“In Real Life” by Cory Doctorow and Jen Wang
I make no secret among my friends about my love for artist and comics creator Jen Wang. Ever since I stumbled onto her debut graphic novel Koko Be Good, I have been hooked on Wang’s elegant visual style, her use of color, and her breathtaking ability to communicate emotion through her illustrations.
So imagine my excitement when I heard about In Real Life, which just debuted last week. Written by Cory Doctorow and illustrated by Jen Wang, In Real Life tells the story of Anda, a quiet, geeky girl who joins the massive multiplayer game Coarsegold Online. In the game Anda can look and act however she wants, and she quickly becomes a high-level player. But Anda’s fantasy is not as perfect as she thinks; she soon becomes aware of “goldfarmers,” players who cheat using generic avatars to harvest high-level items to then sell for real-world money to wealthy gamers. Given the opportunity to hunt down these players, Anda comes face to face with a multitude of inequalities not only in the virtual world, but also in the real one. When she befriends Raymond, a Chinese goldfarmer working and living in a sweatshop, Anda will find herself torn between what is right for the game she loves and for the people she cares about.
Clever, thought-provoking, and instantly relatable, In Real Life is a gorgeous example of tackling real and relevant issues through the medium of YA comics. Doctorow’s writing is overflowing with character and sincerity, embracing the morally gray areas of our world while maintaining an overarching message of love and acceptance. This is NOT a comic about the dangers of gaming, but a celebration of friendship and the enlightening relationships that can only be achieved through the internet.
In turn, Wang’s art sings in this book, perfectly juxtaposing the fantastical realm of Coarsegold with the grounded reality of Anda’s home life. Even if you don’t play video games, even if you never read comics or YA, I highly recommend you pick up In Real Life either digitally or in print. It is one of the best books I’ve read this year and will be sure to get you hooked on the works of both its creators.