In Real Life
by Cory Doctorow & Jen Wang
First Second, 2014
In Real Life is a young adult graphic novel based on Cory Doctorow's short story Anda's Game. It is not technically a fantasy story, although much of it takes place in an online fantasy game; instead it is a story of social and economic inequality. These themes are treated in a fairly light manner (no one dies or anything), but are still treated as serious and ethically complex issues.
Anda's Game was a 2004 short story about a highschool student and gamer who found that she could make money -- real money -- by hiring her services out to kill gold farmers who were abusing the game economy. As the story progresses, she learns that many of these gold farmers are actually underpaid workers in sweat shops, and she starts to question the morality of killing their characters for pay. It is a more interesting story than I make it sound, and as it was released under a Creative Commons License you can read it right here on E2.
For the most part, the graphic novel is true to the original, although Anda becomes American rather than English, the sweat shop workers become Chinese teenagers rather than Mexican pre-teens, and some of Anda's personal struggle with weight gain is dropped. Anda also has a larger role in moving the plot along; Raymond gets the idea to organize the workers from her, and while he is important in organizing the workers, it is clearly not his one true calling in life.
Overall, this is a very good adaption. The graphic novel is a bit more polished, but also a bit more milquetoast. In Real Life has the benefit, obviously, of being illustrated, and Jen Wang is a very good choice for the novel. Her traditional cartoon-style drawings are refined and detailed to make them more comprehensive without making them cluttered (not unlike Zephronias' art, or perhaps John Allison's). Wang does a good job of subtly cuing differences between the game world and real life without making them so different as to break continuity, and has a good instinct in using detail and composition to match the varying needs of the story.
Given that this is a 175 page graphic novel, the time investment needed to read this book is well worth the payout. Moreover, while I am not a fan of graphic novels in general I did like this one, which I take as a sign that it is a particularly good one. I would recommend it if you see it in your local library; it is quick, fun, and well-composed. I would also recommend it if you are a fan of light young adult graphic novels, or would like to start exploring the genre.