From Eisner Ward winner Ed Piskor – the creator of The Hip Hop Family Tree and X-Men: Grand Design – comes a shocking look at the dark side of the internet. Aided by the anonymous dark web and nearly untraceable cryptocurrency, a criminal subculture has emerged. It livestreams murders as entertainment. Who are the killers? Who are the victims? Who is paying to watch? How to stop it? Red Room is constructed as a series of interconnected stories, shining a light on the characters who exist in the ugliest of corners in cyberspace.
Piskor’s previous high-profile work has delved into subjects he is passionate about (hip hop, X-Men and classic style comics being prominent among them). There is a feeling of joy and optimism in Hip Hop Family Tree and X-Men: Grand Design where you can tell the creator has a ton of reverence for the source material and is clearly enjoying exploring them. However, Red Room goes in a radically different direction from those projects. Whilst there are some tributes to EC Comics and the works of Robert Crumb, this series is largely Piskor’s examination of the worst sort of people the Dark Web can attract, whilst also imagining what internet forums and chatrooms could evolve into in a twisted future. The dangers of the internet are on full display here, with Bitcoin being heavily delved into as the main form of currency used by viewers, demonstrating the risks of untraceable cryptocurrency.
In another departure from Piskor’s previous works, the characters that make up Red Room are all on the deplorable side. Each chapter focuses on a different participant in the Red Room, and whilst their reasons and circumstances for participating are all different, they are all still willing to take part. The first chapter focusing on Davis Fairfield, a single parent whose wife passed away and is abused at work, is a particularly grim story that looks at the excuses people will use to justify committing horrific acts as Davis channels all his frustrations and grief into being a Red Room performer.
Piskor’s art has always had an old-school style that takes influence from the likes of classic Marvel artists like Jack Kirby and underground artists like Robert Crumb. You can see those influences in Red Room, though this time he does favour the style you’d see in EC Comics or banned slasher films from the 80s. There is lots of over-the-top violence and crazy looking characters that you’d expect given the subject matter, with Piskor embracing black comedy to showcase how deranged some corners of the web can be.
Fans of Piskor will once again be delighted to see him exploring a classic comic genre. And with this fresh horror story exploring modern technology, there’s also plenty for horror fans to enjoy, especially those who lean to the schlockier side of things.
Red Room : The Antisocial Network is out 11 November from Fantagraphics (9781683964681, p/b, £19.99)
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