A Boy and A Girl by Jamie S. Rich (writer) and Natalie Nourigat (artist)
I was certainly surprised by this story. I’d seen it on Comixology before, but I’d passed it up. However, I decided to give it a chance after reading Natalie Nourigat’s wonderful comic book Between the Gears, a coming-of-age autobiography about her senior year at the University of Oregon. I knew I liked her art, and just for that reason alone, I enjoyed A Boy and A Girl. It has the same style, with a touch of futurism, but Nourigat’s main strength is on show here again: She has the ability to draw the same characters again and again and keep them interesting mainly through the subtle difference in expressions. Her characters’ body language and facial expressions handle much of the subtle story-telling, leaving plot and dialogue for Jamie S. Rich to focus on. And the plot, what I thought was merely a boy-meets-girl story, was much more than that. Obviously the title invites that thought, but I should have known that the invitation was ironic, otherwise they would have come up with a more striking title.
The story takes place in the future, but not much has changed. On the first page, we see cars on the roads of the city, but there are some police cars in the air with their tires tucked/tilted in like a Marvel S.H.I.E.L.D. car, if that image helps. But the main difference in this world is that the field of robotics has advanced far beyond what we can imagine. It’s become so advanced that it’s apparently common for those in mourning to replace their loved ones with a companion robot. In fact, our two main characters, Charley, the girl, and Travis, the boy, meet at the house of someone whose dead wife is being replaced by one such android: He’s throwing a meet-the-new-wife-same-as-the-old-wife coming-out party. Very odd. Travis and Charley both find it creepy and feel free to openly judge the man since neither of them know him: Travis crashed the party for free booze and is there with his friend Gregor. Charley came with her friend Emily, who is an acquaintance of the man with the new “wife.” They talk briefly, head upstairs after their initial, passionate attraction, and jump into the first bed they find upstairs.
The story really starts the next morning when Travis wakes up and recalls that he forgot to get Charley’s number and decides to track her down. The chapters alternate between the two main characters. We soon find out, as we are told on the back cover, that this is actually Charley’s last night in the city since she has to leave for a new job. And this story is about Travis pursuing the person who may be his one true love. Will he find her? What complications will arise? Blah, blah, blah. That sounds terribly trite and predictable, doesn’t it?
But this apparent predictability is the entire point of the graphic novel. Jamie S. Rich knows exactly what he’s doing by giving us a bland title and a SEEMINGLY bland opening to a story. It’s anything but bland, trite, and predictable. And even when you think it’s predictable in other ways, it’s not. This plot has several key twists and turns that are important for Rich to explore his themes dealing with identity, freedom, sexuality, beauty, true love, friendship, and ethics. I should have known there was more to the story when we meet Travis at the party, and he tells Charley he’s a philosophy major who specializes in digital ethics. So, in the course of their night out, Charley and Travis discuss what is a major concern in this depicted future: Androids and ethics. They discuss the implied, competing arguments conveyed by the terms “Artificial Intelligence” and “Replicated Intelligence.” But they also deal with ethical issues I would not have predicted: Travis mentions that studies have been done that show that some robots might actually wear out sooner because of what can be described only as psychological stress.
One of my favorite conversations takes place in a churchyard as they consider the way religion is now out of favor in society. Charley and Travis stand in the churchyard and consider whether anyone feels anything anymore in terms of religious experience. Travis offers an interesting theory when he contemplates the loss of spirituality in this new world. He says that “empathy makes you feel connected to someone” and that this feeling of empathy might be “spirit” or even “love,” and since in their world, empathy can be replicated in androids, then spirituality and religion are no longer needed. It’s also implied that androids, then, could potentially be considered just as spiritual and capable of love as those human beings in the past who were religious.
I’ve attempted to avoid plot in favor of thematic discussion so as to prevent spoilers, because the book has several fun surprises. However, I think the interesting themes, along with Nourigat’s subtle artwork, make the book worth reading multiple times. I’ve only mentioned several of the directly addressed themes, but some of the subjects I mentioned above are not dealt with explicitly. In fact, since they are more subtle and require full knowledge of the plot, the reader cannot truly understood some of these themes until a second or third read, particularly those involving the secondary characters and the subject of friendship. Perhaps its biggest flaw is that it’s so smoothly written and drawn, that one can read it quickly and not realize how many interesting ideas are explored in the course of the narrative. Therefore, I not only highly recommend A Boy and A Girl, I also suggest reading it several times for full appreciation.