Produced in collaboration with a non-profit advocacy group called Privacy Activism, Networked: Carabella on the Run (NBM) is a cautionary graphic novel about the ways we’ve so willingly abandoned our rights to privacy in the techno age. Scripted by Gerard Jones and illustrated by Mark Badger, the comic tells the tale of a blue-skinned college girl who’s an escapee from another dimension. She meets up with Nick Schumer, an engineer designing a new type of shoes, “perfect trainers,” that can gauge the wearer’s physical responses. After he inadvertently gets hold of some hairy technology from Carabella’s world, the hyper-inventive Nick juices up his prototype shoes so that they can connect to the world wide social networking web. Once a greedy venture capitalist latches onto Nick and his creation, the results could mean the world-wide enslavement of humankind.
Author Jones builds this alarmist scenario comically: starting out with the small ways that social networking can provide information about ourselves to the world at large. When our initially camera-shy blue skinned girl gets her photo snapped at a party by a fellow student who puts it on a FaceSpace page, she gets a lot of unwanted attention from a group of female Star Wars fanatics. Later, when Nick sells his first batch of web-connected shoes, he has to face a group of p.o.ed customers who’ve had revealing upskirt shots posted on the web. This is all small-scale compared to the dangers faced by Carabella, Nick and friends once some creepy types from our heroine’s repressive dimension show up and join forces with the smarmy venture capitalist.
Jones, a comics pro and pop historian who first became known with the parody spy series The Trouble with Girls, is skilled at keeping things lightly humorous without belying the seriousness of his themes. Written toward a young adult readership, Networked occasionally comes close to over-pushing his points, but aided by Badger’s crafty art — capable of wittily quoting Kirby and the modernists in a single panel — its core didacticism never overwhelms either plot or characters. In the world of Networked, the enemy of personal freedom is less our government and more avaricious moneymen (in collusion with the gummint, of course) looking for ways to mold a compliant consumer class. In its way, this book reads like a lighter updating of seventies era paranoid movie thrillers like The Conversation. Some story conflicts never lose their relevance — unfortunately.