“Somnium” was a comic I wrote between 7th February and 31st March this year (with a brief hiatus between the 11th-13th March) and, at 175 pages and one animation it’s the longest comic that I’ve ever written. Also, in terms of the art, it’s also the best comic that I’ve ever drawn. Anyway, I thought I’d write an article about the making of the comic.
Anyway, it started shortly after I’d finished writing and drawing episode five of “CRIT”. This is probably my least favourite episode of “CRIT”, since although I like the first couple of pages of it – I kind of ended up writing myself into a corner about halfway though it and the rest of the comic was surprisingly difficult to write. Eventually, I just came up with a rather contrived ending for it and breathed a sigh of relief. I needed a break from comics, or at least I thought that I did.
But, I soon realised that what I really wanted to do was to write a “fun” comic. A comic which didn’t have a single fixed storyline and the same settings on literally every page – a comic where I could go in all sorts of strange and creative directions if I wanted to. Anyway, at the very end of the day (well, technically the early morning of the day afterwards – my sleeping patterns are fairly interesting) that I finished episode five of “CRIT”, I was going to go to sleep – but, before I did, I felt like drawing a random sketch.
Somehow, this drawing just intiruged me – I wanted to know more about what the story behind this drawing was. Anyway, later on that day, I realised that it’d be fun to do a surreal comic about dreams (after all, I really love comics and films about this subject). The other great thing about this idea was that I could make this comic into a collection of short stories which took place in totally different settings and where literally anything could happen. All I had to do was to think of a title – in the end, somewhat unimaginatively, I just typed “What is the Latin word for dreams” into Google and it came up with the word “Somnium”. This sounded suitably literary, pretentious and serious and, so, the comic began.
At first, I thought about basing some of the chapters on my own dreams – but I quickly realised that, although many of my dreams are fairly interesting, most of the surreal aspects of them were often far too subtle to really work in a comic. So, eventually, I ended up making all but two of the “dreams” in the comic completely ficticious. If anyone is curious, the two chapters which are based on actual dreams I had were chapters 51 & 54 (“Street” and “The Chess Room”).
One of the other things which I soon started to do in this comic was to re-use old and abandoned story ideas I’d come up with over the years. The first one of these was probably chapter five “Downpour”, which was based on a short story I wrote in 2008 called “She’s In Parties” (named after the excellent song by Bauhaus). Although the story itself wasn’t that great, I still absolutely loved the settings in it and the chance to draw it in a comic was just too good to miss. It’s still one of my favourite chapters of “Somnium”.
In addition to this, I also ended up including crossovers with pretty much all of my comics and several of my stories too – this was one of the most fun parts of making “Somnium”. The best thing about this was that I could show aspects of some of my characters which wouldn’t really work that well in the actual comics themselves – the most notable one of these is probably in chapter 36 which starts with Roz and Derek from “Damania” just after they’d got stoned on something. Although Roz was kind of partially intended to be a “stoner” kind of character in my original ideas for “Damania” when I first came up with it, when I returned to making “Damania” comics in 2012, this aspect of her character kind of got lost. So it was fun to explore it in “Somnium”.
This brings me on to another topic – self-censorship. One of the great things about “Somnium” was that I felt that I didn’t have to censor myself as much as I did when I wrote my other comics (chapters 2, 6, 16, 30 and 53 all had various levels of “mature content” warnings on DeviantART).
However, I still ended up self-censoring one chapter – it was a chapter called “XY” which would have been chapter thirteen. I drew all of it and even started colouring some of it before I realised “I can’t publish this, what will people think?”, so I ended up replacing it with another chapter and left it out of the comic.
“XY” was a rather dystopic transgender-themed chapter which began with the Dreamer waking up to find that she has a male body (and, yes, this was shown fairly explicitly later in the first page). The comic itself just follows part of her everyday life and her horrified reactions to it. Although it’s a lot less dark than it could have been, it just didn’t really fit with the rest of the comic in terms of it’s tone and style. So, eventually, I left it out. Also, it was just a seriously depressing chapter too.
Although I really loved the format of this comic, one of the problems with having to come up with a radically different storyline for each episode was that I eventually started to run out of ideas. This is probably more noticeable near the end of “Somnium” and it was probably the main reason why I eventually ended up finishing it at the end of chapter 54.All in all, “Somnium” was a really interesting and fun comic both to write and to draw and I just loved how the format of it allowed me to experiment with all sorts of different story ideas and settings in a way which would have been pretty much impossible in a conventional narrative comic.