Comic books that turn a critical gaze on contemporary life and culture aren't a novelty. Many titles explore elements of everyday life in a way that takes stock of how we as people move through life and what it means both good and bad. Christopher Sebela's latest, Crowded, however turns that critical gaze sharply onto the ubiquitous nature of crowdfunding and, in the process, digs even deeper into the idea of how people present themselves—online and in person.
The premise to Crowded #1 seems fairly simple: the idea of crowdfunding has moved from the rather mundane and harmless forms we're familiar with such as Kickstarter and GoFundMe, and taken a sharp, terrifying left turn into the gruesome and dystopian. Instead of tossing in a few dollars to fund a new card game or pay for someone's cat's surgery, people in the world of Crowded can fund a campaign that, essentially, offers a cash jackpot for killing another human being. That's the predicament Charlie Ellison finds herself in when we meet her. A character many can all-too-easily identify with, Charlie has fully embraced the sharing economy, making her living with Airbnb, Uber, and Task Rabbit-like services only to discover that someone—many someones it turns out—are trying to kill her thanks to a campaign on the "Reapr" app.
It's an app that Charlie uses to find herself a would-be bodyguard, Vita, too and it's details like that as well as the other, impersonal elements of the world they live in that drives home the idea of in this hyperconnected world we've become so estranged from one another that even those we see as friends might take a shot at killing us just for money—through an app, of course. But there's more to the impersonal than just technology and that might be the most brilliant thing in Crowded #1. Vita clearly has her secrets, but Charlie? She and her predicament aren't quite everything they seem, a not-so-subtle nod to the idea that people present themselves one way when, in fact, they may have vastly different realities or motives. It's a theme Bryan Lee O'Malley's Snotgirl is built on, but there's something more chilling and sobering when layered into a society where the faux anonymity of the shared economy is the focus.
But Crowded isn't just a sharp, unsettlingly brilliant story. The art and color in the issue is also perfectly done, revealing Charlie's day in images that look very bit like Instagram snapshots alongside panels that look just like an ordinary comic book version of the real world. One can easily picture themselves in that world, which makes Charlie's predicament even more intriguing. Charlie's bright hair is a particular delight, something cheerful just on the surface of a decidedly very dark version of society.
Overall, Crowded #1 sets up a deeply through-provoking story in a way that is entertaining and engaging. The comic book equivalent of a viral video, it sucks you in and leaves you wondering what's next all the while asking what that says about us. It will be interesting to see where exactly the story goes for both Charlie and Vita, but one thing's for certain: it's off to a hell of a good start.
Published by Image Comics
On August 15, 2018
Written by Christopher Sebela