I Feel Machine: Stories by Shaun Tan, Tillie Walden, Box Brown, Krent Able, Erik Svetoft and Julian Hanshaw (graphic novel review).

Volunteering to read ‘I Feel Machine’ was an attempt to broaden my pedestrian mind. I like publisher SelfMadeHero and support the efforts of small presses to put out some alternative fare to that of the giant franchises currently dominating the media. Hurrah for the little guy! Mind you, the aforesaid media moguls put out entertaining stuff, hence their success, but it’s a great big world and there’s room for everybody.

‘I Feel Machine’ is an anthology of stories with the theme of technology told in words and pictures by a variety of creators. Each creator does both writing and art on their piece which leads to a variety of styles ranging from simple to elaborate.

We start simple, at least artwise, with ‘Uploading’ by Box Brown. Player 1 lives in some far distant future on what seems to be a house in the clouds but is probably virtual reality, though it costs 80 zips a month. He wears a big helmet and spends life playing games and communicating with others through social media. Early on, he attends, not physically, his grandma’s uploading ceremony and looks forward to uploading himself to the central server one day. Player 1 didn’t seem to have a very rich life but perhaps this is the future. The art was extremely simple but the story kind of worked in a slice of life modern way. No drama.

I will skip lightly by ‘STHLMTRANSFER’ by Erik Svetoft because I have not the least idea what it was about. It opens with a few captions telling us that the year is 2118, the place Stockholm City and someone is stealing computer files. After that, there was very little written information and the pictures told a story I didn’t get. Sorry. Pedestrian mind, remember.

The art in ‘Here I Am’ by Shaun Tan has a sort of children’s picture book quality with scribbly lines and muted colours and a certain charm as well. The first person narration is by a human girl, possibly a teenager, and introduces her family and friends and the town where she lives. If you read the words without the pictures this would seem quite ordinary but the pictures show that all the other characters are weird-looking creatures with strange shapes. Then a hole opens in the sky and an object falls to the ground. From it emerges a huge human-shaped figure that looks like a man in a spacesuit. From it, eventually emerges another smaller human who tells her she must go with him. This thoughtful little tale would make a neat children’s book in its own right.

‘Contours’ by Tillie Walden is a monologue by a young girl addicted to her phone, Internet, television and screens generally. We’re all a bit like that nowadays but the young have it particularly bad. One day, everything goes off world-wide. Why isn’t clear but I liked the hypothetical explanation. The art is mostly amorphous shapes with some headshots of the girl and her boyfriend. It’s all in pink or blue but if I presumed that this represented a girl and a boy I would have to go into hiding nowadays, so I won’t. It’s probably ironic. In fact, the art is irrelevant as the words work perfectly well without it. The pictures stretch the story a bit. In text alone, it would be a prose poem but I liked it.

‘Be Little With Me’ by Julian Hanshaw is a mystery story involving a god and a chicken who likes beer. It was a mystery to me, anyway.

The young’s addiction to technology is also the theme of the last story, ‘Bloody Kids’ by Krent Able. Mom, dad and two kids drive off to a cottage in the country to stay with friends. At dinner, the adults discuss how kids can’t cope without phones and the teenagers go upstairs to watch a film. The dinner conversation between the four adults reminded me of sketches by Bird and Fortune that used to appear in ‘The Rory Bremner Show’ and were the best thing in it. Then it all turns very dark. Bloody kids! You can’t trust them. The art was fairly conventional comicbook and the story was good black humour.

I enjoyed four of the six stories and two went over my head like a stealth fighter. This isn’t a bad batting average for any anthology as, by their nature, they’re a mixed bag and one reason I like them. If you’re a hardcore fan of conventional genre fiction I wouldn’t recommend ‘I Feel Machine’ but if you like something a bit weird and different, it might be worth a try. Many of the creators have won awards so whatever I feel about them, they’re a talented bunch. My pedestrian mind has been stretched and it didn’t hurt.

Eamonn Murphy

October 2018

(pub: SelfMadeHero. 128 page graphic novel softcover. Price: £14.99 (UK), $22.99 (US), $28.99 (CAN ). ISBN: 978-1-91059-355-4)

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Eamonn Murphy

Eamonn Murphy reviews books for sfcrowsnest and writes short stories for small press magazines. His works are available on Amazon and on Kindle Unlimited.

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