I’m just me on Twitter but I know a lot of people who are not. Some people, really nice in the real world, are plain obnoxious in the virtual one. Some others, bores at best and weirdos at worst in the real world, are actually cool on Twitter (or put up a good pretence, but it’s all the same online).
Then, this isn’t just an online phenomenon. All of us live in multiverses (to borrow a word from one of my favourite writers). There’s a family universe, a friends universe, a work universe, an online universe, maybe more. Occasionally, the universes overlap. But for most of us, and most of the time, they remain distinct. So, that intelligent type you admire could well be a wife-beater at home. That well-mannered elevator boy could well be a sexual pervert.
Duplicity: Other Lives’ characters conceal numerous identities.
Identity—how we see ourselves, and how others see us—is a strange thing. And it’s the subject of Peter Bagge’s ambitious comic book Other Lives.
A comic book is an ideal medium for an exposition on identity. It also seems an apt one to discuss the issue of multiple online identities. And Bagge’s book, which came out last year, starts promisingly enough.
It tells the story of four people: Javy, a computer nerd fond of conspiracy theories who may or may not have worked for a government intelligence agency (and who may still be working for it); Vader, a journalist whose smart, almost cocky external persona contrasts sharply with the self-loathing and doubt he exhibits when he is alone or is with his girlfriend; Ivy, Vader’s girlfriend who is clingy, can only think of marriage, but has a carefree, wild and almost adventurous avatar on Second World, an online universe; and Woodrow, Vader’s friend, an insurance salesman in denial about everything (including his divorce) who is also Ivy’s companion on Second World.
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Somewhere along the way, though, the book ceases to be about identity. Instead it becomes a comedy-of-manners of sorts (a dark one at that). Thanks to Bagge’s superb characterization, this actually makes the book more interesting. The interaction between the characters is funny, insightful, and light—especially those between Vader and Javy, and Woodrow and Ivy.
The problem with comedy-of-manners books is with the ending and Other Lives is no exception. It has a clumsy, almost melodramatic ending that, quite honestly, grates. Despite that, I enjoyed Other Lives for the most part. Bagge, a man with libertarian leanings, is one of the most respected cartoonists around and his slightly overdrawn style works very well.
And who knows, maybe in another dimension, Other Lives had a better ending and is a great, not merely a good comic.
R Sukumar is editor, Mint.
Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org