“Thumbs is about a kid who just wants to win his video games.” This is a quote from Sean Lewis’ introduction to the series’ trade paperback, written by Lewis and drawn and lettered by Hayden Sherman. This quote describes to me everything wrong with Thumbs and the “zealots on both sides, extremists, [and] fascists” that fill the book’s narrative.
I generally try not to let an author’s introduction color my opinions on a story before I read it, but I felt this commentary was heavy throughout the book. Thumbs is a political comic, and I cannot review it without talking about the politics it engages with. It heavily criticizes group mentality and the way technology influences groups, regardless of ideology. While the way the internet has influenced discourse is a worthy discussion, Thumbs does so in a way that’s deeply narrow minded. Its approach is so dismissive of the struggles women, people of color, and queer people go through in this era. What’s even more frustrating is on a technical level, there’s some incredible stuff here. Yet ultimately, I feel its message sours the technical strengths present.
Hayden Sherman handles all the art and lettering duties on this comic, and he does some truly stellar work. The entire feel of the book is so kinetic, bold and striking. If I could compare it to anything, it reminds me of Wes Craig’s work on Deadly Class. From the very first scene of the book you’re thrown into such an incredible rush and driven forward at such an exhilarating pace. The layouts and pencils are both expressive and experimental. In one scene, rather than giving information from the past to the reader in a flashback, it’s played on a screen within a present-day scene. As the present story progresses, other people are commenting on what’s happening on this flashback being shown on the screen. It’s all done in a super skillful and innovative way. The colors are also absolutely stellar. Most of the world is rendered in blacks and grays, with pieces of technology highlighted in a bright pink. It’s a style that pairs beautifully with the tech-focused narrative and looks incredibly striking and unique. Sherman also uses some gorgeous hand lettering for sound effects that really tie the story together. There are some incredible pages that allow the lettering to dominate, and it makes these sound effects feel huge and impactful. It’s all and all a great showing for Hayden Sherman, an artist who I was previously unfamiliar with, but will be eagerly keeping an eye out for.
However, despite Thumbs’ strong technical aspects, I take issue with the moral and political commentary of the story. Thumbs takes place in a futuristic version of our world. Technology dominates society, and a fascistic government called “The Power” has taken control. Their only opposition is a group of child soldiers recruited for their skill at video games by a resistance force. The conflict between this government and resistance is portrayed such that both sides are terrible. While The Power oppresses people and brainwashes them into obedience, the resistance force recruits children into a bloody conflict. Both factions are called out for their immoral acts, but there is no ideological counter to them.
Things end off pretty peachy after the conflict boils over into the streets and the characters decide to walk away from it all. But how did this all happen? What happened to The Power’s grip on the entire world? How can we have a happy ending when as far as we know the world is still held by a fascistic infrastructure? In place of answers, we are left with a quote: “I love people. I just hate groups. Put them in groups and they start wearing pointed hats and telling everyone what to think and what to do. But, by themselves, humans are pretty perfect.”
Thumbs loves not only political commentary, but social commentary on the way we interact with technology. Kids in this world are raised by “MOM” parenting apps rather than people, and we see so many others who are addicted to tech. Ultimately though, it offers no insight into the internet and the way we interact with it. We form groups because inherently people want to be loved and fit in. Yes, this can lead people to band together around hate and commit horrible acts. But groups are also the way we interconnect with each other. The establishment of the internet connected everyone around the world, and yes it enables hurtful behavior. But for marginalized people who feel alone, the internet also represented a place to fit in. People who had nobody who understood what they were going through could find someone else who can say “yeah, I get it” and really mean it. Once together those people could not only help each other but unite to make the world better for people like them.
Thumbs reeks of a lack of perspective. It has no ideology, it has nothing to say beyond “technology bad,” and completely neglects the idea that some people are forced to fight not by ideology, but for their very existence. As a gay man, I take serious issue with narratives that depict both sides of our current politics as two evils arbitrarily fighting for no reason, with little difference between them. We live in a world where people’s basic rights are coming into question because of their gender, their sexuality, their race, and really just who they are. To say their struggle for equality makes them the same as the people who hurt them and keep hurting them, is deeply hurtful.
I don’t know Sean Lewis or Hayden Sherman. I don’t know what experiences they’ve had, nor have I lived their lives. But I feel they created this story with an incredibly narrow worldview and would ask they look around at what marginalized people are going through right now. We all want to have fun, to live our lives, to just be people. The reason we can’t is that people won’t let us, and that is why there are two sides at all.
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