whose timely involvement at the Battle of Yorktown brought the war to a close). Thus, we Americans tend to downplay that list of grievances that take up 80% of the Declaration and focus on the “Life, Liberty, and Pursuit of Happiness” segment… which frankly sounds like a bit of tossed-off artistic flourish on Jefferson’s part.
A pity, because the American Revolution was quite possibly the sexiest war ever fought. Look at some old paintings and check out how the men were depicted in that era. Clean shaven men with long, luxurious hair tied up in bows, skin tight knee breeches and frilly shirts, fit bodies with delicate features. Vets like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson may have become presidents through their courage and leadership, but having an appealing side profile sure didn’t hurt them none. (Just ask Sally Hemmings… wink wink.) Honest to God, a yaoi fangirl could have a field day with this material. It sure beats those grizzly mountain men beards Grant and Lee would be sporting four score and seven years later. I mean, they’re macho and all, but the Blue and the Grey won’t be winning awards on the catwalk, you know what I’m sayin’?
This isn’t lost on Lora Innes, however. Her webcomic, The Dreamer, is about hunky minutemen and a plucky, young heroine. Can love blossom at a time when men and women are fighting to bring forth on the continent a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal?
On the “About” page of The Dreamer website, I was surprised to learn that Lora Innes has a bachelor’s degree in Fine Arts from the Columbia College of Art and Design, which is a fairly prestigious school, according to some sites. She’s done some illustration work for a variety of clients, though now it seems that she is happy as a clam as a freelance illustrator and webcomic writer.
Mme. Innes includes a very intriguing entry in her bio: “This isn’t a ‘pet project’ of mine, it is a soul project. It comes from the deepest parts of me and has consumed my entire life.” She’s also a huge Revolutionary War buff, a rarity these days even after two National Treasure movies. How much of a buff? She brags about how she spent ten hours in Colonial Williamsburg by herself just to chill and do research. That’s how much.
This makes this webcomic much harder to review. I understand some readers may see me as a grizzled curmudgeon who lashes out at his victims and gains power from crushed spirits. That is simply not true: I sympathize with the sweat and blood that goes into any artistic endeavor. (Plus I get my power from a well-balanced diet an daily exercise.) When someone declares that their webcomic is essentially their labor of love, I feel like a criminal kidnapping someone’s baby. Criticism makes me feel dirty. I hesitate, especially when that someone looks particularly fetching in a tri-cornered hat.
But I wanted to review a comic that tied into Independence Day, and the furry Loyalty & Liberty comic has gone off-line. So The Dreamer it is.
The Dreamer follows the story of young Beatrice Whaley. When we meet her, she is resting aboard an English ship, which is soon under attack by rebel forces. Beatrice is whisked away to safety by a dashing Redcoat. When they reach land, the Redcoat reveals that he’s a double agent for the American troops. His name is Alan Warren, and he has a history with Beatrice. She, however, cannot remember anything before being interred on the ship. Lt. Colonel Thomas Nolton suspects that something terrible happened during Beatrice’s imprisonment, and this is causing her to repress her memories.
There is, however, something far cheesier at play.
You see, Beatrice is actually a teenager from modern day Boston. Supposedly, The modern world of The Dreamer is set in the 21st Century, yet I can’t shake the mid-90’s vibe I’m getting from it. Modern Beatrice spends her days going to school, hanging out with her fashionable friends, obsessing over boys, and shaking her annoying, smirking cousin. She shares many similarities to X-Men‘s Kitty Pride, though smart money says she’s modeled after the author herself. (Beatrice’s spoken-word essay on Magritte’s The Son of Man may be a tip off.)
The excursions to the Revolutionary War happen after she falls asleep… and Beatrice falls asleep a lot. In class, listening to music, you name it. I don’t like to be the one telling parents how to raise their kids, but perhaps they should taking her to a doctor instead of hanging around the gallery and engaging in pointless art discussions. (To be fair, this may entirely be the point: the webcomic makes no secret that Beatrice spends most of her after school hours home alone.) The minute she closes her eyes, she’s transported to her own personal Narnia where she’s wearing a fancy blue dress and on the run with various handsome minutemen. An unconventional fantasy life, admittedly, but like I said, it’s a very sexy time in American history.
But is it a dream? Beatrice soon realizes that things in her dreamworld are a bit too real. She gets her first clue when she finds an old oil painting at the American History wing of the art museum. It comes with a caption listing the names of the people in the painting. They all sound familiar, especially the name of the wounded young man at the center of the piece….
The art in The Dreamer is serviceable for the most part: nothing spectacular, yet nothing terrible, either. I liked Innes’ attentive detail to the Revolutionary War uniforms. I have no idea if military rank was determined by fashionable hat accessories, but it seems right. From time to time, though, the illustrations do tend to look a bit off. Beatrice gets the worst of it. In some panels, her neck looks too long. In others, her eyes seem to float to awkward positions.
Another quirk is how blurry the first couple of chapters look. My guess is that it had to do something with the image format. I’m no Photoshop expert, so I’ll let your tech nerds debate the probable cause. The problem seems to get fixed around Chapter 3 since images from that point afterward seem to be crisper and more vibrant.
I’d probably like The Dreamer more if Beatrice took a whole bottle of Extra Strength No-Doze and spent the entire time in bed, because the times we see her in high school are the least interesting parts. Since I spent my formative years in an all-boys school being taught by monks, I’ll take Innes’ word that Beatrice lives the life of a typical American high school student. It’s a non-stop cavalcade of embarrassment, acting all fidgety around the hot boys and totally spazzing over what to wear on a date.
Unfortunately, every character in 21st Century The Dreamer is as bland as tofuburgers. The cast includes an emotionally distant mother, an artistically inclined football player, and a lackadaisical best friend, and all come across as perfunctory. Even “the snarky comments” that the mischievous cousin pulls feel rote and lifeless. I had to fight the urge to skim over scenes where Beatrice is interacting with her high school chums. They only seem to exist to show that, hey, wouldn’t’cha know that Beatrice comes from a different world and she’s into normal activities and stuff? (There may be an in-story explanation as to why this is. I’ll explain at the end of this review.)
The Revolutionary War characters are marginally more interesting. This is largely because these guys don’t spend the entire time standing around and engaging in trivial discussions about the Arts. They’re busy doing other things, like dodging enemy fire. Additionally, I found Beatrice more engaging here. Half the time she’s trying to enjoy her fantasy, half the time she’s trying to uncover the mystery of why she’s here in the first place.
The 18th Century includes Alan, a man who is more than a match for Beatrice’s heart. At some point in the story, in fact, she hesitates going out on a date with her modern day crush, Ben — the friggin’ high school quarterback, which is the pinnacle of the social status hierarchy, mind you — because it feels like cheating. (Chapter 2, by the way, contains a tantalizing cover where Ben and Alan are about to engage in fisticuffs… presumably for Beatrice’s affections. A pity that scene hasn’t played out in the comic yet.) Alan’s a Revolutionary War hero and a tasty morsel of a man. Who could ask for anything more? Alan, however, has about the same amount of chemistry with Beatrice as she does with the rest of the cast: little to none at all. He feels like nothing more than a wispy fantasy male, the kind you see on drugstore paperbacks staring out at casual browsers with his smouldering blue eyes while embracing a scantily clad female in his toned, muscular arms.
Ahem, where was I again?
Overall, The Dreamer is rather predictable, at least for those of us who’ve watched Quantum Leap. If Innes wrote this comic to show kids that the Revolutionary War wasn’t a dry list of dates and battles, then more power to her. That era is rather fascinating. Unfortunately, I didn’t find any of the characters very captivating, a major factor that keeps me coming back to webcomics series time and again.
Now, there is a chance that Innes has a huge twist in store for us. By the way, don’t put too much stock in the following theory. I personally expect the story to unravel in pretty much the same way it has unraveled thus far.
But consider this: one of the characters in the Revolution era mentions that he can’t be a dream because he remembers his own past, and it would be highly unlikely that Beatrice dreamed up his background. But what of the characters in the modern day? Beatrice doesn’t seem to know them beyond easily identified qualifiers. Could it be that the modern people are, in fact, the dream? A dream of a far flung future where African Americans aren’t slaves, young ladies wear pants, and men drive around in carriages that are magically horseless?
What if Lewis Carroll is right, and life is, in fact, a dream?
Rating: 2 Stars
Posted on July 7, 2008, in 2 Stars, action webcomic, adventure webcomic, dramatic webcomic, historical webcomic, The Webcomic Overlook, WCO Big Review, webcomics and tagged The Dreamer. Bookmark the permalink. 9 Comments.