I recently offered to pre-screen O’Reilly’s first graphic novel, “Hackerteen: Volume 1: Internet Blackout,” under the caveat that I’d post a review afterwards.
Quick review: I wish I hadn’t committed to write this review. I find Internet Blackout to be offensive to those who enjoy comics, the Internet, and learning.
Full review: I’m a fan of O’Reilly. As a general rule, I’ve found their titles to be authoritative, practical, and a great reference when coding. I’m a daily reader of the O’Reilly Radar blog, and find Tim O’Reilly, the company’s founder, to have an accurate read on the technology industry’s pulse.
But, somehow, some way, this book happened into being under the label of O’Reilly. And I’m confused. Because, quite plainly, this comic is a mess from top to bottom. It has none of the trappings of the quality or consistency I’ve come to expect from the big O.
It sounds like its creators had a noble intent: “Hackerteen teaches young readers about basic computing and Internet topics, including the potential for victimization. The book is also ideal for parents and teachers who want their children and students to understand the risks of using the Internet and the proper ways to behave online.” Hackerteen is a real organization, with a similar mission, and the book is apparently a product of the group’s efforts.
As a new father myself, I can appreciate wanting to provide some guidance to the youth about online behavior and risks. I just can’t see how this book will do that, and I say that for two reasons.
First, as a comic book, Internet Blackout is not up to par. The reasons are myriad, but here are a select few:
- The story line hops six times on one page in several cases (and repeatedly throughout the book) without some sort of visual signaling, leaving me wondering what is happening page-by-painful-page.
- The artwork is downright sloppy. (Truly, “sloppy” is a kind representation… see page 57 for but one example of degenerative pencilling, crude coloring, and widely varying inking techniques… not to mention poor understanding of human anatomy.)
- Is this a superhero book? Or a book about gifted teens? Because what I see throughout the book confuses me greatly. Outlandish uniforms that even cosplay kids would decry as unimaginative (yet remain more believable than some of the X-Men 3 costumes) populate the same Bizarroverse as the Richie Rich-esque grandmother and the Mayberry-dwelling dad who changes appearance with his every appearance.
Second, as a story in general, I find it speaking down to its audience. We all remember that fateful, humorless time when our parents tried to emulate “the way these kids talk today.” The language was stilted, over-emphasized, and beyond awkward. Or trying to sound culturally aware by referencing yesterday’s star? In many ways, that describes the story line at large, as well as the conversations within Hackerteen. The tone is preachy, the language a bit off (When was the last time you heard anyone, much less someone under 30, use the term “cretin?”), and the drama overblown (soldiers on the battlefield in Iraq are somehow crippled by an Internet attack that doesn’t cripple the cable news channels from broadcasting).
Further, the book’s ending unravels into a series of disconnected vignettes. I’m not sure if those last pages were truly wrapping up the same story line I had been trudging through for the previous 90+ pages, but I didn’t care to double check. I was just happy to be done.
All told, this comic seems to suffer in the same vein as the design and appearance of many open-source, community-driven software projects; the result is a patchwork of unequal, disjointed contributions that you want to cheer on for its effort but would never recommend.
If you’re under 20, though, and reading this and have read the book, please let me know. Maybe a) Internet Blackout really does speak to its target audience, and b) that audience doesn’t pick apart the quality of the artwork. In the meantime, I’ll hope this was an anomaly in the O’Reilly publishing empire.