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Vinnie Smalls, Level Twelve resident in Hyperion City, is having trouble keeping costs down: rent, food, taxes, Dailey Leisure Credit. All he’d like after a day’s work is to hang out at a bar, drink a beer, and maybe finally talk to his crush, Galvin Cross. But in Hyperion City, everything is regulated, including human interaction. Using system called Dailey Leisure Credits, or DLC, citizens of all levels must pay for each instance of inter-contact. Whether it’s playing pick-up basketball, buying groceries, or visiting the doctor, all conversations are monitored and charged. Vinnie is already a shy guy as it is; how can he work up the courage to speak to Galvin if he’s always worried he’ll be in the red?
The premise of Buying Time is how one person navigates a social system that seems determined to isolate them at all costs. Using flash animation, Casey J (author and artist), creates a semi-mobile world, allowing the characters and environment to come alive on the page. The scenery is reminiscent of early cyber-punk works, such as Blade Runner. There is very little lighting, especially in lower levels, punctuated by neon-signs and advertisements. While run-down and shabby, there are examples of high-tech machines and equipment, from personal tablets to the city structure. The atmosphere is perfect for a story set in a city where time is literally bought and sold. While lighting is low, characters are still distinguishable, instead of half-in, half-out of shadows, a trope often used in cyberpunk and neo-noir literature. The lines are minimal, and despite the overall drabness, color is used and quite vibrantly as well. Combined with the limited movement from the flash, each page can read as a mini-movie.
The story line and plot arcs are seamlessly blended together. While the main story is about Vinnie and Galvin, there are interactions between the men and their social network, i.e. family, friends, coworkers, teammates. Several of the minor characters have their own arcs as well, learning to socialize with each other in a restrictive society. To help the reader understand the ins and outs of the Buying Time universe, Casey J ends each chapter with a Supplement, usually in the form of an “advertisement” or Q&A with a character. Readers can interact on Q&As by leaving questions in the comments section, although the answers are often surprising. There is some violence, sexual scenes, and nudity, so Buying Time is best labeled as NSFW, however none of these elements are over played to gratuity, but more to enhance the story (and at times slightly titillate the reader).
Although a romantic story, there is more than a hint of social commentary within the comic. When first introduced, Vinnie is reluctant to do more than work and live in his apartment, due to costs. This isolation is evident in how he holds himself and speaks. But when confidence in his newfound relationships with friends, coworkers, and lover starts raising the bills, Vinnie begins to feel the pressure. And it’s never a good thing when a person must decide between seeking basic human contact and paying the rent. Casey J forces the reader to think beyond the scope of the story in terms of real world, especially as people begin to pay more and more for better service and the technology to use said service: what is the monetary value for human contact, and how much are we willing to pay, just to say hello?
Due to the flash animation aspect, the artist takes hiatuses every few months, usually around summer and winter, to allow for greater build-up in the buffer, but extras are available during this time. Buying Time is a cyberpunk romance with a Big Brother bent that will entertain both lovers of romantic and neo-noir science fiction. You can read it at Buyingtime.com.