Review: Sleepless #1

Darryll Robson Darryll Robson
December 6th, 2017

Lifetime reader of comics and fan of Planet of the Apes. When the two combine I can barely contain myself. Image, Boom and Titan comics fight for shelf space with Doctor Who DVDs.

Review: Sleepless #1

Image Comics have a number of new titles that come out each year and there are several this month. Our contributor, Darryll Robson, takes a look at Sleepless to see if it is worth picking up.

Sarah Vaughn (creator of the phenomenal Alex+Ada and Eternal Empire) teams up with atmospheric artist Leila Del Duca (Check out Shutter and Afar for examples of her brilliance) to bring Sleepless to the shelves. It is a dreamlike fairy tale with a dark underbelly waiting to burst.

Credit: Image Comics


On coronation day, Pyppenia attends the celebrations while in mourning for her father; the previous King. She must ride the waves of intrigue and steer herself away from danger because there is someone in the city that wants her dead.

All the while, she is guarded by the ever loyal Cyrenic. He is one of the mysterious Sleepless and his talent with a sword is only matched by his devotion to Pyppenia.


The story starts in a tomb and ascends through various levels to reach the rich and vibrant city of Harbeny. It is almost as if the narrative has started at the end and the reader is retracing the steps that led the characters here. From the long forgotten rows of skulls, the reader is taken up passed the recently deceased, through the hall of the sleepers and into open valley.  As this journey unfolds the characters of Cyrenic and Pyppenia (or Poppy as she is more affectionately known) are introduced. Their relationship seems complex and a number of mysteries are hinted at but their love for each other is evident through their interactions.

This opening by Sarah Vaughn may appear morbid but is actually the opposite. Both of the central characters are comfortable within the darkness of the tomb, it is when they are thrown into the melee of the Royal Court that they become nervous and out of their comfort zones. This comes across through Leila Del Duca’s artwork as she draws Poppy, especially, in relaxed positions within the catacombs. She illuminates with her natural stances and flowing movements. Cyrenic is at ease physically as illustrated by a yawn that is unexpected and unnecessary: he is one of the Sleepless and does not usually yawn.

Despite the surroundings the creators have shown the reader that the characters are happy within themselves and with each other. There is a bond that is as plain as day. A bond which strengthens when they reach daylight and their demeanours change. The first full body shot of them out in the open, in the light of the sun, is from an ominous angle, peering down upon them. They have huddled together and Poppy urges Cyrenic to “stay close”. After the depths and the morose setting of the opening, to show the characters in such away, as they stand before the castle that is their home, really gives the reader the impression that whatever future they are facing is not a pleasant one.

Once in the castle, at the coronation of Surno, the new King of Harbeny, the atmosphere changes. The way that the background characters are depicted and the interactions between Poppy and her relations is in complete contrast to the journey up from the tomb. Ominous words are spoken and an assassination attempt highlights the dangers that Poppy and Cyrenic face.

Within these sequences Del Duca’s artwork is captivating. She captures the tension in the court on a close up of a face or with a clever ‘off to the side’ view which emphasises a character in particular way. This subtlety continues across each page until the major action scene when suddenly the characters and panel burst into life, full of energy and violence.

Credit: Image Comics

Sleepless is a fantasy drama told with a dream like quality. At its centre is a royal mystery but there is also a romantic heart beating through the central characters. Sarah Vaughn has a talent for creating love stories with a Romeo and Juliete feel; two characters who on the surface are so unlike or come from such different places that they can’t possibly be together. It is not clear yet what it means to be one of the Sleepless but this must surely be at the heart of Cyrenic and Poppy’s relationship.

Leila Del Duca’s artwork gives the entire comic a classic, European fairy tale quality with the natural colours, provided by Alissa Sallah, adding to this effect. Between them they have presented Vaughn’s tale of intrigue in such an encompassing way that as a reader you become embroiled in the narrative from the very first page. Just as the comic follows Poppy as she journey’s from her father’s crypt up through the trials of the Royal Court, the reader is also moved effortlessly through these locations and situations.

And the issue ends where it begins almost, with a thoughtful Cyrenic contemplating life while watching over a sleeping Poppy. The opening two pages is reflected in the final page adding weight to the ominous imagery from those first panels. By reminding the reader of the opening at the end, Vaughn is again emphasising the sense of death and finality; an omen of things to come, perhaps?

You will get wrapped up in the court intrigue and relationship of the central two characters, and be left with a lot to think about ahead of issue two. Sleepless is a delightful read and flows effortlessly thanks to the outstanding work by all the artistic talents involved.

Darryll Robson is a Contributor to ComiConverse. Occasionally he remembers his Twitter account: @DarryllRobson, but he does remember to write more about comics on his website

Credit: Image Comics

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