Polybius Dreams: Chapter 1 (Hypnotic Dog Comics / Self Published)
Words: Ben Grisanti Pictures: Keith Grachow Colours: Ester Salguero
Warning: this issue contains coarse language, violence and images of self harm and is not recommended for younger readers.
My earliest memories of arcade games is me burning through some of my mum’s pocket change playing the TRON arcade game while killing time waiting to watch the Last Unicorn in the summer of 1984 / 85.
Polybius Dreams from the Hypnotic Dog Comics‘ brain trust of Grisanti, Grachow and Salguero taps into the Stranger Things inspired wave of 80s nostalgia.
The story of Polybius Dreams is firmly entrenched in the Reagan-era small town America of Autumn Hill New York. Our 3 protagonists; Patrick, Michael and Paul are the outsider kids ostracised by their classmates and routinely targeted for hazing and humiliation by school bullies.
The boys only relief from the routine of school, home and chores is the town’s only video arcade, J&J Arcade Games, which serenades with a siren’s call of 8 bit bleeps and squeaks.
But not everything is at it seems in quiet little Autumn Falls as a dark duality lurks beneath the surface of the town in a way that’s reminiscent of David Lynch’s classic Blue Velvet.
The boys’ dreams are haunted by strange images of being chased through a haunted forest by sinister phantasmal forces.
Tempers flare at J&J as fights and fisticuffs break out among the usually well behaved patrons of the arcade.
What dark, malevolent forces are at work and what does this all have to do with the mysterious new game cabinet, Polybius Dreams, which has arrived unexpectedly as J&J?
The roots of Polybius Dreams extend back to an urban legend about an eponymous game which brought misery and woe to the people of Portland Oregon in 1981.
Was it a mind control experiment created by the spooks and men in black of the FBI?
Was it a military recruitment tool in the style of the Last Starfighter?
Trent Reznor / Nine Inch Nails even used the idea and imagery of Polybius earlier this year as the concept for the video to the track Less Than.
The legend of Polybius has persisted through the decades, growing in the telling from word of mouth to urband legend to Reddit, Creepy Pasta and other darker corners of the internet and is now brought into comic book form by Grisanti and co.
The board is set with some familiar toys here but the addition of the video game-inspired twist is a different take on 80s nostalgia horror. The creators have said their intention is to tap into the 80s Satanic Panic zeitgeist which led to the populist backlash by middle America against Heavy Metal and Dungeons and Dragons for being the infernal tools of the Devil in his never ending attempt to corrupt the hearts and minds of America’s Youth.
Polybius Dreams expertly mirrors real world social concerns of the time as parents and authority figures collectively began to wonder and worry about the impact the video gaming would have on American / Western culture.
If long hours at the video game arcade were a defining part of your youth, or you enjoyed Stranger Things or the 2017 version of It then there’s a lot to enjoy here.
The first issue of Polybius Dreams was funded through Kickstarter earlier this year. You can pick up a print or digital copy from the Hypnotic Dog Gumroad Store. The funding campaign for issue two will launch in early October.