Poppy: Genesis One is a strange, strange thing of a graphic novel, an origin story of an artificial construct played by a girl in real life (or at least on YouTube). A fictional origin for a carefully crafted online presence, where three writers and two artists create a Manga-inspired origin that leans heavily on all the old tropes, a little bit of Akira, some Battle Angel Alita, all the old faves, all to create something aspiring to an element of mystery alongside the sort of sci-fi tale we’ve seen over and over, along with a bit of social commentary and corporate anarchy. Put it all together and it doesn’t quite work as well as intended.
If you don’t already know, and I have to admit that I didn’t, Poppy is a YouTube sensation, a small blonde girl who speaks in a high pitched voice and seems to just do nothing and everything, it’s something that has to be seen to be believed. And I can see what Wired Magazine mean when they describe the experience as, ‘The magic of Poppy is that, to understand Poppy, you have to keep watching Poppy’. More pertinently, she’s also been called the Andy Warhol of YouTube, and that’s the thing I’m getting from watching these, the sense of possibly Emporer’s new clothes and something less than everyone might be thinking is there. Or maybe not. And on top of that, the moving into new directions, the music, short films, merchandise, and now comics, a sense of a carefully constructed presence, guided, managed, and the possible smell of corporate intervention on top of it all.
One thing is for sure, she’s got a huge following online, YouTube, Instagram, everywhere. She’s released singles, albums, short films, merchandise, published a book of wisdom (2017’s The Gospel of Poppy), became part of Sanrio’s Hello Sanrio product line, even started something akin to her own religion. And now it’s time to push out a comic as well – you see what I mean about the careful construction and management of the whole Poppy phenomenon?
Anyway, enough of that, time to look at Poppy: Genesis 1, published by Z2 Comics, the first Poppy-produced comic book, turning this weird Internet star into a fully-fledged artificial being and telling her origin story.
It’s credited as ‘by Poppy and Titanic Sinclair’, along with ‘interpreted by Ryan Cady’ (although going by the standard mechanics of celeb books, it will be Cady who did the heavy lifting on the writing front). The art is provided by Minomiyabi (Masa Minoura) and Ian McGinty, alternating chapters with Minoura giving us a Manga-lite, big eyes and blank expressions look, whilst McGinty’s style is more Bryan Lee O’Malley/ Ken Nimura. But despite differing styles, they do work pretty well together.
I have everything I need. I have my friends. But sometimes I feel… lonely? Am I alone? Am I alone in the world? Am… Am I a girl?
Poppy the character in Genesis is a finely honed persona, anime-styled, fixated on social media, yet somehow providing a slightly dark commentary on the whole thing at the same time.
By the end of what turned out to be an interesting diversion of a graphic novel, I’m left rather nonplussed by it all, a mix of ideas and quickly rattled off social constructs, from a character that might well have started off with an individuality but, as the sucess and the money came calling, it was all too easy to branch out and take on every possible bit of dollar making opportunity going.
‘Factory Android V.009, designation Poppy‘ is part of a secret project, overseen by the director Poppy refers to as ‘Skeleton’, who’s now being analysed and observed by visiting psychiatrist Doctor Charlotte Hampton, expert in emergent consciousness. Her recommendations will decide whether Poppy is ready for a final upgrade.
There’s a sense of manipulation going on, the idea that Poppy is accessing far more than she’s meant to… even the idea of her birth, her gender… all of it comes off strange.
She’s potentially beguiled the Skeleton, a man whose fragile personality comes from his injuries after some unspecified military action that also left him unsuitable for reintegration into society. But his personality might not be ideal for dealing with what they describe as ‘the most advanced artificial intelligence in history’.
In the second strand of things, illustrated by McGinty, there’s a mysterious ‘Agency’ looking to send an investigator in to investigate Poppy, concerned that her millions of followers hang on her every word, a near-religious experience, something that inspires civil unrest in her fans, something the authoritarian ‘Agency’ wants to stamp on right now. In these chapters, we’re introduced to both Agent Spears and Rami, two important players on opposite sides, playing their very obvious roles, everything coming together to the end, with the narratives of Poppy, Spears, and Rami all converging.
The social movement aspect of Poppy: Genesis is rather shoe-horned in, something analogous to the whole Anonymous thing, or the Extinction Rebellion movement, dangerous to those in power because they simply don’t understand what’s going on. Even that Poppy logo plays around with Anarchist imagery. It’s obvious, too obvious. And that’s something that could easily be levelled at Poppy: Genesis as a whole.
Everything progresses in a sci-fi by the numbers sort of way, Poppy manipulating her manipulators, the threat of the final upgrade, Agent Spears getting closer and closer, Rami working with Poppy as she increases her reach online… everything being moved around in a very calculated and rather cold fashion as the graphic novel goes on.
It’s mediocre, doing nothing particularly new, just covering all the old ground with the added factor of a modern online celeb being involved.
I am Poppy, I am Poppy, I am Poppy, I am Poppy… that’s the mantra here. Personally, at the end of it all… I am not convinced, I am not sold, I am not all that interested.
POPPY: Genesis 1: Gospel by Poppy and Titanic Sinclair, interpreted by Ryan Cady. Portrayed by Ian McGinty, Minomiyabi, colors by Aladdin Collar, letters by Tyler Birch, design by Tyler Boss. Published by Z2 Comics.