Setting is such an important aspect of any storytelling, but it doesn’t just mean the physical location where the narrative takes place. The temporality of a tale is often just as, or even more important, than the coordinates on the map, and this is true of Code 45.
I made a conscious decision to set the graphic novel in the year 2000, for a number of reasons. One of the most important had to do with certain aspects of the plot’s structure. The turn of the millennium is not only pre-smartphone, it’s also right at the cusp of high-speed broadband Internet being widely available at an affordable price.
Why is that important? When writing about the thin line between reality and fantasy, it was important to me that the characters not have the ability to easily take video or photographs of the experiences they’re having. Likewise, the ability to share these experiences on a global scale via social media or even something as simple as a website was something I wanted to avoid. The absence of documentation provides that much more uncertainty as to the validity, or reality, of the experiences each individual is having.
It reminds me of something I realized when re-watching the ‘Buffy The Vampire Slayer’ series a few years ago. So much of that show’s narrative relied on characters needing Buffy’s help, but not being able to get in touch with her – or vice-versa – given that cell phones were still new and novel around the time it was broadcast. This is but one example from many similarly-structured stories from an era that straddled this change in constant communication.
Could the story have been written in a modern context? Yes, as the issues it deals with are still very much with us as a society. Like with a present-day re-telling of Buffy, however, it would have had to take a very different approach. I was much more satisfied with the mysterious world that could be built for Code 45 prior to 24/7 surveillance of everyone’s actions (particularly in a public venue like the Montreal metro system).
Joe Ng and Angela Hodge did a fantastic job assembling the world of 20 years ago without having anything in the dialogue or exposition explicitly call out the date on the calendar. While the absence of phones and laptops in crowd scenes or character interactions is one clue, as are the fashions seen both in public and in the subcultures touch on by the story, there are also dozens of Easter eggs tucked into panels throughout the book that call back to pop culture from the time. Some of them are so subtle that they even escaped my notice on first read-through.
In a perfect world, art elevates the writing it’s wrapped around. The attention to detail in by Ng and Hodge’s work adds an extra dimension to the story that words alone would have been unable to accomplish.