Have you ever listened to a child recount his or her nightmare? Kids’ nightmares are curious stories: combinations of gut-wrenching fear and thrill-rides in one grand adventure that has the seeds of its own storytelling and resolution. Someplace Strange (Dark Horse Comics) by Ann Nocenti and John Bolton isn’t all that strange … if you know the way kids dream.
John Bolton is purely gifted when it comes to illustrating the surreal. As a father of two boys (all grown up by now), he shows a special insight into depicting the ways children think and fear. Sometimes, a child doesn’t experience fear as a paralyzing force; instead it motivates that kid to push himself beyond his limits – and his years. To a kid, a nightmare can be the stuff of adventure and Bolton takes us on a ride that a kid would fully conceive and relate to.
My own daughter fought and won a battle with leukemia. She’s eight now, but during the times of intense chemotherapy, there were nights when her own nightmares were truly epic. I can still recall the cries at 3a.m. and the cramped nights when she and I or her mother would cuddle up to her, listening to how she fought and escaped scary monsters with needles; or the times when she would climb trees to throw magical rocks (I had just read Tolkien`s The Hobbit to her around that time) at the scary `plasties`- a word that she had made up out of mishearing `lymphoblasts`, a word that terrified her parents. While reading Someplace Strange, I immediately recognized the fabric of a child’s scary dream made solid.
Still, what used to really amaze me about my daughter was that the re-telling of this sleep phantasm seemed to calm her down. Perhaps it was the comforting presence of her mum and dad, but after telling me the story, she would become animated and empowered as if she had actually fought and defeated the imaginary monsters she feared in her dream. In Someplace Strange, Edward and James (kingly names) are their own heroes that they make up as they go along the trails of their adventures.
Ann Nocenti grasps this concept. Her bogeymen are more than just the embodiment of evil; they are the embodiment of evil as a child would understand it: sudden violence coupled with explosive melodrama and, most importantly, vanquishable. Evil is scary – to a child – but also defeatable in the most obvious and direct way a kid can imagine. In order to defeat the bogeyman, they become typical square-jawed, muscle-bound, four-coloured heroes who, given confidence by their own vision of themselves, take the fight directly to it. Evil is obvious and there is no question of evil being defeated – Edward and James just need to imagine how.
Someplace Strange is a marvelous envisioning of what a child fears. It also allows us the opportunity to see how a child overcomes that fear. The secret to a child`s resilience does not lie simply in his youth, but in a kid`s capacity to problem-solve. If something scares you – be afraid, but then run, hit or get help or whatever it takes to overcome that object of fear. If you fall down, get up. It is this simplistic perspective that fuels a child`s imagination in their worst nightmare to give them the strength to fight battles worthy of the heroes of legends past.
Hey you… pssst!
Read Someplace Strange and see how a kid dreams of being the hero that destroys his own evil nightmares.