Chase After a Runaway Figment of Your Imagination in QUEEN OF BAD DREAMS

Queen of Bad Dreams
Credit: Jordi Perez/Dearbhla Kelly/Kim McLean (Vault Comics)
Credit: Jordi Perez/Dearbhla Kelly/Kim McLean (Vault Comics)

Ideas live in our minds, but when put into the world they have a life of their own. They can influence good or bad outcomes. Writer Danny Lore and artist Jordi Perez’s Queen of Bad Dreams takes this idea to set up a premise where thoughtforms known as “figments” can literally escape the imagination of a human being.

These figments who have escaped to our reality are evaluated, neutralized, or reinserted back to the plane of existence they came from by a group of psychic law enforcement known as Inspector Judges. Readers follow Inspector Judge Wei Daher as she conducts her investigations until she is given one that will challenge the status quo of how “figments” are handled and reveal the origins of their escape to reality.

To learn more about the series that literally blurs the boundaries between reality and imagination, Newsarama spoke with Lore, Perez, colorist Dearbhla Kelly, and letterer Kim McLean ahead of Queen of Bad Dreams #1’s April 24 release. 

Newsarama: So, for people who don’t know, how would you all describe Queen of Bad Dreams?

Credit: Jordi Perez/Dearbhla Kelly/Kim McLean (Vault Comics)

Danny Lore: Queen of Bad Dreams is a book in which figments from our dreams can manifest in the waking world. An agency called the Morphean Annex exists to handle all issues pertaining to figments. Our story begins when a figment named Ava escapes the dreams of a powerful man, and Daher Wei is assigned to the investigation.

Nrama: Jordi, what interested you about this project from a visual and story standpoint?

Jordi Perez: It is one of those stories that is always fascinating to draw.

I love Cyberpunk, Blade Runner, Gunnm (a.k.a. Battle Angel Alita), and Masamune Shirow and Katsuhiro Otomo’s work. I also love noir cinema and artists like Chris Samnee, David Aja, and Frank Miller.

I believe mixing all those influences was necessary and I think they fit well.

It fit the figments well. It made them look like manga drawings while still fitting in with the rest of the characters.

Nrama: Daher is an Inspector Judge (IJ) who determines if figments get to stay in our reality or get sent back to a plane of existence where dreams come from. How does an IJ make this call?

Credit: Jordi Perez/Dearbhla Kelly/Kim McLean (Vault Comics)

Lore: The primary concept that an IJ must evaluate is agency. If a figment is not a danger to themselves and those around them, it must then be determined if 1. They are able to do anything beyond replicate the dreams that they come from 2. They want to stay in the waking world.

For example, if a creature from my nightmares (let’s say a clown, because, well, clowns) pops, but is capable of doing things other than hunting me down to make sure I retake the SATs for the rest of eternity, and they want to stay in our world, then they have agency. As long as these basic tenets are met, IJs typically are able to move figments onto the less exciting parts of the process- paperwork, placement, etc.

Nrama: What more will we learn about the Morphean Annex?

Lore: We’ll see a bit more of the Morphean Annex, the hierarchy of the place, and maybe even some of its spoilers though!

Nrama: Ava is a figment that has escaped from Emerson Chase, the son of a council woman. The second issue teases that she may have escaped from one nightmare to another. Will more of the dream world be revealed as the series goes on? What is the nightmare she escaped from?

Credit: Jordi Perez/Dearbhla Kelly/Kim McLean (Vault Comics)

Lore: The second issue definitely delves further into Ava’s backstory. As for the nightmare- we know that she escaped from Emerson Chase’s dreams. From there, what’s a dream and what’s a nightmare may be relative, dependent on who’s point-of-view we’re looking at it from. And that’s a thing about the real world too, isn’t it? For some people, their dreams necessitate breaking the backs of others. It’s the only way they feel powerful.

Nrama: The biggest mystery of the series is how these figments have escaped to reality. How far down the line will we learn just what allowed this to happen?

Lore: Most figments are entirely accidental, a fluke that comes out of psychically-sensitive individuals have detailed dreams. Figment can describe anything from a glass of water you held in a dream to something (or someone) much bigger. Obviously, the glass of water isn’t usually a big deal, but the real wrench in things is that Ava wasn’t an accident. We’ll delve into the larger concepts behind figments throughout the story, a little at a time.

Nrama: Dearbhla and Jordi, what was the approach to designing these dream creatures known in Queen of Bad Dreams as figments from design to colors?

Perez: They had to be extravagant, like something out of a JRPG (japanese role-playing game). Some even look more like animals than humans. All of them had to have intense colors reminiscent of video games and anime.

Dearbhla Kelly: Coloring the figments is part of what makes this book so fun and unique to work on – it’s a great chance to experiment with different styles within one book and respond to Jordi’s character designs in a way that suits the character rather than necessarily blend with the overall look of the book.

Credit: Jordi Perez/Dearbhla Kelly/Kim McLean (Vault Comics)

I was really inspired by how Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse was able to bring these totally aesthetically different characters together in one world and have them remain distinct but still work together visually. That’s something I’ve tried to emulate here.

With Ava, she blends in more naturally with the general style of the book in terms of how I’ve rendered her, but the colour choices that inform her hair, clothes and makeup highlights are very much based in this idea of her being a ‘dream girl’ and lean into that aesthetic. And then elsewhere in the issue we meet a few other figments who stand out completely from the world they inhabit – most obviously the scribble monster, which was partly colored with my left hand and breaks out past the lines and panel borders, and a couple of anime-style figments I coloured using smoother gradients and cut shading where other characters have more painterly rendering.

It’s exciting and challenging to see what Danny and Jordi come up with, plus it’s always fun for a colorist to have an excuse to give characters green or pink hair!

Nrama: Kim, what did you have in mind for the style of the lettering? Is there anything different for the design of the “figments” and those from reality?

McLean: The biggest thing initially was defining Viv’s narration, since her voice is our first interaction in this world and she’ll be speaking to us throughout the whole series. I normally really like clean lines, but dreams and memories are always a bit fuzzy around the edges so I went with slightly roughed-up caption lines - just slightly, though! Jordi’s linework has such energy and Dearbhla’s colors are amazing and vibrant, I tried to meet the look without going overboard.

As for the figments, it was a conscious choice to make Ava’s lettering design the same as those in the main world. This story explores the concept of whether or not Ava should have her own agency (whether she should be “real”) and I wanted to make it a little harder for the reader to view her as just another escaped dream. We should see her as she sees herself, not as “other” or “different."  The scribble monster doesn’t get that same style, though!   

Credit: Nathan Gooden (Vault Comics)

Nrama: The pitch for the book is The Sandman meets Blade Runner. One is fantasy while the other is science fiction. What interested you to blend these two genres together?

Lore: I’d actually argue that these stories and genres aren’t that disparate! There is romantic noir in each. Blade Runner exists in a smokey world that’s incredibly surreal, just like some of the best parts of Sandman. So many stories in Sandman are about wishes and desires and I think that’s the core of the Replicants as well - Rachel would exist very naturally in Sandman, and I think Morpheus is aesthetically related to the streets of Blade Runner as well.

And I’m a big fan of ‘speculative fiction’ as an overarching genre descriptor. Particularly when you look at contemporary/futuristic work, the lines between fantasy and science fiction blur. I don’t think they are genres that exist wholly separate of each other.

Nrama: How many issues will this series have?

Lore: Queen of Bad Dreams is five issues, but I already hope to get the opportunity to share more corners of this world with you guys!

Nrama: Danny this question is specifically for you. What made you take the leap from editor to writer? Has the experience as the former helped you in approaching this book?

Lore: I actually started out as a writer. I can’t think of a time where I wasn’t writing. In fact, my path to editing came out of being a writer that really likes talking to other creatives about process and story. There is nothing I love more than talking with editors, filing away bits of craft information and structural tips (all the best editors are, editorially, creatives, and I’ll fight about this). The two roles inform each other- helping someone else improve their stories helps me level up, and getting notes as a writer teaches me to be a better editor.

That said, sometimes being an editor makes writing harder. It’s a struggle to turn off that inner editor, to stop tweaking and trying things. Knowing when to tag in an editor is a learned skill.

Credit: Jordi Perez/Dearbhla Kelly/Kim McLean (Vault Comics)

Nrama: What made Vault Comics the right place for this book?

Lore: Vault Comics has consistently produced amazing stories, and I’m honored to be part of their 2019 slate. When I first considered pitching this idea, I looked at the work they were doing at the time - Fearscape, Wasted Space, Submerged. What I saw was a diverse range of stories, fantastical journeys that all had fiercely unique voices and experiences attached to them. I’d talked to Adrian Wassel about editing prior to that, and knew we vibed on that level. In addition, Vault Comics has been very vocal about supporting marginalized creators, and promoting them, and I knew that they were the right place for a story that wrestled with agency and marginalized women.

Nrama: And how did you all come together to work on this project?

Lore: Dearbhla and I have been friends for years at this point, and we’ve wanted to work on something for quite some time. I love all of their work, and we knew each other creatively well enough that this felt like a natural fit. I met both Jordi and Kim through Vault, and again, the moment I saw their work, I was like "Oh crap, this is it." I often (jokingly) say that I’m going to be the weakest link in the creator chain for a book, but I think all three of them are just killer at every step of the process. I like to think I’m writing a pretty good script, but they are powerhouses.

Nrama: last question. In Queen of Bad Dreams, Daher is faced with the tough decision of bringing to the Morphean Annex or investigating further before making a decision to reinsert the figment to where it came from or letting it stay. Daher decided to let Ava go. How would you all handle that situation?

Lore: I’m a total chicken, so the second Ava got on that bike, I would have jumped away! Honestly, most of the reason I write is so that I can inhabit characters that are more than me- braver, smarter, more bombastic. There’d be no story if I was in the situation- the story starts when someone who isn’t me gets involved!

McLean: Going against the Annex’s rules and letting Ava go seems like a totally natural thing for me to have done if I were Daher. (Follow protocol? No thanks.) I do love a good bike chase, though, (in theory, having never actually driven a motorcycle myself…) so that would have been a great second option!

Kelly: Oh I’d definitely let her go, I’m not a particularly rebellious person but I think it’s usually worth asking a few more questions instead of following rules and procedures. But I’m also with Danny – it’d be in a considerably less cool and dramatic fashion than Daher!

Editor's Note: Jordi Perez' statements were translated from Spanish to English.

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