We all know that the web has taken over our lives. Almost everything that we do has some kind of Internet connection to it, whether it's talking with friends, making phone calls, playing games, managing our banking and investments, or engaging in long philosophical conversations with some troll who thinks that Barack Obama is the reincarnation of Adolf Hitler. It's thrilling and annoying and, of course, addictive.
Matthew Thurber's Infomaniacs is a sometimes hilarious, sometimes exasperating, sometimes baffling satire of modern always-connected culture involving the corruption of millionaires, psychic connections, performance art and the destruction of the environment all wrapped in a heady mix of surreal avatars, absurd names and over-the-top wackiness.
Infomaniacs is crudely dawn, but that seems to be part of the point that Thurber is making here. In a pixelated world, the man without pixels is king — or something like that — which means that in his apparently childish illustrations and absurd character names (our main character here is named Amy Shit – but as the conclusion makes clear, there's a good reason for her to have such an absurd name) are all there for logical reasons that feel logical in the context Thurber creates.
Thurber's graphic novel also rambles and wanders through a slew of great and clever ideas, some of which reoccur and some of which disappear for long stretches of time. For instance: imagine an Internet serial killer. What would that person do, and how would he or she kill you online? The thought is ridiculous, right? But consider for a moment what it would mean if that Internet serial killer and that killer wiped out every single trace of you that exists online? That strikes me as a spooky concept, especially for a comic set in the near future when the web is even more ubiquitous than it is now, and it had a surprising amount of resonance for me.
Or how about the notion of an underground organic server farm where computers can tie in to the vast natural network around all of us to power a slightly different idea of the Internet? Is that notion insane or brilliant or is it both? (As someone who grooved on Thurber's ridiculous vision, I'd think the idea is both insane and brilliant.)
Infomaniacs moves at the short attention span and episodic style of many webcomics, spending a gnat's life on one silly topic (baristas mixed with gas station attendants? Huh?) after the next (Karaoke stream of consciousness poetry slam? Wha?) At times it feels as much a satire of American hipsterism as much as it is an absurdist take on online and offline life. But most of the disparate storylines are logically connected to each other, and the jabs and sharp elbows hit most targets with precision. Some of the jokes may feel a little hackneyed – after all, when you move at the speed of the web, you'll die at the same speed – but Thurber's relentless momentum continually moves readers ahead.
All that said, Infomaniacs has a very short attention span. Every few pages the storyline wandered into an strange tangent about cosplay Japanese robots or a surreal trip to San Diego Comic-con or a weird moment with sniper rifles on roofs as a type of performance art or the oddly cool concept of spies leaving secret messages in graffiti.
And then just as I was getting sick of all the oddball humor and bizarre digressions, the whole book came together in the end, and in very satisfying ways. Where previously human relationships were played mainly for laughs, we get some real emotion by the end. The weird characters and events in Infomaniacs finally start to make sense as Thurber wraps his storylines. Closure happens, the crude art style takes on a slightly more realistic air, and at certain points it almost becomes poetic: "You take off your headphones… and you hear the birds singing."
Infomaniacs can be exasperating at times for those of us who get tired of weird jokes and endless tangents, but this book has a payoff that works well. For God's sake, we all need to unplug every once in a while. Stop living through avatars and occasionally talk to a real person, dammit. And read a print book for once!