With The Private Eye #1, Brian K. Vaughan and Marcos Martin examine the erosion of privacy in the social network era through an absurdist, retro-future, science-fiction-tinged lens. ALSO: running with comics, a trio of anime feature film recommendations, and more!
Last week, writer Brian K. Vaughan and artist Marcos Martin launched The Private Eye, their new creator-owned digital comic, as the first title on their digital comics distribution platform, Panel Syndicate. If you haven’t read the first issue already, do so post-haste. The 32-page comic book can be downloaded at the preceding link, for the very reasonable price of “pay-what-you-want”—including “free,” although the creative team thinks that 99¢ is a fair asking price—in a variety of DRM-free formats (CBR, CBZ, and PDF) in your choice of English, Spanish, and Catalan. The comic book is also optimized for reading on tablets and computer screens in a way that should minimize fiddling with zoom functions, although that doesn’t mean it can’t be read on other, smaller devices like smartphones—it’s just that it looks best on a device with a decent-sized screen.
In the Panel Syndicate FAQ, Vaughan and Martin describe The Private Eye as
… a detective story set in 2076, when everyone in the United States has a secret identity. Our protagonist is a member of the paparazzi, outlaw private investigators who dig up the kind of personal dirt no longer readily available through search engines. It’s a mystery with lots of masks, but no superpowers.
There’s more to it than that, of course. The Private Eye isn’t just speculative comics fiction crossed with a murder mystery. The future setting of The Private Eye is one where personal privacy is no longer a right but is instead a luxury and a commodity like any other, subject to theft, hoarding, and trading. And just like with any commodity in great demand and short supply, a black market built around the illicit trade of private information has emerged.
In a development that is at once absurd and inevitable, citizens of the future are no longer content to restrict the use of avatars and pseudonyms to their interactions in the virtual world. As the barriers between the digital and the physical domains have become more porous in the future, people have also taken to wearing masks, camouflage suits, and hologram emitters in the offline world to disguise their identities from the ubiquitous Internet-connected cameras and surveillance devices in an increasingly voyeuristic society. Such measures seem extreme at first blush, a parodic exaggeration of contemporary concerns to hammer home the theme of diminished expectation of privacy and eroded digital personal spaces in an era where companies like Facebook and Google continuously develop new and insidious ways to gather personal information about users that skirt existing privacy laws. With further reflection however, the notion of wearing a disguise in public to protect oneself from non-consensual digital tracking seems not only reasonable, but downright smart when viewed in light of things like cyberstalking and potentially disruptive ultra-portable, cloud-connected technologies—such as those found in Google Glass and other devices—and their implications on the privacy and personal space of users and the people in the vicinity of such devices being used.
The comic has narrative and visual elements rooted in pulp tradition. The paparazzi protagonist is an update of the hardboiled noir gumshoe, equal parts pragmatic cynic and disillusioned romantic, lured into a case-that-is-not-all-that-it-seems by a mysterious, tragic beauty who walks into his office with a wad of cash and a checklist of evasive non-answers. The Los Angeles of 2076 has been re-designed by artist Marcos Martin as a surreal urban landscape that suggests a combination of the cyberpunk aesthetics of Warren Ellis and Darick Robertson’s Transmetropolitan and the retro-future cool of Dean Motter and Michael Lark’s Terminal City, all viewed through a bleary-eyed, Sunday morning MDMA hangover.
The thread of couching a discourse about future society through elements of the past also runs through how The Private Eye is sold and distributed. In bypassing traditional comics publishers, a digital distributor like comiXology, or even a third-party crowd-funding partner like Kickstarter or Indiegogo and soliciting financial support for their project directly from their audience via their “name-your-price” approach to selling the comic, Vaughan and Martin have appropriated and democratized the traditional patronage model of arts funding for the Internet age. They are not the first creatives to do this, of course, in comics or elsewehere, but to see two high-profile comics professionals commit to a way of doing things that leaves behind inefficient and redundant print industry-derived strategies as the age of unfettered information-sharing continues to take hold is an exciting thing that fills me with enthusiasm and hope for the future of comics.
On running and comics
Long-time readers of the column will know that I’m a bit of a running enthusiast, so imagine my delight at seeing the following YouTube review of the boys’ version of the Skechers GOrun Ride running shoes, which comes packaged with a comic book:
A product that encourages kids to run and read comics? Now that’s something that I can really get behind. It’s probably too much to hope for the men’s version of the shoe to come with, say, a graphic novel, though.
Where are the March trade/hardcover reviews?
For those of you wondering where the March trade paperback and hardcover reviews are, know that I’ll be posting them by this weekend. This month’s batch of publisher-provided books included a number of particularly hefty volumes that took a bit longer than usual to get through. Thanks for waiting for them.
Now hear (and see) this…
I’ve been spending part of my spare time the past couple of weeks catching up on my anime feature film viewing. There’s more to anime feature film than the Studio Ghibli stuff, after all. Some recommendations from my “just finished watching” pile:
The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (2006)
Directed by Mamoru Hosoda (Summer Wars, Wolf Children), this feature is something of a spin-off/distant sequel to the 1967 science-fiction novel of the same name by Yasutaka Tsutsui. It’s a beautifully done piece of animation, with charming characters and a quite unique sci-fi-meets-young-adult-romance theme. Winner of the 2007 Japan Academy Prize for Animation of the Year.
5 Centimeters per Second (2007)
A more conventional romance picture compared to The Girl Who Leapt Through Time—it borders on the sappy but is a captivating watch if you see it in the right mood—although it touches on similar themes. The visuals and direction are really quite impressive—this is exhibit A in the argument for director Makoto Shinkai being labeled as “the next Hayao Miyazaki”—and the whole thing is absolutely gorgeous to look at from start to finish. Excellent score as well. Skip the English voice track on the DVD and go for the Japanese dialogue with English subtitles: The spoken delivery of the English translation is awkward and clunky.
The Sky Crawlers (2008)
Directed by famed filmmaker and writer Mamoru Oshii (of Ghost in the Shell and Kerberos saga fame), The Sky Crawlers is an alternate history science-fiction film based on the novel by MORI Hiroshi. It’s a beautifully-crafted, philosophical meditation on the constancy of war and the mental, physical, and emotional toll conflict takes on those called on to fight, with excellent dogfight scenes that showcase a masterful blend of 3D and traditional animation and an outstanding score by Kenji Kawai. Highly recommended.