Tremor Dose isn’t what one of those graphic novels that readers can mind-numblingly page through in one sitting. Quite the contrary. Writer Michael Conrad (Bizarre Adventures, Doom Patrol: Weight of the Worlds) and first-time graphic novel artist Noah Bailey put readers in uncomfortable scenarios with their vivid, gut-wrenching imagery that makes one question whether reality is illusion or illusion reality. ComiXology will release the graphic novel digitally on October 30, and Michael Conrad kindly sat down with us to discuss his thoughts on the substance and nature of dreams.
Nancy Powell: What inspired Tremor Dose?
Michael Conrad: Dreams are so strange and universal it’s a wonder that they aren’t discussed more. I feel like dreams have had a huge role in my life, and that is often reflected in a lot of the art and literature I enjoy.
Narratively a seed was certainly this internet-based hoax from years ago which resulted in a multitude of sightings of a mysterious dream man. The idea excited me due to the surreal quality of it, but more so due to the delusional response of the public. Tremor Dose is in many ways a story about coming to understand your own delusions, and to find that like dreams, they often aren’t much less real than our perceptive reality.
Powell: What type of research did you have to do in order to come up with the story?
Conrad: There is that thing about a carpenter doing something in moments and when questioned about the high cost of the job he says something like “It took me 30 years to learn to get it done that quick.” Similarly I’ve been preparing for Tremor Dose my whole life. I struggled with really bizarre dreams as a child, and in an effort to control them I exposed myself to a lot of dream study literature at a very young age. As I aged my dreams became less fantastical and more about mundane anxieties, so now my dream research might be on how to get back to the wild dreams of youth!
Powell: Tremor Dose has some very pointed things to say about the nature of dreams. What is it about the nature of dreams that compelled you to write this book?
Conrad: I have tried to figure out what is different from reality and dreams, and the answer might be the degree to which we sensually interact. Some people (like Ginn, the lead in Tremor Dose) dream in black and white, or cannot smell, so we say reality is genuine and dreams are illusory. Continuity is another clue. Maybe if all of our dreams were on the same timeline we would give them more credit, rather than to dismiss them as waste products from our daily thoughts.
If we are to give the sensuality and continuity credit for what we recognize reality to be, what if there is another level to it? What if there is a degree of experiential interaction that’s missing from our day to day and this is just a dream from a more sensual place with a more dynamic continuity? Obviously I continue to have a lot of questions, so this answers why I wrote Tremor Dose but it also explains why I will continue to write… everything is mysterious and stories are one of the places I can explore without having the burden of Science to contend with.
Powell: Where do you think dreams come from?
Conrad: The guy who loves science and has a background in the mental health field wants to tell you that (in layperson terms) it’s most likely that dreams are residue from thoughts that get flushed when we rest, or that they serve some therapeutic value, or that they allow us insight into problem solving.
The guy who wants to tell you the truth though, wants you to know that your dreams are being carefully crafted by the Somnu Corporation with an interest in making sure that you continue to perform your function.
Powell: What is the most vivid type of dream you’ve had where you found it hard to wake?
Conrad: When I was quite young I had a lucid dream in which I killed a classmate. The next day this child was found dead in his bed of an asthma attack. I never spoke of the dream and it is even possible that it was ALL a dream and that the boy never existed. I continue to question it, but since I have started talking about this story with relation to Tremor Dose my brother has told me that he remembers this boy.
Powell: I found Noah Bailey’s art—particularly the details in the shading and character expressions—to complement the subject matter beautifully. Can you talk about that creative experience?
Conrad: Noah and I share a lot of interests and sensibilities. Tremor Dose is an absolute collaboration in every regard, to the extent that elements of it were composed literally side by side when Noah relocated to Austin where I currently live.
I wrote Tremor Dose to highlight Noah’s strengths. Within a few pages I realized that he needs no help, and that he was the one making me look good. This is Noah’s first comic book… to me that absolutely insane, this young guy from nowhere is going to change the face of comics.
Powell: Did Noah see where you were going with the story immediately or was it more a give and take process?
Conrad: Noah and I worked collaboratively on everything. We kicked ideas back and forth, and he was kind enough to give me the space I needed to tell the story as I see fit. Like I say, I wrote this for Noah, so thankfully there weren’t any moments of conflict with regard to my writing or his art. If anything we pushed each other to go further, and to be more true to our own shared vision without fear of finding an audience or making sales. Tremor Dose asks a lot of the reader, and I’m really happy about that. This only happens when the creative team is on the same page.
Powell: I find the relationship between Ginn and her Dream Man fascinating and surprising. The pursuer becomes the pursued, but there is a twist. Did you intend for that to happen?
Conrad: Nothing in Tremor Dose was done without an incredible amount of deliberation and planning, the characters came to life in the course of the story and made demands that changed things a bit, but mostly it’s all by design.
Powell: And that strange cheerful, almost clown-like countenance the Dream Man wears despite all the terrible things it foretells. How did you and Noah come up with that image?
Conrad: A big part of the appearance of the man was based on a melding of Gwynplaine from The Man Who Laughs and the internet hoax image that made the rounds years ago. We knew it was important to create something that could be both threatening and endearing, as his character changes quite a bit several times.
Powell: What is your favorite book or film in the genre of psychological thriller?
Conrad: Wow, it’s very hard to pick favorites. I loved Jacob’s Ladder and Fire In the Sky for similar reasons. Both center on protagonists who can’t trust their own minds and as such we as the viewer can’t trust that what we are being shown is true.
Of course I love David Lynch and essentially everything he has created. Charles Burns’ Black Hole is a masterpiece that never gets old and is often the comic I gift to new readers. I love Stephen King and would be remiss to fail to mention his influence… I could go on and on…
Powell: Favorite comic book writer? Comic book artist?
Conrad: Yikes, more favorites huh… well for me the answer is simple and the same for both. Becky Cloonan by a landslide. She is an absolute master of the craft and I love everything she has done, especially the stuff that she wrote and drew herself. I guess I should also mention that Becky Cloonan is my partner… so I am a bit biased…
I am also a big fan of writers who have “M” last names: Morrison, Moore, Milligan, Miller, LeMire (that counts right?). Noah and I are both fans of Al Columbia and Junji Ito. I think those influences can be seen in elements of our book.
Powell: What is it about comiXology or the digital medium that makes it suitable for creating books such as Tremor Dose?
Conrad: I had never considered digital comics until I met the folks at comiXology Originals and saw what they were up to… everything from romantic comedies to standard superhero fare. Between seeing this diversity and seeing the incredible talent they are attracting I knew we had found a good home for Tremor Dose, which still required some work. It’s a bizarre book. We are REALLY lucky to have comiXology Originals stick their necks out for us.
Powell: What types of stories would you like to tell in the future? Would you stay in psychological thriller or venture elsewhere?
Conrad: Noah and I have a lot more where this came from, and some incredibly bleak body horror stories that might appeal to the same weirdos that like Tremor Dose. Independently we each have a number of interests, I wrote an issue of Doom Patrol and loved it, so I am not opposed to telling more mainstream stories as well. I’m always going to be strange, but I think everyone is odd… so I might have a future!
Powell: Without spoiling the story too much, can you give us a teaser as to what lies in store for Ginn and the Dream Man?
Conrad: Ginn has to face the question that we all must at some point. Is death more like waking up or going to sleep?
Check out a preview of Tremor Dose below.