By Marty Mulrooney
R.E.M. is a black-and-white graphic novel written by Ryan Culucci (Harbor Moon) and illustrated by Zsombor Huska. Successfully funded via Kickstarter in September 2013, R.E.M. tells the story of a brilliant but paranoid neuroscientist called Michael Letto. Obsessed with conquering the mysteries of sleep, Michael invents Soma: a chair that allows the user to get a full night’s sleep in only a matter of minutes. This incredible invention soon draws attention from both the military and a secretive religious order, but Michael has no intention of sharing his discovery with the world…
We spend a third of our lives sleeping. Ever since the love of Michael’s life died, he has been living a waking nightmare. Whenever possible, he confines himself within the four walls of his small apartment and works tirelessly on an elaborate chair he calls Soma – a chair that he hopes will eventually allow him to free himself from the shackles of sleep. Regular sleep for regular people isn’t good enough for Michael Letto, not anymore. What if you could get a full night’s sleep in a half hour?
Michael loved a woman once, a long time ago, but she hung herself in a closet. Eva was bipolar and too proud to accept help. Towards the end, she couldn’t even stomach food and she never slept. Her lack of deep sleep effected her brainwaves. She was severely depressed, and eventually she couldn’t take it anymore – she killed herself. She haunts Michael whether his eyes are open or shut. Her face, moments they shared together, flitter across his vision like fleeting hallucinations. He can’t let her go.
Michael’s chair could benefit the world, or it could destroy it. R.E.M. is a graphic novel that tackles big ideas about life, love, science and religion. It is also a book that explores depression, and obsession. It certainly isn’t a happy story – Michael is a shadow of a man with a junkie for a mother and a hole ripped deep within his soul that seemingly nothing can repair. The government is after his invention, as is a religious order that somewhat conveniently operates right on his front doorstep. This coincidence doesn’t prove too bothersome, however. These outside elements are merely presented as catalysts to move the plot forward. They’re struggles Michael goes through, fanning the flames of his paranoia. The real story, once you move past the fascinating high-concept science fiction premise and its accompanying dilemmas, is one of love – and love lost.
The artwork by Zsombor Huska is absolutely stunning, gorgeously detailed black-and-white panels fully conveying Michael’s troubled state of mind. As he sleeps less and less, day and night and awake and asleep merge, until Michael is so close to Eva that he feels he could almost speak to her, and hear her once eternally lost voice calling back to him in return. The artwork is so striking precisely because of what it doesn’t show along with what is there to see in plain sight. Shadows are often reversed and the interplay between light and dark is a constant presence, creating hollow caverns in the increasingly haggard and stubbled face of Michael and the weary world that surrounds him.
R.E.M. is a success both as a Kickstarter campaign, and also as a graphic novel that demonstrates genuine and heartfelt passion from its creators. I’ve kept my eye on Ryan Colucci ever since I reviewed Harbor Moon in 2010. As much as I enjoyed that previous work, R.E.M. is a cut above in every department. I must confess that I felt quite a personal connection with Michael’s struggle. My girlfriend suffers from chronic fatigue syndrome and the power of sleep – and the importance of a good night’s sleep actually doing what it’s supposed to, something many people simply take for granted – wasn’t lost on me in the slightest. R.E.M. is a graphic novel that will reward repeat readings, singling out Ryan Colucci and Zsombor Huska as a creative partnership to follow closely. I’m proud to have backed their latest project and I can’t wait to see what they come up with next.
9 OUT OF 10