You Need to Follow the Social Media-Fueled Comic Unfollow
When it comes to social media survival, the struggle is real in Unfollow. Written by 2000AD veteran Rob Williams with art by Mike Dowling, the high-minded concept behind the series is pretty simple: the founder of a Twitter-like social network has selected 140 randomly chosen users to share in his fortune—which immediately changes their lives in ways they really couldn’t expect.
“The central conceit of this book is that 140 characters are told that they can share this huge wealth if they’re really nice to each other, but if a couple of them die, then suddenly the money gets shared 138 ways,” Williams says. “It’s trying to find out who we are as people, and peel back layers of civilization, really.”
Despite the social media hook, artist Dowling says he sees the series “as a survival story, a return to something more primal—a contrast to this virtual, technical space, which has almost a disconnect with the physical [world].”
The monthly comic book series, which DC Entertainment’s Vertigo imprint is launching next month, doesn’t have its origins in either creator’s social media habit (although Williams jokes that his use of Twitter has his partner telling him to put the iPad down on a regular basis), but in something far less obvious: Louis CK’s stand-up routine.
“We’re both big fans, and I think it really came from talking about Louis CK’s bit about humans being out of the food chain,” Williams says. “What we really wanted to say was that we never really got out of the food chain, that we’re really still simians with better handheld technology these days.”
Proof of that, he says, can be seen by watching how we interact with each other online. “If you look at the social interactions on Twitter, you can see food chain dynamics: You can see alpha males, people who are in thrall with leaders—even just the words ‘follow’ and ‘unfollow’—that sense of a hierarchy within culture,” Williams says. “That’s what Unfollow is trying to get across. It feels like it’s a new plateau, a new way of interacting. You sit on a train, and no one’s looking at each other, they’re all looking at their phones. They’re all communicating, but in this different way.”
The 140 lucky winners of the fortune (if “lucky” can really be used to describe people who are suddenly thrust into a world of instant celebrity and potential death) are found across the globe. They include a disillusioned journalist preparing to commit suicide, a man who believes he talks to God, and the daughter of a billionaire who’s lived her life trying to get rid of her money. As you might expect, they don’t exactly all react in the same way to their new circumstances.
“One of the things about the diverse cast is that each one is bringing their own ideas about what the money could be used for,” Dowling said. “It starts a conversation about the value of humanity, and what we’re ‘worth’ in some sense.”
Having an international and varied group of characters also gives the creators the opportunity to show the real-time interconnectedness technology offers. “There’s a line in, I think it’s issue 2 of the series, where someone refers to the fact that during the Ferguson riots, people in Palestine were talking to people in Missouri, telling them how to deal with tear gas,” Williams says. “Things like that are still astonishing uses of social media.”
For both Dowling and Williams, Unfollow, which will be released digitally and to comic book stores Nov. 14, offers the chance to say something both about the world we live in, and the people we are underneath it all.
“There’s a story to be told about social media and how it’s affecting us,” Williams says. “I didn’t really feel that any comic had done that, really. The world’s turning into a new territory every day. With things like the Arab Spring, you see the potential for social media, and then you see things like Peeple, and you think, God, this is horrible. But that’s who we are: at times we’re fantastic, and at times we’re horrible.”