“I prefer the films that put their audience to sleep in the theater. I think those films are kind enough to allow you a nice nap and not leave you disturbed when you leave the theater. Some films have made me doze off in the theater, but the same films have made me stay up at night, wake up thinking about them in the morning, and keep on thinking about them for weeks.”

Abbas Kiarostami in an interview with Dr. Jamsheed Akrami


A dreamer awakes and starts scribbling in a journal by her bedside.

Then darkness…

….forest and marshland. The panels hold the horizon line and come four at a time.

A house is lost within that wood and holds three women. They are of varying years, like the Fates of old, and are sitting down to a meal together.

A visitor arrives by night and is given a meal before he is taken to an upper room by the youngest woman.

He is given a bed to sleep in. Then the curtains are drawn and the woman sits by his bedside reading. It is not a place of cohabitation but a place where stories are told and conceived.

The words and the images they evoke flicker through his mind. Then, the night is over, and he has left the storyteller slumbering and drained in an armchair by his bed. There is a small fee left for her and the woman and her companions seem largely satisfied.  The tale closes with a fitful passage into a collapsed city of dead appliances, silent street lamps, abandoned playgrounds and overgrown malls.

This story can be found in the latest volume of Eiland, an anthology containing the work of Dutch experimental cartoonists Stefan van Dinther and Tobias Tycho Schalken. It’s easy to get lost in its pages; flipping through it and sifting over the imagery without any real comprehension. This is, perhaps, one way to appreciate it; in a  kind of dream state like the young girl who rotates into view at the start of Schalken’s story, dutifully scribbling notes into her bedside dream journal. It’s only prerequisite for comprehension is that the reader retreat, slow down and absorb.

In Schalken’s story, dreams are remembered, songs sung and old paths reimagined. This is a visual history which contains indecipherable words and nothing in the way of captions or word balloons; it is as silent as the medium it is produced in. The direction and punctuation lie in its plan and composition.

The layouts of Schalken’s comic are essential to our understanding of the proceedings denoting, at their most basic level, isolation [1]

…distance…

…centers of interest…

…and architectural space.

Their saturation of the page suggest moments of concentration or skillful dissections of time and space, our eyes being led horizontally and then vertically through the panels.

The black spaces which appear intermittently throughout act like points of origin, first moving us into the marshland, then pushing us back in time as we see the traveler being led into an upper room by the young girl, a process hidden from us 6 pages and an entire day earlier.

Next it presages a point where the story seemingly branches chronologically.  It is a moment earlier (or perhaps later) in the story, and the women are in song.

The man, that future caller, is barely imagined, yet the spatial proximity of these disparate timelines (interwoven on alternate pages) suggest a lulling of the traveler.

The dreamer approaches her place of rest and the storyteller begins her tale by the traveler’s bedside.

They are, logically speaking and within the framework of the story, one and the same person; separated in time but conjoined and connected in the facing pages, pushing us from dark inscrutability into the light of revelation.

The traveler approaches his muse (this unassuming Clotho) with a sense of dread, as if he was approaching something arcane or even his very death.

Yet he receives the words as gratefully as he did the food earlier in the night, his auricle burnished by the artist’s brush…

…as was his mouth a few pages earlier during dinner.

And then there is the moment of departure.

Like a flickering reverie, harsh light is shone unwaveringly but only for a moment on the animals and humans who line the road home; revealing puzzlement, love, conversation, celebration, chaos, death and slumber; faces – startled, cold, satisfied, young, old, sagging, balding, vibrant, bemused.

The man is returning to the harsh wasteland he calls home.

But this, too, is an act of storytelling, the shifting fantasy and half-heard mystery reproduced in the mind of the dreamer who is resting just above the strangely conversing couple.

[The storyteller begins her tale]

[The dreamer conceives her story]

She drifts between certainty and ambiguity; overhearing, mishearing and recording every sound that breaks through her fitful sleep, a  strange facsimile of the oral tradition; still present when civilizations have grown old and people have forgotten how to speak.

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[1] Note how the panel depicting the house here nestles within the half-seen panels of the next page. Schalken is known to use the transparency of the printed page for visual effect.

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