The upcoming graphic novel by writer Ed Brubaker, artist Sean Phillips, and colorist Jacob Phillips, is aptly named. Night Fever feels just like a fever dream. As you get lost in the story, you find yourself wondering, “What’s happening, exactly?”
But to simply say that Night Fever is like a fever dream would be reductive. In Brubaker’s afterword, he also describes it as a primal scream. We follow a bookseller in France named Jonathan Webb. Unable to sleep after he’s been reminded of an old nightmare he used to have, he eventually begins wandering the streets. Brubaker makes it immediately clear that we can’t trust Webb’s narrations. He’s on the brink of delirium and he’s making choices that seem to fly in the face of reason.
But before we even get to Webb’s stumble through France, Brubaker tells us everything we need to know about him as a character. As he stares at the ceiling, we begin to wonder whether it’s actually the nightmare that’s keeping him awake — as his narrations want to assure us — or if it’s his sense of inadequacy. Brubaker says more through implications, half-truths, and silences in his script than he does through what’s actually written. In Night Fever‘s script, less is more. That’s not to say that there aren’t moments of nail-biting action. But even when the chaos strikes, Brubaker finds moments to focus us in on intimate character moments too.
While less is more might be true for much of the writing, Sean Phillips’ art pulls in the opposite direction. Instead of the nuanced expressions we’re used to seeing on Phillips’ characters, we get faces that are so exaggerated that they almost seem comical at times. It’s the kind of thing you’d think you’d only see in the works of someone like the brilliant Kevin Maguire. But with these cartoonish grimaces and scowls, Phillips connects us to the primal scream aspect of this story. At times, the body language almost makes these characters look like cavemen, squaring each other up in some primitive face-off. Yet, when things get truly emotional, that’s when Phillips takes his foot off the gas. It’s the lack of emotion on Webb’s face that often makes us feel the most for him. It’s his subtle smile that has us worrying. Phillips’ work on Night Fever is balanced and beautiful.
Jacob Phillips quite fantastically throws realism out the window, for the most part. We get a few scenes that feel like they’re set in a simply lit atmosphere. We see the browns, reds, and blues of normal life. But most scenes are cast in hues of blue, purple, red, or yellow. When Webb goes to a bar to drink with others from his conference, you can tell he has a lot of anger bubbling just beneath the surface. Phillips paints the scene in stunning reds and yellows, mimicking the color scheme of the nightmare he depicts earlier in the book. When the moment passes, Webb returns to his room of melancholic blue. With every page, Phillips makes you feel what’s happening more than anything else. He covers each page in such vivid colors, only using realism to make certain scenes feel lifeless and dull in comparison to the beautiful chaos of the rest of the book.
Night Fever is like a drug-fueled trip through the streets of France, but it’s also so much more. It’s Nihilistic and hopeful, primitive and sophisticated, mysterious and obvious all at once. Sometimes it feels like a stumble through the dark, other times it feels like a scream into a pillow. This creative team puts everything on the page. Image Comics’ Night Fever is out June 14th, 2023. After reading it, you may never sleep again — but it’s worth it.