Review: Dreamers of the Day
Dreamers of the Day, the self-published graphic novel from cartoonist Beth Barnett (Hallo Spaceboy) is a strange, yet beautiful beast. It’s one part travelogue/diary comic, another part a teaser trailer for her upcoming trilogy of graphic biographies of T.E. Lawrence, and another part a look into how archival research is conducted with a focus on emotions rather than technicalities. The comic is about Barnett’s solo research trip to Oxford to learn more about T.E. Lawrence for an upcoming graphic novel and also does an excellent job of sketching the points of his life and work that she is most interested in. (Throughout this review, I will be calling the protagonist of the comic, Beth, and its creator, Barnett.)
Dreamers of the Day is a comic powered by emotion and enthusiasm, and you can see it in the heart eyes, stars, and smiles every time that Beth finds something cool about T.E. Lawrence or finds something helpful for her research. Barnett also does a good job of setting up Lawrence’s importance to history, and that he was a polymath with interests ranging from Crusader castles and nation-building to motorcycles and book design. I learned a lot about the Middle East during and after World War I from this comic like how Lawrence wanted to help establish an Arab country called the Kingdom of Hejaz, but was co-opted by French and British imperialism and later the Sauds, who annexed Saudi Arabia. Barnett does an excellent job of connecting centuries-old history to contemporary times by connecting the Sauds’ actions to Saudi Arabian human rights violations as well as her frank and beautiful discussions of Lawrence’s possible asexuality.
The art of Dreamers of the Day is rendered in an approachable way veering towards the iconic side of Scott McCloud’s picture plane. Barnett draws her figures like Herge, and it fits the tone of the story as Beth runs from college/library/museum to college/library/museum and follows Lawrence’s exploits from his college and childhood days in Oxford to his travels around the world, especially the archaeological dig in Carchemish, Syria. A recurring theme in the comic (Especially in the early going.) is Beth getting lost and being afraid about being late to various things like a lecture or archives consultation. These panels make the comic relatable and give it nervous energy towards the beginning. Barnett balances these scenes of extreme passion with drawings of flowers that are a reminder of Lawrence’s interest in design, beauty, and Islamic art and are the spoonful of sugar that make the exposition go down.
Even though she uses simple, vivid images, Oxford and its confusing geography and lack of modern signage become almost a character in the comic. I especially love the heavy inking that Barnett uses after a page of normal, boring English countryside becomes Gothic architecture, windows, and genuine bastion of learning. The early days that Beth spends in Oxford are some of my favorite parts of the comic with plenty of positive reaction shots, especially when she has to take an oath to protect the famous Bodleian Library before she does research there. Beth (and Barnett’s) passion for her topic of study is infectious, and there are many parallels between her and Lawrence, who was a lifelong learner and even started bringing artifacts to Oxford’s Ashmolean Museum as a young boy.
Barnett uses these heavy blacks any time there’s a big point she wants to drive home or is feeling especially emotional in Dreamers of the Day. For example, all the windows in TE Lawrence’s childhood home are black, not just because it’s an empty old house, but because of his sad childhood where his mother and father took him and his brothers from town to town so people would forget that they were illegitimate.
Barnett also does a lovely trick of white text on a black background for a few scenes like ones pertaining to Lawrence’s death, the death of his best friend in Carchemish, and the aforementioned Saudi Arabian human rights violations. These could have been prevented if Lawrence and the Kingdom of Hejaz is succeeded, but Barnett doesn’t spend much time on hypotheticals instead talking about how much she has to learn about the world around her and how things work.
Dreamers of the Day is an enjoyable and educational read from Beth Barnett, who by inserting herself and her own enthusiasm in the narrative as well as using a minimalist, yet heavy on the emotions art style, makes the life and work of TE Lawrence accessible and inspiring in 2019.
Story: Beth Barnett Art: Beth Barnett
Story: 8.8 Art: 9.0 Overall: 8.9 Recommendation: Buy
Beth Barnett provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review