In the late 1990s and early 2000s, I used to wonder why magazines about Yahoo!, AOL, or even ones about Apple existed. A magazine about something as transient as an online technological platform seemed odd. There is a disconnect, it seems, when one tries to discuss an online platform outside of the discursive environment that is the internet. I mean, what did writer write when they penned stories about Yahoo!?
Rob Williams attempted to serialize a story about an online platform very similar to Twitter with Unfollow. Unfollow #18 is the conclusion of a saga where a recluse genius creates a social media platform that promises the afterlife to a select group of people who must first survive their elimination. Through the guise of a Japanese cult member he manipulates and inspires, the Silicon Valley mogul puts his plan in motion while trying to beat a cancer that threatens to kill him.
Various factions of survivors battle for the opportunity to stop the Silicon Valley mogul and survive with their lives, instead of a promised after life or money. Williams attempted to tell a story about narcissism and social media. He tried to pilot a narrative that criticizes people’s obsession with their online reputations and posturing to the world.
Having picked up the series midway, I never cared about the assembled protagonists and all the plot twists that were revealed throughout the series. I did not care much for the characters because the main antagonist was nothing more than the usual cliché of the super smart Silicon Valley technology company founder. He is anti-social and thinks that he is smarter than the average person. The difference with the real moguls is that this one can kill and there is a thriller inserted in the narrative.
In the end, the comic is another romantic indictment of one aspect of Silicon Valley, social media, and the internet. There are so many things that can be said about technology, but this is technological determinism where the mind of one individual charts the lives of humanity. In a sense, Williams is involved in the same deification that popular culture does about things such as Twitter and its creators. These entrepreneurs are romantic and charismatic leaders who like super villains and some super heroes, believe that they are above the rest of us.
The focus of the comic is the genius and all the people who attempt to escape from his control and thwart his power. This is not a new story and thus, its contribution to fiction is limited. It is further limited by the fact that Twitter and Instagram will also change in two years and this current encapsulation of what they are and mean to us, will be a small snapshot of 2016-2017.
Mike Dowling continues the brief tradition of this series to depict this connected world through in impressionist inked styles where lines are almost fragments that construe one larger picture. The illustrations are like strokes that adeptly portray light and dark while withholding just enough information to force the reader’s mind to connect the ink blots together, as if we had to connect to one another in a social network.