I’ve never really liked dream comics. But after reading Julie Doucet’s *My Most Secret Desire*…well, I still don’t like them.

It’s not that Doucet’s dreams are boring, exactly. Her crowded, inky art is distinctive and engaging, and what with genital mutilation, severed heads, gender swapping, rape fantasies, masturbation with inappropriate baked goods, and worms exploding from pimples, she’s got enough raw material here to make David Cronenberg salivate oozily.

The problem is that “raw material” is all the reader is presented with, and Doucet seems afraid to do anything with it. On the one hand, she refuses to connect the dreams to her actual life —in “Oh La La What a Srange Dream,” for example, Doucet’s mother appears. We don’t know what their relationship is like, or what her presence there might mean to Doucet, so whatever resonance the scene has, we’re not privy to it. Similarly, Doucet’s dreams about growing a penis certainly connect to her sexual identity in some way, but the reader is given no clue as to how.

I’m not necessarily an advocate of confessional comics for their own sake, and Doucet’s dreams could also work, I think, if she were willing to cut them loose entirely. Kafka’s stories, for example, were often based in part on his dreams. But he didn’t preface his narratives by saying, “hey, I dreamed this.” Instead, he allowed each story to create its own self-contained reality with its own claustrophobic, inescapable logic.

Doucet’s stories, on the other hand, are easy to escape. They don’t impact her life; they don’t create their own world. They just run out and then she wakes up. The one exception, a sequence in which she wakes to find household objects shouting threats and curses, is one of the more interesting moments in the book. In general, though, Doucet is careful to separate fantasy and reality, and as a result, despite all the violence and bodily fluid, these comics are surprisingly safe — even bland. The only emotional reaction demanded of the reader is the kind of polite horror you’re generally expected to display when a friend tells you about her nightmares. “Wow, Julie. Yeah, that sure is fuuuuucked up.”

This review first ran in the Comics Journal.