Euro Reviews – ‘The Human Stock Exchange’ Asks What Price On Your Life?

The question of what price a life takes on a whole new meaning in HSE, The Human Stock Exchange, where people are listed on the market, their worth and their performance backed by investors. But what happens to the “Human” part of the HSE when the value of the investment goes down? That’s the intriguing question that this great book begins to deal with here in volume 1 of this new Cinebook series.

I first took note of Xavier Dorison‘s writing with the incredibly good series Long John Silver, reprinted by Cinebook from 2010. Since then, his name has been attached to many different titles, including continuing two of Europe’s best sellers, Thorgal and XIII. Now Cinebook are reprinting another of his original series, the high-concept near-future tale of HSE.

The concept is a simple one; the world’s economy has collapsed, state public services have all but disappeared in a Neoliberalist revolution of privatisation and dependence on the free-market economy above anything else, poverty is running rampant, and even the traditional stock markets have failed. Society is falling apart, there are riots, everything is breaking down and it’s getting harder and harder to just get by.

The only financial metric going up is that of the Human Stock Exchange, where individuals are listed rather than companies, with the ‘red eyes’ who list themselves on the HSE, working impossibly long days to increase their value to their investors.

Everyone dreams of joining the HSE, thanks to everyone listed getting a capital injection of at least one million Euro-Dollars. But few are chosen. Initially, it may have been the high-profile celebs and sports stars, then the Novel Prize winners, the captains of industry, and those high-fliers of medicine and marketing, anyone who can show they can be worth the investment.

But until now, the common folks don’t get to do more than dream. And one of those doing the dreaming is Felix Fox, a car salesman, flogging the latest metallic pink jade sedans no one in their right mind would want. Poorly paid, dead-end job, every sale surrounded by fifty or more rejections.

He lives with his girlfriend, Rachel, who owns her own little bookshop, in one of the not so nice parts of town…

And quite unbelievably for Felix, his desire to get onboard the HSE gravy train coincides with the plans of HSE founder, Simon Sax, to shore up the future of the company now that even it is facing a difficult future in the financial meltdown.

Because no matter how well those high-fliers and top of their career HSE members do, wouldn’t it be theoretically possible to make bigger gains from someone who started lower down the rankings, someone whose potential earnings for HSE could be huge?

And that’s pretty much where HSE is going. Felix gets the gig, after having to make his case, a case you suspect Sax already had in mind all along.

Suddenly, life’s on the up for Felix, he’s on the HSE, he’s getting more and more sales through just being a member, and he’s got capitol to spend.

 

There’s so much going on in this first volume of HSE, all of it fascinating, all of it executed so well by both Dorison and Allart, whose art is lovely and crisp, a modern Euro look, his characters simply drawn yet perfectly expressive, his backgrounds a mix of simplicity for character shots and complex and beautifully detailed at other times.

As a pure exercise in near-future possibilities and an insight into social mobility in a new age of privatisation, greed, and individualism, it works wonderfully. We get to see the workings of the HSE, only just that little bit beyond where we’re at right now, something already done in a limited fashion already, whether that’s high-profile names selling shares in their future earnings in the worlds of music and sport or the lesser-known examples such as the strange case of IPO Man or the example Dorison gives in his ackowledgments, a Cantonese student forced to have himself listed on the stock market to pay for his studies.

We see the changes in Felix’s life begin to alter his relationships with Rachel, with his work colleagues, we see him moving upwards in society, but having to work and work and work to keep the momentum of his upward stock price going.

But, there’s more to all this, the obvious question to be asked about HSE – what happens when it goes wrong? What happens to the individuals who fail?

And that’s where the darker overtones begin to creep in to the book. Just little hints here and there about the price that’s going to have to be paid by Felix in the future if and when it goes wrong, something that’s obviously going to be explored through the second and third parts of this trilogy.

It’s very clever, it’s very well done, it’s got incredible potential for the rest of the series and it’s one I’ll definitely be reading.

Human Stock Exchange Volume 1 – written by Xavier Dorison, art by Thomas Allart, colours by Jean-Jacques Chagnaud, Celine Bessoneau, Thomas Allart, translation by James Hogan. Published by Cinebook, 2020. Originally published by Darguad, 2012.

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