Square Eyes features an interesting plot revolving around a woman named Fin who wakes up unsure of who she is after being unplugged from the network. She finds a woman seemingly living her life and slowly unravels a larger mystery about a program she was developing with enormous implications for basically everybody. That in itself would be enough to give it a read, in my opinion.
What is makes this graphic novel more compelling is the presentation. I have never seen futuristic, augmented reality better realized than in Square Eyes. The interface unfolds in intuitive ways, growing more complex as the story goes on and Fin begins to recall more and more of her past. It’s beautiful from a user interface standpoint but presenting the UI in tandem with the story makes for an intelligent and compelling experience; as a UI should be!
Additionally, every page; every spread feels carefully orchestrated to communicate details about the world. They are chock-full of them. It’s easy to get lost in pages roaming around spreads looking at details. This exploration is made even more satisfying due to the physical product itself, which is printed on nice, thick stock that lends even more substance to each page.
It’s a visual and physical feast that sets it apart. Other reviews, I have noticed, downplayed the plot; perhaps because the presentation is so incredible, the plot naturally takes a back seat for some. But I feel like what Square Eyes has to say about the world is prescient, especially regarding information being the number one commodity. Subtly reinforced throughout the reading experience, it can sometimes feel like the plot is shallow because it’s communicated all the time, presenting itself eerily within the world at all times.
With hindsight we now have regarding Cambridge Analytica’s role in various elections, and multiple other campaigns, the parts of the story where Fin feels disconnected from the world around her due to her being unplugged from the network seems like it might only days away for everyone. Our online experience is a curated bubble. But when everyone is in that bubble and you’re out of it, even when you’re attempting to interact with everyone physically, it’s a different kind of disconnect. Within this fiction, everyone is negotiating their own world in a more literal way due to the network. Their overlays are a far more curated experience that omits people even when they are right there with you.
Notions around forms of online piracy and the ways they might intersect with social class throughout, illustrated further by the interface that blooms from Fin’s own hands, make for an accessible and empathetic approach to communicate technological anxieties that feel new and fresh. Anyone can understand this because of the physicality of everything to do with the product. It’s as real as your hands pressing the next, thick page aside to make room for the next, and that’s a unique, cyberpunk story only available through Square Eyes.