A fear of authoritarian surveillance has been a motif throughout literary history (Nineteen Eighty-Four, anyone?), but in a post-Snowden, NSA era it’s perhaps more relevant than ever.
Cue Gianluca Bonomo’s CCTVYLLE, a multimedia project involving comics, fine art and animation in which CCTV cameras have morphed into sinister, semi-sentient, partially organic ‘hybrids’ – feathered, winged and most definitely clawed – that patrol the skies in search of those deemed to be criminals.
In the prelude issue, we are introduced to both the world and a few potentially key characters. There’s a brief cameo from a girl named Clare, who warns the issue’s focal character, Damien, to keep his cool. Damien appears to be a relative newcomer to the resistance against the hybrids and their shady controllers.
More experienced is the enigmatic Sean – a dark figure whose face is always concealed by a hoodie. He claims to be filming a documentary, but there’s no sign of a camera on him… However, he’s not the only one with unanswered questions floating above his head. The last pages of the comic hint at a supernatural gift of Damien’s – the bets are on for what direction that rogue element could take the story in.
The final pages leave our main pair in the lurch, but also serve as an introduction to future players. A hacker, a hybrid hunter, a rebel trainer and a seemingly innocent punk appear through the all-seeing eye of a hybrid, offering brief glimpses into a story-world much broader and richer than a prelude issue can accommodate.
The art of CCTVYLE is both aptly desolate and surprisingly delicate. The recognisable urban London setting may be crowded, but a tinge of loneliness touches everything, and figures in the background are relegated to the role of autonomous silent extras. Artist Salvatore Porcaro and colourists Deborah Allo and Bonomo himself have used washed-out colours and shadows in creating their brooding ominous world, where rustling shapes could hide in every corner and watch with unblinking eyes.
Within the issue, Sean comments that people barely notice the surveillance any more, but it’s hard to imagine how, when delicately drawn images show hybrids swirling around trees and buildings in numbers rivalling London’s real-life pigeons. Precisely arranged panels surrounded by heavy black borders echo the oppressive world of CCTVYLLE, and while a few stray details escape the borders, the overall claustrophobic effect is a constant background presence.
Diego Blanda’s script is careful not to give too much away. Exposition is thankfully sparse, and little or nothing is revealed about the origins of the hybrids or who is really in charge of them.
Similarly, the motives, relationships and plans of the rebel characters are left uncertain. CCTVYLLE is shaping up to be a story in which neither characters nor events can be taken at face value, and sometimes the line between dream, film and reality blurs and fades.
The CCTVYLLE prelude might not give too much away, but it does look to lead into a carefully considered and well-developed world full of interesting characters that we have yet to meet fully.
It risks the pitfalls of Big Brother clichés and generic hacker characters, but if well executed it could also be a sci-fi tale of epic proportions, feeding into modern-day concerns over state surveillance and pressing just the right buttons of paranoia versus rebellion.
Gianluca Bonomo & Diego Blanda (W), Salvatore Porcaro (A), Deborah Allo (C) • Holy Loft Productions, £3.50, September 2014