In the ‘Power Nap’ Future, No One Sleeps Except the Last Sane Man on Earth
2011 will go down in history as the year that American corporations won the same First Amendment rights as flesh and blood human beings, spawning dystopian visions of a corporation-controlled future. Really, though, companies don't need dubious constitutional protections to ruin your life. In the workaholic future of Maritza Campos and Bachan's webcomic Power Nap, an all-powerful mega-corporation (aptly named "The Corporation, Inc.") has conquered the world with Z-Sups, a drug that eliminates the need for sleep. Everyone takes Z-Sups, from the grinning cubicle monkey to the itinerant barista, who then must work 18-hour shifts to pay for their sleepless habit.
Everyone, that is, except Drew. Drew's deathly allergic to Z-Sups, which means he's one of the few people left on Earth who requires a full eight hours of shuteye. And he's not sure if his lack of sleeplessness is driving him nuts, or if it's keeping him sane while the world collapses around him.
Campos is no stranger to oddball ideas. Her long-running "funky horror" webcomic, College Roomies from Hell!!! (launched in 1999, when webcomics were still shaking off their primordial ooze), is filled to the brim with soul cats, werecoyotes, mutated college students, supervillain stepparents, evil calculus teachers and the Devil's avocado. In Power Nap, Campos opts for a higher concept lunacy flavored with bits of Terry Gilliam's Brazil.
By night, her hero Drew has a recurring nightmare that he's being chased by a multicolored monster who accosts him with maternal guilt trips, but his waking nightmare is far worse. Drew's allergy to Z-Sups has rendered him essentially handicapped, and the Corporation compensates him for his artificially induced disability by giving him a mere 10-hour shift stapling papers every day. But thanks to his three-hour commute, Drew still finds himself constantly sleep-deprived, not to mention maddened by the pointless routine of his job.
A bad night's sleep might be the least of Drew's worries, however. His need to occasionally close his eyelids has made him a pariah among his insomniac peers and hampered his chances of scoring with Wendy, the gorgeous redhead who's just crossed his path. Noisy holographic ads are dropped in the middle of public spaces, training the populace to ignore even the most ludicrous interruption. And there's also something more sinister lurking in Drew's world, both waking and sleeping. When Drew starts to see his nightmare monster when he's awake, he becomes convinced that the whole world has gone nuts while he's been trying to catch a little shuteye.
Campos has always been a clever writer, but Power Nap shows just how much she's matured as a storyteller. College Roomies from Hell!!! was a deliberately overstuffed strip, delightful for the sheer amount of insanity she could pack into just a few panels. Power Nap is, by contrast, carefully but quickly-paced, with some nice bits of foreshadowing and world-building mixed in with its flamethrowing office workers and godlike fingers of upper management. It also gets bonus points for name-checking Franz Kafka in its exposition.
Even though she's come a long way from the earliest CRFH!!! strips, Campos' artwork has never quite equaled her writing, and Power Nap demands far more ambitious visuals than even the most action-packed CRFH!!! story arc. It's a relief to see Bachan, who created his own webcomic, Vinny, give Campos' ideas the canvas they deserve. Bachan has a talent for instantly conveying a character's personality: Drew's mania, his manager's avuncular indifference, Wendy's breezy sex appeal. Plus, the big-budget monsters and explosions contrast neatly with beige dreariness of Drew's daily life.
Even if you're not like me and you haven't been following Campos on and off for the last decade, Power Nap is wonderfully crazy piece of science fiction, with plenty of ideas about creativity and perception floating beneath its psychotic surface. Campos and Bachan have only scratched the surface of their menacingly monolithic Corporation, escalating the visual ante and beginning to suggest that the Corporation's global push for Z-Sups may go beyond simple corporate greed -- perhaps into more complex corporate greed. The only thing that's clear is that Drew is in for more mysteries and plenty of punishment before he'll finally manage to get that good night's sleep.