Alice: From Dream to Dream original softcover graphic novel
Writer/Artist/Cover artist: Giulio Macaione
Colors: Giulia Adragna
Letters: Jim Campbell
English adaptation: Jackie Ball
Editor: Shannon Watters
Publisher: Boom! Studios/Boom! Box imprint
Price: $14.99 US/$18.99 CAN/10.99 UK
I hadn’t heard anything about this graphic novel for teen and ‘tween readers, so when it turned up on my doorstep, I honestly didn’t know what to expect. Still, the art was inviting, so I started to peruse the opening pages. I was quickly captivated by Giulio Macaione’s characterization. The premise — about a girl with the ability/curse to experience people’s dreams with them when in proximity to the — is full of potential, but the real strength of the book is its down-to-earth characterization, its universal exploration of a coming of age, of the trials of adolescence and of the sense of powerlessness a teenager can feel when having no control over a life in purgatory between childhood and adulthood.
Fifteen-year-old Alice is having a tough time of it. Her family was forced to move back to Cincinnati from Chicago after her dad lost his job, and that’s led to her having to share a room with her older brother. Thanks to his obsession with horror movies, that means she spends every thing fleeing from zombies and killers as she’s stuck in his dreams. As if exhaustion wasn’t enough, Alice is being terrorized at school by a bully. The one saving grace of life back in Cincinnati is reuniting with her best friend from childhood, but when he pulls away from her, she feels more lost than ever. Little does she know that his distance stems from a family mystery that’s connected to an odd vision Alice has had of a woman trapped underwater in a nearby lake.
Italian cartoonist Giulio Macaione is clearly inspired by Japanese pop culture, as there’s an undeniable manga influence at play in his artwork. That factor is tempered by a European feel and a generally more realistic and less exaggerated look, and there were times his figures reminded me of the style of Marvel artist Adrian (Runaways, Ms. Marvel) Alphona. His characters move incredibly convincingly, and he portrays these teenagers as what they are — not just adults of shorter stature. He doesn’t sexualize the female characters, but he does bring a great beauty to them. Despite Alice’s despair, Giulia Adragna’s colors for the real-world scenes are soft and soothing, and that makes the darker, deeper colors for the nightmare worlds all the more striking and unsettling.
I think what struck me the most about this book was how well-rounded the supporting characters are. Macaione makes Alice’s bully Taisha’s behavior understandable, and at the same time, he doesn’t soften her too much. I was also taken with Alice’s mother’s story arc; the decisions she makes take on a new significance when we learn more about her background, her childhood. I was also pleased with the diversity of the cast of characters.
Everything in the plot fits together nicely and resolves satisfactorily; in fact, it’s all a little too neat, but it’s undeniably pleasing. At first, I thought the choice to open with Alice trapped in her 17-year-old brother’s dreams was an odd choice, given what one might expect to be the subject matter of an adolescent boy’s dreams, but the focus on the effects of an infatuation with the horror genre addresses the issue well.
I’ve always thought the premise of travelling in another person’s dreams to be one full of potential and promise, and while we’ve seen it in sci-fi and fantasy stories in the past, I’m surprised it’s not a more common foundation for more stories. I remember being quite taken with the notion in Marvel’s Nightmask series in the 1980s, part of its failed New Universe imprint. Macaione’s decision to approach such a power as a curse — especially for someone so young and ill-equipped to navigate those psychological waters — was an interesting take on the concept, but everything wrapped up so tightly by the end of this book, it appears a followup story with this protagonist might not be in the worlds.
When I saw that this book had a English translator among the credits, I assumed that this was an American edition of something that was originally published in Italy or elsewhere in Europe. But while Macaione has published other books overseas, it appears this was his first effort with a North American audience in mind. Of course, there’s a universal quality to the characters here that will allow it appeal to a wide variety of readers, regardless of language, location or age.
I suspect Macaione’s decision to name his protagonist Alice and to incorporate that name into the title of the book means he intended to evoke comparisons to Alice in Wonderland. Her rabbithole is others’ dreams, and I was surprised we didn’t see even more surreal imagery in the dream sequences as a result.
I have a 12-year-old niece who’s recently discovered the world of graphic novels, especially manga, and the joy of drawing, and whenever she visits, I endeavour to find something on my bookshelf that will appeal to her while also being appropriate. Alice: From Dream to Dream definitely fits the bill, and I look forward to seeing her this coming weekend (Canadian Thanksgiving, don’tcha know) so I can put this book in her hands. 8/10