clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile
Variant cover for Sleepless #2, Image Comics. Leila Del Duca

Filed under:

Sleepless is the kind of fantasy comic we never see

A graphic novel you should pick up this week

Susana Polo is an entertainment editor at Polygon, specializing in pop culture and genre fare, with a primary expertise in comic books. Previously, she founded The Mary Sue.

Welcome to #1 Comic of the Week, a series where our comics editor, Susana Polo, tips you off to a neat new story or series that kicked off in comics this week — just in time for some weekend reading.

Sleepless is a comic I’ve been waiting seven months to plug in #1 Comic of the Week, which is to say, longer than the feature has existed.

Like a lot of girls who grew up enjoying science fiction and fantasy, part of my maturation into an adult fan required unpacking my learned assumption that anything “feminine” wouldn’t be something I’d find enjoyable. The science fiction and fantasy stories that were most widely available to me minimized or omitted the feminine, and the most widely available feminine-oriented media distinctly lacked swords, dragons, spaceships or robots. The two seemed to exist in contradiction to each other, as far as I could tell.

Only as an adult have I begun to explore characters like Wonder Woman or Sailor Moon, and sometimes that assumption lingers. It did when I picked up the first issue of Sleepless, written by Sarah Vaughn and drawn by Leila Del Duca, featuring a lavishly illustrated cover of a brocade-wearing noblewoman, eyes averted from the viewer, and her dashing protector with sword drawn. I thought it was probably going to be good but ultimately “not something I’d find enjoyable.”

When the book opened with a tomb full of freaking skulls and endlessly sleeping warriors, and the third page featured the main character mournfully draped across the tomb effigy of her royal father, mentally preparing for the uncertainty of her life at court without him, I sat up straight and started listening. (So to speak.)

From Sleepless, Image Comics. Sarah Vaughn, Leila Del Duca

Lady Pyppenia, our heroine, is the only child of the old king — but her mother was not his queen. Now, her uncle sits on the throne, and although Pyppenia (or Poppy, as she prefers) has no designs on it whatsoever, she is painfully aware that her mere existence is a threat to his new dynasty.

Also, you know, someone is trying to kill her. And her protector, Sir Cyrenic, who was sworn to her service when they were both (younger) teens, may be succumbing to the dementia that lies in wait for all members of his order of (literally) Sleepless Knights.

From Sleepless, Image Comics. Sarah Vaughn, Leila Del Duca

It would be accurate to describe Sleepless as a story of courtly intrigue with romance and some light fantasy elements, but that conjures an idea of plots and counter plots, clever schemers and trust betrayed. Sleepless isn’t here to make an adventure out of espionage.

Poppy is comfortably feminine, anxious and unambitious, and Sleepless shows no sign that this will be a story about her learning that she must become something other than she is now. Nor are Vaughn and Del Duca interested in a story of a woman brutalized until she learns to seize power as men do, or die (looking at you, Game of Thrones).

Sleepless is not a story about Poppy winning, at least not yet. It’s a story about her surviving. And the only way for her to survive is not to get leverage but to develop trust — in some surprising ways! Also, she has to keep her most devoted ally from giving so much to save her that she loses him entirely. Not by fighting what we hate, by saving what we love, indeed.

Sarah Vaughn and Leila Del Duca’s Sleepless Vol. 1 hit shelves this week, collecting the first six issues of the ongoing series. You should pick it up.