Ghosts, Etc., George Wylesol’s 2017 debut, established Wyelsol as a cartoonist of bold choices and intense preoccupations. Wylesol varies his approach across this collection’s three stories, but a kind of comics hauntology begins to emerge—the past is inescapable, and the familiar turns strange under scrutiny. Many of the motifs from Ghosts reappear in the artist's new graphic novel, Internet Crusader. The book is a site of visitations, concealed figures, and the debris of earlier times. But Crusader is a more plot-driven work than Ghosts, and frequently very funny. Wylesol remains a strange visitor, but this time he’s loosened up his tie.
The story begins sometime around the turn of the millennium, as internet user BSKskater191—a 13-year-old Static X fan from Pennsylvania—instant messages an alleged sex freak on the advice of his best friend. The account replies with a link, teasing nudes but directing BSKskater191 to the official webpage of the Church of the Holy Light: a cult preparing for "the Cleansing Fire of the Holy War," led by a former computer science prodigy. Meanwhile, unread emails from "firstname.lastname@example.org" are accumulating in BSKskater's inbox. They tell of a crisis at hand: the arch-beast Diabolis is creating brain-dead servants through computer viruses, with BSKskater's loved ones at risk. The only solution is a computer game designed by the Lord himself, which leads BSKskater into the chambers of Hell.
Wylesol's pages throughout Internet Crusader look as though they could have come from whatever printer was next to BSKskater191's PC. He uses degraded flat tones—flats that cease to be flat—and simple linework with no hatching. It's an aesthetic of implicit distance, one with a rigid point of view. The book operates like a first-person reader; readers get a fixed, direct look at BSKskater's computer screen. Wyelsol tells his story partially through news updates from the kid’s internet browser ("Silence As Millions Go Missing") and gives readers further insight into BSKskater through his online journal updates ("well 2day fuckin sucked"), music selections (Korn, "Got the Life"), and IM exchanges ("ok wtf is goin on").
Ghosts, Etc., for its many virtues, gave little indication of how funny Wyelsol can be. Internet Crusader sometimes recalls The Kid’s in the Hall’s guitar duel sketch, reconceived by a strict comics formalist. The book's instant messages may be its biggest comedic surprise. BSKskater191's back-and-forth with an exasperated Holy Spirit combine a deadpan affect and an instinct for middle-school IM-speak: god: I always was and always will be. I do not have a "name" as you think but you know me as "God." / BSKskater191: ok bye asshole
When the book departs from IMs and browser windows, it's only to take readers through the game in which BSKskater must defeat Diabolis. Wyelsol maintains his spare approach in these pages, and largely hews to the visual tropes of the era's first-person games (BSKskater accuses God of making a Doom rip-off), but nevertheless creates some striking in-game pages. One level resembles a DOS Prince of Darkness, a tableau of wires, monitors, columns, and candles. Another achieves a genuinely foul-looking vision of Hell's sewer system, despite Wyelsol's self-imposed limitations. And the game’s final stage leads to a standout sequence in which Wyelsol pushes his style toward abstraction.
At first glance, Internet Crusader might appear to be a mess of early '00s kitsch. The book juggles Godsmack references, an Internet Explorer parody, and webpages for cult's holy text covered by clip art and Papyrus. But the jokes land, Wyelsol’s exacting in his attention to detail, and if good gags weren't enough, he takes the story to weird places too. It's an almost ideal second book—one in which an artist doesn't veer from what's already working but still manages to surprise.