“You were stone white, so delicate, lost in the cold; you were always so lost in the dark”
Ananth Hirsh and Yuko Ota are a co-writing team who work together often, and Pixels of You is their latest book. This is drawn by J.R. Doyle, with coloring and lettering by Tess Stone with flats by Fen Garza. It’s published by Amulet Books, which is a nifty imprint of Abrams.
Pixels of You takes place in a slightly in-the-future world where artificial intelligence is prevalent, as there are humanoid A.I. constructs just walkin’ around like they own the place. Indira is a human, while Fawn is an advanced A.I. – unlike her “parents,” she chooses to appear human (they are basically human-looking but have no facial features) – and they’re both photographers who are forced to work together by the gallery owner who’s taking them on as interns. They meet at one of Indira’s shows, where Fawn brutally takes down her work without knowing who she’s talking to, so the foundation for a good working relationship is not really there. Indira, it turns out, has a cybernetic eye, the result of a car accident when she was a child in which her parents were killed. The accident also has to do with her disgruntlement with A.I., which comes out in her attitude toward Fawn. Fawn, for her part, is trying to balance living her life as a robot and trying to be as “human” as possible, which is hard for her. Their relationship and its growth is, naturally, at the heart of the book.
It’s hard to write too much about the plot, because it goes about how you’d expect. Hirsh and Ota do a very good job keeping things “realistic,” in that neither character says what’s on their mind when it would be prudent to do so and they do say what’s on their minds when it might not be prudent to do so. Both of them are scared of the world around them, Indira because the technology that helped get her parents killed is becoming more and more part of everyday life, and Fawn because obviously there are people in the world who won’t accept her kind of existence.
There’s a lot of interesting stuff going on in the book, which doesn’t have much of a plot, so it’s hard to simply break down what’s happening, and I don’t want to give too much away. There’s the idea of technology invading our lives and what we can do about it, and in this case, the anthropomorphication of said technology is a good move by the writers, so it’s not just Indira wrestling with demons, but having to confront the tech in a form that makes it hard to do. Fawn is self-aware, obviously, and her “choice” to be beautiful makes her a target among other A.I.s, who accuse her of being a sell-out. We never forget that Indira benefits from technology, to the point where it’s implied that she might have an “unfair” advantage in photography because of it, so her bitterness is tinged with irony. This is also a friendship that crosses “species,” technically, so the writers can look at inter-racial relationships and imply a non-binary view of relationships as well without making it explicit. Both Indira and Fawn have to learn about the other, and the writers do a very good job showing how they do it. It’s a charming story, ultimately, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have a lot of good depth to it. If there’s one thing I dislike, it’s the final page of the book, which I felt took the book to a place it hadn’t earned and left too many unanswered questions. I certainly understand why the writers arrived at that point, but I kind of wish the book had ended one page earlier, with more implication rather than exposition, as it would have allowed the reader to believe an entire universe of possibilities, rather than narrowing it down to one. Oh well.
Doyle’s art is obviously manga-influenced, as they use the big eyes and mop-like hair that so many manga characters have. The hair is actually a bit important, especially when it comes to Indira, whose hair occasionally drapes over her eyes, hiding insight into her thoughts. It’s subtly done, but neat. This works nicely with the melodramatic faces the characters sometimes pull, which is also keeping with the manga tradition. Doyle does a nice job with some of the “scarier” scenes – Indira has nightmares – creating some weird creatures that both terrify and reveal Indira’s insecurities. When Doyle draws the two characters’ work, they do a good job showing how it’s different and what it means to each character. Fawn is an interesting character, visually – she looks “real,” but Doyle does a good job showing how she’s an A.I., something everyone in this world can see and which she doesn’t exactly try to hide, but which feels like some little embarrassment to her, nevertheless. It’s part of the theme of people becoming all right with themselves, and while the writers are doing that, Doyle is placing subtle reminders into the artwork. There’s a really cool sequence when Indira tells Fawn about her past, and Doyle simply draws her torso and lap, with her hands moving in the lap, and it tells us a lot about Indira’s mental state at the time. It’s a nice art job, as the writers rely on Doyle to expand on their themes, and they do it very well.
Pixels of You is a charming story that’s deeper than you might think on first glance. It feels like a YA romantically-tinged coming-of-age story, and it is, but by using a science fiction bent, the writers can do a lot with metaphors and examine some things you might not expect. It’s a nice comic to look at, and it makes you think. That ain’t bad!
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆