(Click to enlarge images)According to creator Sarah Becan's Shortpants Press website, Shuteye is a series "about disorientation and the nature of dreams." I certainly got the disorientation part through reading this issue, #3, sub(super?)titled "Night and Day," though I didn't know it had anything to do with dreams. It evoked for me the feel of a classic fairytale (and by "classic" I don't mean in the Disney style), in which characters are taken from their mundane reality and plunged into a strange setting where they are tested.
In Becan's story, Ari and Theo are a recently engaged couple together on a hiking trip in Wisconsin, far from their home in Austin. While grudgingly waking up one morning (Ari explains that she's not a "morning person" like Theo is), Ari reflects on their reasons for taking the trip (it would be "a break from the heat," mainly). However, through the pair's conversation, we learn the truth: no one else in their lives - not her family or his roommates - approves of Ari and Theo as a couple. His background is ivy league, she muses, while hers in working class and "salt of the earth."
Theo seems the more positive of the duo: the camping trip was his idea (Ari went along "because I love the guy"), and he keeps them moving along. He also seems to take many of Ari's more negative thoughts in stride, spouting lines about "choices" (he is, after all, a philosophy major).
After a bit of walking and talking, Ari thinks she spots a house through the trees. Theo assures her that there's no house on the map, and Ari can no longer make it out, so it's momentarily forgotten. The two roughhouse, which leads to them literally falling over a cliff. They survive without apparent injury, but the house Ari saw is now right in front of them.
Now it's Ari who becomes the active agent: while Theo is hesitant, Ari suggests they explore the house, go inside (when no one seems to be home), and even stay the night. Theo's reluctant, but, after noting it's suddenly become evening outside, and upon finding himself quite sleepy, he agrees. While he passes out on the couch, Ari explores the grounds outside the house, thinking about the state of their relationship, and feeling that "it's easier out here."
Dawn comes quickly, and Ari finds herself back at the house and extremely sleepy. Theo, the morning person, is awake. "Did you stay our all night?" he asks. "I lost track of time," she responds, and now she's the one who needs to sleep. Theo tucks her in and goes off exploring himself.
Thus begins a strange cycle, with time whooshing by, Theo awake during the days and Ari throughout the nights. They share time only when one is returning, falling asleep, and the other is rising to go outside. "Sit with me awhile," each says to the other, before one trundles off to snooze and the other walks the yard.
Both soon realize something's odd about this situation. For one thing, each finds strange markings on his or her body when heading to sleep. When Ari sees the markings on the sleeping Theo, she wonders, "What did I do to you?" The markings always seem to be gone when each person awakens the next time. Theo also notices that he cannot hike very far from the house: no matter how he tries, he finds himself having circled back to it. He says the edge of the woods appears to be getting closer to the house each day. Somehow, Ari seems more positive about their predicament:
And so it goes, the story ending without any real explanation or resolution. Yet that somehow works. We're left to wonder what it all means.
So what does it mean? My initial thought was that Ari and Theo died when they fell off that cliff, and were trapped in some kind of afterlife in the house. But, after further reading, I came up with a different theory: I believe the world they find themselves in is a manifestation of Ari's fear that she's not good enough for Theo, that he's "slumming" by being with her, and perhaps that she's somehow tricked him into their engagement to be married. In some ways, the house and its powers allow her to keep him in a place where they are away from judgmental folk - whose opinions seem to matter more to her than to him anyhow. Here in the outside-of-time world in the forest, she at least has some control over things, even while giving up some things most people might want or need in a relationship (for example, having both be awake at the same time, or freedom to move about the world).
I think this theory is bolstered by the way the comic's start and end mirror each other: the first page shows Ari sleeping in a world in which Theo is more in charge, while the final image is Theo falling asleep in the house, where Ari seems stronger. Whether I'm correct or not, this reading was quite powerful for me. The best stories are ones that stay with you long after you've finished reading them, lingering in your mind with questions and ideas churning.
Becan's art here is simple and stylized (somewhat reminiscent of John Porcellino's, I felt), and I think that works well for this story. Somehow, I think it felt more real done in this style than it would have in a more "realistic" one anyway. I am certainly looking forward to checking out more of Becan's work - other issues of Shuteye in particular (there are at least four out) - soon.