Lucid dreaming, a practice whereby a person can maintain their awareness and control while in a dream, is a concept that has long fascinated and fuelled the imaginations of storytellers. It’s this idea, in conjuncture with the nature of the dream world and what surprises that may await there, that is front and centre in Poet Anderson.
This three issue mini-series, published by Magnetic Press, is the brainchild of writers Tom Delonge (former frontman of Blink 182) and Ben Kull, with the artwork of elusive French artist Djet bringing colour to their words. It serves as a prequel to the 2014 animated film of the same name, as well as upcoming book series to be co-written by Delonge and New York Times bestseller Suzanne Young, creator of the young adult books series The Program. Delonge has even linked the universe of Poet Anderson to the music world, with his current band Angels and Airwaves’ recent LP Dream Walker adding another dimension to his multimedia project. That is quite a lot of cross-medium world building and one could easily worry that the tumultuous musician may have bitten off more than he can chew.
So how does Poet Anderson fare in comic book form? Does this foray into the dream-world deliver on the spectacles that its concept invokes, or is it a nightmare in disguise?
The story follows teenage brothers Jonas and Alan Anderson and their first encounter with the dream world. After a short teaser of what is to be expected in the final issue, we are introduced to our protagonist Jonas wandering down the dreary, rain-drenched streets of Seattle. There is a short, awkward exchange between Jonas and his father, establishing that a) Jonas’ parents are rarely present, and b) this comic book’s idea of character interaction consisted predominantly of clunky exposition. If this had been a one off, I would have assumed this was meant to represent the strained relationship between Jonas and his father (whose name is never given), however, the stilted dialogue is unfortunately present throughout all three issues.
Shortly after, Jonas comes home to find his brother Alan messing around with a mysterious oil burner found hidden in their parents’ closet. Another stunted conversation later, and the two are briskly thrown into the dream world. If my description of this seems rushed to you, it is only to match the breakneck speed at which the writers seem to want to tear through the plot in order to enter the dream. Context and build-up are virtually non-existent, leaving me at the time confused as whether or not I accidentally skipped a page (which is difficult to do when reading a PDF), and as with the dialogue, is an issue that persists throughout the pages. These problems peak when whole sections of plot-driving exposition are gracelessly dumped on the reader through unenthusiastic and out of place discussions between characters.
The reveal of the dream world itself unfortunately brings new problems along with it, namely in artistic choices. The earlier pages set in Seattle featured dark, drained colours, and soft lines that blend the world into an indistinguishable and drab landscape. This would appear to be a very clear stylistic decision for a story that plans to exist primarily in a world far removed from our own reality. However the ‘grand unveiling’ of said dream world was found wanting, as it remained almost as bland as the page previous. Almost everything in Poet Anderson is stained in that Hollywood movie poster Blue/Orange combination, obvious to the point of frustration, as I found the lack visual diversity actively disengaging me from the action the page.
The one exception to my gripes with the stylistic choices is, regrettably, no more positive. Ayo, a young woman and resident of the dream world, is introduced shortly after the brothers arrive. She is possibly the most literal depiction of a Manic-Pixie-Dream-Girl I have come across in quite some time, in that she is actually a being of the dream world. She is the focal point of this bizarre artistic paradigm shift in relation to the rest of the book, and it should be great to see the explosion of colour and form whenever Ayo is around.
Disappointingly, it’s in the most juvenile manner possible. In her very first panel, despite the sudden array of colours that are shown from a tattoo she is receiving, every single line on the page guides the readers eye directly to her arse. This is repeated in just about every single panel she is present in, regardless of how relevant she may be at that particular time. I know some may say I am knit-picking at this point, but no other character, male or female, is displayed in even remotely a similar manner. It is almost comedic how out of place she seems. It could be that her visual distinctiveness is supposed to reflect her embodiment of the wonders and magic of the dream world, but if so then it was executed poorly.
I don’t enjoy giving negative reviews. My general belief is that if people put their hearts and minds into a project they are passionate about, then the world is better off for it. I even approached a colleague of mine while writing this to ask if I was being too critical, but ultimately their issues with it mirrored my own. The problems that plague this book and persist in every issue – from the rushed plot, lifeless, exposition-drenched dialogue delivered by empty vessel characters, and flat, bland artistic choices that actively disengage the eye from the action on the page – are just too overwhelming to look pass. I did some research on Djet while preparing for this review, and his DeviantArt page is full of beautiful, colourful art. His original work often blends bohemian and steampunk styles together effortlessly, showing off a unique and creative perspective that I am genuinely sad has been able to make it into this project.
Unless you are previously invested in story from last year’s animated short, or are already a die-hard fan of Tom Delonge, I would unfortunately not recommend adding Poet Anderson to your comic book collection.