Always Human: A Comic of Life and Love Without Mods

I’ve learned to devour webcomics in the same way that geeks of another generation would dig into comic books and graphic novels (honestly, the only comics I ever read religiously as a kid were Calvin and Hobbes). That means reading a lot of El Goonish Shive and Gunnerkrigg Court, as well as some shorter, lesser-known works like Always Human.

I found this comic entirely by accident while browsing through Tumblr, but the moment I read the first page, I knew I couldn’t turn away from all this colorful, soulful, high-tech goodness.

In the far future, Sunati is a girl of the modern world who changes her appearances through “mods” on a regular basis. But that trend comes to a halt when she notices the same girl who never changes her look, and who can’t, in fact, use mods herself. Sunati makes an effort to get to know this girl, Austen, and better understand her condition. This leads to them becoming more than just friends, and from there, the adventure really takes off.

Our main characters are a nice blend of dorky and confident. Sunati Raval is our blue-haired Everyman, our protagonist and audience surrogate trying to better understand the world in which her new girlfriend lives. Austen Carran Avila is her newfound friend-turned-love interest, born with Egan’s Syndrome and working hard to finish her studies as a coder. They come from different backgrounds, but the heart and soul of Always Human is their gentle, probing conversations and excited trips through virtual and physical space.

The webcomic is unique as a multimedia platform. Never before have I seen a comic come with its own soundtrack, which is nicely ethereal and sci-fi in tone. It’s great to see artists on the Web do more with the medium, taking advantage of the freedom they have to engage their audiences in a story.

While the music was the first thing to draw me in, the illustrations kept me engaged. I’m a sucker for anything related to transhumanism, so seeing Sunati talk about applying mods to her appearance every month was right up my alley. And that’s to say nothing of the minimalist, retro-futurist scenery in the background. But, of course, the high-tech angle gets balanced out with plenty of cute designs, like little Luna the cat-bot.

I also love the premise of the world that walkingnorth created. It’s one thing where everyone enhances themselves with a thousand different mods or built-in apps, but it’s something else when you get to delve into the split between people who use mods and those who can’t (a.k.a. Austen) or won’t (a.k.a. the Naturalists). Most sci-fi stories of this nature will either come down as suspicious of new technology or dismissive of anyone who chooses to be “left behind.” Here, we get a nuanced view of both worlds, with all their ups and downs.

Rather fitting that our two leads come from both worlds, isn’t it?

I seriously enjoyed this comic and I hope to see some new updates soon. It’s one of the most genuinely pleasant reads I’ve had in a long time, and I’m happy to see content featuring two non-white, non-straight leads interacting for once (and since one of them is Latina, I can totally follow her whenever she dips into Spanish). If you’re looking for something well-designed and short to try, then you’ve got to start reading (and listening) to this webcomic when you get the chance.

Always Human is available for reading and listening on Webtoons.comNew pages are added every Saturday. You can also see more designs on the creator’s Tumblr page.

Image Credit: walkingnorth (creator). Always Human (webcomic).

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