Duncan Rouleau Brings "The Nightmarist" To Readers

Tue, November 1st, 2005 at 12:00am PST

Comic Books
George A. Tramountanas, Staff Writer

I think I can safely say that most people don't like nightmares. Waking up in a cold sweat is not something folks generally enjoy. Writer-artist Duncan Rouleau may be the exception to this rule though. In his case, his nightmare has brought him good fortune. More specifically, the source of this luck is his upcoming graphic novel from Active Images, "The Nightmarist," which he has both written and drawn. CBR News contacted Rouleau to find out more about the book and the dreamworld he has created.

The creator explained, "It's a paranoid dream tale - a dark fantasy. Its theme is the nature of fear. It's about our interior lives: how we can find ourselves defined by our suspicions instead of our dreams.

"The plot centers in on a young suicidal woman, Beth Sorensen - a product of a troubled childhood. For most of her life, Beth has been battling night terrors and horrific reoccurring dreams. Lost and withdrawn, her traditional support systems - family, therapy and even friends - are failing her. In fact, they seem to fuel her sense of dread and isolation. When we meet her, Beth is considering trying suicide again.

"One night, a strange figure appears in her dreams calling himself the Nightmarist. He claims that he works for an organization called the Ministry of Dreams, and that he has been assigned to defend her. He tells her that she has become the centerpiece in a metaphysical war waging in a realm best described as the universal subconscious, and that an ancient dark force called the Arbus has laid siege on her psyche - that it is trying to corrupt her will. When Beth asks why, the Nightmarist informs her that she has been identified as a century dreamer - a powerful visionary whose prophecies can be so potent that their effects can change the course of the world…"

According to Rouleau, the Nightmarist offers Beth such cryptic hints as:

"Your vision can lead a way to light like a Gandhi or bring hell to Earth like a Hitler."

"If they control your dreams they control future."

"Of course, Beth rejects this notion," he added. "There is nothing in her life that is exceptional. She thinks that she has completely lost it - her doctor, her mother, and even her boyfriend agree. But strange things keep happening: surreal visions and paranoid events all seem to lead to the possibility that what the Nightmarist has told her is true…and that her friends are not her friends.

"Beth has to decide if the world is out to get her, has she gone crazy, or is she meant for something great? This sets her out on a quest to find out and uncover a hidden world of corrupted souls and walking dreams."

Rouleau next filled us in on details about the characters that populate his story. "The main characters are our heroine Beth Sorensen, the Nightmarist, and an uncertain being called Doctor Kraus. Beth is all about potential, but when we meet her she is in death throes. She wears her anger like a crown, a lost and viscous girl who is trying to decide whether or not to kill herself or kill the world. Of course, she's a little afraid to deal with these BIG feelings, so instead she finds herself boiling in them.

"The Nightmarist: from his cubical in the ministry, he stares into our minds searching for the fears that hide inside our dreams. If he appears in your thoughts, be warned: he is there to kill a part you. In many ways, he is more terrifying than Beth's nightmares.

"Doctor Kraus: Beth's therapist. She is uncertain of his motivations. Everything he says is logical, but somehow makes no sense. He constantly undermines her wild notions. He says it's because he's worried that she is demonstrating schizophrenic delusions of grandeur, but…does he have other reasons?"

Most readers probably know Rouleau's art from his work on "M. Rex" and "Action Comics." However, due to the nature of the story in "The Nightmarist" - and the fact that this book is in black and white - the creator said he had to alter his usual style to suit this particular book. "To begin with, black and white (and gray) automatically changes things," Rouleau explained. "I had to think more about spotting blacks. Also, the fun thing with a dream story is to jump between these small internal emotional moments into these giant epic panoramic landscapes. I'm also experimenting with collage - it is the 21st century version of cutting and pasting. I am cutting (text mostly) together with different elements that are themed, but Photoshop is helping me with the pasting.

"Since the story plays with the notion of ideas and dreams, I wanted to find aspects that would put a frame around the notion of frameless-ness. After saying all this, 'The Nightmarist' is meant to be a fun comics romp, so my normal action and 'distinctive' style are still there in full force."

Rouleau also indicated that each character's look is an important part of the book's visual tableau as well. The artist said, "The Nightmarist design is most definitely at home alongside the pulp heroes of the twenties and thirties. His design is meant to conjure up that dark machine age/noir era. The other characters are meant to be fluid and changing much like the dream world. They have odd and off-putting elements attached to them. I think that often fear and dread are tied to unnatural and terrible images, and although there are those elements in some of the designs, there is hopefully an 'illusive' aspect there also. That illusory feeling always suggests there's something more you are missing. And that fits into the narrative of my story."

From the art samples shown of the book, CBR News noted that the artist seems to be using an eclectic style. Rouleau agreed, saying "I've got about one hundred and twenty pages of 'eclectic' here. I think that that collage aspect I was talking about earlier is the most exciting discovery I made in the art. I think it adds an uneasy Kafkaesque subtext to the narrative."

And speaking of Kafka, the creator also discussed some of the other inspirations for the book - both visually and in the writing of the story. "I've been looking hard at Dadaism and 1920 German expressionism as my motif elements. Fritz Lang's 'Dr. Mabuse' series was a big influence on the look. I tried to steer clear of the icons of surreal art (e.g. melting clocks and whatnot) but the odd staging of a Rene Magritte image is most definitely in the staging of my storytelling."

Rouleau is also a member of Man of Action, a development/production house that includes writers Joe Kelly, Joe Casey, and Steven Seagle. In speaking with him, he made it clear that surrounding yourself with other talented writers is one of the best ways to ensure your own abilities improve. He stated, "I am fortunate to call these guys my friends and collaborators. Steve Seagle and Joe Casey have acted more as cheerleaders on this project, but even in that respect, what great, great people to already have on your side.

"Joe Kelly has acted as my editor for the book. He has been a great source of help and inspiration. I've had the idea for this story banging around in my head for some time. It has taken many forms over the years. I even had it set up at icebox.com as a short-form animated featurette for a time. But when I brought the story to Joe Kelly, he helped me construct it into its present shape. Many of his ideas are in this book and he has been a true collaborator."

Pardon the pun, but "The Nightmarist" has become a dream come true for Rouleau, as the property's rights have already been optioned for film. Rouleau elaborated, "John Goldwyn Productions - in association with Dark Horse Entertainment - have optioned the book and have set it up over a Paramount. Joe Kelly and I have written a script based on my comic. However, the script was finished before the comic was--it just takes a lot longer to draw than to write. I know that they (the studio and production companies) are all waiting for the book's release."

As for how this particular deal came about, only one word comes to mind in describing how it all occurred: quickly. So quickly, as a matter of fact, that "The Nightmarist" wasn't even a complete book at the time. "I had decided that I wanted to do a graphic novel - something of my own, something that would play to my strengths and interests, something that I wouldn't be rushed on. Well, boy, was I wrong. I brought down some pages and ideas to the 2004 San Diego ComiCon in search of a publisher. Fifteen minutes after talking to Richard Starkings at Active Images (who is a great publisher by the way - high quality material), Barry Levine at Dark Horse and Franklin Leonard at John Goldwyn Productions offered to option the book. It all happened pretty fast. Very surreal."

Since that initial event, Rouleau said he's been "working on the book off and on now for the better part of a year - one hundred twenty-eight pages of spine-tingling art, plus the movie script."

As to the delays, there are the various books he's done the art for, another graphic novel called "The 7th House" (which Rouleau expects to have ready for next year), plus several other "happy" distractions. The creator explained, "Man of Action has a show coming out on Cartoon Network in 2006 called 'Ben 10' that I have been working on writing scripts for, not to mention some other big shows in the pipeline. I've also been doing a great deal of design work for Disney and Warner Bros. All these things have contributed to the long-awaited release [of 'The Nightmarist']. Thank goodness it's finally here."

CBR Executive Producer Jonah Weiland contributed to this story.

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