Electric Dreams

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Special Interview: 
Jesse Reklaw

Christopher Hicks 

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Hicks, Christopher (1996 May). DreamLine - Special Interview: Jesse Reklaw. Electric Dreams 3(4). Retrieved from Electric Dreams July 27, 2000 on the World Wide Web: http://www.dreamgate.com/electric-dreams  

Hello regular readers and new subscribers to Electric Dreams. Some of you may know, from reading past Dream Lines, that I usually focus on a social issue and explore the relationship between that issue and our dreams. This Dream Line is different in that I am presenting a short history of and interview with Jesse Reklaw, dream illustrator.

My first contact with Jesse was an email that he sent to me. He had read one of my dreams in an issue of Electric Dreams and asked me if he could have permission to illustrate it for use in his comic anthology of illustrated dreams, Concave Up. I gave Jesse permission to do so. As we corresponded regarding the details of his illustrating my dream I began to become interested in the idea of a collection of dreams, from many different dreamers, in an illustrated form.

The beautifully alluring cover art of Concave Up #1 touches the dreamer in me--a woman, hugging herself, with eyes closed, stands against a swirling, surreal background. This cover art speaks of the Dreamtime. In fact, during the interview, Jesse shared that most of his paintings, which he uses as cover art for Concave Up, stem from images he sees in the hypnogogic state (just before falling asleep)!

Inside the front cover Jesse speaks of his idea for Concave Up and the fact that others have tread this ground before (more on this later). Jesse also gives the Web site for Concave Up. The address is:


There is also a shorter, weekly dream comic strip on the web. Slow wave's address is:


I strongly urge anyone interested in dreams to check these out!

Okay, enough of me telling you about Jesse. Here is a brief bio that Jesse provided as a starting point for the interview:

"I'm twenty-five, graduate (BA) from UC Santa Cruz in Computer Science and Art. (My respective focuses were in artificial intelligence and acrylic painting.) I have studied (in classes and independently) pop art, cognitive science, the tarot, psychology (Freud, Jung, Piaget, Myers-Briggs), and lots of math. I have been drawing comics since I was 16.

Concave Up is a comic book that I self publish quarterly (with my income as a programmer %), containing illustrated dreams, mostly 2-3 pages long. Submissions come from all over, though at first I had to beg family and friends to donate dreams. I have been receiving a trickle of dream submissions, but I still need to supplement them by surfing the web and finding dream pages and
gold mines like E.D.

Slow Wave is a weekly comic strip I do as a complement to Concave Up, because I got so many interesting short dreams (that wouldn't fill a page in CU), and because I'm too impatient to wait three months to put something out!

About half of each Concave Up issue goes on the web, along with all the Slow Waves. I'm always looking for dream submissions, and the Web has been a great medium for attracting them. All the dream contributors to Concave Up have a "bite-sized biography" in the back of the issue."

And, here is the interview:

CH: Is there any specific event or occurrence that sparked the idea for Concave Up and Slow Wave?

JR: Hmm...not any particular event, no. While writing/illustrating the story of a delusionary narcoleptic, the idea of an all-dream comic book occurred to me. I had been interspecting my goofy comic book with illustrated anecdotes and rants told to me by friends; one of these was an edited dream posted to the alt.surrealism newsgroup by Ranjit Bhantnager called "Dictator Dictoria." It was too good of a story to pass up, so I contacted him via email and asked if I could illustrate it. Another dream was authored by my sister, entitled "april 13, 1993." She narrated it to me over the phone from her detailed dream-diary, and I was instantly taken by the simple, symbolic narrative. Illustrating these dreams inspired me to seek others by means of a dream-contest (send in a dream for the chance to be a cartoon!). Eventually the dream contest idea overwhelmed my interest in the original storyline, and I abandoned it for an all-dream comic.

CH: Were there any predecessors to Concave Up/Slow Wave (either by your own hand or others)?

JR: Definitely. Julie Doucet's work in Dirty Plotte was probably my most direct influence for doing a dream comic. Her storytelling style (as French-Canadian writing in English) has a quirky innocence that blends well with dream-comics. Hers were the first illustrated dreams that I can recall reading/absorbing. Comics by Adrian Tomine and Chester Brown also influenced my belief in and respect for dream comics. I didn't know about Rick Veitch's "Rare Bit Friends" at the time, but he came across the idea of an all-dream comic about a year before I did, and had the gumption to make it a reality long before me.

CH: How long have you been publishing Concave Up?
JR: I started working on issue #1 early in 1995, but it wasn't until March, 1996 that the issue materialized. So I guess that makes only a few months; I'm very new to this publishing thing.

CH: This sounds like a very recent project for you. How would you describe your experience with Concave Up and Slow Wave at this early point (positive, negative, enjoyable, stress producing, etc.)?

JR: Well, from your list "stress producing" seems the most appropriate. I'm working full time as a computer programmer and preparing for grad school while doing Concave Up 4 times a year and Slow Wave every week. But aside from the stress, I enjoy the creative collaboration of illustrating dreams. Overall it's definitely a positive experience; wish I had more time to devote
to it.

CH: You said, in your bio, you have studied some psychology (among other areas), but what about dream work? What sort of studying/reading have you done in that specific area?

JR: Right now I'm reading _Our Dreaming Mind_ by Bob Van de Castle , I have tried to read some Jung (his writing confuses me--!), and I browsed through several of Freud's books (and books on Freud) for the dream of "Irma's Injection." [SEE CU #1] I guess I have a cursory understanding of different types of dream analysis, but I don't try to exercise any conscious interpretation when I draw dreams; mostly I'm interested in effectively portraying the narrative and the characters' thoughts and feelings.

CH: Do you do any personal dream work, and if so how long have you been doing so?

JR: I've transcribed a few of my own dreams, and I've "shared" dreams with others. I used to be an amateur Tarot reader, and I think that process of divination (if I can use the word creatively) is similar to dream interpretation. I pay close attention to my half-dreaming mind (is that also called the hypnogogic state?) for artistic inspiration. Most of my paintings (which I use on the covers of Concave Up) are based on images from that state of hyperactive creativity.

CH: Names. I am wondering where you came up with Concave Up, Slow Wave, and nonDairy Publishing?

JR: Well, names are always difficult for me. Slow Wave was a suggestion by my sister; I think it's a common term for the deep, dreamless waves of stage 4 NREM. Concave Up was suggested by my partner Raven. It's a silly math term relating to waves (and has appropriate initials). nonDairy Publishing was also suggested by Raven, in relation to my being vegan.

CH: What sort of equipment do you use in the publication of CU?

JR: It's a real hybrid of traditional comic-book tools and more advanced computer-assistance. I pencil each page on butcher paper stretched across a glass light-box. Then I lay down sheets of art paper, turn on the light-box so I can see the pencil from underneath, and ink the pages in with an old speedball nib/ pen (sometimes using the cap of the ink bottle to splash ink around). White-out comes in handy here and there. I made a font from my handwriting; so I do all the narrative-box lettering on the
computer, cut it out and stick it down. (Though I still hand-letter the word balloons, 'cause their shapes are too odd.) If I make any gross errors (which is usually the case), I scan that part of the page, edit the picture in Adobe Photoshop, print it out, and paste the edit on top of the mistake. I'm sure that's all very boring, but you did ask!

CH: Were the Internet and World Wide Web part of the distribution of Concave Up and Slow Wave from the beginning?

JR: I began working on Concave Up and realized the Web would be a great place to showcase it. Of course, the image quality is a little low, and the time it takes to load a page can be annoying, but I'm happy to have the medium to reach more people. Slow Wave was an afterthought which I wouldn't have implemented without the Web. I became dissatisfied with the idea of publishing CU only once a quarter, so I came up with the idea of a weekly dream-strip to complement the larger book. It's generated a lot of feedback (and dream submissions), and also provided an outlet for all the short dreams that wouldn't fill a whole page in Concave Up. The Internet and desktop publishing technology helped to clear away the small-business roadblocks that might have kept me from doing all this.

In addition to interviewing Jesse, I asked him to contact some dreamers whose dreams he had illustrated. Here are the responses of three of these dreamers to a few questions about their experience.

What were your initial thoughts when Jesse approached you about illustrating your dream?

R answers: First time: [Dictator, Dictatoria] Kinda flattered that he thought the story was worth illustrating, and eager to see the result.
More recent dreams: pretty much the same, actually.

J answers: Disbelief, followed by amazement. Looking back, I guess that given how bizarre it is for people to write up their dreams and publish them on the 'Net, someone wanting to buy them is a natural consequence.

N answers: First of all, it wasn't Jesse who approached me, but my dream editor, Richard Wilkerson. Seeing as how us 'dreamers' use pen names other than our screen names, there was no way for Jesse to get in touch with us, so it was handled via Richard. As for my thoughts on the idea/subject....I was truly delighted. Not that I myself try to 'cartoonize' my dreams, but I do on occasion try drawing objects from my dreams, I was happy to have someone do the drawing for me in this instance.

Had you heard of Concave Up or Slow Wave prior to Jesse contacting you?

R answers: No.
J answers: Nope.

N answers: Again, not until Richard wrote and said my dream had been 'tooned', I had no idea such a page existed, but it is fascinating to say the least.

Can you briefly describe the dream Jesse illustrated?

R answers:
1. College student falls in love with fugitive Latin
American dictator in drag. [CU 0]

2. Creeping along the top of a wall overlooking a wooded
river canyon. [SW]

3. When I have trouble building my house, the tribesmen
build a hut for me. [CU 1]

4. Picnicking on the snowy hillside, watching the fires burn on the other side of the bay; a skier runs over my legs. [SW]

J answers: I was a detective, on the trail of a murderer. During the course of the dream, I revealed myself to have once been a murderer, who was executed for my crime. I cannot explain how I am still alive.

N answers: Actually, this was one of my 'shorter' dreams. I had forwarded some e-mail only to have it came back and attack me (jump off the screen like electricity). I was with three others and we tried to hide from it. We tried to send it again, but it only kept returning to find us. Finally, I told the others to hide and I would try to send it again (third time's the charm, right?). I worked furiously as I only had a slim window of opportunity in which to send it. (1//27/96)

What was your first impression upon seeing your illustrated dream?

R answers: I was very impressed by Jesse's skill and unusual style. In the case of the first dream, I was surprised at how closely the settings he drew matched what I remembered from the dream. (I usually remember the architecture and surroundings from dreams better than the faces and people.) When I think back on any of these dreams now, my memories are influenced by Jesse's visual interpretation.

In the case of the fourth dream above, I was disappointed that Jesse's drawings didn't match the setting or have the visual impact of my dream, but I don't think that I could have satisfactorily described the scene (let alone drawn it myself) in any case. Remembered images from the other two dreams weren't so strong, so I was neither struck by similarities nor annoyed by differences.
I email dreams to Jesse fairly often, and usually make a conscious effort NOT to describe settings or events in too much detail, so that he can come up with his own interpretation.

J answers: Very impressed. Jesse is one hell of a talented guy. I was thrilled to see my imagination displayed graphically.

N answers: That it was just WAY TOO COOL. I was blown away by his depiction. If I didn't know better, I'd say he'd been there (in my dream).

How well do you think your dream images translated into the comic format?

R answers: Hard to answer. I sometimes wish I had the skill to draw scenes from my own dreams, but I wonder if even the strongest visual memories from dreams are substantial enough to be reproduced.

J answers: Very well. There were only one or two changes I had to suggest. One of the characters didn't look as I had imagined, but that was not unreasonable given that I hadn't provided any clues. Overall there were some other changes I had not contemplated, but the overall balance of the dream segments was maintained.

N answers: Jesse captured the essence of it perfectly. I think the guy must have ESP or something. It's almost eerie.

Did working with Jesse to illustrate your dream help you to gain any deeper understanding of the dream?

R answers: I'm not very interested in interpretation or understanding of dreams beyond appreciating the surface story and

J answers: Well, no, not really. I still have no idea what I was thinking of. What does it all mean? Nothing, really, it's just a re-hash of a bunch of stuff that happened to you during the day - right? I don't think dreams say much about the person at all, and trying to understand a dream is more dangerous than rewarding. Appreciate them, perhaps, be entertained or motivated - but understand? No.

N answers: Since the dream was done prior to my knowledge, I have to say no, not in this particular case. But if/when I ever publish my dreams into a book, I'll know where to look for an illustrator.

So there you have it, Jesse Reklaw's story of Concave Up/Slow Wave and some reactions from dreamers. I very much enjoy reading dreams in this alternate format and I suspect anyone interested in dreams and dreamwork would enjoy this unique format just as much!
If you are interested in subscribing to Concave Up, or submitting a dream(s) to Jesse you can email him at:


**Last minute note:

While I was in the process of putting the completed interview together for this column Jesse joined the Electric Dreams staff as our new Art Director! A hearty welcome to Jesse!!!

--Christopher Hicks

--Christopher Hicks
email: shadow45@netonecom.net