The average person will spend about 6 years of their lifetime dreaming. Odds are, there is at least one dream that you can clearly recall: What happened, where you were, and whom you were with. Most importantly, you’ll remember the feeling you had when you woke up. My graphic novel, Then I Woke Up, explores the most memorable dreams of my life: from my first nightmare when I was 4 years old, to the short but powerful visions in a long nap.
“This is who I am, as told by my dreams”
Then I Woke Up is a project I’ve wanted to pursue for a very long time. I have always had vivid dreams that I can remember long after I’ve woken up. Sometimes they’ll become the inspiration for my own artwork, other times they’ll remain stored in my memory waiting for an opportunity to be told. Then I Woke Up became that opportunity.
I’ve seen many artists create dream journal comics (Em Carroll, one of my many inspirations, does this), and I wanted to try it for myself. It was a perfect idea: I love drawing, I love comics, and dreams work really well in a comic format. It just seemed to make sense. But I needed something to set my novel apart.
After the first pages were roughly laid out, I realized the dreams didn’t have any context. If you didn’t know me personally, none of it would make any sense. And while I wanted to believe that the images and stories alone could carry the novel along, that just wasn’t possible. So the challenge was figuring out a way to add context to these dreams while still keeping them authentic and dreamlike. After much deliberation, I finally settled on a mini-comic. Running down the side of the main story (the dreams), a simple, small comic relays context of that particular dream. Where I was, who I was, and what it might mean. I’m a firm believer that dreams can reflect aspects of our personalities or help us work through problems. Having that context and interpretation elevates my novel from a dream journal to an autobiography of sorts.
It all started with a script. Thinking about the details of a dream, I would write down every action as it’s own panel. This way, I knew exactly what to draw before putting pencil to paper. This saved a lot of time because most of the story editing could be done before the drawing took place.
After the writing was finished, I could move on to thumbnailing. Just like writing, thumbnails helped me figure out exactly what I was going to draw before wasting time on bad compositions. Sometimes there were 3 different thumbnail layouts for a single page that I had to choose between! But once I settled on a composition I liked, I could start the final sketch with a non-photo blue pencil. After that, I did the final line art in black ink.
All of the coloring was done digitally with Adobe Photoshop. Each chapter has it’s own specific color based on my associations with the dream. The mini-comic is in black and white to set it apart as “reality”. I chose a very limited color palate with each chapter because I work best with more values and fewer colors. This way my dreams were still able to have a surrealistic quality and I could play to my strengths. Finally, the pages were all put together using Adobe InDesign.
The Final Product
Overall, I’m very proud of how my graphic novel turned out. And it’s not over yet! Then I Woke Up has the potential to continue as an ongoing series, and I definitely plan to add more chapters as long as I feel like it. I’ll never stop dreaming, so there will always be stories to share.