Cartoonist: George Wylesol
Publisher: Avery Hill
Internet Crusader by George Wylesol (Ghosts, Etc.) brings the fuzzy quality of the late 1990s Internet back to life. It’s the story of BSKskater191, a sometimes 13 year-old (but probably 12 year-old) who loves gaming, skating, and metal. He keeps a LiveJournal-type blog and like most teenagers, believes everything fukin’ sucks.
Wylesol has captured the late ’90s Internet mood so perfectly, that it’s best to let the image speak for itself. If you were born after 1997, the below image might alarm you.
What was so magical about the internet in the late ’90s is that when you were offline, you were really off. You didn’t have a phone; you didn’t have a tablet. The online world only existed on a desktop computer. You had to be purposefully, intentionally online. It was kinda great looking back on it.
The desktop computer itself seemed to need an oxygen supply. It had this huge environmental footprint in my house. It required lots of power, lots of space, and a phone line. There was a clear delineation between online time and the rest of time. At least for a while. The more time I spent online, the more time I questioned which one was the real me? Was it the online persona, or was it the person I was during school? Internet Crusader pokes at these forgotten parts of Internet culture, it does so in an indescribably clever and fun way.
The first thing you notice when you begin to read Internet Crusader is this: it looks like it was printed out on an HP Deskjet printer. Ah, printing.
Printing used to require me waking up an extra half-hour earlier before school. That is how long printing used to take. Throw color ink into the mix, and you were looking at an additional 2-4 minutes per page. That’s, of course, assuming the printer didn’t jam on you for no explicable reason.
The second thing you’ll notice is how the book situates us in the computer-dream world of a young teenager. We see the boot-up screen; we go through the different loading screens until we end up on the desktop. Wylesol envisions an Internet Explorer-type browser (Voyager Online) with no less than five browser bars.
The home page consists of a segment called “the many faces of Saddam Hussein.” There’s also an article introducing us to the revolutionary StarTAC phone, released in 1997. There are so many layers, and each one tickles at a little memory of my past.
I know what you are thinking: “Well, geeze Andrea this sounds like nostalgia.” It isn’t. This book isn’t trying to invoke sentimental longing. If anything, it’s a reminder that the Internet has always been a collection of — well, messy shit. Pop-up ads, unknown websites, spam, porn, and just a beautiful visual disaster.
Anything is possible online, even satanic cults
Sometimes you just want to go online and chat with some smokin’ hot chicks, but the Internet has different plans for BSKskater191. Sometimes those chicks turn out to be disciples of an evil cult who plan to take over the world via a particularly nasty computer virus. BSKskater191 is the only one who can save his family and friends; well, him and horseluvr1234. Who tells him this? None other than God, of course.
Below, you’ll see God speaking to the hero of our story. The green lizard is Shax Abraxis. Don’t mess with Shax.
It’s difficult to describe how different being online felt when the Internet was new. At school, I was the person who had their books knocked out of their hands while walking down the hallway. Online, no one knew that about me. That was intoxicating freedom. Internet Crusader invokes that intoxication and makes us laugh at it, at ourselves.
The line between the story we craft for ourselves, or the sake of others, is tangled up inside this book. The way people used fonts, Internet messaging profiles, and screen names to express who they were. It reminds me that we’ve always been looking for outlets, for ways to let out different parts of who we are. It’s part of the dichotomy of our mediated, connected, always-on reality. We aren’t our real selves online, but we can access and explore some of the most authentic parts of ourselves online.
Being young and online was thrilling and terrifying. You are just beginning to understand who you are and you are exposed to this unknown universe, and it’s easy to see how it can all be exploited (for better or worse).
Sometimes, you’d like to believe that you wouldn’t be drafted into a cult based on a super-sketchy website which uses questionable Word- and Clip-Art images, but then you remember that Heaven’s Gate happened.
For the uninitiated, Heaven’s Gate was a cult lead by Marshall Applewhite. In March 1997, 39 members of the cult committed suicide throughout a three-day period under the belief that they would ascend to another plane of existence by hitching a ride on a UFO that followed the Hale-Bopp comet as it passed Earth. It is widely considered one of the first Internet connected-cults. The media coverage of Heaven’s Gate combined with the Internet; it created this great cultural miasma which, to this day, kind of continues unabated. We all live in the squalid of our online creations.
BSKskater191 ventures into the unexplored dimensions of the Internet, and as he does so, the real world and online world begin to mix in some pretty tricky ways. I won’t get into them, because I don’t want to spoil the fun. Thankfully for the rest of humanity, BSKskater191 has some sick gaming skills. These skills allow him the chance to fight the great evil unknowingly unleashed upon society via a hack and slash/dungeon crawler called Portal2Hell.
All of this book left me wondering. Are we (the reader) supposed to take BSKskater191 literally or seriously? Truthfully, it doesn’t matter.
There’s this proclivity online to drill down, to find the ‘patient zero.’ If you try to do that with Internet Crusader, you may end up more perplexed and confused than before. That’s kinda the point. This story is not what it seems, but it also might be exactly what it seems. What is it? A helluva lot of fun.
Internet Crusader by George Wylesol is available on September 5, 2019, from Avery Hill Publishing. £14.99. 196 pages, full color, 239x190mm.