If your subconscious is susceptible to what you read before going to sleep at night — allowing what you’ve perused to manifest itself in your dreams and nightmares — don’t read Daniel Clowes before going to bed. That’s what I did the other night, having called it a day four tales into his short story collection, Caricature. Consequently I dreamed I was in a ten-page Daniel Clowes story, filtered through my very active subconscious. Ten pages of dream time may not seem like a long spell, but it’s just enough that I may never recover.
The dream began as most of my dreams do, with absolutely no introduction and right in the middle. The major difference was that it was in black and white, with thin, black, squiggly circular lines to distinguish clouds from sky. I had no idea that the old neighborhood where I had been raised had been converted into a haven for unused comic book characters. The houses were still intact, but my neighbors and childhood friends had all been replaced by obscure, neglected superheroes and their adventurous ilk, many not seen in decades. The Green Team were tending their front lawn, Captain Fear and Mr. Strong of the Adventurer’s Club were playing Frisbee in the street, The Whip was under the hood of his dilapidated car, and Code Name: Assassin came up to me and shook my hand.
“You must be from the park,” he said. “I’ve never seen you here before.” “What park? Victory Park?” I asked, remembering the neighborhood park a block up the street. “Yes, where all the superheroes and their writers and artists get to play,” Mr. Assassin explained. “Those of us who live on this street are outside of continuity. Heck, we’re outside of any kind of utilization.” “Yes, I know,” I nodded, “I read of this place in an Animal Man comic. But I always thought it was somewhere else. Not in my old neighborhood.”
Code Name: Assassin kind of frowned on that comment, as if I was somehow messing with the status quo of things, and not wanting to offend anyone I quickly turned around and headed for a different street. I accidentally bumped into Thor wearing civilian clothes, but still recognizable in his late ’60s Kirby look. I wanted to ask him if he was aware of what Millar and Hitch were currently doing to him, but didn’t feel that was appropriate. Thor looked very sure of himself, as if he was certain he could save Jane Foster and the cosmos single-handedly from any threat, and I didn’t want to spoil his mood.
Heck, I didn’t want to disrupt this world! It appeared simple and easy-going in illustration but I found it compelling and disturbing in narration, which was expertly lettered in little boxes that were always above where I walked, akin to a Clowes story. And somehow I knew I had wound up in a Clowes story, or an inspired simulation of a Clowes tale that only my subconscious could concoct. I was aware Clowes was a master of concise, edgy short stories, but I also knew I was in a comic book format of my own making, so I looked around my feet for the bottom of the page and eventually found a little number “4” in a white box scrawled on the sidewalk. This was not a good sign. I had six pages to go.
Too many Supermen were hanging out by the Supermobile. I didn’t think my subconscious was capable of plucking the Supermobile from my memory, but there it was, and surrounded by a half-dozen Supermen to boot. There was the Shuster Superman, the Boring Superman, the Swan/Anderson Superman, the Dillin/Giella Superman, which was kind of nice to see, the Byrne Superman, and finally, getting out of the front seat of the Supermobile appeared the Lee/Williams Superman, looking somewhat perplexed as if he wasn’t sure why he had arrived here. Just when I thought I couldn’t be visually ravaged by enough Supermen, in bounced the Sekowsky Superman, chased by a very irate Merry Man of the Inferior 5. There was a purpose to all this, I was sure, some underlying plot device waiting in the wings to reveal itself, but I felt myself being pulled away just as the villain would drop in to explain matters.
It became night. A lone street lamp flickered down at the corner. Shadowy figures passed through the light, conversing briefly, taking note of my presence in hushed whispers and then scurrying away. What kind of deal was this, I wondered. I looked down to see if I could read a page number but it was too dark. Suddenly, the Metal Men stood before me. “You guys deserve a comeback,” I told them. “Written by Simonson, drawn by Cassaday, firmly set in the DC Universe. No, Ellis, Ellis should write your adventures!” I exclaimed. And then it hit me! Why not Clowes? Clowes should tackle the Metal Men! He would give their responsometers a mental workout. And why stop there? “Hey, all you limbo guys and gals!” I called out. “We should have spiegelman on Claw! Groth on ‘Mazing Man! The possibilities are endless!” But somehow that didn’t sit well with one and all as the shadows drew closer and began to smother me.
I ran. I ran down familiar streets and turned familiar corners, and the hot breath of those trapped in comics limbo gained on me. I felt a knocking, as if someone was knocking on my dream, then grabbing me, pulling me, tugging me toward them, no, away from them, and I tried to scream, but it was just a muted gurgle and I looked down and I saw a little black number in a glowing white box, and it read ’10’ and above that there was written The End and suddenly I was awake.
It was only a dream. But it seemed so real. They almost had me. Too Clowes for comfort, I sighed in assured levity, resting my head on the pillow, thinking on the comics I would read tomorrow and how long had it been since I reread the first and only appearance of Code Name: Assassin in First Issue Special #11. That comic would start the day. But not Clowes. Clowes I only read at night.
© 2004, Jim Kingman