I decided not to get flowery with the title, because I want to get straight to the point. Imagine [insert favorite television show here] decided to screw the networks and just let you stream their show for however much money you wanted to put down, yes even $0. Although, I realize you already just do that anyway, imagine you didn’t have to feel that tiny little tinge of guilt when you did it. Feels pretty great, right?
Now take that feeling over to http://www.panelsyndicate.com and indulge that fantasy. Brian K. Vaughan and Marcos Martin are distributing their own comic digitally on their own website. It’s called The Private Eye, and it’s awesome. It’s the Radiohead “In Rainbows” experiment of “pay what you want” applied to a comic book. Actually, now that I think about it, In Rainbows might be the best soundtrack for this book. Brian K. who? Marcos what? I’ll try to put this into television parlance. Imagine Aaron Sorkin wrote a TV show and got Spike Jonze to direct it.
It’s sort of like that. Vaughan wrote season 5 of LOST and a few of the best recognized comics of the last decade: Y: The Last Man, Ex Machina, Pride of Baghdad, and the ongoing, acclaimed Saga.
Marcos Martin is one of my very favorite artists. He draws very slender, stylized figures that emphasize motion and the surreal. He’s one of the very few artists that I will (and, I think I have) read anything he draws.
What is this comic, you ask? And why should I read it, let alone any comic? Well, first you can read it for FREE, but I’ve already covered that, so let me fill you in on the rest. The Private Eye is a perfect blend of gonzo science fiction and standard, straightforward detective story. The story is consciously reminiscent of Chinatown and Miller’s Crossing. Those are classic stories that are never diminished for being retold. Oh, and you can also read it en espanol.
The hook, and the book’s brilliance, is that it all takes place in a near-future where the internet no longer exists. Due to some unnamed disaster, it got shut down permanently. All the millennials are in their 80s, and they’re totally senile, because they don’t know how to live without gchat and WiFi access. That would be hilarious in itself, but Vaughan goes further. The internet may not exist anymore, but it’s completely changed how we socialize. People act out their online personas in real life. At a certain age, it’s customary to change your name and get a holographic “mask” that projects your desired avatar over your face. It’s live-action-facebook, and it makes uncovering people’s real identities and motives a good deal more complicated than in the old days.
Moreover, Martin’s visuals give the premise a deeper tone than I would have expected from the the standard trashed, dirty future we’ve come to expect from Blade Runner and Minority Report. The city sidewalks look more like a Dia De Los Muertos or a Mardis Gras parade–as if the human race, sifted through the internet, has come back around to a state of individualized totemism; as if one’s identity is only validated by summoning some iconic, preternatural persona. Me gusta.
Naturally, it’s that last bit that entices me the most. I love a strong, clever premise that has something to say about the way we live now. Currently, the plot has been steaming forward too fast for Vaughan to philosophize too much, but that’s all to the good. This is Chinatown in a crazy future. Download it and enjoy being hooked on something you don’t have to feel guilty for downloading for free–but do consider tipping a couple of bucks to this excellent creative team and ensure this series has a long life ahead of it. I hope this experiment proves that, when people know their cash is going to the creators and not Comcast, they might actually prefer to pay rather than pirate.