Near-future stories are a common staple of comics and science fiction. Taking an aspect of our contemporary culture and spinning it out to an extreme conclusion makes for some excellent storytelling possibilities. The trick, it seems, is to take the more mundane and innocent aspects, even things that we cherish and see no harm in, and run with them, rather than stick with the obvious. Authorised Happiness is written by the unrivaled Jean Van Hamme. If you’re not aware of his name then rest assured that you’re getting anything obvious with this book.
This first volume comprises three short tales. In every case, some aspect of personal freedoms has been eroded seemingly for our own benefit. What, on paper, looks like a fair and balanced proposal becomes an unworkable constricting absurdity.
In the first tale, a man is recruited by a firm for a simple data management job after being unemployed for many months. With vast swathes of the population out of work, he’s grateful for the opportunity. However, he is swiftly baffled by the nature of the work and the purpose of the firm. Every question is met with evasion, which only forces him to focus on the problem all the more. Is it worth having a job if the job is potentially pointless?
The second story involves state-sponsored health insurance. An obvious boon to all who can access it, but not so great if it’s not really a choice. To opt-out means no alternatives, at all. To opt-in means abiding by a highly restrictive set of rules, an unpalatable set of menu options, and constant fines from the Medical Police. You can’t exist within it, but can you exist without it?
Finally, Van Hamme turns his attention to holidays. Everyone likes to get away now and then, so this sees a scenario where every citizen is allocated a date and location based on their ability to conform. To do away with traffic jams and overcrowding the holidays are spread out across the whole year, and we get to follow a coach load of holidaymakers at the seaside in one of the bleaker months. Enforced hilarity and games follow.
These are all grim depictions of the near future. Corporations and bureaucracy reign. Van Hamme and Griffo skilfully bring these situations to life through the eyes of the unwitting few caught up in a tangled web they can’t escape. Griffo’s art really hammers the themes home, allowing you to lose yourself in the people’s plight. I also think there’s an air of Barry Windsor-Smith to Griffo’s style, which I for one really liked.
In a nutshell, this is Black Mirror with the technology replaced by social equality. They’re horrific in the simplicity of their concepts, and all the more captivating for it. Nobody should have to live like this.
And if you liked that: Volume 2 is available now.