31 Days of Comics Challenge: Day 30

A Truly Smart Comic

I am writing again about one of my favorite creators, Mark Wheatley.  His “truly smart” comic is Radical Dreamer: Dreams Cannot Die!  In a thousand years, the world becomes nearly inhabitable.  The human population drops, and we live like animals.  Until one day, someone finds an abandoned extraterrestrial city.  There, ancient extraterrestrial technology is re-purposed — including anti-gravity slabs that allow a couple of entrepreneurs to build cities in the sky.  These cities float high above the ruined planet.

In the new cities, a highly class-oriented society develops.  Most people live as slaves.  They are occasionally taken down to the dangerous ground-level where they will search through the City from the Stars for more abandoned technology.  Max Wrighter is one of these slaves.  He finds an alien “Dreamhead,” which allows its wearer to have a virtual reality experience.  He develops software for the Dreamhead, which he sells to the wealthy class.

Max’s ultimate goal is to use the technology to provide free educational programs for the masses.  He believes that knowledge is the key to eliminating some of the class disparity in his society.  The Owners promise that they will one day implement his plans.  But first — they employ him to make software that will allow users to experience mindless entertainment.  They make a lot of money off this software, and users become addicted to the Dreamnet.

This book raises a lot of deep philosophical questions about the nature of consciousness, time and space.  But what makes it a truly smart book is its commentary on art and entertainment.  Our present-day Owners sell more mind-numbing and addictive fluff than provide educational content.  Taking it a step further, one can’t help but wonder whether Wheatley is critiquing his own contributions to the comics medium when he has Max lament, “My parents, my Observer, my teachers — I sold my dreams to the Owners just to prove that I wasn’t a dreamer!  I sold my dreams!”

How many of us artists tried to appease others by shoehorning ourselves into a practical career?  To satisfy our families, to fit in to a society that places so much value on material gain?  Worse, how many of us infected our creativity with foreign values?  Tried to make our art more marketable?  And thereby lost whatever it was that inspired us in the first place?  How many of us sold out our dreams to prove that we’re not dreamers?

Dialogue © Mark Wheatley
Wheatley, Mark. Dreams Cannot Die!. Baltimore: Mark’s Giant Economy Size Comics!, 1996. Print.

Tomorrow: A Comic That Has to Make the List