Prepare to have your mind blown: “XX, A Novel, Graphic” by Rian Hughes, is out now

This week marks the official publication of XX, A Novel, Graphic by Rian Hughes, available now from all good book and comic shops, published by Picador.

It’s a massive tome, uniquely Rian throughout, with a staggering amount of dedication put into creating a whole universe around the story. Neither simply graphic novel nor SF story, this story truly is something very special, and is accompanied by the release of its own soundtrack which you can preview here in Bandcamp.

At Jodrell Bank a mysterious signal of extraterrestrial origin has been detected. Artificial Intelligence expert Jack Fenwick thinks he can decode it. But when he and his associates at Hoxton tech startup Intelligencia find a way to step into the alien realm the signal encodes, they discover that it’s already occupied – by ghostly entities that may come from our own past.

Have these ‘DMEn’ (Digital Memetic Entities) been created by persons unknown for just such an eventuality? Are they our first line of defence in a coming war, not for territory, but for our minds?

Running to a staggering 992 pages, XX presents a compelling vision of humanity’s unique place in the universe, and of what might happen in the wake of the biggest scientific discovery in human history.

As compelling as it is visually striking, Rian Hughes’ first novel incorporates NASA transcripts, newspaper and magazine articles, fictitious Wikipedia pages, undeciphered alphabets, and ‘Ascension’, a forgotten novelette by 1960s counterculture guru Herschel Teague that mysteriously foreshadows events.
Wrapping stories within stories, Rian Hughes’ XX unleashes the full narrative potential of graphic design. Drawing on Dada, punk and the modernist movements of the twentieth century, it ask us who we think we are – and where we may be headed next.

The battle for your mind has already begun.

XX tells a tale not simply through words, but via the design devices used to display those words, approaching storytelling from a creative’s perspective. “As a graphic designer, I’ve always been aware that we are often just a service industry,” Rian told It’s Nice That, “we dress up someone else’s content, rather than create the content ourselves. Having worked as a comic book artist and writer where you are very much an author, this freedom is hard to forget.

“That’s the starting point: if this idea of ‘authored design’ requires the designer to come up with the content themselves, and not simply dress someone else’s content, what should it be? I didn’t want another exercise in meaningless mark-making – there’s already too much of that around – but something where the expressive range of type, design, layout and image are all used in the service of an extended narrative,” he says. “A ‘novel, graphic’, was the awkward phrase I came up with to describe it.”

Rian’s novel includes a review of a fictional album based on a mysterious signal of extraterrestrial origin. Strictly Kev and Saron Hughes were tasked with the job of taking this review and making the album – ‘Citizen Void’ by Celestial Mechanic – a reality. In what may be a first, the review actually preceded the music.

Executive produced by Rian, the album featured contributions from Robin The Fog, Peter Harris, Alex Foakes and the voice of Alan Hughes.

“This feels pretty special,” says graphic designer, illustrator and comics artist Rian, who’s noted for his work on 2000AD, where he illustrated “Robo-Hunter”, “Tales from Beyond Science”, “Really and Truly” and, for Revolver, “Dan Dare”.

Rian Hughes

Since leaving comics illustration, he’s become a successful advertising artist, graphic designer and font designer, re-designing Spider-Man, Fantastic Four and X-Men logos for Marvel, and Batman, Incorporated, Batgirl, The Atom, Metal Men and Batman and Robin for DC Comics among many others.

Rian runs his own company, Device, with clients including Virgin Airways, Penguin Books, DC Comics, Eurostar, the BBC and a range of magazines and newspapers.

The launch of the book was marked by an online conversation with Grant Morrison, courtesy of Forbidden Planet.

XX by Rian Hughes is available now (AmazonUK Affiliate Link)

• Rian Hughes Official web site:

Listen to the XX soundtrack now at

Find out more about the making of the album here

Design Observer: Typography Meets Sci-Fi

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