And Then I Read: HARLAN ELLISON’S DREAM CORRIDOR Vol. 2

Dream Corridor front cover
©The Kilimanjaro Corporation

This trade paperback from Edgework Abbey and Dark Horse Comics collects some material from Harlan Ellison’s Dream Corridor Quarterly from the mid 90s with new material not printed before. It’s a series of short stories by Harlan adapted by well-known writers and illustrated by a wide range of artists, with single pages between of Harlan commenting, written by him, illustrated by Eric Shanower. Adapter/artist teams are Mark Waid/Ty Templeton with Gene Ha, Tony Isabella with Rags Morales, Gerard Jones with Jay Lynch, Jan Strnad with Paul Chadwick, Ellison with Bret Blevins, Steve Niles with Steve Rude & Eric Shanower, John Ostrander with Martin Nodell & Jet Hotchkiss, Diana Schutz/Ellison with Gene Colan, Elliot S! Maggin with Rafael Navarro & Eduardo Barreto, and Jan Strnad with Richard Corben, plus two very short stories in prose and a fragment by Curt Swan, his last work. Oh, and a reprinted story from much earlier by Ellison and Neal Adams.

Okay, just describing that is exhausting! And speaking of exhausting, I can’t believe the cover by Brian Bolland. Sure, it’s done on the computer over a photograph, but the amount of detail in the crosshatching is insane. Here’s a detail from the left side of the left eye:
cover detail
I was reading the book for a while before I even realized the front cover was artwork and not a photograph with graphics filter.

That kind of commitment to detail exemplifies the reverence that comes from the creators on this book. Much of the art is wonderful, with prime contributions from Colan, Chadwick, Rude, Ha and Shanower in particular. I think my favorite is the Rude/Shanower art on “The Discarded.” The story is essentially a sad and depressing tale at heart, but the art is so full of life and invention, it somehow comes through as uplifting. Here’s an example with some wildly creative horrors.
Dream Corridor page

As for the stories themselves, they’re okay, but not, for the most part, as memorable as others by Ellison that I’ve read. Short stories in comics are really tough to pull off, as you have such a limited amount of time and space to develop things. In a short prose piece, the reader’s mind takes an active part in the creation, imagining what the writer describes, but in comics it’s all there for you, and if you don’t warm to it immediately, the story is over before it really touches you. The reader does have to fill in some details, such as what happens between panels, but if the images don’t get into your head right away, the story won’t have much impact. With longer graphic stories you have more time to adjust, to forget about the surface of the art, and get to that unconscious place where stories come alive, if it works for you at all. One great strength of continuing characters, is that you’ve already done some of that work and can move more easily into the story. Paul Chadwick’s CONCRETE short stories, for instance — once you’ve absorbed the art style and the character of Concrete in the first one, you’re preprogrammed to dive into the story for each subsequent tale, getting more out of the experience. In DREAM CORRIDOR, it’s a constant readjustment for each story, and as they’re all pretty short, not much time to make that adjustment. As for the story adapters, I didn’t see a lot of difference in their approach, though it’s hard to tell without comparing what they wrote to the actual stories. I would say most of the adapters did their best to make their work transparent and let Harlan’s story take front and center.

So, I would definitely recommend this to anyone, but have to say the art is more of an attraction to me than the stories. Harlan has made a career out of short story writing, a very tough thing to do, and even if these don’t thrill you, I’d recommend giving some of his fiction a try. He’s written some masterpieces, these just aren’t among them for me.

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