Robots Meet Jung in Aaron Diaz’s Techno-Deco Future World

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One of the best things about being a comics person is the wonderful and fascinating works that sometimes land on one’s desk out of nowhere.

To wit: a dear friend recently gave me an intriguing book. It’s enormous, measuring about 10 by 14 inches, gorgeously bound in cloth, sleek and black but with typography that hints at an art deco aesthetic within. It’s one of the volumes of Aaron Diaz’s Dresden Codak collection. Originally a web comic, it’s now available in various printed forms, all of which I highly recommend.

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I’d heard of Diaz and had been meaning to check out his work. A number of people have recommended it to me and the artwork, to say nothing of the premise of the story itself, is fascinating stuff.

Dresden Codak's Kimiko gets some late-night advice from Tiny Carl Jung.
Dresden Codak‘s Kimiko gets some late-night advice
from Tiny Carl Jung.

It concerns a world in which the technological singularity has occurred-machines have passed a point of computational power and awoken into consciousness and sentience, indeed, surpassed human intelligence in the process. The post-singularity world described in the series hinges upon time travel, which is perhaps the most desperate deus ex machina available to writers in any genre, but which Diaz builds inventively and believably into the storyline.

Dresden Codak‘s heroine is the impossibly willowy Kimiko Ross, a devout believer in the efficacy and importance of science above all. Through the adventures (and misadventures) described in the series’ longest storyline, Hob, Kimiko loses several essential body parts (including her left eye, left arm, and both legs), replacing them with cybernetic implants.

The city of Nephilopolis.
The city of Nephilopolis: deco meets singularity

But for all its technological themes, Dresden Codak delves deeply into other matters that are at least proximal: philosophy, religion, psychology and human identity (collective and individual). One of the story’s episodes, Mother, deals with the death of Kimiko’s mother and gives us some psychological background on what made Kimiko the woman she is (machine parts and all).

I couldn’t help but associate Kimiko in my mind with Lisbeth Salander, A.K.A. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. Stieg Larsson wasn’t working in the comics medium, but his accurate portrayal of geek and hacker culture generated, from similar raw material, a character quite similar to Kimiko in many ways.

Kimiko’s friends are equally interesting; two of them are superpowered (Dimitri and Alina Tokamak, named after a nuclear reactor that may be the source of their abilities). Then there’s Tiny Carl Jung, a homunculus of sorts that trails Kimiko and advises her from, naturally, a Jungian perspective. Then there are Victorian intellectuals Hubert and Rupert, who live in a sort of technologically-powered/enchanted palace on the moon, never interacting with the other characters, but speculating broadly on a variety of philosophical and metaphysical subjects.

Rupert and Hubert, one of the story's more surreal facets, as they decide to move to a magical moon palace.
Rupert and Hubert, one of the story’s more surreal facets,
as they decide to move to a magical moon palace.

Visually, the series is absolutely stunning, having justly won Diaz acclaim and awards aplenty, including one for “Outstanding Use of the Medium” (well deserved). There are clear references to manga in Diaz’s style. His work is often referenced as steampunk, but while there are Victorian images aplenty, quite a bit of art deco sensibility is woven through the storylines as well. It serves as a great foil for the many technological concepts and images that drive the plot, making for an utterly unique experience.

In February of this year, Diaz started a Kickstarter campaign that pulled in almost 20 times his original goal, presaging work that should be every bit as complex, interesting, and engaging as Hob. I can’t wait to see what he comes up with.