What do you do when your nightmares plague what little sleep you manage to get, the presence of others alarms you, and looking at the starry sky makes you feel untethered from reality? In Within, a beautifully-illustrated webcomic from Verena Loisel, a.k.a. Nudlmonster, a young man who leads a genuinely isolated existence as a work-for-hire assassin struggles to identify the difference between dreams and reality, especially when he makes an accidental friend who pulls him right out of his comfort zone.
Simultaneously, he gets a new neighbor, which throws him for a loop. As he attempts to navigate the recesses of his mind, which is occupied by bug people (his own persona included), he struggles to uncover a piece of his memory which he’s seemingly repressed, buried in a detritus-filled basement and placed people on each floor above to dissuade him from wandering any further down.
To cope, he takes notes, makes drawings, and jots down the time on his alarm clock each time he looks at it during the night. He gets coffee with his new friend and attempts to communicate the depth of his struggle to remember, conversations so well-rendered through minimal dialogue and wordless panels that Within becomes increasingly breathtaking as the protagonist gets closer to uncovering what brought him here.
Here’s the full synopsis:
Within is a surreal, slice-of-life mystery comic about a young man lost in his dream world.
His world has always been lonely. Apart from his dubious job and the outside world he passes by from time to time, he doesn’t know anything but silence. When this slowly starts to change, he has to open up and start to explore what is out there.
But what is the meaning of these mysterious dreams he has every night? How did he get where he is now? And why can’t he remember?
There are times when Within is uncomfortable to read, which appears to be the point. Nudlmonster’s art boasts a surreal quality and a color palette that make every moment feel tense; facial expressions and body language are a particular strength, not just in the real world but in the protagonist’s dream reality as well. Hints are dropped as to what is really going on, but as the comic is still in progress, nothing has been resolved quiet yet — though reading weekly updates and trying to figure it out holds such an intense feeling of anticipation that it’s hard to describe.
If you enjoy surreal tales, especially ones that examine trauma and associated PTSD through the lens of a character attempting to uncover repressed memories, Within is an excellent read that demonstrates the power of letting serialized art speak for itself, rather than overloading panels with text. As the tone of the story shifts, so does the color palette, as well as the page layouts. Nudlmonster also sparingly employs humor, which not only serves to underscore how different the main characters are, but also provides brief moments of respite from the story’s intensity.