Trying Human is a full color graphic novel that follows New York City secretary, Rose, as she learns she’s being abducted by a group of aliens, the Greys, a race without emotions or sentiment. She catches the interest of Hue, an empathetic Grey, and his funny friend, Quazky, a Reptoid alien from a neighboring mothership. Using a device, the trying human circuit, the two friends infiltrate Rose’s life and the human world.
A second storyline that begins every chapter, encompasses the lives of Phillis, Walter, and Dr. Glasner, all of whom are stationed at the Nellis Testing Range in 1947. Followed by a menagerie of aliens, the mysterious MAJESTIC12, and one defunct German scientist, the two girls try to figure it all out with over half a century between them.
I would like to begin this review by saying that I have recently purchased volume two of Trying Human after the conclusion of it’s kickstarter, and so this is *supposed* to be a review of the first and second volumes. However, as soon as I finished vol. 2 I rushed online and binged-read the rest of the webcomic, so while I will try to keep my review to things that happen in the first two volumes, really I’m adressed the webcomic as a whole.
It. Is. Awesome.
I’ve been a fan of this webcomic for several years, although I stopped reading it when I went to uni in 2013, at the same time that I stopped reading most webcomics. It recently came back on my radar with the kickstarter to print volume 2, and I remembered how much I loved this comic at the time. I held off re-reading it until I could hold the printed version in my hands though, because some things in life are worth waiting for.
It is always interesting to re-read something at two different points of our lives, like before and after going to university to study Comic Arts in my case. I also read the beginning of this webcomic before the artist redrew most of it. The redo is definitely a positive thing, as the new art is incredibly beautiful compared with the stiff and less expressive original version. The fact that Emy Bitner also has all of the archives online for people to see and compare both versions is also something that I appreciate, as it’s been a source of encouragement for many of my fellow Comic students to see that you can always get better, and nothing stops you from revisiting previous work and improving on your style.
The new art shows an improved grasp of colours and lighting, and a more dynamic lineart. Her character design has also improved in leaps and bounds, with aliens that now look both more, well, alien-y but also more sympathetic and engaging.
The comics in their final form are engaging both visually and narratively. Trying human is a story about first contacts, yes, but it’s also at its core a story about accepting strangeness, making unusual friends and falling in love.
Certainly, the characters often have strange reactions to their unusual circomstances. I find that they usually accept too fast what’s happening to them and don’t freak out enough, especially Rose and Don, but then again this isn’t a psychological thriller. To take a long time coming to term with things would probably detract from the actual point of the comic, ie. the mystery of what happened to Phillis and the supernatural friendships/romance. Which I’m all on board with, with the sole caveat that I don’t understand Rose and Roger’s interactions, and I do believe that the beginning of the first book (when Roger leaves for his new job) goes too fast, throwing us into the plot without taking the time to either explain to us who and what they are to eachother. And then the more the story goes on the less I understand Roger at all, which might actually be on purpose on the part of the author. Surely we will eventually understand what is the deal with Roger and why he’s such an asshole.
Moving on from Roger, I actually love every single other character in this comic. Funnily enough, the first time I read it I was very invested in Don and Longus, but this time around the clear winner of my affections was Hue. I will posit that the new art might actually have something to do with this. This new Hue has rounder eyes and adorable expressions, and literally every frame he is in seems designed to make us melt.
Emy Bitner knows how to sustain a mystery, that is clear. Putting a small black and white flashback of fifty years ago at the beginning of each chapters is great, because it both allows us to gain insight about what’s happening in the present in small slices by revealing us what happened in the past, but it also makes sure that some bit of the mysterious storyline is always progressing and buzzing at the back of our minds, even when events in the present are taking a break from drama and showing us nice slices of life for Rose and her alien friends. Not that they ever get to relax for long. And certainly, by the end of volume two, ‘friends’ might be a big word, even though we all know that this is where things are headed. Without spoiling anything, all the actual friendship-ing happens in volume 3 and onwards, and I am absolutely going to buy those books when the kickstarter happens for them too.
All in all, Trying Human is a fun sci-fi story which manages to juggle mystery and romance pretty well, and it’s also the closest to ‘real life’ sci-fi story that I’ve found in a long time, in the sense that the author has done a lot of research into UFOs and alien abductees testimonies. She’s also a lot of fun to talk with, because she has plenty to say on the subject, and can tell you exactly what real-world ‘alien fact’ she has used as inspiration for any of her characters.
In conclusion, I give this five stars because, according to my rating scale, five stars is for books that I would re-read. And I totally already did reread this, and will likely do it all over again when comes the time for the third book to come in the mail, hopefully not too long into the future. In the meantime, I have the weekly updates to tide me over.
Want more book reviews? Want this author and artist to have money to buy more books? Head on to my Patreon! Just a dollar makes a difference 🙂