By Zack Quaintance — Crowded #1 is, to put it simply, a super-hyped book, one of those comics that got a movie deal (with Rebel Wilson attached!) before its first issue saw release. It also has a notable and rising creative team (writer Christopher Sebela of Cold War, Shanghai Red, and artists Ro Stein and Ted Brandt, who’ve done cool stuff with Marvel, to say nothing of Triona Farrell, who’s absolutely great). As such, I came to this book with a mix of excitement and high expectations—and I was thoroughly and utterly hooked from basically the first page.
Crowded extrapolates the gig economy to its natural and excessive capitalistic extremes, to a place wherein anything you could ever need is accessible via the gig economy or a social connections app. In the world of Crowded, our protagonist Charlotte works 12 for-hire jobs in one day (on a slow day), ending the first night we see her by hooking up with a man she meets via another app, with whom she never needs to so much as exchange real names.
When people start trying to kill Charlotte en mass the following day (via a crowdfunded death app), she hires a bodyguard via yet another app, this one called Dfend, and our plot is off and running. That’s really all I’ll say about Crowded’s story, since the inner machinations of this book are such a joy to unfurl. Solid plotting aside, this creative team does a wonderful job peppering their book with the little touches that do work to keep readers engaged (things like the mysterious bodyguard's personal life/motivation, Charlotte’s pithy rejoinders, an adorable chihuahua, etc.) and make good graphic sequential storytelling so enthralling. In addition, the storytellers use a workmanlike precision to accomplish the required exposition and world-building, as if they themselves had been materialized by an on-demand app for great creators. Yeah, it’s all that entertaining.
Crowded at its core, though, is about a dystopian future that should feel too real to us all, a vivid imagining of a likely scenario to come, steeped in a plot that feels as dangerous, urgent, and tense as vintage Tarantino.
Overall: Stein and Brandt’s linework is strong, their character designs as stylish as they are revealing of traits, and Sebela’s script is, in a word, witty. This is a confident and fully-formed debut comic with something important to say about where working life and society are both going. My advice? Make like a character in Crowded—buy this. 9.5/10
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Zack Quaintance is a journalist who also writes fiction and makes comics. Find him on Twitter at @zackquaintance. He lives in Sacramento, California.