Thursday, December 14, 2023

Pixels of You by Ananth Hirsh, Yuko Ota, and J.R. Doyle

It's not usual for a creative team to accrete members over time. OK, sure, you can think of bands that got bigger as they got successful enough to add, for instance, a horn section, but those accretions tend to be semi-separate: The Fantastic Desperadoes with the Horns of Doom! People get replaced, of course. But it's not common for new people to come in, set up, and just be added.

So I'm wondering what will be next for the team behind Pixels of You, a 2021 graphic novel from Amulet, Abrams' teen-comics imprint. Co-writers (and partners in life, too, I think) Ananth Hirsh and Yuko Oda did the book Lucky Penny together before this - there, Hirsh was billed as the writer and Oda as the artist, but we all know artists in comics do at least half the storytelling (which means "writing") anyway.

This time out, they have a new artist - maybe to have a particular look, maybe for other artistic reasons - J.R. Doyle, who also does a webcomic called Knights Errant and seems to do storyboard work as well.

Pixels looks nothing like Penny, and the tone is completely different, so that's my assumption: Hirsh and Oda knew they wanted this new project to go in a different direction  If so, it worked: I had to look them up to remember what it was I read by them, and didn't bring any expectations to Pixels.

Pixels of You is a personal drama, enemies-to-friends division (maybe more than friends, as is often the case), set in a near-future SF world. AI is ubiquitous and well-integrated - the SFnal kind of AI that quite likely will never actually exist, humaniform persons who are just part of human society. They don't seem to be an underclass, though there are hints of prejudice and most AI persons may be vaguely considered lesser than meat-people. There are also hints that AI personhood, or possibly citizenship, are contingent in some way, with regular tests AI persons need to pass to stay in their current status.

Indira is a young woman working as an intern in an art gallery: she's a wannabe photographer, and her boss is influential in that world. The internship is a strong way into the world she wants to be part of, and she's trying to make the most of it. She also has a cybernetic eye - totally realistic-looking; no one knows unless she tells them - from a tragic accident in her past, and either that accident or the eye or both are the source of health issues, pain and bad dreams and sometimes worse.

Fawn is the next intern in line at the gallery: she's on her way in as Indira is finishing her time. Fawn is a human-presenting AI, the "daughter" of two traditional-looking AI persons who seem to be quite successful - maybe managerial-class jobs, something like that.

They meet at a show, and immediately get on each other's worst sides: Fawn insults Indira's work, without know it's hers. Indira is prickly and standoffish to begin with, so gives as well as she gets.

But the gallery owner needs them to work together, and forces them to do so: the next show, which was originally planned to be a combined look at their separate work, now will be of work they make together.

Both Indira and Fawn are well-meaning, mostly nice people, so they don't stay enemies all that long. (Coming from Penny, I might have expected a longer, funnier sequence of squabbling, physical or verbal, but Pixels is a quieter, much more serious book.) They do learn to work together, they do learn each other's secrets, they do become friends.

That sounds trite, I suppose, but any story is trite when stripped to the barest plot. The team here tells this one well - there's a lot of single-panel pages to show what Fawn and Indira's work looks like, and a lot of semi-wordless sequences, since photography is more about seeing than talking. It's a sweet story, even if I do have some quibbles with the SFnal background.

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