01/04/2009. Contributed by Neale Monks
pub: Active Images. 180 page graphic novel. Price: $14.99 (US). ISBN: 0-9766761-8-4.
check out websites: www.activeimages.comand comiccrazy.com
A difficult book this and not for the casual reader. Closer to manga in style than the usual graphic novel, 'The Nightmarist' is also raised above the normal level of such things by its complex characters, very adult themes and convoluted, non-linear storytelling.
The basic tale centres around a young woman who is trying to deal with her powerful and disturbing dreams. The boundaries between reality and imagination blur as the book progresses and she finds it increasingly difficult to separate the two worlds. Psychotherapists seem unable to help her and, one way or another, most of her friends are driven away. Worn down by her horrific visions, eventually she becomes suicidal.
This being dark fantasy, the protagonist, Beth Sorensen, comes to believe that her dreams are a reflection of an actual metaphysical battle going on between good and evil. A character within her dreams, the Nightmarist of the title, describes himself as her helper. As the Nightmarist explains the power of dreams and the conflict going on within them, Beth develops an increasingly tenuous connection with reality or at least, our reality. Those on the outside of her dream world think she's gone completely insane.
Deliberately or not, the artwork is every bit as complicated as the storyline. Indeed, one of the potential flaws of the book for some readers will be that the images do little to clarify the plot. Quite the reverse in fact, panels blend into one another and numerous artistic tricks are used to evoke the nightmarish setting in which the events take place.
The quality of the artwork can really only be judged within the context of the whole book. For those who appreciate comicbooks that may be difficult to read but reveal subtlety and depth for those with eyes to see it, 'Nightmarist' is a production of the very highest order. On the other hand, those who value clear, attractive artwork will find 'Nightmarist' much more heavy going.
Overall, 'Nightmarist' is a confusing book, but rewarding for those prepared to work through what is fundamentally a surreal and distinctly existentialist tour-de-force.
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