Internet Murder Revenge Fantasy review

March 25, 2016 by Niamh Schoenherr

merrit kopas' collaborative alt-comic is a trip into deep, tender online nostalgia.

Ostensibly billed as a comic book, merritt kopas's evocatively titled Internet Murder Revenge Fantasy could also easily be described as an illustrated chapbook. Structurally, the work is simultaneously an anthology of comics by 28 artists as well as a collection of seven poems by kopas herself, and by combining the best of both of these formats, IMRF is able to do something few comic books or chapbooks have ever done before.

Of course, it makes sense to blend poetry and comics, as modern alt comics already have roots in a certain poetic sensibility. IMRF is still smart to take advantage of the fact that both forms excel at a kind of gestural terseness, gathering together sparse elements in just the right way to conjure up things too big to be captured otherwise.

The sketchy eyes and magenta smudges on the page by Cathy G. Johnson point to deeper feelings of fear and uncertainty, just as kopas evokes entire chat logs worth of sadomasochistic roleplay with the simple phrase “finding love in a knife on your throat.”

In fact, there’s something cartographic about this work. kopas and her collaborators are tracing a lost geography that is at once both deeply personal and publicly shared by those of us who grew up on chanboards and in internet forums. I think this is especially true for us queer people who purposefully sought out the internet’s darker corners in an attempt to find ourselves and express our desires outside of the oppressive watch of everyday existence.

Behind the anonymity of the computer screen, there was a freedom to try on new faces, but there was also danger lurking in the jumble of images that scrolled by. Not the kind of “stranger danger” fears your parents may have had, but rather the dangers inherent in discovering yourself among “abhorrent boys who’d fap to futa but turn around and call you a man,” as kopas puts it, describing the transphobic nature of the boards’ nastier regulars.

Of course, like all comic anthologies, the pages can feel disjointed, and some comics just didn’t connect with me as well as others. Still, the words kept me invested.

If I flip through my copy of Chainmail Bikini, I’ll find pages that still crisp and glossy because I read them once and never returned, while others are smudged with fingerprints and worn at the edges. If I could hold IMRF in my hands, I’m sure there are pages I’d return to more than others—the soft intimacy of Mia Schwartz’s page depicting the now-defunct or the delightful details on Rory Frances’s drawing of an angsty fursona with an “angel knife” and “rave boots” (because “you gotta look good at the vampire sex rave if you’re going to kill some devils”). Yet moreso than other anthologies, IMRF demands to be read as a whole.

This is, perhaps, the most astonishing and successful part of IMRF. The juxtaposition of kopas’s unifying words with the disparate images that illustrate them isn’t just some conceit of the anthology format like in Infinite Corpse or Suspect Device. Here, the disjointedness is a thematically significant part of the work itself. Just as kopas and other young denizens of the internet tried on different identities, so too, do her words tumble between art styles that are at turns humorous, introspective, horny, and vulnerable.

The fact that you become a bit lost and disoriented is itself imbued with meaning and significance. The clean lines and orderly panels of Steve Wolfhard’s allegorical page contrast sharply against Winter Lake’s sea of squiggly GUIs that seem to purposefully distort the crisp pixels into organic shapes, and yet you can always intuit a single identity under the surface.

On this site I was a serious and brooding poet, on this one a lesbian from Toronto, over here I was a playful foxboy, and on this forum I was a level 9 dragoon whose songs turned everything into crystalline ice… but who was I really? Which one was the true me? kopas’s words become that persistent sense of self that all of us who grew up in those spaces were yearning for.

It’s hard to read IMRF without feeling like you’re digging into a junk folder from 15 years ago that managed to survive multiple transfers to wind up half-buried on your newest laptop. You open it up and find a forgotten stash of porn, or AIM chats with your first girlfriend, or some Photoshop you made as an in-joke for internet friends who you’ve since lost touch with so thoroughly that the image doesn’t even make sense anymore.

Reading IMRF, I remembered when my mom once asked me, after catching a glimpse over my shoulder, “What’s Shoujo-Ai?” I panicked and spit out, “It’s a poetry forum. People share their writing on there.” Even then, it was a half-truth. I’d posted a fanfic of Yuffie and Aeris on a date at the Golden Saucer. If I remember correctly, there was a lot of hair touching that happened in it. I befriended some girl who read it and said she liked it. We were friends for a while until some guy on the forum “revealed” that she “was really a guy.”

She deleted her account. I never heard from her again. I deleted the story later, out of anger, but also maybe shame. Reading IMRF, I find myself wondering, “What ever happened to that girl? Does anyone else remember that fanfic? Does she remember it? Is she on hormones now? Is she even still alive?” I’m writing this review, hoping with some small part of me that my old forum friend will see it and I’ll finally know that she’s okay.

At its heart, that’s what IMRF captures so well. There’s this strange sense of a community lost— where feelings of nostalgia mix with betrayal, anger, and shame—but there’s also a suggestion of a new community and a new connectedness. Near the end, kopas writes about “wishing you could swoop in and embrace all those girls who didn’t see a world past this.” By bringing together 28 artists, IMRF isn’t just a personal work about mourning the ones that were lost. It’s a collaborative work of a new community of survivors saying, “We’re okay now. We’re going to be okay.”

Niamh Schönherr is a writer, game maker, and loving foxmom from Chicago. Her work frequently centers around the concept of care—both care for oneself and care for others—as well as the ways in which small actions can convey profound meaning. You probably aren't sure how to pronounce her name, so here: Nee-uv Shern-hair. Disclosure: Niamh supports Merrit Kopas on Patreon.