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I have been enjoying reading Leo's bande dessinée series Aldébaran in the original French, but reflected that actually Flanders has a fairly vibrant graphic novels culture of which I know shamefully little (my previous ventures into Belgian comics have all been Francophone). A little research of recent award-winners gave me a list of five or six writers to try, and this was te one which seemed most appealing.

Randall Casaer actually first achieved prominence as a standup comedian, half of the double act known as Vrolijk België (Happy Belgium) around the turn of the century. I wasn't aware of that either, and in fact little of it translates to Slaapkoppen, apart from a sense of the theatrical. The story - if indeed it is a story - is about a couple, talkative bloke and quiet woman, and their loquacious dog, exploring a series of peculiar dreamscapes - caves, dinosaurs, the ocean floor, clouds, all the interesting places from Freud and Jung. At the same time Olav and Igor, shipwrecked rom a Russian submarine via a Portuguese whaling boat, discuss the meaning of life and the charms of the long-lost Natasha on their desert island.

The art is rather beautiful, and the basic ideas are pretty sound. It is notable, however, that even the dream world is bounded by Portugal to the west and Russia to the east, and Olav and Igor unfortunately lurch into Russian stereotype a bit. I was also a bit confused by repeated references to the sea being to the east, which of course it isn't in Flanders; I suppose it is a wider metaphor about dawn and waking up, but it jars a bit with the sense of Western Europe (even in Britain and Ireland, which do have east coasts, one does not think of the sea as being purely to the east).

Still I think I recommend Slaapkoppen (or the English translation, Sleepyheads, available here and reviewed here) for the reader who wants to try something a bit different.

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