Graphic novel review: Bubble by Morris-Morgan-Cliff-Reiss

(courtesy Pan Macmillan)

Who says you can’t cross media without leaching the life and fun out of the source and leaving a pale, timid imitation in its wake?

Bubble, in all its gloriously colourfully imaginative and sharply satirical is proof positive that you can take a podcast-based audio serial, which played out over a healthy number of weeks, being written as it went, and parlay it into a fun, thoughtful and daring graphic novel that has a huge amount of fun – HUGE! – skewering the gig economy, hipsters, corporations and yes, winningly so, podcasts too.

The hilariously mutant brainchild of L.A.-based writer and podcaster Jordan Morris, London-situated TV and radio writer Sarah Morgan and New York Times-bestselling author Tony Cliff with the vivacious talents of cartoonist and illustrator Natalie Reiss from Pennsylvania, Bubble is also proof that you can create some pretty impressive storytelling art over long distances with Tony labelling it as working “at the bottom of the Comic Mine”.

Set on an unnamed planet full of weird, aggressive beasties collectively known as Imps who inhabit an area known as the Brush which is also populated by off-grid humans who wants independence and monster-battling to fill their days, Bubble is partly set in the Stepford Wives-ish idyll of Fairhaven, a city under the titular bubble in which people earn their living, thanks (or not thanks?) to the corporation which established it, along with a couple of other bastions of Frasier and good coffee-rich bastions of what passes for human civilisation in some future age which, culturally at least, seems happily stuck in the first couple of decades of the 21st century.

Tandem’s Deliberate Communities promise a lifestyle where you can be your own boss but as with everything in the gig economy, all that independence perilously balances on a wafer-thin edge that can come adrift all too easily, something that only becomes apparent when Morgan, born in the Brush but raised in the Bubble after Tandem went child collecting one day, and her BFF and housemate, Annie, who run a lucrative sideline drug business where Morgan catches the Imps and Annies churns them into an MDMA-substitute, accidentally gift their delivery guy Mitch with some weirdass super powers.

That accidental “Stinging” of Mitch precipitates, or maybe is merely coincidental to, a whole series of events which include the launch of Huntr, an app that despatches Imps by an army of gig-based warriors, and the weird mutation of Fairhaven citizens, such as the Borg-ish hivemind of the Book Club and the Beard, a strange creature with an endless stream of OPINIONS, loud, crassly-expressed and controversial opinions (“It’s time for a male Wonder Woman!”)

(courtesy Pan Macmillan)

Before Morgan knows it, life as she loves it with carefully curated jogging playlists and trivia nights and a boring job that is also rather cosy and predictable – when you’ve grown up in the wild insanity of the Brush, some day-to-day ennui is no bad thing, apparently – starts to come apart, pieces by monstrously-threatening piece and she, Annie, Mitch and fellow Brush-baby and ex Van have to battle, unceasingly it seems against an array of monsters, not all of whom are alien in origin and some which look quite scarily corporate.

Satirical though Bubble maybe, it wears it skewering wit and savagely-funny oneliners easily and well, taken the fight not just to the Imps and those who use them for their own gain, but to the very idea that the future welfare of humanity depends on effectively enslaving them as sci-fi serfs in a world so perfectly engineered that all the life and humanity has been squeezed out of it.

A nice place to live though is not really the issue; banality aside, Fairhaven isn’t such a bad place to live, all soaring buildings and verdant parklands, all of which brought alive by artwork so richly evocative that it feels like it could leap off the page and envelop you in it (though without the monsters please and thank you).

What rather sours the picture-perfect image of a gorgeous place to live is what people have to give up to get it, with many of the searing costs of doing so embodied in the mutant people who become weapons in the corporate battle against grounded, honest and heartfelt humanity.

The thrill and great pleasure of Bubble is that it is everything Fairhaven is not – it’s a million times NOT boring, it has zest and fight, opinions worth listening to that are deftly and persuasively expressed, and characters that zing and sparkle with wit, insight and some deliciously intense fighting skills.

With writing that is whip-smart and incisively clever and artwork that evokes two starkly different parts of the same alien world, Bubble is one those graphic novels that makes you feel glad that the genre exists and that there are such talented people making it hum along.

Even more reassuring is the way it shows that different media can speak to each other and create something altogether brilliant, a creative child of a great many talented minds which makes some stinging points (“I could’ve killed your friend where he stood but chose not to!”), does it with lyrical elan and visual flair and which leaves you thrilled to have been a part of it all, and hugely glad that while monsters might be everywhere (yes, even here in good old present-day earth) they are more than balanced out by those who value their humanity and everything it brings and are more than willing to fight to hang onto it.

(courtesy Pan Macmillan)

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