The Harrowing Hi-jinks of Hackerteen

I was in the library the other day, checking out the comics section, when I noticed a book with an O’Reilly logo on the cover. This would be nothing new if it was “Linux in a Nutshell” or “PHP Cookbook”, but this was a rather Manga-looking book with “Hackerteen Volume 1: Internet Blackout” emblazoned on the cover. It appeared that O’Reilly was looking to raise the next generation of IT Security Professionals. Intrigued, I checked it out and brought it home.

The comic follows the story of an 11 year-old shut-in named Yago. His parents become suspicious about all the time he spends on the computer, so they enroll him in Hackerteen, a school where kids of all ages can use their interest in computers constructively to become “El33t Hacker3z”. 6 years later, Yago is now a real hacker…teen, and he has the orange goggles, racing gloves and spikey mullet to prove it. Unfortunately, word of his prowess has reached the criminal element, and they constantly hound him for his services. He manages to rebuff them until he finds out his father’s bakery is in financial need. He takes a job to install a program to trace some rich fellow’s wife’s computer. However, the real purpose of the program is to hijack the rich fellow’s daughter’s webcam (which was placed conveniently in her bedroom) and use pictures of her undressing to blackmail her for thousands of dollars. Yago has to use his technical expertise to help the poor girl out before she becomes an unintentional internet camwhore.

I must say that the writers of Hackerteen certainly know their stuff. They know that hacking is not just the province of breaking into the pentagon and other sexy stuff. It’s mainly about abusing the trust of humans and their machines to get what you want out of them. The book has more than a few web addresses leading to web pages that go into detail about the issues that the characters face.

Unfortunately, that’s where this book’s good qualities end for me. First of all, it’s very hard to get past the art style in reading this book. The characters look like crude copies out of a Christopher Hart “How to Draw Manga” book. Facial features float all over the place, and rules of perspective are often treated more like guidelines. The story also hard to follow. Subplot after subplot is just being sandwiched in there, involving so many characters that it’s hard to keep track of them all. Yago has about 5 people on his team, and I don’t even think their names are mention. The characters themselves are pretty one dimensional, borrowing from anime stereotypes conjured up in Yu-gi-oh! or Pokemon.

Now it may seem unfair that I’m picking on an educational comic like this. The good people who wrote Hackerteen are simply trying to shed light on the complex issues that drive our world. But if computer security is so important, should we have to put up with sub-par art and lazy story-telling to learn about it?