The Abolition of Man: The Deluxe Edition by Carson Grubaugh
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Release Date [for Deluxe Ed.]: July 25, 2023
This is marketed as the first comic book illustrated by an AI. That makes it a very different beast from the usual graphic novel or comic book, and it means the purpose for reading it is entirely different. If I were to rate this for someone who wanted to read an entertaining story (the usual purpose of a graphic novel,) I would rate it “horrible,” “worst-ever,” “unreadable,” – zero stars. However, if you bothered to read the book blurb, you probably aren’t still considering this book for the purposes of entertaining story.
What other reasons might one have for reading this book? I can think of two: one major and one minor. The major purpose is to see what an AI does with illustrations, how it “thinks” (for lack of a better word,) and how it fails. For this purpose, I’d say the book was fascinating to peruse. As a complete neophyte to both AI and graphic arts, I was struck by the “glimpse-comprehensible / close look-grotesque” nature of the illustrations. That is, if one just took a quick look, there tended to be something that felt like it made sense in the panel, but then when you looked closer it was a cabinet of curiosities freak show.
The minor reason for reading this is because one has an interest in the philosophy of mankind in the modern world, a topic that informs the first and last issues (or the philosophy of information, which informs the appendiceal essays.) In this regard the book made some thought-provoking points.
The base text the AI was fed to come up with illustrations varied across the five issues. The first was the eponymous C.S. Lewis book — i.e. “The Abolition of Man.” While this didn’t present the Lewis text word-for-word, it was certainly the most readable portion of the book. The second and third comics drew on text from a comic written by Grubaugh. I assume the AI processed this text somehow because the text presented was often incomprehensible, was full of typos (or what seemed like them,) but had a couple amusing lines by virtue of what I can only assume was unintended sexual innuendo. The fourth issue is almost textless, but what few text bubbles exist were supposedly composed by AI (they don’t have much information value.) [FYI- this penultimate issue is the stuff of nightmares. In places, it looks like a guide to fatal birth defects.] The final issue is a philosophy essay on the role of human dignity in privacy expectations. It’s an interesting enough read, but the graphics are like a PowerPoint by someone who took, but failed, a course on PowerPoint graphic design.
If you’re curious about how close AI is to drawing graphic novels and have an interest in philosophy of humanity and / or information, you’ll find this book to be a worthwhile read. If you’re expecting an interesting story, you’ll be sadly disappointed. If you’re a budding Andy Warhol, looking for a way to make the next artistic breakthrough requiring little effort or creativity on your own part, you might see the next big thing.
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