How many hours have you lost to internet click-holes? Did I write hours? Because we both know I mean days. You’re presumably on the internet right now, so in the last few minutes alone, you’ve probably ingested a potentially hazardous amount of digital squee. I myself got sucked into a Facebook forage while writing this very review, which happened without me even being really conscious of it. Such is the perilous draw we must all face while supping on the internet’s dark teet. And that’s just it; in a day and age where it’s nigh-on impossible to escape things like inspirational Facebook posts, pretentious Twitter rants, cat/baby mash-up videos or clips of lemurs doing whatever the fuck lemurs do, if someone could harness the power of the internet, it could be truly, earth-shatteringly disastrous. Such is the high concept at the heart of Memetic #1’s question: “What is the meme-ing of life?” The answer, as it happens, is both grim and fucking great!
Memetic #1 introduces a world very much like ours; one inundated with personal gadgets offering convenience and entertainment via 24/7 online connectivity. Unfortunately for them, someone has weaponized the internet; in this case, by layering a hypnotic suggestion of overwhelming contentedness into a meme of a “Happy Little Sloth” smiling and giving a thumbs-up. It all seems so innocuous (if a little baffling) at first. That is, until hours later, when the sloth-obsessed populace - up to and including the President (THANKS, OBAMA!) - starts exploding blood from their eyes and going full-on, zombie-level murderous; thus ringing in what I’m going to call The Aslothalypse three days later.
The only two characters in the story thus far unaffected by the HLS are retired Colonel Marcus Shaw, whose degenerative sight disorder means he can’t see shit (let alone some insidious sloth); and Memetic’s main protagonist-apparent, the lovelorn Aaron, whose color blindness, rather than just being a physical deformity and abomination against both God and science, prevents him from visually digesting the image’s deadly power. Color blindness as a useful trait? This really is fiction! (Remember kids, cultivating a healthy and proactive mistrust of the color-blind isn’t just your right, it’s your responsibility.)
Okay, so let’s just call this book what it is: Memetic is the Infinite Jest of comics. At the moment, I just mean that “thematically,” as it’s far too early to know whether Tynion and Donovan’s work will boast the same social relevancy or staying power of David Foster Wallace’s magnum opus (which, incidentally, I find a bit overrated). Still, I do think Memetic #1 attempts to capture a similar zeitgeist; that being, our worrying addiction to mass media inanity, and the potentially horrific possibility that someone could render a weapon from something so totes-adorbes, and easily disseminated. So the concept is sound - really sound, actually - not to mention hella-creepy, but what about the presentation?
Tynion is at his absolute best here. Sure, there are a few beats that feel like Millennial pandering (though their generation really is at the crux of the story), but in everything from the significant exposition to the dialogue (be it interpersonal or professionally vetted through the TV’s talking heads), there is an organic freshness to the writing of both story and characters. Before they start hemorrhaging blood ocularly, everyone in this world reacts the way you would expect, while ending in a way you definitely wouldn’t.
His Mind MGMT meets The Ring meets Infinite Jest meets Meet The Sloths setup does devolve into the Nth degree of what Richard Dawkins (coiner of the word “meme”) warned about, but it’s so expertly paced, with such a gut-churning build and crisis-point, that it never gets bogged down. Much like those ensorcelled by the sloth, I cannot get enough of this book, and am completely left wanting more.
Artist Eryk Donovan’s work in Memetic #1 is nothing short of perfect for the story. Again, he is appealing to the Tumblr generation, not only in style, but by making his main couple look like pretty much every single piece of Welcome to Night Vale fan art (specifically of Cecil and Carlos). In a way, this makes a lot of sense. And besides, whether in his expressive figure work (regardless of how evocative it is of other pop culture references) or in the way he assails his pages in very familiar internet visual cues, Donovan breathes the same, very real life into this book that Tynion does, before ripping it asunder in bleeding eyeballs, unnaturally wide-mouthed panic and uncompromising disaster. Also, the actual image of the Happy Little Sloth feels like it could legit be its own, real meme, making it all the more unsettling.
His exceptional turn on Memetic #1 persists even to the postscript, where he presents the issue’s back matter as a Facebook timeline, with the cast as “Friends,” the concept art as “Photos,” and he and Tynion’s explanations as “Comments” and “Likes.” He even gives a tease of the person who might be behind all this insanity. Like the direction of the book itself, this all works really well, especially given the social media-driven context of Memetic, such that this world feels real and rich with content.
Maybe it’s just my own headspace that’s being attacked by the false pleasantries of the Happy Little Sloth, but hot-damn did I love Memetic #1, for its supple storytelling, natural pacing, terrifying premise and exceptional artistic execution. Buy this book ... it’s blissssssss.
Writer: James Tynion IV Artist: Eryk Donovan Publisher: BOOM! Studios Price: $4.99 Release Date: 10/22/2014 Format: Print/Digital