Why is it that when stories are told about the future, storytellers always imagine the worst? Maybe they see the world around them and the bad things that seem to hover on the fringe like storm clouds in the distance. In the recently debuted graphic novel Fluorescent Black, writer M.F. Wilson and artist Nathan Fox take a look at a future seventy-five years from now, and it's not pretty.
Fluorescent Black is set in Southeast Asia in the year 2085, and genetic technology has grown by leaps and bounds, allowing theories of transhumanism to take root. These innovations have led the richer to get richer, and the poor to get poorer; the world is polarized into two classes of people so far apart they could almost be considered distinct races.
In Fluorescent Black, a utopian world exists side-by-side with a dystopian reality, and the conflicts those two societies would inevitably have are brought to a head when a genetic test model is taken captive by a street gang and sees a class of people living on the edge of humanity, living on the fringes of this futuristic world.
Writer M.F. Wilson's psychedelic sci-fi senses blend with artist Nathan Fox's raucous linework to create a unique collaboration evoking Bladerunner, Heavy Liquid, and The Fifth Element.
Although Fluorescent Black was originally serialized over three issues of the comics anthology magazine Heavy Metal, this collected edition released last month includes twenty additional pages of story, as well as extensive notes on the futuristic world Fluorescent Black inhabits. For more, we talked with the book's creators.
Newsarama: What's the story of Fluorescent Black about?M.F. Wilson: At its core, it's a star-crossed love story. It's about a street kid who kidnaps a girl from the other side of the tracks. In the process of trying to ransom her, he falls in love with her. She falls in love with him too, partially because she is suffering from Stockholm's syndrome and partially because she begins to understand his struggle. Together they go up against the evil empire that is trying to separate humankind into two races. All of this takes place in a world where gene-splicing has turned the world upside down and splice creatures run rampant.
Nrama: This takes place in the far-flung future of 2085. Since I don't think I'll be around then, can you tell us what it's like?
Nathan Fox: The 2085 of Fluorescent Black is based upon the 2010 of today. The origin of the villains and science that dominates 2085 has its roots in present day Singapore. The Biopolis actually exists there.
2085 becomes a pretty polarized world. Science and the elite have taken over the metropolis and society in the story and have deported the inferior/impure people in the world. There-by creating two new races in Malaysia: Inferioris and Superioris. You are inferior if any of your genetic material, let alone your own appearance and "being", is flawed. You are thereby booted out of Singapore and shipped across the causeway and dumped into a lawless, crime, bug & drug infested Johor Bahru.
Everyone is trying to get back into the safety, prosperity and security of the Utopia that is now Singapore, proper and in order to do so in Johor Bahru, you have to resort to some pretty sinister stuff. Organ legging and drug synthesizing is common place and you are always looking over your shoulder. Gene splicing, cloning and intentional mutation of species is accessible and common place. Even the nature and creatures around you are a threat if not more dangerous than the people in the slums.Trying to imagine what it would look like visually was a blast and I always wondered what would be worse as an outcast in Johor Bahru. Trying to survive the living jungle outside the city limits or slaughtering civilians like myself in order to get the medicines and gene therapies I would need to "improve" myself enough to get back into Singapore.
Tough living and an enslaved world.
I had a great time with it.
Nrama: Can you tell us about the cultural divide between the Superiors and the Inferiors?
Wilson: It's cultural, yes, but it's also an economic, geographical and biological divide. The two races live in different cities and they have completely different lifestyles. The Superiors are biologically superior to the Inferiors, so they believe they are entitled to a higher quality of life. The Inferiors believe they should have the same basic human rights as the Superiors and are fighting for access to the information and technology that the Superiors use to improve themselves genetically. It's not a far cry from the situation in the world today: third world countries are separated from first world countries by political, economic, and cultural borders.
Nrama: M.F., in the introduction to the book you describe this all as 'Biopunk'. Tell us, what is Biopunk?
Wilson: I'd personally define Biopunk as an attitude and a style. Right now, I see it germinating in the body modification culture. All the people who have surgically forked tongues or fanged implants are totally Biopunk! In the future, in a world where genetic manufacturing is common, I think body modification will be taken to new extremes. On the high end, people will strive for human perfection, and on the low end, people will become radically imperfect. There will be a rebellion against the biological norm. In a world where everyone is beautiful and intelligent, the freaks will be the resistance. They are, literally, Bio-punks.
Nrama: What can you tell us about Max and the butchers?Wilson: Max and his twin sister Blue are part of a street gang called The Butchers. They are a group of disadvantaged children who have resorted to crime to pay for gene treatments they need to cure their degenerative diseases. They've been dealt a bad hand in life, and are struggling to survive. Most of the gang members of The Butchers have been classified as "Homo sapiens inferioris" by the Singaporean government and were relocated to the Malaysian Peninsula, a horrible ghetto that houses the dredges of society.
Nrama: Can you tell us about Nina and the Ugen Company?
Fox: Nina is "product" of Ugen. Ugen owns everything in Singapore, including your genes, and the rights to adapt, treat or alter your DNA, literally. No one else in the world can touch or access genetic technology without Ugen's approval.
Nina is a clone specifically engineered and genetically manipulated to be the best of the best in terms of what they deem a perfect human to be. Nina is #9 in the clone/test subjects and the most perfect guinea pig and favorite of Anja, Ugen's leading scientist and brainchild of the new society and Utopia in the story.
Nina has never been outside of the nursery she was born and raised in and is utterly naive when she escapes the Ugen complex with Max and his crew. Beautiful and pure, she quickly discovers what has happened to her and the effects of the genetic testing that lead to her escape quickly becomes the force behind the narrative and a way to free the gene from Ugen's proprietary clutches.
Nrama: How did you two hook up to do this story?
Wilson: I called the number on his website. Then I pitched him the story and sent him a script.
Fox: I read the script and was instantly on the same page with Matt, I could see it all, draw it in my head as I was reading it, I was completely inspired...
Wilson: I had become familiar with his illustrations in Rolling Stone, Spin and The New Yorker and I loved his gritty style. I didn't want the project to look like other science fiction stories that I'd seen. I knew Nathan was capable of capturing the filthy and ragged world I was picturing in my head. From there we began conceptualizing the environment and the characters. Within six months, Nathan was drawing pages.
Fox: Due to schedule, I had to shoot him down twice before we found a schedule that worked and the third time became the charm that got me on the project. I work as a full time freelance/ editorial illustrator as well, so, at the time I had and still have clients and obligations and we found a way to make comics and illustration work. Creating the book in three, 48-page installments over three years in Heavy Metal Magazine that would culminate the third year into the collected graphic novel that debuted at the San Diego Comic-Con this year.Matt's directing and screenwriting is very tangible visually, so once we got started we were off and rolling. Looking back it was pretty smooth and just kept going.
Nrama: Nathan, who would you say is your favorite character to draw in Fluorescent Black?
Fox: Oh, man. That's a tough one. I love the oddball characters so I would have to say, for the ladies, it's a toss up between Starlet and Lovely; the f****d up hooker/slaughterer and the trigger-happy lady-boy. Max and Anja were tops but for the guys I would have to go with Mr. NoNAME. He's just over the top and off the chain. No restraints, no empathy and no care in the world outside of money and brutality. Between those two women and Mr. NoNAME, I am sure we could easily spin off three more short stories of not an entirely new story arc for Mr. NoNAME.
Nrama: This was originally serialized in the pages of Heavy Metal Magazine, but now that it's collected you threw in some extras. Can you tell us about those extras?
Wilson: We've added almost 20 pages of sequential art to help flesh out the story a little more and give the reader some much needed breathing room. In the back of the book, we've got a timeline that leads up the first events of the story. It details the history of the world and the changing political situation in Singapore. There's also a glossary of slang terms, most of which are Singlish (the native dialect spoken throughout the book), that will help the reader translate some of the foreign language elements. We've even got pinups from guest artists like Dan Luvisi, Tim Bradstreet and Sam Weber. We really wanted the book to feel complete so we did what we could to fill in the gaps.
Nrama: Now that this project is over, what are you working on next?Wilson: Until August, I am working on a documentary about the Vans Warped Tour. After that, I'm going to finish up some spinoffs and fresh story lines for Fluorescent Black (hint: Ketsa). When that is done, I'm going to begin drafting two new projects I've been developing for about three years now. The first one is my take on superheroes (as they relate to mythology) and the other is a modern day western. Look out for them next Comic-Con!
Fox: I just finished DMZ #56 with Brian Wood. I am still doing editorial illustration and advertising stuff and currently working on an original graphic novel called Dogs of War with Scholastic Books by Sheila Keenan. There is talk of spinning off something with Matt through Heavy Metal and he and I have been tossing around new book work in the future.
Joe Lansdale is working on a new Creepy short that he and I will be collaborating on and a few other short stories and one shots in the near future.
Oh, and there is a new 30 postcard book, a first, coming out next year through Chronicle books called Stay Tuned!. I’m really excited about it. New work and cover design stuff in there as well as some oldies but goodies. Other than that, just fatherhood and hacking away as best I can.