REVIEW: IN REAL LIFE / AUTHOR: CORY DOCTOROW / ARTIST: JEN WANG / PUBLISHER: FIRST SECOND / RELEASE DATE: OCTOBER 14TH
When Ana is invited to join an all-girl guild in a massively multiplayer online role-playing game, it changes her life. She becomes part of a community and grows in confidence as she learns that she is in charge of her destiny. A chance meeting with a young Chinese boy who happens to be illegally using the game to make a living changes both their lives. This is the set up for Cory Doctorow’s new graphic novel In Real Life. If this plot sounds familiar, then there’s a reason for that: this book is based on one of Doctorow’s previous short stories.
Cory Doctorow is probably best known as an activist for digital rights. He has written extensively about the way communication technology has changed the world and this includes explaining how the internet has been transforming the global economy. It should be no surprise that In Real Life also examines these issues.
The story attempts to explain how a thing that most people do for fun has become a vital lifeline for others. Not only do we see how tiny compromises can make big changes, he also examines the cultural integration of video games. The narrative focuses on how Ana discovers various harsh realities in both the real and digital worlds and this allows the author to express his worldview without lecturing the reader too much.
Jen Wang’s art is utterly charming throughout, being both engaging and beautiful. Though it looks simple, a great deal of thought has gone into each panel. From the muted yet detailed tones of the real world to the bright and strange illustrations of the online game, Wang really conveys the emotional impact of the piece. The art also helps keep the tale grounded; if the art had been too stark then Doctorow’s attempts to enlighten the reader would have felt too blunt. Instead Wang makes us care for the characters and therefore the issues they face. In Real Life is a great story with a social conscience, suitable for even the most casual of comic book readers.