Sunday, April 21, 2013

Brian K. Vaughan’s New Digital Comic, The Private Eye, Is a Brilliant Riff on a Post-Privacy Future

Brian K. Vaughan’s New Digital Comic, The Private Eye, Is a Brilliant Riff on a Post-Privacy Future:
The Facebook era has brought with it endless speculation about
the end of privacy—a world in which everyone shares themselves and
their lives freely. But what if what we think will be the end of
privacy actually ushers in an era more private than ever? That’s
the question behind comic book scribe Brian K. Vaughan’s newest
series, The Private Eye. It’s a masterpiece of comic book
world building—and a brilliant sci-fi riff on what happens after
the end of privacy nearly ruins everything.
Set in Los Angeles six decades from now, Vaughan’s comic, which
he co-created with artist Marcos Martin, envisions a world in which
the Internet no longer exists. The Net was taken down after what
can only be described as a privacy apocalypse. As the series’
protagonist describes it, everything was once stored in the cloud,
and then one day all that information “just poured right out for
the whole damn country to see. Every message you thought was safe,
every photo you thought you deleted, every mortifying little search
you ever made—it was all there for anyone to use against you.”
The resulting world is one
built out of the backlash to the privacy apocalypse—which is to
say, a world in which privacy is taken very, very
seriously. It’s not just that there’s no more Internet. Members of
the press are now literally licensed agents of the state.
Unlicensed journalism is a crime. Just about everyone wears
outlandish disguises in public—everything from cheap-looking fish
masks to holographic animal heads to full body disguises that
transform ugly men into beautiful women.
That makes for some thrillingly wild visuals from Martin, whose
cartoony but fantastically detailed art helps bring the series’
expansively weird world alive. Colorist Muntsa Vicente gives his
images a bright, bold color palette—like Wonka World as seen under
the light of the California sun. Their crowd scenes and
streetscapes, in particular, offer rich visions of a which
elaborate individual costuming has become a normal part of everyday
life—part fashion, part personal statement, part protective
The first issue is devoted mostly to sketching out the world,
but what story we get concerns an unlicensed paparazzi who
specializes in extremely thorough illegal background checks. That
allows Vaughan to play up the detective noir aspects with allusions
to The Maltese Falcon and Angel
. Indeed, Vaughan and Martin hide a slew of sly references
and big ideas in their panels and dialogue: I grinned when a
licensed fourth estate agent identified himself as Strunk. I
laughed out loud at an image of a training whizzing through the
city with an ad for the Los Angeles Times plastered on the
side—tagline, “Your Tax Dollars AT WORK.” For the truly attentive,
Vaughan and Martin even manage to work in references to The Flaming
Lips, Freakonomics, and playwright Henry Miller. It’s
clever stuff, and a heckuva lot of fun to both read and look
With only one issue out so far—the plan is to eventually
published about 10—Vaughan is only beginning to build the world and
explore its potential ideas. But if his previous comics work is any
indication, he’s sure to find somewhere interesting to go. Previous
Vaughan-created series, like
Ex Machina
, have dealt with a host of
libertarian-friendly themes of state control and personal freedom;
his other current series, the equally fantastic Saga, is
in part a dazzlingly inventive sci-fi/fantasy take on the desire to
opt out of a politically determined life.
Still, for all its thematic ambitions, it may be the biggest and
most consequential idea in The Private Eye isn’t the story
itself but the way it’s sold. Vaughan’s other comic series have all
born the seal of a major comics publisher or imprint. But he and
Martin are digitally self-publishing their new creation without the
aid of any publisher. There are no print copies at all. Instead,
interested readers can go to and pay as much
or as little as they want in exchange for downloading a digital
The Private Eye may be a story about the consequences
of digital sharing, but I'm sure glad that Vaughan and Martin have
put their comic in the cloud for anyone to see and share. It's
easily the best new comic series I've read this year—and its
greatness is something that shouldn't be kept private at