Commentary: David B.’s Nocturnal Conspiracies

By Derek Royal

Nocturnal Conspiracies: Nineteen Dreams from December 1979 to September 1994, by David B. (NBM/ComicsLit)

NocturnalConspiraciesLast week in Episode 55 of The Comics Alternative podcast, Tof Eklund and I discussed recent books by the French comics artist, David B. (AKA, Pierre-François Beauchard), and both of us commented several times on the surreal and dream-like quality of his narratives. We see this in both Black Paths and Incidents in the Night, Book One, but the style is also clearly apparent in Epileptic, the work that the artist is perhaps best known for.  At the time of our podcast recording I hadn’t yet read David B.’s 2008 work, Nocturnal Conspiracies: Nineteen Dreams from December 1979 to September 1994 — I have had the book for a few years but just hadn’t cracked it yet — but now I wish I had, primarily because this text provides a glimpse into what I can only assume is a big part of David B.’s mode of creation. We learn from the opening pages of book that the author pays close attention to his dreams and keeps some type of dream journal.  He comments in the frontmatter that

At night, my dreams are filled with conspiracies, chases, terrorist attacks. Policemen, spies, and bandits meet me for weird shootouts. In my sleep, I find once again my liking for gangster stories and dreaming morphs my daily life into a police investigation.  The repetition of these themes made me want to draw those dreams. I love their chaotic and poetic structure. I love their mysterious logic. I love their enigmas without solutions. Each of these dreams is a chapter in my dark novel.

Nocturnal2And given the nineteen different “stories” that compose this collection, it’s apparent that David B. uses these nocturnal visitations and notes as grist for his art. This becomes clear, even from his quoted comments, when we look at the overall body of his work, the detective-like investigations into his brother’s malady in Epileptic, the chaotic and surreal street fighting scenes in Black Paths, the myth-inspired or tall-tale qualities found in The Armed Garden and Other Stories, and the fluid transitions between the written and unwritten worlds in Incidents in the Night. Indeed, just a casual glimpse through Nocturnal Conspiracies will call to mind specific scenes and images from his other work.

For example, in dream number one, titled “The Leper,” we find a direct reference to the Veiled Prophet (the subject of one of the stories in The Armed Garden), as well as a bandaged head, a visual highly reminiscent of Émile Travers in Incidents in the Night. There are also thematic references to Incidents in the Night in the fourth dream, “Windows,” about the Nocturnal4dreamer looking through the bookshelves in a department store and finding a little man, perhaps the French illustrator Roland Topor (whose books David B. discovers in the dream), hidden and huddled in one of the shelves. The books themselves have eyes, and all of this brings to mind Émile Travers’s trick of hiding in texts. (Using texts as hiding places is also apparent in Black Paths.) And in dream sixteen, “A Love Affair,” we see the skeleton-like faces that are so much of David B.’s various stories. Tof pointed out the significance of these images, and the fluid (dream-like?) transition between life and death, in our discussion of of Black Paths. And these are just a few of the many visual signifiers found among the artist’s comics. A careful reading through Nocturnal Conspiracies will reveal even more links.  Not only does this work help one to better appreciate the other books of David B., but the text itself is a fascinating study of narrative genesis and construction.

Look for the David B. books discussed in this posting:

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The Comics Alternative is a podcast and blog focused on the world of alternative, independent, and primarily non-superhero comics.

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