Flying cars, teleportation, robots--the future, if not a dystopia, is generally played as a land of wonders. We have an obsession with the future in comics. Alternate realities posed as potential futures are played with all the time. Yet so many “ideal” futures are not ones I'd want to live in. Webcomics are giving us
Flying cars, teleportation, robots–the future, if not a dystopia, is generally played as a land of wonders. We have an obsession with the future in comics. Alternate realities posed as potential futures are played with all the time. Yet so many “ideal” futures are not ones I’d want to live in. Webcomics are giving us a modern vision of the future that truly matches where the world is going in our best case scenario.
Before we get into which webcomics are doing so well at this, let’s talk about what our mainstream media generally does so wrong. Reliably, these futures are brought to us by cisgender, heterosexual, and white men, and given the ideals of that subculture, ignoring science and social activism. We are often given futures that are, socially, exactly like our own: dominated by cis/het white men. Rarely are people of color the most common thing to see, despite the fact that as we go throughout the years white majorities get smaller and smaller. It also assumes, despite growing numbers of queer people and the evolving perspectives on gender, that these things will remain in the margins in the future–if they’ll even exist.
That’s where webcomics come in. Always Human, Rechargeable, and The Immortal Nerd are shining examples of inclusive futures. All three of these stories put us in a future that is unlike the other; each is wildly different. Yet each present us with a future that is free from a creator with a cis/het male gaze. These are properties that beacon modern understandings of many things, and each tells a compelling story along with it’s world building.
Let’s begin with Immortal Nerd, a more recent love of mine. We are taken to the year 4,000, where being a Meme archivist is a viable career, people live in a space station that can grant immortality, and more. This comic does a very interesting thing: in leaving her home in one area of this future world, and taking them to a futuristic Earth, our protagonist (from a space colony) is just as out of water as the reader. Future-Earth is seen through fascinated eyes, We see a world free of gendered clothing, where gendered pronouns are not thrown around commonly, and non-binary genders are run of the mill. It’s a fascinating world that is different, but not a wild change from our world. It lets us grasp new concepts slowly. Another lovely Women Write About Comics writer did a piece on this I also recommend checking out.
Moving onto Always Human, we have a story of romance set in the future. In this future, “modding” is the big push. Always Human shows a world where everyone can augment just about anything about themselves including skin color, hair, eyes, etc. We follow a girl who loves to mod and works in Virtual Reality, building for people to enjoy–and another girl who can’t use mods in this world full of modding. In a future, where people can change anything, a creator could start to default to the standards of beauty applied in the contemporary media yet here we have people of color everywhere–it’s simply a bright, vivid world. The character’s lesbianism is not ever brought to question and seems to be a pretty normal thing by all accounts. The queerness doesn’t really play too much out of our main characters immediate worldviews, but wider views of their world have also shown nonbinary genders, female friendships, and women who are in positions of power.
Finishing things up we’ll talk about Rechargeable briefly. This comic follows a gang in the future, selling illegal contraband, and what not. They are mostly queer, they are of varying skin tones, and, what with them being in a gang, the story moves past respectability politics. It’s still a wholesome enough webcomic, but it allows people to see a future where queerness and people of all backgrounds are commonplace and totally normalised. Their diverse lineup also moves away from the “good guys” we often see in outreach media, who always follow the rules.
These webcomics all illustrate a future that denies the “norms” set up in our present. While these futures may not be ideal, each of these are futures that I could see myself wanting to live in. These are futures where everyone is invited, not just the dominant forces.
I can only hope that people in powerful positions across the media industry look at these imagined futures and think “this works.” You can tell stories in futures that are beyond the standard cut and paste of their favorite old fashioned world. We can see futures that follow progressive ideals, while still having a large degree of conflict. Hell, you can have scary evil from the future without it being from some dystopia. Hope ya writers take a note–and I hope everyone else just enjoyed this little tour, and checks out the comics I mentioned. They really are really good.