“I Fell Asleep”, a scrolling, online-only comic from Carta Monir, takes on the perspective of a young woman approaching a potentially life-altering confrontation—or at least potentially approaching it. The character, Erica, is wasting time on the Internet while her boyfriend is out, and contemplating an end to the relationship. The comic documents either Erica’s first step toward independence or her usual step before rationalizing the relationship’s problems. “I Fell Asleep” scrolls, an intuitive format for Monir’s subject matter, encouraging readers to construct the tension and hesitation of Erica’s evening in.
The scrolling comic eliminates a traditional unit of comics storytelling, the page, at least theoretically. (Many comics published online still of course develop on paper.) This is true of “I Fell Asleep”, to a point; certain sections have the comics page’s familiar rectangular dimensions, and a computer/tablet/phone screen will crop any given section to make that shape so, but the experience of reading Monir’s piece is still more fluid than reading most print comics, in the sense that sections aren’t delineated in physical space. Instead of flipping from one page to another, we’re tasked with a different kind of readerly work, work that gives “I Fell Asleep” a kind of crude interactivity.
All sections of Monir’s comic show readers the contents of Erica’s web browser at different moments in time. And the act of scrolling from one drawing to the next sometimes approximates exploring Erica’s browser as if it were the reader’s own. One scroll downward takes readers from an illustration of Erica’s entire browser to an illustration of a specific Facebook update from her boyfriend, Zach. Later on, Erica clicks “Message” on Zach’s profile, and readers then scroll to see the most recent exchange between Erica and Zach. These moments are genuinely immersive: when Erica shifts from a Facebook tab to a YouTube tab (a movement that doesn’t happen without the reader’s participation), the transition evokes a familiar kind of fidgety online stalling. When the reader sees an empty “Type a message” box with a cursor hovering over it, it’s up to him or her to determine how long Erica hesitates before entering her note to Zach.
Monir renders the polished interfaces of different online platforms with loose linework, opting not to use a straight line to depict images that in reality consist of lines and grids. It’s a simple but effective means of signifying the work’s focus on the emotional implications of using these platforms. “I Fell Asleep” also lends readers some welcome interpretive latitude throughout, providing peeks at targeted ads and various tabs that could say everything or very little about Erica and her predicament (e.g. a YouTube tab for Kirsty MacColl’s cover of “A New England”—Are you looking for another girl?).
After clicking away from the Kirsty MacColl video, Erica searches Google for “breakup tips.” At worst, this choice is pretty on-the-nose, or at least an instance of Monir laboring to make sure readers don’t miss something. Read more generously—and again, this comic is shaped by the manner of its reading—the bluntness of the search term hints at both Erica’s resolve and a possible lack of certain emotional resources. The search is a compelling and perhaps slightly pitiable maneuver.
The comic’s depiction of Erica’s boyfriend, Zach, marks another case of Monir guiding the reader—a bit firmly—in an otherwise nicely interpretable comic, though perhaps a more complicated case. The background photo of Zach’s Facebook profile features him and a group of scowling, weapon-toting friends, and one of his most recent messages to Erica reads, “Don’t be a bitch.” Zach is unmistakably an asshole, in other words, and although the comic invites readers to inhabit Erica’s point of view, that doesn’t extend to much consideration of the complicated dynamic between the characters or of the reasons Erica has stayed with Zach. (That said: Zach will register as an abuser to many people, and in this sense, the choice tracks, with the comic designed to discourage readers from excusing the behavior of an abusive partner.)
Near the end of “I Fell Asleep”, Erica appears to think twice about breaking up with Zach, a development that may disappoint readers most for the manner in which the comic shares it. Specifically, the final section of “I Fell Asleep” limits the comic’s earlier interactivity. Erica begins to get sleepy while watching a Grimes interview on YouTube, and the illustrations begin to warp, simulating Erica’s drowsiness. To underscore this point, Monir begins to include thoughts from Erica within text boxes on-screen. (e.g. “I’m falling asleep,” and, as she sleepily suspects she’s become a topic of the interview, “Is this really happening?”)
The warping of the YouTube windows is not in itself too disruptive. In fact, it smartly teases the question of whether readers are looking at what Erica sees or a version of sight filtered through her subjectivity. But the visuals in this segment suggest Erica’s drifting to sleep well enough on their own that the captions accompanying them amount to authorial hand-holding. Erica’s closing words about Zach, especially, convey sentiments that would resound more thoroughly if expressed through more subtle means—for instance, the comic’s earlier usage of browsing choices or newsfeed items. This closing is frustrating, of course, because of what the comic does so well for most of its duration: invite readers to create meaning and movement. It’s a generous and empathetic work, deserving of readers who will approach it in kind.