Dreams Factory written by Jérôme Hamon, art by Suheb Zako
Magnetic Press (September 13, 2022)
136 pages; $24.99 hardcover
Reviewed by Joshua Gage
Following his studies at an American university and at business school, French author Jérôme Hamon began his professional life in New York as a financial analyst. Convinced that the life he wanted was elsewhere, he left the field two years later to travel around the world. Back in France, Hamon strung together a number of jobs in the movies, video games, and television. In parallel, he began to write his first comic book and graphic novel scripts. In 2008, Hamon went to Angouleme to present his first completed scripts, and it was there that he met artist Marc Van Straceele. The two would go on to collaborate on Yokozuna, a graphic novel on sumo wrestling in Japan (Kana, 2013). Following that, Hamon worked with artist Antoine Carrion on Nils, a saga halfway between Nordic mythology and the works of Miyazaki (Soleil, 2016). His newest graphic novel, in collaboration with freelance artist Suheb Zako, is Dreams Factory, a dark steampunk tale about mines, kidnapped children, and mechanical beasts.
The main character of this novel is Indira, who — like most children in the working-class part of 1892 London where she lives — works the coal mines every day until she becomes sick. Her little brother Eliott volunteers in her place. The mine boss, Olin, wants to protect Eliott, but he’s determined to work. Then, when Eliott goes missing, Indira embarks on a desperate quest to find him and discovers that he is not the only child to have mysteriously disappeared. Everything seems to point towards Cathleen Sachs, owner of the mines, but will Indira be able to connect the dots in time to save her brother?
This is a really cool story. Steampunk and similar genres seem to be waning in popularity, but Hamon injects that subgenre with new life in this keenly-written tale. What makes Hamon’s writing such a treat is that his characters, not just the main characters, but all the minor characters, even those we only meet for a few pages, are not just believable but often empathetic. Cathleen Sachs employs over half the town, but that also means that as much as citizens fear her, they respect her and owe her their lives, which makes for some complicated politics. As much as some of her minions are wary of her methods, they will fight for her and defend her, even if they know that Indira might be right. This makes for a very rich and complicated read, especially for a YA novel, where the easy decision would have been to go with stock characters and basic plots. Instead, Hamon opts for a more human antagonist and more human conflicts, all of which makes for a more exciting and rewarding read for the audience.
Suheb Zako also needs to be praised for their art. I love that the characters themselves are stylized in a way to make them seem cartoony, which will appeal to YA audiences, but they’re placed against very lushly colored backgrounds. Steampunk is difficult because there’s always room for another gear, lens, etc. to tuck in somewhere and accentuate the world building, and Zako has the skill to create this world and bring it to life. The balance between the real grimy life of 19th century mining towns and the fun quirkiness of the characters strikes a juxtaposition that’s visually appealing and works to propel the story forward.
Overall, Dreams Factory is a solid graphic novel. Jérôme Hamon is an accomplished storyteller and Suheb Zako is a talented artist. Together they have achieved a really strong and compelling dark fantasy set in an alternate 19th century England. From the multi-faceted characters to the compelling plot to the lush worldbuilding, these collaborators should be celebrated, and fans of dark fantasy and steampunk should absolutely explore this graphic novel.