Digital crime at the centre of Highgate writer's graphic novel

A scene from Contraband

A scene from Contraband - Credit: Thomas John Behe and Phil Elliott

They may have seemed "slightly futuristic" upon publication, but the themes of data privacy, the dark web and media censorship which run through a re-released graphic novel are "rampant in 2021", according to the author.

Thomas John Behe wrote the first edition of Contraband in 2007, illustrated by Phil Elliott. It was released that year by San Diego publisher Slave Labour Graphics.

In the following 13 years the digital world has continued to expand. For context, Twitter launched in 2006 while Instagram did not appear until 2010.

Looking back, Thomas said the content might have seemed “slightly futuristic” back then.

“The collection of ideas in this earlier era may have seemed outrageous – but are now rampant in 2021,” he said. 

Author Thomas John Behe

Author Thomas John Behe - Credit: Thomas John Behe


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Contraband is set in London in 2005, the global epicentre of this century’s most disruptive technology convergence, social media and camera phones.

The first edition of Contraband focused on the spread of camera phones. It was motivated by the "happy slapping" fad in which assaults were filmed and shared online. 

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“The story is based on my interest in data privacy and technology," said Thomas.

“I’ve worked in the communications and telecom industry and I’ve seen first hand how new forms of technology both erode privacy but also foster new systems which can promote virtual crime."

The author was born in Canada and moved to London 25 years ago. He is CEO of Octopus, a privacy-preserving identity platform, and knows the digital world well.

The second edition of Contraband sees changes to the storyline, taking in technological developments, including social media and the capacity for criminal activity through the dark web. 

A protest rally in Contraband

A protest rally in Contraband - Credit: Thomas John Behe and Phil Elliott

The latest edition of Contraband will be published by Markosia, the UK’s biggest comic book publisher, on May 10. 

Harry Markos, founder and managing partner of Markosia, said: “We are delighted to welcome Thomas, Phil and their wonderful book into our growing family - and looking forward to working closely with them to ensure Contraband is read once more in all its glory.” 

Thomas said: “As Contraband will form the first book of a series, the script to my second novel is already written.

“I am in talks with some other illustrators to change up the next novel and hope it could be ready before the end of the year.”

Contraband can be bought at getbook.at/CONTRABAND.

A scene from Contraband

A scene from Contraband - Credit: Thomas John Behe and Phil Elliott

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