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On The Line
posted February 14, 2011

imageCreators: Rian Hughes, Rick Wright
Publishing Information: Image Comics, hardcover, 48 pages, February 2011, $12.99
Ordering Numbers: 9781607063469 (ISBN13), 1607063468 (ISBN10)

This is a sharp-looking little book from designer and artist Rian Hughes and Rick Wright, reprinting their Compuserve-sponsored strip that ran in the Guardian back when that didn't sound like a strange thing: the mid-1990s.

Let's be up front and honest: this is a thin, thin book. It's 48 pages, but not all of these are the installment-per-page entries that constitute its bulk. There are a few pages of introductory material, and a couple of the four-panel strips are taken off of the single page and run one-panel-per-page across four of them. This is flattering to those strips, but I have to admit I processed those installments as padding first and as visual platforms second. There's also not a lot of material covered in terms of the subjects engaged. The novelty of being on-line in 1996 or so leads to a few standard gags about the way men and women adapt to new technology, and there's some stuff that may make you giggle about exactly what folks gravitated to and what they didn't as the Internet was in its clinging-to-rocks and just out of the primordial soup stage. That there is some specific repetition along those lines is probably the most surprising thing given the brevity of the book. You may leave wondering if there was all that much to say about the subject at the time, at least in this format.

The most positive thing I can say about On The Line is that if you were on-line before, say, 1998 or so, the book manages to gracefully recall the foundation-altering nature of simply using the Internet that one felt at the time, the natural slide into communicating with people all over the world and the furtive and immediate way e-mail changed the frequency and nature of our interpersonal relationships. My memory matches that of the cartoonists: a genial revolution, driven by novelty, marked by slow download times, mostly observed by typing into the ether and feeling the strong pull of connection when people reciprocated. That's a fine achievement for something this small and sponsored and operating from such a limited perspective, but it's certainly something I'm glad I saw for free rather than had to pay for. Unless these kinds of cultural moments are extremely important to you, or you're an absolute fiend for Hughes' work (and no one would blame you for that), I'd suggest holding this one in your hands before taking out your wallet and making a purchase -- if you still buy things that way in the post-Internet world.