To be fair, Sleeping Beauties existed as a novel before the comic was published, and IDW Publishing had the license far before COVID-19 changed life as we know it… but this is certainly some darkly poetic timing. Stephen King and Owen King's collaborative novel of the same name, which tells the story of a disease that affects only women, forming a cocoon over their faces and keeping them in a comatose state. When the web-like substance is removed, the affected acts out violently, in a zombie-like, murderous rage that evokes the dark, twisted nature of Avatar Press's Crossed. The book is adapted to comics by writer Rio Youers, illustrated by Alison Sampson, colored by Triona Tree Farrell, and lettered by Christa Miesner. Does this one hold up for King fans and comics readers alike?
Sleeping Beauties is a fever dream of a comic, with artwork that seems to cascade down the page, giving the reader the impression that they're falling into a horrific nightmare. The lines are a little warbly at times and photorealistic in others, adding to the surrealist, trippy horror. This works for and against the comic, as Youers builds the mood to tremendous effect, but doesn't give readers time to orient themselves with any of the characters. Events that seem important to some characters, and would have likely been understandable given the full context of the prose, are slightly confusing as there's no one, two issues deep, that we know much of anything about. Still, though, Sleeping Beauties is a troubling story with scenes that stick with you, all the while posing interesting questions about gender roles.
Unfortunately, the lettering makes Sleeping Beauties a little harder to follow than necessary from the start. The lettering is entirely dark, wavy, borderless dialogue bubbles rendered fully in black with thin white text, an effect usually reserved to indicate some kind of demonic speaker or at least evil intent. Here, though, it's everyone. The dialogue blends in with the dark corners of the artwork, overlapping with shadows, making it often hard to tell who is speaking, which builds on the problem of us not getting enough time to know the characters. It's unclear if this was a pure lettering choice or an editorial edict to give the book a creepy feel. Still, Sleeping Beauties would benefit majorly from more standard lettering or at least a distinctive border to the bubbles.
The Sleeping Beauties creative team have a comic here that feels very much like a King story but could have used a bit of a slower pace so readers could anchor themselves in the characters they're following a bit more. All in all, IDW has released a pandemic comic that speaks to life in 2020, probably more than the creative team could have imagined. Though the webbed-up characters of Sleeping Beauties don't have much of a choice of wearing a mask, so it's not all the same.