Sleepless #1

Sarah Vaughn (Writer), Leila del Duca (Artist), Alissa Sallah (Colorist), Deron Bennett (Letterer)
Image Comics
December 6, 2017

The living daughter of a dead king. The knight who seems to be neither living nor dead. The plot to send them all to the sarcophagi housed below. Sleepless #1 follows Pyppenia, the princess, and Cyrenic, the titular sleepless knight, as they navigate royal courts, shadowed assassins, and an unclear relationship with each other. Also, there’s a cute fennec fox.

Sleepless #1 cover. Art by Leila del Duca and Alissa Sallah, published by Image Comics, 2017.

With comics, my tastes in graphical style has usually leaned more toward the clean, thin-lined, cartoon-esque manga more than the quasi-realistic and gritty western comic style. So I was surprised that the art style of Sleepless was what first caught my eye. Although Leila del Duca stays true to the western style, she does so cleanly, allowing shapes and color and just a few lines to express what would be etched into faces in thick black marks in other works. At the same time, the impreciseness and waviness of the lines makes each panel look like a canvas painting, echoing the Victorian-inspired culture the worldbuilding (and those beautiful, intricate outfits!) implies. A lot is done with a little–the bags under Cyrenic’s eyes, the scar on Pyppenia’s shoulder, the torch held by a skeleton’s arm. I love little surprises like that, which only jump out after the second or third reading, because it gives me a reason to reread an issue over and over.

First issues are often tricky in terms of pacing. Too much information and you confuse the reader; too little and you lose them. Releasing a series in single issues (as opposed to having the leeway of pacing in a trade paperback) means a mere 30 pages often have to jump into the meat of the story right away. Sleepless does a pretty good job of balancing enough worldbuilding to make the story feel unique and give humanity to the characters, while at the same time leaving enough questions to make the reader want to pick up the next issue.

It’s not perfect; it’s weighted a little more toward the worldbuilding, which means it takes more time setting the stage than introducing the conflict. Some details that aren’t immediately relevant, like the focus on Pyppenia’s mother, I’m hoping become important in the second issue. Otherwise it seems like a spot where the information could’ve been distributed a little further in. On the other hand, the bits we’re given regarding the Sleepless are prefect. We’re given some expectations (they’re kind of like zombies?) but some uniqueness (but kind of not?) and a few questions for future issues (what’s with the vow?) The little quips between Pyppenia and Cyrenic are great, giving the story a bit of lightness and human warmth. I wish there had been more of that!

Sleepless #1, written by Sarah Vaughn, drawn by Leila del Duca, colored and edited by Alissa Sallah, lettered by Deron Bennett, published by Image Comics, 2017.

I’ve put down plenty of comics that had good writing but didn’t have good art, and comics with good art that didn’t have good writing. Sleepless manages to present both in a way that’s just different enough from other fantasy works I’ve seen that I’m intrigued. Priced at $3.99 for the first issue, it’s a good taste to get you ready for a deeper dive.