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How to Pass as Human by Nic Kelman & Pericles Kelman Review

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<i>How to Pass as Human</i> by Nic Kelman & Pericles Kelman Review

Writer: Nic Kelman
Artist: Pericles Junior
Publisher: Dark Horse
Release Date: September 16, 2015

The subtitle of Nic Kelman and Pericles Junior’s clever original graphic novel, How to Pass as Human, is “A Guide to Assimilation for Future Androids.” That description is more literal than may be assumed at first glance: the book balances its identity as a familiar-seeming science fiction story, a satirical take on social interactions, and, an actual guide for robots that would like to emulate the broad strokes and minute details of human behavior. It’s a work that’s difficult to classify: one part illustrated novel and one part guidebook. Most illustrations center on charts, diagrams, and infographics—albeit from a deliberately skewed perspective.

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Out last month in comic stores and released this week for the bookstore market, the graphic novel follows Android 0, who embarks on a mission to search for purpose and discover the truth behind his origins. (In other words, it’s a book about a guy’s quest for the father he never knew.) Adopting the name Zach, the automaton takes a job at a law firm, eventually befriending a young woman named Andrea; the two eventually become, as the saying goes, star-crossed lovers. Gradually, a larger plot involving a sinister casino, ominous heavies and Zach’s inception unfolds.

Kelman establishes the guidebook early on as a part of the plot. Zach is, as the book opens, relatively certain of his impending demise, and documents his own experiences in the hopes that subsequent generations of androids are able to learn from his mistakes. At times, these observations can feel more obvious than insightful—some of his takes on courtship and gender roles feel rote. (One example: “[If] you are male you should appear excited or at least intrigued by situations involving violence or competition but express disinterest in such situations if you are female.”)

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How to Pass as Human Interior Art by Pericles Kelman

Other takes on society and culture lead to a different kind of classic science fictional comedy: outsiders pointing out the inaneness of processes and situations that have become ingrained in society. A flowchart breaking down assorted belief systems into bite-sized chunks, a chart featuring the best responses to various social faux pas and an amusingly wrongheaded take on romantic pairings make for a more entertaining read. An illustration advising robots that it’s best to not hold babies upside down is also memorably comic.

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How to Pass as Human Interior Art by Pericles Kelman

The tone of How to Pass as Human varies. The story of two young, attractive people falling for each other follows a direct and predictable path: will Andrea learn the truth about Zach, and if she does, how will she react? An essential sweetness fills this aspect of the book that falls at odds with the alternately naïve and satirical tone of the guidebook sections. The title itself suggests a more potentially fraught situation than the direction the book’s narrative actually goes. Still, there’s plenty of charm and wit in here, and the formality of the book’s graphical elements goes a long way towards making their wry humor all the more memorable.

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How to Pass as Human Interior Art by Pericles Kelman