Christopher Sebela (writer), Ro Stein (penciler), Ted Brandt (inker), Tríona Farrell (colorist), Cardinal Rae (letterer)
August 15, 2018
In the first four pages of Crowded #1, Charlie Ellison rents out her apartment, drives around some strangers, loans someone her car, feeds pigeons, picks up a guy, steals a dog, and hires a bodyguard. Most of these are normal, the last two are not. Charlie has fully embraced the gig economy and is making her living as any enterprising 20-something in late capitalism would: by working too dang much, and by monetizing her every move.
Charlie’s world is horrible, but Crowded is wonderful.
Crowded exists in the near future, where apps like Uber and Tinder and Airbnb have “disrupted” the everyday workings of the economy enough that 20-year-olds who already have resources can make a living by renting those resources out, but fast food chains have seemingly fired all their employees. You can buy an hour of friendship through Palrent, borrow a car on Wheelsy, or take out a crowdsourced, crowdfunded hit on someone using REAPR. But don’t worry! If you’re an unlucky REAPR target, you can find a bodyguard on DFEND. And it’s all perfectly legal!
Well, maybe you should worry, because you live in a capitalist hell-scape where friendship is monetized and startups have found a way to tie the value of a human life to the will of the mob and a price that tick tick ticks up as more and more people think it would be neat to watch you die. It’s up to you!
Charlie Ellison has chosen to worry. Charlie is the subject of a REAPR campaign, which means that a rapidly increasing bounty—$1,257,642, as of page five—will go to whatever lucky person manages to end her life. She turns to DFEND, where she hires Vita to keep her alive for the duration of the campaign. Vita’s DFEND rating sucks, but every client she’s taken on has lived to give her that shitty rating.
My favorite thing about writer Christopher Sebela’s work is the rumbling, wild pace that his stories can maintain, and so far Crowded is no different. Charlie is upset about being hunted, sure, but she bounces from task to task and crisis to crisis almost without missing a beat. Her situation is overblown and absurd, but as someone who’s held down at least seven jobs in the last year (most of them overlapping), her drive to roll with the punches and just keep moving feels intensely, horrifyingly relatable.
Crowded’s artwork, with pencils by Ro Stein, inks by Ted Brandt, and colors by Tríona Farrell, matches the aggressive pacing perfectly. Stein and Brandt manage to pack an inhumane number of panels into each page, pulling the reader rapidly through beat after beat. Their layouts, which they often compose together, fully incorporate the rhythm of the story, from illustrating sound effects in hurled coffee to jarring a panel off its grid as a car crashes through the wall of an automated fast food joint.
Farrell’s colors, in turn, help keep the story’s frenetic action from becoming too overwhelming: despite keeping her colors just as high energy as everything else in Crowded, Farrell uses her palette to pull the reader’s eyes gently across the page, shifting from warm to cool or dark to bright in a way that makes it easy to keep events straight. Between Stein’s layouts and Farrell’s colors, Crowded is a master class in giving a reader as much information as they can take without ever completely overloading them.
Though their stories are completely unrelated, Crowded feels like a joyous, logical successor to Sebela and Claire Roe’s We(l)come Back, with just a little more polish and—hopefully—a lot more staying power. Vita and Charlie are engaging protagonists, if not particularly likable, and thus far the story seems to implicitly condemn the cutthroat world they live in without feeling like a preachy “millennials are killing common decency” headline. It’s a story perfectly suited to today, a high-octane adventure that sits happily next to stories of Silicon Valley hopefuls reinventing things like busses and juice.
Issue #2 comes out on September 12. You’d best buckle in for the ride.