Review: Heaven’s Dream Town! A VR RPG by Wren McDonald

We’re a week away from TCAF, and I couldn’t be more excited
about that – getting out on a convention floor means discovery, new
cartoonists, new comics, and the thrill of finding something new and unique.
Wren McDonald’s work is also a recent discovery, fueled by a quick feature by
Zainab Ahktar at Comics and Cola. McDonald’s latest comic, Heaven’s Dream Town!, is 12 pages of blue and black risoprinted
comics that follows an unnamed factory worker and his dog avatar through a
virtual reality game.

In what appears to be a far-flung future, an unnamed man
does factory work, and while on break, escapes into the fantasy world of
Heaven’s Dream Town!, an MMORPG through a virtual reality headset which he plugs into the
back of his head. Without spoiling too much, crisis ensues both in real life and online, and our unnamed
protagonist must do what he can to keep his head on his shoulders.

What surprises me most about Heaven’s Dream Town! is its density. McDonald has a style
reminiscent of Ryan Cecil Smith or Sophia Foster-Dimino, and the thinness of
line is contrasted with busy pages. I liked the way McDonald differentiates the
real world vs. the VR world – when the protagonist is using the VR headset,
paneling goes from a mixed 8-10 panel page with black line to an 8 panel
standardized page with dark black panel gutters and blue line. The effect is
striking.

The contrast between the real world and the VR
world is what makes Heaven’s Dream Town! so compelling – not only is there a change in the paneling, but also a change
in the way that people interact. The real world is regimented with flashing
lights and punch cards that tell people what to do, and the protagonist doesn’t
have a voice. But when we move to the VR world, that is when the protagonist is
able to have a voice. In some ways, the anonymity of the internet is both a blessing and a curse – the protagonist is able to say things and meet people, but these interactions aren’t always positive.

Heaven’s Dream
Town! 
also seems to focus on the ephemeralality (if this isn’t a word, I’m making it a word) of the online – how people
can pop in and out of existence, join you and abandon you at a moment’s notice.
That reflection on how online communities empower and isolate their users feels
very on the nose. 

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Wren McDonald wrenmcdonald is an illustrator and cartoonist. You can find more of Wren’s work at wrenmcdonald.com.

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