Art from A Virtual Circle #6 by Patrick Brown

A Virtual Circle was a 6-issue small press series created and published by Patrick Brown between 1994 and 1998. A low-key conspiracy thriller involving televangelists, virtual reality (on Windows 3.1) and artificial life, it was improvised in ink - no script or pencils.

The roots of the story lie in 17 Seconds, an unpublished cyberpunk comic strip Brown had created with writers Neil Taylor and Simon Munk while a student in Nottingham. While working for a computer consultancy outside Belfast in 1994, he observed that the main uses for computers at the time were business applications and games. As a deliberate reaction against the flashy VR films then fashionable, he took a few elements of 17 Seconds - the IT professional who discovers something he shouldn't in VR and finds himself on the run from a powerful secret organisation, the rotating molecule model appearance of the virtual entity known as the Guardian, and the televangelist villain - and retooled them into a more mundane, contemporary setting. The covers were created in Microsoft Word's drawing program.

The first issue invented, in concept at least, webcam chat, and the second issue chip-and-pin debit cards. Other innovations, like webcam "filters" that tidy up your appearance, and VR access via hypnosis and "magic eye" images, have not yet come to market. The story also used the televangelist character to reflect the author's then-reluctant rejection of the Christianity of his upbringing.

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