Robot Dreams by Sara Varon

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Robot Dreams
By Sara Varon
First Second

Sara VaronPhilip K. Dick obviously had bigger fish to fry than simply penning a study on the dream patterns of electronic humans in his 1968 novel. And while robot dreams are a rather prominent motif in Sara Varon’s book of the same name, the author also clearly has other things on her mind—the issues explored here are decidedly more human than one might initially expect from your average dog builds robot adventure story.

It’s a tale of growing up and growing apart, making friends and ending relationships, and learning to appreciate the little things in life. It’s a lot to take in over the course of 208 largely wordless pages, but Varon clearly knows what she’s doing, as she weaves effortlessly between the escapist fantasies of the titular robot and the harsh reality—having been abandoned on a beach by his dog creator, after having rusted over—that spurs it on.

Much First Second’s stellar output fallen into two otherwise largely neglected categories (with a an inevitable amount of crossover) since launching a little over a year ago: graphic novels for the younger set and translations of foreign language books. This fourth and most ambitious book by the Brooklyn-based artist fits pretty comfortably into the former, as a simply drawn story about a dog and his robot pal. The characters are cute, and other than some fantastical asides, the script is fairly easy to follow. There are even some lesson about friendship to be gleaned from the surface.

Like her kindred indie comic spirits like Aaron Reiner, however, Varon’s lessons run a lot deeper than the happy adventures of her book’s cute, fuzzy cast, and, despite a certain mutual longing on the part of the book’s two protagonists, the author refuses to supply us with an easy happy ending, instead offering up a certain degree of satisfaction in a sea of ambiguity.

After abandoning the robot he created, due to unfortunate acts of nature, both parties begin to pine for their lost friend. However, as time passes, both characters change, even the robot, who doesn’t move an inch for the vast majority of the story, making a perfect return to the way things were—that classic Incredible Journey scenario—an impossibility. Even if it’s possible for two people (the term used loosely here, naturally) to reunite, they’ll never quite be the same people they were when they parted. Heavy kids’ book fodder, that.

Heaviness aside, Robot Dreams is a largely light-hearted book, giving rise to such images as the robot lying in a sunny meadow with a happy flower creature, a sleeping frog, and a banjo playing duck, while the dog eats a bowl of ice cream with his penguin and snowman friends—which is to say, if readers want to view Varon’s book as purely a children’s story, it does the job pretty well on that front too.

–Brian Heater

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