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Is Jake the Dreaming the Next Harry Potter?

Article by Brian Truitt at USA Today

Leave it to a comic-book publishing company called Radical to shake things up on Free Comic Book Day. In the mix with superhero issues and lots of fare for the young ones in comic stores all across the country on Saturday will be a preview of Jake the Dreaming, an illustrated novel arriving in December from Radical Publishing. Written by the duo of Adam Freeman and Marc Bernardin (The Highwaymen, Genius), it stars Jake, a 10-year-old boy whose constant daydreaming has made him an outsider in his own life. Yet he finds out he’s not drifting off randomly — Jake is his generation’s “Dreaming,” someone who is able to traverse the plane between being asleep and being awake and is tasked to save people’s souls from the evil Nocturnus.

In the novel, every two or three pages of prose will be interrupted by a gorgeous painted spread by artist Andrew Jones. “It is like the ultimate old-school fairy-tale book,” Freeman says.

Here, the two writers talk about Jake the Dreaming and what is in store for fans on Free Comic Book Day:

Q: As comic-industry regulars, how was it taking a stab at writing a prose illustrated novel?

Freeman: It was one of the most challenging yet rewarding things we’ve ever done. Marc and I thrive on challenges. People in this world love to give you reasons why you can’t do something. When we wrote screenplays, we were told we couldn’t write comics, so we did. When we were writing comics, we were told we couldn’t write a novel, so we did. We are simple-minded creatures. The sure way to get us to do something is to tell us we can’t. It’s how my wife gets me to take out the garbage.

Bernardin: And looking at the comics marketplace, there really isn’t room for a comic about a pre-teen kid. No one really wants to publish that sort of thing anymore, because I guess they figure the audience isn’t there. Which is sad, whether it’s true or not.

Q: When did you first hatch the Jake concept?

Freeman: Jake the Dreaming all began in 2003 when I learned my wife was pregnant with our first child. I thought, “Wouldn’t it be cool to write my child a bedtime story?” I assumed, incorrectly, we were having a boy. We liked the name Jake, so I began writing a story with my “son” as the star. A chapter or two in, life got in the way and I put it aside, but I never forgot about it. Stories you are passionate about have a way of doing that. They itch your brain because they want to be told. Flash forward to 2010, when Marc and I were pitching comic ideas to Radical’s Barry Levine. We threw out Jake the Dreaming as a comic. Barry wisely said, “It’s too big a story to be a comic. Would you consider a novel?” To which I said, “Funny you should say that…”

Bernardin: We’ve written all kinds of books, from straight-up action-adventure to horror to comedy to superhero to Western to sci-fi to urban explodo. But as our kids got older, we sort of realized we hadn’t written much that we’d feel comfortable giving them to read. And that bothered us a bit. So we wanted to remedy that.

Q: Do you feel the story of a daydreaming 10-year-old can be universal for kids of all ages?

Freeman: Not only kids, but everyone. What adult doesn’t daydream at work or during their commute? It is a universal thing.

Bernardin: If any story is done well enough, it can be universal. Pixar proves that time and time again. Harry Potter proved that. Now, I’m not trying to say that Jake the Dreaming is that good — even if my mother thinks so. I’m just saying that the subject isn’t what makes a thing universal, it’s the execution.

Q: The FCBD preview introduces Jake and his sister, his trips to the Dream world and their quest against the Nocturnus. What else can you say about the plot without spoiling too much?

Freeman: The book is as much about a shattered family trying to put itself back together as it is about fantasy and adventure and Jake trying to save the world. Jake and his sister Ella — which we did name our first child — must learn to work together. They each have a unique skill set.

Bernardin: Jake needs to learn how to connect. Both with his legacy as the Dreaming — the one person in all the world who can bend the power of dream to his will and is tasked with protecting Those Who Sleep While They Sleep — and with the family that he so often leaves behind to chase flights of fancy.

Q: Is releasing a preview on Free Comic Book Day a strategic step to get it into the hands of younger readers or the non-regular comic fan?

Freeman: With the vast majority of comic fans being adults, kid-friendly comics tend to be overly skewed young — be it licensed books like Fraggle Rock or easier-to-read Spider-Man stories. This is a universal tale that is appropriate, but doesn’t pander.

Bernardin: It also seems to be a strategy designed to sneak a novel into comic-book stores. It’s entirely possible that the success of a book like Jake the Dreaming won’t depend on the direct market, but rather traditional bookstores. I don’t know — it’s above my pay grade. But if you can capture any new readers, by any means necessary, it’s OK in my book.

Q: Is there a certain piece of fantasy literature or cinema that inspired aspects of the story?

Freeman: Marc and I are influenced by everything around us. All of our interests, from film and literature to comics and video games — even standup comedy — all become this swirling bouillabaisse of what makes us us, I guess.

Bernardin: Ironically, for me it was more about not being influenced by stuff I love. I’m a huge fan of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, and one of the things I was really vigilant about was keeping our version of Dreamspace different from his. Dream is a big place, so we’re just trying to carve out a little cul-de-sac of our own to play in.

Q: How much did you work with Andrew in fleshing out your vision for the Dreaming?

Freeman: In this cyber age, not too much. When we started writing, Marc and I had several in-depth conversations with Radical about potential artists. We put together our wish list based on who we wanted to work with and who we felt could best represent the material. Then Radical showed us some samples of Andrew’s work and we said, “Call off the search. This is our guy.” Andrew did a lot of character concepts and designs that we tweaked and approved, and there were actually a few times when, after seeing his take on a scene, we went back and tweaked the scene to echo his artwork. It has been a true collaboration, despite never having even shaken hands.

Bernardin: Maybe we’ll buy him an intricately rendered, swirling, Technicolor cocktail when we meet him in San Diego at Comic-Con.

Q: Is it exciting to put out a book like this that is a little bit different from the norm?

Freeman: Not only have we gotten a chance to tell this story that has been baking in our brains for years, but in a brand new format. And, as a parent, I feel projects like this, in this format, can really get kids excited to read again. My 8-year old daughter brought the FCBD issue to school and said the kids were fighting over it. The artwork grabs them and then the story sucks them in. I can’t remember the last time my kids found a book they were excited to read. Hopefully more parents and kids will feel the same. Add it to your Christmas shopping list!

Bernardin: Any time you can be part of “the new,” it’s exciting. Will it work? Will it flounder? Will an audience respond? The uncertainty is what brings the juice. And who doesn’t love juice?

Click here to read this interview and a 9-page preview of Jake the Dreaming at USA Today.


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