Life is tough for the current generation of the workforce, whose constant grinding at dead-end jobs nets just enough money to scrape by without allowing any upward progress. The gig economy is a symptom of a horrifying economic inequality, and those of us under 50 are being crushed by debt. Better pick up yet another app and sell away even more precious hours of your life, because your health insurance barely covers your asthma inhaler, let alone an emergency room visit when a flesh-eating monster attacks you at the farmer’s market.
Such is the world of Bubble, a book so unsettlingly close to our own that the science fiction aspects barely raise an eyebrow.
Comedy is hard, particularly in a medium almost cruelly called ‘comics’. Tone, timing, and voice all matter tremendously, all of which have a hard time translating when so much of the craft flattens them out. It’s hard to get a reader to laugh out loud at a gag; at the most, a sort of smirk might cross their lips.
There is absolutely nothing flat about Bubble, which had me cracking up by the third page. I hadn’t even intended to start reading the book: I was just flipping through the pages to get a look at how the thing looked, and by the time I remembered that I had other mail to open and errands to run I realized I was already halfway through. Realizing there was only half left gave me a tragic pang, which means the book managed not just the incredible task of hilarity, but also that rare feat of making a reader sorry to be done with it.
What makes Bubble so instantly engaging isn’t the clever elevator pitch (monster-slaying in a gig economy) or even Tony Cliff’s immaculate artwork (which is worth the price of admission on its own) — it lies in the immediacy with which the book fully asserts its characters. By that first laugh on page 3, main character Morgan is already well on her way to having an established voice. The reader can already hear her in their heads, and can understand the tone with which she’s speaking.
The grief of grinding at gig economy jobs and the exhausting frustration of cutting-edge hipsterism grounds us just as firmly in the book’s world, almost as if hustling and low-key hating are so relatable that we can just go right ahead and get on board with monster-blood hallucinogens and hivemind book clubs.
That’s one of the many joys of Bubble: while the book is made up of epic battles, sinister corporate plots, and lingering mystery, none of it gets in the way of its delightful, self-aware cynicism. Nearly every page has some gag stinging some aspect of modern society, striking frightfully close to home. Every social encounter the writers put forward is so uncannily close to something I’ve experienced that it’s impossible to escape a sort of poignant self-reflection. Each side character is a hyper-distilled caricature of someone I went to school with, got drunk with, or still occasionally run into around town.
What lies under the social commentary is an exciting, vivid world you can’t help but want to know more about but which, because the book insists on providing almost no exposition, we can only experience through context. It’s a bold and extremely gratifying move on the part of the creators, who clearly have no intention of talking down to their readers. There’s no need for content filler, largely because there’s absolutely no room for it: the book is bursting at the seams with clever concepts and gorgeous, fully-realized artwork.
No bull, all cards on the table: Bubble blindsided me, pushing its way to the top spot of my favorite release of the year. It scratches a comedy itch that’s been unsatisfied since the conclusion of Giant Days, and I can’t wait to read it again. I can’t recommend it enough.
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