Do most of us want to feel as if we’re ‘special’ or at least have the potential to be? Or in fact do most of us wish to be numbered with the masses, blending into the crowd? What if we didn’t have a choice?
Guy Hasson and Aron Elekes have carved out something both instantly engaging and more long-term promising with Winter #1; a tale set in a grim, moody Dystopian future where human society has ‘advanced’ to the stage where DNA is tracked across thousands of worlds and the course of every person’s life can be mathematically predetermined, one’s possibilities circumscribed.
In this bleak future, technology and digital data-flow are fully merged with not just daily life but people’s innate and moment-to-moment state of being, with citizens able to instantly access all types of data from those around them. Wynter #1 doesn’t just depict a world that’s actually imaginable, but in essence a world that we are already almost living in. It can be said to play into our contemporary anxieties about data privacy, mass surveillance, social-media addiction or compulsions, dehumanization and other early 21st century hang-ups. It speaks to some of our post-Luddite concerns about the encroaching digitization of our humanity and to even older, more primal concerns about predestination and a perceived futility of the self.
When our teenage protagonist, Liz Wynter, sleeps, advertisements play in her mind: even in her subconscious therefore, she isn’t free from control. When she awakens her first act is to check how many followers watched her dreams, the same way one of us might check our phones for text messages, emails, ‘status updates’ or Facebook ‘likes’ and Twitter follows. Part of the brilliance of this comic is that its Dystopian vision isn’t entirely fantastical, but simply a more expanded, evocative take on our own, admittedly duller, reality. This enables us as readers to relate immediately, and in fact it’s this immediate relatability of Liz Wynter that is one of the most effective things about Wynter #1 from both a story and character perspective.
The need or desire to ‘feel special’, a central theme of Wynter #1, is also something that plays to some of our deepest-seated emotional or psychological conditions: it could be regarded, in fact, a central facet of what it means to be human. Liz inhabits a society in which she isn’t allowed to feel special; when she does, a voice in her head puts her back in her place and reminds her: “5.4 Billion+ had the same feeling in the last 4 seconds. Would you like to know who they are?” If that doesn’t remind you of contemporary social-media ‘recommendations’ or predictive programming, then you’d be missing the point.
That’s part of the appeal of this book; it effectively and immediately taps into some of our existing malaise and folly and the viral/virtual fog so many of us currently find our consciousness befuddled by.
How can you feel special when everything’s been done, felt before or thought of by others already, Liz Wynter wonders and Wynter #1 asks us? When you live in construct where millions of people are born with your DNA (and you’re permanently reminded of that fact), how can you forge your own identity? What happens to your sense of ‘self’, your sense of individuality, against that sort of all-encompassing, oppressive backdrop? How do you find meaning in life, what do you strive for, when you already know how your life is supposed to play out? It is of course a fascinating question and one we can assume will be explored at length in subsequent issues of this comic; if it’s done as well as this first issue does it, then this will be a series we should all be wanting in on.
But aside from something you might perceive as a cutting commentary on contemporary societal or virtual concerns, Wynter #1 also hints at strong storytelling and myth-making potential to be explored and developed. Liz Wynter’s is seemingly a cyber-punk tale of a search for identity and individuality in a world where identity is predetermined and individuality strangled at birth. That is a world, a soceity, many of us instinctively fear: the individual being swallowed up by the mass, albeit in this instance not a mass of mere conformity necessarily, but a ceaseless, stifling mass of data flow and over-saturation in information. This comic’s grounding in themes most of us are instinctively familiar with on some level might in fact make this a very good book also for people who typically don’t read comics; I get asked quite commonly by non comic-book readers what would be a good comic to start with and actually Wynter #1 may be a good new answer for me to give them. In fact I’ll be recommending this series to a few people, both comic-book aficionados and virgins alike.
Aron Elekes’ grim, scratchy, slightly off-kilter art is perfectly tailored to the story being told and is visually compelling, drawing you into Liz Wynter’s world along with the absorbing inner monologue that allows the narrative to flow. In fact, the visual tone of the book is so involving that you might need a few minutes after reading it to adjust your senses to the real world again. It’s well worth risking that though: Wynter #1 is a compelling, addictive read and that’s only just the beginning. You can get hold of the digital comic here.
And go to the New Worlds Comics site to stay abreast of further issues and of other comics and exciting upcoming projects including a gritty sci-fi series called ‘Time Warriors’ which sounds like something well worth watching for. It’s also very much worth checking out the Indie Power Project and the Comics Empower Project; the guys at New Worlds Comics are a leading a revolution for independent artists, writers and comics and all of us with a love for the art and the field should be paying attention.