File:Little_Nemo_walking_bed_detail_colourIn Freud’s The Interpretation of Dreams one of the first arguments he makes is that dreams should be interpreted more like rebuses than narratives. What distinguishes a rebus from narrative primarily is the fact that rebuses aren’t temporal, or if they are temporal they are so in a non-linear and unpredictable way. This is true of dreams as well. Also true of rebuses is the fact that linguistic signs (letters, punctuation marks, words) do not necessarily behave like linguistic signs and visual images are not necessarily representational, at least not in the way images usually are in visual art. In a rebus words can act like or stand in for images while images can act like or stand in for words. And the rules that determine how words and images signify in rebuses are intrinsic to the rebus; they must be derived from the interpretation of the rebus itself.

Although these characteristics are not entirely applicable to the panels of a fixed sequential narrative (which is or tends to be linear as the expression implies), it seems there might be something to gain from thinking about the ways in which comics panels sometimes operate like rebuses or dreams. Indeed, while the arrangement of panels on a page might follow a linear narrative logic, the interplay of word and image within a panel is rarely reducible to the panel’s narrative content and sometimes word and image operate in distinctly rebus-like ways. Might these characteristics confer any advantages to the comics medium when it comes to representing dreams? What Freud

lescomplotscovercalled “secondary revision” describes an additional layer of distortion (beyond condensation and displacement) that occurs in the very act of trying to “narrate” a dream using language. I wonder if an artist might have more success in “representing” a dream more “accurately” (that is, less narratively) with the medium of comics. The distortion that comes with secondary revision is still unavoidable but does it perhaps manifest differently in a comics representation of a dream? The gutters in a dream narrative, for example, might act both as a point of articulation and disarticulation between different clusters of dream signifiers; they might create a sense of temporal succession but also suggest ways in which temporal succession masks other non-temporal relations among dream signifiers, and vice-versa.

These questions occur to me specifically in relation to David B’s comics dream journal Les Complots nocturnes (“Nocturnal plots”). Some of the dreams in Complots nocturnes can be read in relationship to autobiographical details about the author’s life that we learn about in Epileptic and Babel, so we might read the project of drawing his dreams as an extension of his larger autobiographical project. In the forward to the book, David B. explains the project in the following terms:

Je retrouve dans mon sommeil mon goût pour les histoires de gangsters et le rêve métamorphose mon quotidien en enquête policière. C’est la récurrence de ces thèmes qui m’a donné envie de dessiner ces rêves. J’aime leur structure chaotique et poétique. J’aime leurs logiques mystérieuses. J’aime leurs enigmes sans solutions. Chacun de ces rêves est un chapitre de mon roman noir.

In my sleep I regain my taste for gangster stories; dreams transform my everyday life into a detective investigation. It was the recurrence of these themes that inspired me to begin drawing my dreams. I like their chaotic and poetic structure. I like their mysterious logic. I like their solution-less puzzles. Each of the following dreams is a chapter in my noir novel.


Do comics have a special relationship to dreams? When in the history of the medium do comics artists begin to use the medium to represent their own dreams or the dreams of their fictional characters? What role do dreams occupy in “autobiocomics” such as David B’s, Fabrice Neaud’s and Julie Doucet’s? What are your favorite comics representations of dreams?


About Michael A. Johnson

Michael A. Johnson is an Assistant Professor of French at Central Washington University where he teaches courses on French language and culture and Franco-Belgian comics. His research centers largely on questions of gender and sexuality, rhetoric, pedagogy, and psychoanalysis. With one published article on Fabrice Neaud's Journal ("Placing/Facing Fabrice Neaud") and another essay in the works on Lefèvre's and Guibert's The Photographer ("How Not to Orientalize the Afghan") his focus in comics so far has been on questions of autobiography, the ethics of alterity, and the face. He also keeps a food blog ( and is interested in the growing phenomenon of comics cook books and comics food blogs in the francophone world. His recently finished manuscript, The Medieval Erotics of Grammar, is currently under review.

One response »

  1. pozdRaf says:

    One of my favourite comics representations of dreams is in “Achtung Zelig! Druga Wojna” (Achtung Zelig! The Second World War) by Krzysztof Gawronkiewicz and Krystian Rosiński (Krystian Rosenberg). This comics has been included in “1001 comics you must read before you die” by Paul Gravett

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