Art by David Lillie
Written by David Lillie
When you have read, collected, and written about comic books for as many years I have, it's not too often that you pick up something new and are completely blown away in terms of both art and story.
However, that was exactly what happened when I began to peel through the pages of Dreamkeepers.
Let's start with the art work.
Lillie has a style that reminds of films such as the Secrets of NIMH, right down to the animated animals who are the stars of the story. So naturally on the first flip through I thought while eye catching in its approach, it would be a story geared to younger readers.
The style is very clean, and shows the action well, although at times the differentiation between one character and the next can be a tad daunting, especially in issue one since these characters are not known. It's a minor problem with a couple of the female critters, but it does require a pause to re-look a couple of times.
From an artistic perspective creator David Lillie has been drawing since he was a small child.
“I started drawing when I was three, and never really stopped, except for a stretch during art college when, ironically, I was too busy with miscellaneous homework to draw,” he said. “When I was growing up my parents never threw out any junk mail, because I would flip that over and use it as drawing paper. My first source of inspiration was the cartoon 'The Real Ghostbusters' when I was a tot, which kicked off my toddler years drafting all types of ghoulish monstrosities.
“More contemporary influences include Bill Watterson, Tracy Butler, Akira Toryama, Katsuhiro Otomo, Tim Burton, H.R. Geiger, Brian Ahern, Will Eisner, Tiny Toons and the pantheon of Disney character animators. I applied my affinity for drawing to longer projects through middle and high school with my first comic series, ’Tech War’.
“After college I had some work in minor studio and freelance animation, which I promptly became frustrated with due to the fact that I'd rather be telling my own stories. I always felt like I was just a replaceable technician when working on someone else's project.
“But the animation experience helped develop my drawing skill and versatility. Also, I'm struggling to improve my work with each successive book release.
“I'm accepting of my work in Volume 1 and 2, but I can do better, and I want to prove that every time I finish a new edition.”
As a reader, I was pleased to find out as I read the story that Lillie was not catering to younger audiences at all, but was instead writing a rather sophisticated story which had enough 'smarts', enough 'maturity' to appeal to a reader like myself, a reader well past my teen years.
The story is about a world on the edge of our own, a world where the residents have powers to battle our nightmares.
The mix or art and the nature of the story does seem at odds in terms of finding an audience for Dreamkeepers, and that is something Lillie said he recognized would be a factor going into the project.
“Choosing the target market for Dreamkeepers has turned out to be an interesting issue,” he said. “I must admit that, when designing the content and style of the series, I disregarded marketing considerations and indulged completely in my own personal taste.
“The original target audience was the guy in the mirror. That complicates things a bit when it comes to attracting the right readership, because the title doesn't fit perfectly within the established genres and their corresponding audiences.”
As a result, Lillie said the audience for the book has sort of come to the story by finding it on their own, rather than through a huge marketing effort.
“To-date, and with our marketing budget, it's been more a situation where readers find Dreamkeepers on their own, and I've been surprised and excited at what an eclectic group that's resulted in.
“I would say that, assuming I’ll have the resources to market someday, our target group would be teens to young adults, although we seem to have caught the attention of some younger, and older readers. There is a risk of potential adult readers disregarding the series at first glance, which is why word-of-mouth and reviews have been so critical in helping us get started.
“I would describe the response to our books so far as small, but powerful. Liz (Thomas, editor) and I have been successful in reaching a minority of convention-goers with the series, and their enthusiasm has been indescribably encouraging.”
In the story it has been ages since nightmares have raised their ugly heads, so using one's power are prohibited.
You can guess the storyline from there, the nightmares are edging back into the picture, and they are after a certain youngster, one we are left believing has a definite role in protecting the world from the coming darkness.
The artwork clearly carries the attention here, but the story is the art's equal once you get into the story. Lillie has created a world very much unique, and interesting, and he has crafted this first two books of the series in a way readers will want more, much more.
Lillie himself sees himself more writer than artist.
“I don't think I'd call myself an artist, because that's such a philosophically loaded word, and I don't have a beret,” he said. “Writer might be closer, but the writing and the visuals are so interdependent that it would be a tough sell to call myself a ‘writer.' I've settled on the term 'creator', but I feel like any descriptive title I adopt begins to sound pretentious. I'd much rather throw a book at someone, yell 'look at this!', and then vanish in a cloud of smoke.”
As a book, Dreamkeepers is the first major work by Lillie.
“Dreamkeepers is my first published work, but I made a bunch of other comic books before college,” he said. “When I was 12, I started a series titled 'Tech War', about the United States fighting a war against international terrorists, and ... Hmm. Prophetic? I guess so. Keep your eye out for a terrorist robot army, my prophetic childhood predicts it! Tech War ran for about six-issues. I also made a quickie comic once where Vegeta fought Barney the dinosaur.”
With Dreamkeepers Lillie has a story that he sees as having a definitive ending, although it does stand to be an epic story.
“Dreamkeepers is definitely a finite story, with the entire plot already set in place, ending and all,” he said. “My personal bias is that stories only count if they have an ending, which is why I have such preemptive apathy towards Marvel and other ceaselessly progressing universes. It's just difficult to take a character seriously when their story arc is a circle of redundancy; it begins to verge on soap opera territory.
“So Dreamkeepers is a finite story, but it's not a small story. It's going to stretch for at least 20 volumes, and possibly more. I believe it's going to be my defining life's work as a creator, which is another reason I'm investing so much effort into the quality of the art and storyline.
“I'm not creating Dreamkeepers to cover the monthly bills. I'm creating it to reserve a spot on bookshelves, and an echo in the minds of others after I'm gone.”
While Lillie sees Dreamkeepers as his defining work, because of it's uniqueness, it has not been an easy book to get published.
“Getting Dreamkeepers created and printed has been my first big adventure in the real world beyond college,” he said. “It's been a struggle, but one that I wouldn't trade for anything.
“Originally planned as a TV pitch, I realized that the best case scenario, possessing no leverage or industry cred, would be selling the idea into ruination, assuming I didn't get flat-out ripped off.
“It seemed the right idea to return to my roots, and create the series in comic form. With the first book nearly finished, I submitted to and was rejected by pretty much every comic publisher out there, save one. That publisher wanted to tweak the book towards kids, and also postponed the print run to a distant doldrums.
“Being young and motivated, I brashly decided to start my own publishing company, regardless of having absolutely no finances beyond massive college debt. Starting a business has been immensely challenging and gratifying.”
Lillie said he took the risk because of the importance he sees in the work.
“I think Dreamkeepers is important to me for a few reasons,” he said. “For one, I had my midlife crisis early, and decided I don't want to be an employed artist-technician. I want to create my own stories, period.
“So as a creator, Dreamkeepers is my outlet for doing what I love. When it comes to career considerations, I have a lot of ambition for Vivid Publishing. Lacking aristocratic senatorial family ties and any good reason for a bank to give me a viable loan, my only hope of success is -- well, success.
“I can’t kick back and bank on bloated corporate marketing campaigns pushing mediocrity onto gullible kids as personally fulfilling as that would doubtless be.
“Instead, I opt to stake my future on offering a product which can only attain visibility by being exceedingly worthwhile. That product is Dreamkeepers. It's my best shot at making a living out of my career. Plus, from a pure fun standpoint, I love the story. I can't wait to read the whole thing. And there's only one way to make that happen.”
This is a winner by any measure. Don't let the art turn you away for fear that it is for kids. Give it a chance. You will be glad you did. Excellent work from cover-to-cover.
Check it out at www.DreamKeepersComics.com
-- CALVIN DANIELS
-- Appeared on Yorkton This Week WebXtra