Monday, May 12, 2008

HackerTeen: O'Reilly Media's New Graphic Novel For Teens Who May Fancy Themselves as Hackers

I recently got the opportunity to get advanced copies of a new graphic novel by O'Reilly Media called HackerTeen (I know you didn't gather this from the title), whose intent is to inform teenagers with an interest in computers/hacking of various computer/hacking topics in the hopes of making them more responsible computer users/hackers.

The plot is actually rather involved for a (seemingly) short graphic novel; after joining the HackerTeens, protagonist Yago has to juggle his responsibilities to his school and his family, and in an effort to help out financially at home, gets dragged into the middle of a sticky legal and social situation. In the meantime his mentor and teacher, HackerIP, is also facing legal repercussions of Yago's actions, as well as fighting various invasive technologies from being adopted by the government. This is, to be frank, an awful summery; the plot, as I mentioned, is very involved and, although everything does fit together and revolves around the protagonists and a few (as yet not officially introduced) shadowy villains, there seems to be multiple layers and threads to the story. I can certainly see the advantage to this, since the quickly shifting plot line makes for a rather exciting read, but at the same time I felt there was almost too much going on at once.

Then again this is literally the single negative comment I could make about this book; there is certainly lots and lots to like. Yago is introduced as a frustrated and bored student with a fascination with the computer, an attitude I could most certainly remember having in high school. His parent's frustration and confusion with his obsession was, once again, strikingly similar to how my own experience. After being encouraged to follow his passion, Yago's attitude makes a quick 360, and the rest of the novel establishes him as an enduring and positive role model.

Just to mention quickly, the art style is an interesting mixture of Nicktoon and Final Fantasy; very bright and animated (to use a cliche, not very descriptive term) with exaggerated hair styles and bizarre (if questionable) fashion choices for the main characters. The panels flow into each other and are not clearly defined, all of which is very appropriate considering the plot and subject matter, but I have to again mention led to some confusion on my part as to what exactly was going on.

Last but not least, of course...since this book was published by O'Reilly Media there is a certain expectation that the material is going to be highly informative and intelligent, and HackerTeen does not disappoint. As a computer nerd who wasn't able to really explore computers until college, I was deeply impressed with how straightforward the references were. Linux, open software, and just general internet terms are thrown about in a completely non-condescending manner; rather than boring readers with a block of text as footnotes, links to the HackerTeen website are liberally sprinkled about to provide a starting point for teens interested in exploring the topics mentioned. When diving into the computer world head first nothing is more helpful to the novice than a reputable starting point in the middle of a metaphorical ocean of information. Unfortunately at the time of this writing the site is not quite finished yet, I'm looking forward to seeing how the referenced webpages will be set up (hopefully there will be very meaty related-links sections). The highly responsible use of the word hacker was especially refreshing, and the comic did an excellent job of still making so-called "white hat" hacking look engaging, as well as showing how "black hat hacking" has negative consequences without getting overly preachy and contrived.

I wish that HackerTeen had been around when I was in middle school; this is exactly the kind of story and subject matter I would have devoured, and probably would have given me a better head start on my own computer career. Opening up the computer culture to 14 year olds is certainly not as easy task, especially since the public in general (ie parents) appear to be woefully ignorant of...well...anything involving computers. For lack of a better way to end this, I'll just say this graphic novel comes highly recommended for teens with an obvious interest in computers.

1 comment:

Tessa said...

I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.