Welcome back for our second group review of Oni Press’s Dream Daddy series!
Dream Daddy #2: “Let The Right Dad In”
Lee C. A. (writer), Jack Gross (artist), Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou (letterer)
September 26, 2018
There’s a new Dad in the cul-de-sac… and he’s already sunk his fangs into the neighborhood! But Robert knows a vampire when he sees one, and he’s armed with enough garlic and rewatches of F. W. Murnau’s Nosferatu (1922) to get to the bottom of this mystery.
The writing style of this issue was very different from the first. There were several references to old and foreign films that Robert likes, and we got narration from the man himself — wild, considering how mysterious he is in the comic! How did you feel about the style of this issue?
Kate Tanski: So compared to the first issue, which was (like the game) from the Dadsona’s POV, this one is the first one to be a straight POV from another Dad, and I love it! Robert is one of my favorite dads, so getting inside his head and seeing his interaction with other dads was so fun.
Lisa Fernandes: I adored this issue’s noir-ish feel! Robert’s mindset was fun to delve into, his dry and witty snark buoying things along appealingly. His sense of curiosity here was very character definitive (and hey, now I wanna know how to boil bones to make Victorian-era appropriate gelatin!).
Alenka Figa: I might have had too many expectations going in, and was a bit confused to be dropped into Robert’s head. However, as soon as I realized we were getting his perspective and not Dadsona’s, I was delighted! Robert is such a nerdy weirdo and when you begin to see that side of him in the game, you’re dealing with the pressure of wanting to impress him and seem cool. The silly noir-style first person narration in this issue allows us to effortlessly take a look at Robert’s personality. As mentioned in the first roundtable, Robert is my Dream Daddy, so I loved being in his head.
Melissa Brinks: I think what really worked about those different styles in this issue was for me, they gave us an image of Robert that doesn’t feature him in control. He can be vulnerable and approachable in the game, but it’s all filtered through his presentation. Here, we have moments like when he’s trying to look cool by sipping from an empty beer can—the fact that the art points that out sends a different message than just him like, drinking from a beer can. It’s hard to be cool, disaffected Knife Dad when we can see your innermost thoughts, you enormous goober.
Kate: That’s a really good point, Melissa. The fact that we really are inside Robert’s head gives us that insight into how Robert sees himself. What made Robert such an interesting dad for me in the game was that contradiction of leather jacket bad boy, and the fact that you didn’t get to play Robert’s full storyline if you slept with him first, and that the story arc actually involved Robert not sleeping with the Dadsona and becoming a better person and a better dad. This issue really lets us see what’s going on beneath the surface, and like you said, it’s so different from the persona he presents. It honestly made me love him more.
The art style was also, of course, very different from issue #1! The team also made a number of interesting visual choices, including caption boxes and lettering to create a sort of mystical noir mood. What are your thoughts on this issue’s art? Did it suit Robert?
Kate: I feel like the art style overall is very close to the original game and the previous issue, but the stylistic noir sequences were a definite departure—and one that I loved. I think this is one of the things that is a huge departure from the game in a positive way, and demonstrates the potential for the Dream Daddy world as adapted through the comics medium.
Lisa: I liked the art style as well—it was game-reminiscent and a little inventive at the same time, while being adorably cartoony. I personally would’ve gone all black-and-white or sepia toned to convey the B movie/detective novel feeling of his narration, but that’s a personal taste thing.
Alenka: It wasn’t until my second read-through that I understood that it was being used to show how Robert, in his very inebriated state, was waaaay too into the Damien investigation. I see Lisa’s point—it would have been interesting to carry that through more of the comic and enhance the noir feel. However, I also enjoyed see the little details that fill in Robert’s life, like the little collection of occult objects on the shelf in his study, accompanied by a suspiciously cute stuffed dinosaur. The full color art, all done beautifully by Jack Gross, enhances the worldbuilding.
Melissa: I think the art and writing work really well in tandem in this issue. They both do an excellent job of communicating a fuller sense of Robert’s character to me. Like, I assume anybody who acts as he does yet still manages to be charming is probably a big goober? And this issue confirmed it. The artistic style in the noir section really worked for me, a huge noir nerd, because it not only painted Robert as the kind of person who likes noir, but also the kind of person who would, in a moment of imagining himself as a hero, would also imagine himself as the notoriously flawed and often not very good at his job private detective. It’s also a little subversive (I’m reading into it, excuse me) to have a queer man imagining himself as a protagonist in a noir setting, since classic (and much of neo-) noir is often deeply homophobic. A lot of Dream Daddy reimagines existing genres and tropes—just the idea of a dating sim focused on the queer male perspective is itself a little unexpected!—so this fits right in with the rest of the story, with what we know about Robert, and with the playful approach the game and comics have to genre and our expectations.
Kate: The subversiveness of queering the noir genre is something I didn’t really think about. And it’s extremely interesting to me that Robert went noir in his head for the monster hunt instead of typical B movie horror. I’m showing my nerd here but it mostly reminded me of this episode of Supernatural called “Monster Movie,” which also plays with this B movie monster genre and adds the concept of monster hunting to it, although it doesn’t go so far as to take it full noir. Also—does that mean Damien is the femme fatale?
There’s no Dadsona in this comic! Did you miss him? How did you feel about the setup of the story (a prequel of sorts?)
Kate: I enjoyed it! That might be partly because I’m such a Robert fan that I loved getting more Robert stuff. And I think shifting away from the Dadsona is something we’re going to see more of in future issues…
Lisa: I definitely didn’t mind Dadsona sitting this one out; in fact I hope we get more issues that feature all of the dads’ intertwining relationships (it helps that I’m a huge Smallmarch shipper and this was totally Smallmarch shipper catnip!).
Alenka: We got so little interaction between the non-Dadsona dads in the game, but whenever we did it was wonderful! Whenever they teamed up to make BBQ puns or hinted at deeper friendships I found myself wanting to know more, and this comic delivers. I would read a whole series just about their friendship developing; they resonate in a fun and unique way, and I felt that this whole issue was about Robert realizing that he wasn’t chasing down a vampire, he was chasing down an incredible and relatable friend. Actually I… might be a Smallmarch shipper?? Regardless, I don’t need Dadsona to be present for these stories to explore the relationships set up in the game richly.
Melissa: To be honest, Dadsona is the least interesting part of the game to me. He has a nice personality, more in the vein of the visual novel style where you’re playing an established character than one where you’re an absolutely blank slate, but he just wasn’t as interesting to me as the other dads. Dating sims are often about gratifying the player, so stepping outside of that was really nice! Also, didn’t know it was called Smallmarch, but I’m here for it. Damien’s such a sweetie and a study in contradictions and honestly, so is Robert! I love it. Let all the dads date each other.
Kate: Alenka, I totally feel you with the idea of the comics showing us these friendships and how they developed prior to Dadsona appearing, and perhaps unintentionally, this issue really does create canon fodder for shippers, which I am all about.
We got a peek at more Maple Bay neighbor relationships in this story—Robert has some playful banter with Mary and Joseph, Craig texts him to bring protein to the BBQ and, of course, he learns quite a bit about Damien. How do you feel about the worldbuilding?
Kate: The game did such a good job introducing the world of the dads and showing their relationships—like we see Robert’s relationship with Mary and Joseph a little bit—but this fleshed it out a little bit more in an interesting way. It’s the best kind of prequel, being able to see the world before Dadsona arrived and rocked their world.
Lisa: I loved all of the details: Mary’s snarky but fond relationship with Robert and Damien; Joseph hoping that Robert wanted to convert when he asked for the holy water and being horrified when Robert ripped the Bible out of his hand; the zoo; Damien’s discourse about how mimes are totally part of the clown family; Lucien and Damien’s affectionate but frustrated-by-Lucien’s-teenage-rebellion relationship. I loved it. And I love that this is how Damien and Robert met!
Alenka: Oh my god that mime comment… I don’t know how that came up but I just want to know more. Were the little stickers on the glove compartment of Robert’s car left by his daughter? What was that weird conversation about mimes?! I loved getting little tastes of existing relationships and almost feel like this is a teaser for stories I’m worried we won’t get. Will future issues give more sneak peeks into Mary and Damien’s friendship?! Can we see what Craig and Robert hanging out is like, because… I have no idea what they would do together. After reading this issue I definitely felt that Maple Bay was more fleshed out, but I have so many more questions!
Melissa: I love Mary and Robert’s friendship SO MUCH. Joseph’s route was one of my favorites not because I give even one iota of a fuck about Joseph (though I do find him deeply interesting!), but because that route in particular, combined with Robert’s, fleshed out so much of the world for me. I could read a whole comic just about Robert and Mary being friends. I think in romance games and comics it can be tempting to hyperfocus on the romantic relationships (which are great!), but zooming out a bit and giving us a bigger picture of the world and how its inhabitants are related to one another makes everybody feel more real. It was super effective for me on that basis. I like the feeling that Maple Bay is a place inhabited by people who know one another, not just a series of disparate personalities orbiting Dadsona.
This is a Robert and Damien friendship (or as hinted in the story, perhaps something more) origin story AND an origin story for how Robert adopted Betsy. Did you like how the issue portrayed both connections’ formation?
Kate: There’s always a danger in a prequel that when we find out how something came about, it’s ultimately unsatisfying. (Looking at you, Star Wars.) But I’m extremely impressed with how Lee C. A. was able to give us an incredibly adorable explanation for how Robert, who is at best a total mess, has this dog. It’s lovely, and you know what? If this was an audition for Lee C. A. I’d say he nailed it.
Lisa: I admit I sniffled a little when Robert was monologuing to Betsy about how he doesn’t think he’s even qualified to call himself a dad but was going to try for her.
Alenka: This story seems to mark a big step forward for Robert. For the entire issue up until he storms into the pet shelter with a stake, he’s completely alone. Even his interactions with Mary, while charming and affectionate, contain some distance—he assumes she’s under the vampire’s thrall and doesn’t attempt to pull her into the adventure. We are seeing Robert completely alone, being playful and exciting in his own head, but also treating a night of getting wasted at Jim and Kim’s as an immovable plan. Accepting the similarities between himself and Damien is a moment of opening up and letting someone else in, as is accepting Betsy’s new place in his life. Obviously he still has a lot of work to do, but he’s letting some emotional walls down, and becoming the Robert who would be willing to let Dadsona in. Eventually.
Melissa: I loved seeing how Robert came to be the Robert that we know! There’s obviously a lot of growth in his character during the game, but Robert felt like one of the fullest characters to me, and getting to see that develop was great. I’m really glad we’re getting these comics because though I loved the game, I really wanted to spend more time getting to know these characters as people with flaws and interests, not just as potential partners to smooch. The comics are really doing that for me!
We have to talk about the Kris Anka cover again. Oni Press revealed it on the day it was released, so let’s talk about it.
Kate: I love Kris Anka and the only thing that makes me upset about this cover is I don’t know how I’m going to get a print copy other than by ordering it online or waiting until I’m at ECCC in March, and that’s SO far away! What if they sell out? I have anxiety.
Lisa: I honestly wish I could blow it up into a poster—again, huge Smallmarch shipper here!
Kate: I got the first issue in print at RCCC and it had the cover as a centerfold, so I’m hoping all the other print editions will as well, but obviously we need this entire series to be full poster size.
Alenka: My favorite part of this cover is how real and evil Damien looks. Super sharp fangs, yellow eyes lit up with pinkish eye shadow and those human cheekbones—so spooky!!
Melissa: I love everything about this cover. I assume I’m meant to read it as scary, but all I can focus on is how Robert has turned his flashlight back toward his face and Damien’s to accentuate the shadows and make both him and Damien look more threatening in the process. I see you, man. You’re a whiskey-soaked marshmallow.
Did this issue change your hopes or feelings for the rest of the series?
Kate: It makes me excited to see the rest of the issues and sad that there’s only four more to come. At first I was worried that with the creative teams switching with every issue, the series wouldn’t feel cohesive, but now what I think is great is that Oni Press selected these teams with diversity in mind. You’ve got Wendy Xu and Ryan Maniulit on Craig’s story, and now Lee C. A. and Jack Gross, who are both trans men, writing the issue that focuses on Damien, who is also trans. So few publishers really make diverse voices a priority, so it’s so important that Oni Press is making the effort even on a small limited comic series like this.
Lisa: I’m with Kate! It made me even more excited!
Alenka: Yes yes, I echo both Lisa and Kate. Again, I just want more Dream Daddy stories! Tell me more about all these sweet, complex and non-toxic male friendships! Also, Lee C. A. and Jack Gross are both trans, which means they hired a trans writer and trans artist for a trans character’s story, and reinforces my hopes that they’ve enlisted diverse creators to write about members of their own communities.
Melissa: I wouldn’t say it changed them—it just solidified that this is what I was hoping for and I hope it keeps going!