Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Webcomic Worth Wreading, Entry Eleven: Power Nap

An indeterminate time period in the future: A new drug has been discovered that can keep people awake and functioning, 24 hours a day, indefinitely. Society is irrevocably altered as the use of the drug, called Z-sup, becomes commonplace. Sleep is virtually unknown to most people. Workers don’t need time off to sleep, so the standard shift becomes longer. Culture and media continue to grow more fast-paced and focused on instant gratification. Z-sup effects great changes in the world, and most of the characters in Power Nap don’t seem to care whether those changes are helpful or harmful.

Note: Power Nap is a narrative-driven comic. Many of the main underpinnings of the story are not revealed until fairly late, relative to how much of the story has been posted so far. This discussion will contain some spoilers regarding the basic setup of the plot. I won't give everything away, but if you want to read Power Nap with a fresh perspective, you may want to skip the rest of this post and just start from the very beginning.

The protagonist of Power Nap is Drew, a man who is allergic to Z-sup and is therefore ostracized by a society that now finds sleep abhorrent. He can’t keep up a work schedule comparable to his peers, and even with the accommodations that have been made for his needs, he’s consistently sleep deprived.

When Drew talks to his normal coworkers, there’s a noticeable disconnect in the levels of their conversation. Drew is concerned with overarching concepts, using literary allusions to make points that go over others’ heads. One might suspect that Z-sup reduces the attention span and/or critical thinking capacity of users, but if that’s the case it hasn’t been explicitly stated. Correlation, after all, does not imply causation.

Issues regarding the decline of culture aside, there are definitely some strange things going on.

People are used to receiving media directly in their heads. They mention wovies and b-reading, which seem to have replaced movies and books. Advertising has just gotten more prevalent and eye-catching, and now resembles actual violence more than it resembles a simple call for attention.

The ubiquitous ads so closely resemble real-world destruction that sometimes it can be difficult to discern one from the other... or at least, that’s what everyone is expected to believe. People see ads for things that they experience in their heads, and that is to be expected. It gets weird when people see things in their heads that later show up in “ads.” Drew’s dreams take on corporeal form, causing some serious damage. He doesn’t understand what’s going on, but something is clearly wrong, and no one will acknowledge what to him is plain fact. He has no credibility and no one to turn to.

Roughly half of Power Nap deals with technological and social change, with a focus on those who are marginalized by the system. The other half is mostly concerned with dreams. The two are connected in intricate ways, but those connections only become clear with time and reflection.

At its heart, Power Nap is the story of a man at odds with the world. The battlefield for this conflict is the dreamscape. Drew shouldn’t be dreaming at all; sleep should have been eliminated entirely. Drew’s anomaly is tolerated but not welcomed. Dreaming is an act of defiance in itself. The dreams break into reality, setting Drew further at odds with the authorities who refuse to acknowledge what’s happening.

Even discussions of his dreams turn into conflicts. Just like in other conversations, no one seems able to grasp anything beyond the most obvious surface references. The cultural reference pool has become small enough to be useless, particularly when discussing a deep and complex issue such as a person’s subconscious.

Then his employer starts having him work while dreaming, and conflict enters his dreamscape more directly. Not only does he have teammates and higher ups to argue with, but together they have to face down terrifying manifestations of some psychological hangup or another.

The technological leap from in-brain media to shared dreaming is easy to comprehend. There seems to be more at work here, but Drew’s employers won’t tell him anything, his in-dream teammates don’t yet trust him (or, likely, each other), and his real-world colleagues don’t know anything.

Drew might seem stuck, but: He is desperate, and he has nothing to lose. People in that position can do things that would never have occurred to anyone else. The powers that be may just find themselves shocked at what Drew comes up with.

That is, of course, assuming he has the energy to pull anything off.

In a lot of ways Power Nap reminds me of the movie Brazil. One man against the world, less concerned with social issues than with his own petty problems, with dreams playing an important role. If you like Brazil then you might enjoy these same qualities in Power Nap. If you don’t like Brazil, don’t worry, because Power Nap feels totally different. The tone, the personality of the main character, and the style of the oppressive bureaucracy are all distinct.

Power Nap definitely has a feel all its own. It strikes a good balance between action and intellect, and while the events depicted are often unpleasant for the characters, they are invariably fun for the reader.

Power Nap is written by Maritza Campos and drawn by Bachan. It updates irregularly; I’d recommend stopping by the website every month or so to see what's new or keeping up with Twitter or RSS.

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