ADVANCED REVIEW: Friendo #1 by Alex Paknadel, Martin Simmonds, Dee Cunniffe, & Taylor Esposito

Friendo #1 comes out Sept. 26, 2018.

By Zack Quaintance — Friendo #1 joins a growing wave of realistic, near-future capitalist horror stories being told in creator-owned comics. These stories all take hard looks at tech, at the late-model capitalist landscape, and at the plight of individuals within it. It’s the same rough formula that made Crowded so compelling, and to a lesser extent The New World, too. And yes, it’s at work again in Friendo, albeit executed with a take that is all Friendo’s own.

Friendo is set in dystopian Los Angeles, where ambush marketing is common. Have a movie about car crashes? You can hire someone to smash a car as a stunt, putting their body at great peril. Meanwhile, TMZ and E! have paparazzi drones hovering outside bedroom windows, using facial recognition software to evaluate whether people are notable. Oh, and wild fires, of course, are raging.

There are a growing number of these realistic near-future stories in comics, which makes perfect sense. Continued acceleration of healthcare costs, global warming, human reliance on tech, and the crumbling of boundaries between individuality and sales have replaced rando with a big knife as the scariest things a character can face. Friendo knows this. It’s scattered throughout its pages, with quick throwaway panels that are understated and terrifying (specifically a man on TV preparing to get up close and personal with a mustang stallion in order to win a year of health insurance for his family...christ, that’s not even far-fetched).

Friendo is thought-provoking, no question. Paknadel’s scripting is fantastic, as is the accompanying artwork. Simmonds art is clean and austere, leaving a blunt and captivating depiction of Los Angeles, while Cunniffe provides a complementary set of colors that are just so Los Angeleno.

One of the most impressive sequences—both in terms of writing and visuals—is the protagonist answering four questions that progressively shape his personalized marketing VR, Jerry. This scene was likely a heavy lift, but Paknadel’s adept scripting nails it, creating a set of questions as oblique in nature as they are believably-telling, especially if you consider them in the context of being fuel for advanced technology.

And that really, I think, speaks to this book’s greatest strength: its ability to craft technological ideas that seem advanced beyond comprehension but are still believable extensions of our current reliance on all things digital. Friendo has some work to do with its characterization (and plenty of time to do it after hooking me so thoroughly with this first issue), but in the end, this is a good comic—a look at a near future that truly seems as likely as it does terrifying.

Overall: Friendo is a solid debut comic rooted in smart extrapolations of ongoing societal concerns. This is a book that gives itself so many intriguing possibilities to play with as it moves forward. The rate of ideas here is almost staggering, and I’m excited to see where the creative team ultimately takes it. 8.0/10

Friendo #1 will be available Sept. 26, 2018.

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Zack Quaintance is a journalist who also writes fiction and makes comics. Find him on Twitter at @zackquaintance. He lives in Sacramento, California.