Sleeping Dragons

This modern fantasy series takes a down-to-earth approach to traditional elements of the genre. Yes, there’s magic and knights and dragons and battles, but the point of view is that of regular people. For example, a rural villager isn’t so sure that rushing off to slay a fearsome beastie is such a good idea. He risks being labeled a cowardly fool, too concerned with himself to do what’s right for the village, but as his predictions unfortunately come true, he begins to seem more and more sensible.

The primary storyline, “Becca’s Scarecrow”, is set at a festival commemorating the end of a great war. Phillip, a Knight of Meggido (the group that saved the day in battle), has come to assist in the celebration. One of the town’s leaders shows him around, nicely filling the reader in on the history of the situation, while he introduces Phillip to his two children: Jared, a starstruck youngster, and Rebecca, a champion archer. That evening, characters and readers observe the play that retells the history of the battles. The scope of the past tragedy serves as a warning for what the observant reader suspects is coming.

Beyond the levels of history and characterization shown — the story alternates between present day and the past battle as remembered in a play — I was thrilled by the hints of romance between Rebecca and the dashing knight. No one here is only what they first seem; Phillip appreciates art, story, and truth as much as questing, and Becca not only helps her father raise her little brother, but she also assists him in his administrative duties for the city. Eventually, the young brother, at first amazed with the glory of knighthood, is gaining a new appreciation for the magic of art after watching the play unfold.

The story deals with the expected conflict and the sacrifices necessary during wartime, a timely turn of events. Although war requires change, and those changes can be hard, sometimes the ultimate rewards turn out better than expected.

Szewczuk works admirably in a variety of styles. From the cluttered study to the open village square, from the heroic knight to the mundane villagers, everything is captured appropriately. The faces, especially, run an expansive gamut; the protagonists, the knight and the wizard, are firmly delineated and detailed, but the villager who stands alone is more cartoony than the others. At first he reads as a fool, but as events progress, the open style allows for more identification on the reader’s part, as well as showing a much greater range of emotion than the other villagers.

I must also point out the dragon scenes in the first chapter. Not only is the beast portrayed as classically awesome, but most of the battle scenes are wordless, allowing the dynamic art to convey the events beautifully.

In the third chapter, the magic of the theater is made obvious, as we see stagehands raising and lowering the winged predators, and painted backdrops are shown as they are before being redrawn as the “real” scenery. One page in particular contrasts the artifice with the actual; the stage scenes are shown, small, on the left, while the “real-life” versions of the same scenes are illustrated in more detail on the right. Of course, it’s all a matter of perspective, since the reader is observing everything through another method of re-creation, that of drawn art.

The layers had me pondering the nature of imagination and the value of art as communication. The limited theatrical devices illustrate the inability of any artform to truly capture the events and feel of battle, but the contrasting portrayals on the same page show how some can come closer to others. I also thought about the responsibility of the artist in selecting events in order to present a certain perspective. All art contains messages, whether obvious or subliminal, whether effective or not. The play was supposed to keep the townspeople alert to future danger, to serve as a warning; instead, it inadvertently allowed them to relax and glory in past victories with little thought to present risk.

Unspooling events lead the the reader to think more about what heroism really means. In the traditional fantasy, we’re supposed to applaud heroes of might (knights) and of mind (wizards). When everyone’s cooperation is needed to keep the village going, though, maybe the idea of pinning all your hopes on one individual is a little outdated. Or maybe one individual can make a difference, but only if he really thinks about what he’s doing instead of being bound by the expectations of others.

Expectations are shown, more often than not, as leading to downfalls. The town expects that, with the great war over, security precautions aren’t needed to be kept up. The village expects that, when a great fighter comes to town, all their problems are solved and they can stop thinking. Neither are correct, of course. The questions of individual responsibility, community interaction, and right action raised by the story are subtle yet thought-provoking. Another area of exploration is that of empathy, putting yourself in another’s place. Not only do the reader’s identification characters change, but the crucial decision point also revolves around empathy with others not like oneself.

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2 Responses to “Sleeping Dragons”

  1. Dan Coyle Says:

    Thanks for spotlighting this book. It never got the attention it deserved when it first came out.

  2. Latham Says:

    I remember buying the first issue of this comic about ten years ago then finding the trade paperback about 3 years ago and buying it at a half-price bookstore in the bargain section. After finally reading the whole thing I actually watched for it and have since bought a couple more copies for friends who like good comics. I’d go so far as to say it’s probably the best fantasy comic book I’ve read and it’s a horrible shame there apparently isn’t more to it than the first trade. I’d actually go out of my way to buy a second trade or further issues if they existed. It’s a terrific book.

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