Creators: Shaun Tan, Box Brown, Tillie Walden, Erik Svetoft, Julian Hanshaw, Krent Able
Release Date: 20th September 2018
The latest offering from London-based published SelfMadeHero I FEEL MACHINE, is an anthology which features six international comic book artists coming together to create stories based around a single theme. Specifically, the complicated relationship between technology and humanity. Each artist interprets the theme in their own unique way over the course of the 152 pages, resulting in a collection of striking, thought-provoking and moving tales.
Up first we have “Uploading” by Box Brown, which sees the acclaimed artist utilising his distinctive visual style to take us into the future and show us a world where people strive to upload themselves into a central server instead of continuing to live as a “drain” on natural resources. Brown’s striking artwork gives the story an offbeat charm, and while the flow is intentionally quirky, this strip definitely opens up some interesting questions about society’s increasing detachment from real world, and how, in a lot of cases, that detachment is welcomed with open arms. A bold start then, and one that perfectly summarises the overarching theme of the anthology.
Erik Svetoft’s “STHLMTRANSFER” is an interesting creation, based in a world where old computer files and chat logs are valuable commodities on the smuggling market, and a government-backed “Social Media Security Force” are tasked with breaking up these transactions as quickly and efficiently as possible. Told in a mostly wordless style, Sveltoft’s main selling point here is his grotesque techno-organic artwork which really helps to underscore the almost surrealist style of the story. Perhaps a little less thought-provoking than some of the other strips in the anthology, but no less striking.
“Here I Am” sees Shaun Tan taking things to a whole new level as he tells the story of a young girl living on a strange planet who finds herself the subject of an unwanted rescue attempt from a mysterious astronaut. There’s a wonderful, almost picturebook quality to Tan’s artwork and visual design, but the story is backed with a grounded sense of humanity and leads us on a fascinating journey before finishing things off with a sting which is bound to put a smile on any reader’s face. Fascinating stuff, and perhaps the one story in the collection I’d love to see expanded into a larger story.
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Up next we have “Countours” from the Eisner Award-winning Tillie Walden, which serves as a perfect showcase for the grace and emotion that has become synonymous with the her work over the past few years. As with most of Walden’s work this feels deeply personal, centring on a fractured relationship between two young women in a world where technology has suddenly and inexplicably ceased to work. It raises some interesting points about our dependence on items like mobile phones to both escape reality and engage with it, and features some of Walden’s typically eye-catching layouts in a striking blue and red colour palette.
The penultimate tale, “Be Little With Me” by Julian Hanshaw, who helped curate the collection alongside Krent Able, is perhaps the densest and most unconventional of the stories in the book. It plays with the idea of multiple realities as our protagonist is exposed to a small box that can give him a glimpse into exciting new worlds, and features some eyebrow-raising artwork throughout. Oh, and there’s a chicken too. Definitely the least accessible strip, but there’s depth to be had here if you’re able to penetrate Hanshaw’s intentionally disorienting style.
Finally, “Bloody Kids” sees Krent Able closing things out with a bang as he delivers a tale that starts off one way before sharply breaking down into a frantic, almost primal horror story about the seductive nature of technology and the toxic allure of social media infamy. It’s perhaps the most visually striking of the six stories, particularly the eye-widening double-page spread where the true horror of the situation reveals itself, and immediately cements Able as an artist whose work I need to make a concerted effort to seek out more of. Dark, unsettling and ultimately terrifying, this is very much a cautionary technological tale that works on a variety of different levels.
The standard “quality may vary” caveat for anthologies applies as always, but there’s nothing less than ‘good’ here, with several of the strips verging into ‘remarkable’ territory. Any time Tillie Walden puts pen to paper it’s a reason to get excited, but in spite of the Eisner Award-winning artist’s stellar efforts, it’s the efforts of Shaun Tan and Krent Able that end up making the greater impression here.
SelfMadeHero have carved out their own unique niche by publishing unconventional and thought-provoking books, and with a mixture of real-world themes and fantastically creative interpretations of a broad topic, I FEEL MACHINE serves as a perfect, tangible example of the publisher’s ambitious mission statement. Highly recommended.