Comic-Con: Vertigo's 'Unfollow' Dissects Social Media's Dark Side

"It's infringing on our lives to the point where it's on its way toward becoming the main form of communication for many people."
Courtesy of DC Entertainment

If you thought that social media was dangerous before, wait until you read Unfollow, the new Vertigo comic book by Rob Williams and Mike Dowling, in which a social media billionaire pledges to split his fortune between 140 randomly selected people upon his death… or, rather, between however many of those 140 are still alive when he dies. The Hollywood Reporter talked to Williams about the new series.

The concept for the series sounds like Willy Wonka meets Battle Royale meets hardcore social satire. Where did it come from?

I felt that Twitter and social media had a very zeitgeist-y story to tell. Something that felt very now. This is a strange moment in time, I think, where the Internet has become a new frontier and we're still establishing limitations and dangers. I wanted to encapsulate that in a story that dealt with Twitter culture — people have followers, cults of personality, ruthlessness of ambition. And Mike Dowling and I sat down and talked about doing a story that really focused on how we're all very much still in the food chain, day to day. Technology hasn't diminished that. It's just given it a different appearance.

So is this your response to the suggestion that social media is supposed to have had a dehumanizing effect on us all?

I don't think it does dehumanize us. You still see nothing but human behavior in your Twitter feed: Strength, weakness, insecurity. It's changing the way that we interact with each other. It's changing our language of communication. But we're the same cavemen and women peering out of our caves every morning, wondering what we can kill today, and what's out there that can kill us. That's all the core of the book. There's a lot of satire alongside the action and horror. This is a world ripe for exploring.

You've worked with Mike Dowling before on strips for 2000AD. What does he bring to the world of Unfollow?

I love working with artists who can give you real acting performances from your characters. Mike delivers that so well. These characters really emote. It was important, given the subject matter, that the world of Unfollow feels like our world, and Mike's aesthetic has that. I should also mention our colors by Quinton Winter, who's making the book look like nothing else of the comic shelves, I think. He's coming from a slightly different sensibility to most US-market comics. It looks like we've hired a killer cinematographer.

Has researching or writing this series changed your own use of social media?

Probably not. I know I use it too much. That's one of the reasons I wanted to write about this. It's infringing on our lives to the point where it's on its way towards becoming the main form of communication for many people. How many times do you go to a cafe or diner and see a family sitting there and, instead of talking to each other, they're all staring at their tablet or phones? Try and watch a movie or TV show at home these days without glancing at your phone for a second. We're changing. And Unfollow is kind of the story of that change.

Unfollow launches in November.

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