Some months ago, cartoonist Phil Elliott was approached on the street by a teenage girl asking for money. It’s a sad but common enough occurrence in cities, but when Elliott refused, the situation became something much different from anything he’d experienced. “A younger kid — he must have only been about ten — started swearing at me, ‘Give us some ******* money!'” he recalled. “I was then aware that there was another girl filming all this on her mobile phone. What was going on here? Were they trying to provoke me? What happened to the video?”
The incident took on a greater significance for Elliott when writer Thomas Behe contacted him to see if he were interested in drawing a comic he’d written, which explores a voyeuristic underground where profit-hungry youths prowl the streets secretly filming violence and catastrophes with mobile devices. That comic became Contraband, the new digital comic from SLG Publishing, distributed on their online comics site Eyemelt.com. The four-issue series will begin its serialization in October 2007, and a print collection of Contraband will be published in February 2008. A preview is available at SLG’s website, www.slgcomic.com.
Behe was inspired to write the story after he noticed people worrying about cell phones. “The new concerns were more social-related,” he said. “Kids receiving intimidating texts from class bullies. A mate of mine was even propositioned to subscribe to some sort of spy-cam exhibitionist mobi-blog. I had no idea why these folks were secretly filming everyone, but there was tons of stuff on there.”
In the near-future society of Contraband, bands of content-hungry amateurs armed with camera phones record violent scenes, some of which they instigate, to satisfy society’s demand for ever more shocking on-the-go entertainment. Toby, a self-styled “citizen journalist,” is documenting this underground when he is discovered by agents for a cell-phone channel called Contraband. Forced to work for them, Toby is assigned the task of finding a female activist set on sabotaging Contraband and must navigate a difficult path where he must choose between his own safety and the greater good.
Woven throughout Contraband are key elements of modern wireless communication, including text messaging, online blogging, avatars and alerts, gaming and live video broadcast, reflecting Behe’s vision of a future society in which people can view customized video content on their mobile phones.
This vision was part of what drew Elliott, a respected cartoonist known for his work on Illegal Alien and the SLG graphic novel Tupelo. “Contraband interweaves the controversial aspects of the mobile phone industry with a storyline involving a disparate bunch of characters who find themselves drawn together by the device in their pocket,” said Elliott. “Each character has a story to tell and each one of them needs to find a way to come to terms with their predicament.”
Contraband is available now at www.eyemelt.com, downloadable in PDF format for only $0.89. New issues will be added monthly. The SLG Publishing print graphic novel will be available for pre-order at comic book stores in December 2007. For more information about comic book publisher SLG Publishing, visit their website at www.slgcomic.com.