Thursday, January 11, 2024

I Must Be Dreaming by Roz Chast

Don't tell anyone, but I think this is a stealth reprint collection. If it were in prose, I might even go so far as to call it a fix-up.

Roz Chast is one of the giants of contemporary cartooning, a New Yorker mainstay since the late '70s and the author of the major memoir Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant? about a decade ago, plus a number of other books, both reprints and original. All of her work is fun and quirky and specific, coming out of a relatable New York sensibility - so I'm purely talking categorization here, not making a value judgement.

I Must Be Dreaming was her new book for 2023, billed as a "new graphic narrative, exploring the surreal nighttime world insider her mind." Which is true, as far as it goes: the narrative is clearly new. But I think a lot of the pages here, probably a majority of them, already existed. I think this is a themed reprint collection lightly cosplaying as an original graphic novel.

The alternative, though, is that all of the things that look like individual cartoons here - mostly retelling specific dreams - were all new work, that Chast dug through her dream notebook and did all of this work in one rush as a book. That's possible, but it feels like a compendium of several decades of dreams - that she pulled published cartoons and sketches and ideas from the body of her work, maybe with a tropism for things that hadn't been in a book yet, to cover this material.

Because creators don't just suddenly have a completely different idea that they've been working on for years, and Chast has been thinking and cartooning about her dreams for a long time now.

Either way, Dreaming starts out with what is clearly new material, in Chast's GN-esque style - hand-drawn type in paragraphs around individual illustrations - as she explains what she finds interesting about dreams, and how she's captured hers - then dives into compendia of different types of dreams, mostly drawn as single-page cartoons - and then has a somewhat historical/overview section, again in that more discursive GN style, to close.

Everyone's dreams are weird and random, I think - some in an interesting way, and some in a tedious way. Chast is clear that she's curating dreams here: illustrating the most distinctive or visual or bizarre ones, and avoiding the dull ones. (Anyone else had the "trying to walk somewhere in the rain, and your legs don't work right?" Unpleasant to experience, boring to explain.)

It's a Roz Chast book, so it's full of her sensibility and viewpoint - though maybe more so, because of dream logic. I liked it a lot, again because it's Roz Chast. In sum, unless you are one of those weirdoes who can't stand Chast, this book will make you laugh and enjoy life just a bit more during the time you read it.

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