Cyberpunk commentary – Page 24

Herewith the director’s/artist’s/writer’s commentary on page 24 of The Lightstream Chronicles.

Now things are getting interesting. Last week Sean was about to step into the MagShuttle to head down to the dangerous street level in the Mong Kok district of Hong Kong 2. Things will get a little grittier now and the oppressed, cyberpunk side of this society begins to gain some legibility.  In panel 1 Sean is inside and looking out at the view from more than 300 stories above. Upon entering and by virtue of the fact that his identity was logged before the shuttle doors would open, the mesh promptly notifies him that TopCity residents are not advised to travel to that dangerous section of town. (The mesh refers to amalgamation of every network of every device, everyone’s chipset, every touch sensor, camera, scanner, electronic device and active surface in the greater 47,000 square kilometers of the Hong Kong 2 Mega City. The mesh is monitored by New Asia government computers and police security forces. It knows where you are and what you are doing. Though it is not something they advertise, the New Asia government likes to think that the mesh sees everything.

Sean waives the warning without a second thought (typical teenager – even though he’s 18) and opts for street level. As the shuttle descends, the third panel is worth inspecting with a zoom. Once the shuttle drops below the 50 story mark of the TopCity Spanner we can see the descent through the 20th century architecture of old Mong Kok.

Zoom highlights:

For those who want to get the most out of the visuals, a zoom into panel 1 on this page and the last panel of the previous page shows some details of the MagShuttle interior, interface and navigation cameras, and panel 2 features a giant light panel (billboard) for the a synthetic companion from Almost Human Corporation, Sean’s employer. Panel 3 gives you a taste of the Mong Kok neighborhood.


A view from DownTown as the MagShuttle approaches.
A view from DownTown as the MagShuttle approaches.


To read more about the Hong Kong Mega city and the mesh see pages 5 & 6 of The Lightstream Chronicles, and there is additional backstory on the story or the 2159 pages.

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p23 The Lightstream Chronicles -Director’s Commentary

So far, The Lightstream Chronicles has focused on the area known as TopCity high above the poverty and crime of DownTown, but that is about to change. This will start to reveal the punkier part of this cyberpunk crime thriller.

TopCity travel in Hong Kong 2 is swift. About 10 minutes after leaving his lab, Sean is an the airtunnel clear across town having boarded the Wan Chai to Kowloon Cross-Harbour Connector. The airtunnel is almost deserted at this hour since curfew is in an hour and a half and the shuttles will stop running. I was going for a clean, pristine look with floating advertisements  talking to no one. A little on the creepy side. Sean is about to board the MagShuttle which is a magnetic levitation system that moves between the 300 levels of the city. Below 50 stories is the old city. Crime ridden and in disrepair it is known as DownTown. The mag-lev transportation traverses the city of Hong Kong 2 to both vertical and horizontal destinations, including DownTown. I chose the standard Asian meme of a happy character as the logo for the Mag Shuttle. (It also happens to mimic the shape of the shuttle capsule).

Signage for the MagShuttle. So friendly. Don't worry. Be happy.
Signage for the MagShuttle. So friendly. Don’t worry. Be happy.

In panel 3, Sean is met with a warning that recommends he think twice before venturing into the “unsafe zone.” Sean appears unruffled as he accesses the touch panel to open the shuttle doors. If we think about this, it is just one of the many ways that the authorities keep tabs on the general public. By placing his fingertip implants (luminous implants) on the touch pad the system not only knows who he is and virtually everything about him, but where he is in the city. As the shuttle door opens we see a spacious enclosure with great views of the surrounding area including a billboard for Luminous Implants.


The plot thickens.

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Sci-fi or cyberpunk? Genre wars with the web comic.

Since the beginning, I have been referring to The Lightstream Chronicles as a science fiction crime thriller, but a more accomplished comic artist than myself referred to the work as a cyberpunk crime thriller. Admittedly, through my own ignorance, this term seemed off-base. I thought of Tank Girl as cyberpunk. So, I did more research. It would appear that there are more genres of science fiction than I was aware of. I think it is fair to say that for the purposes of my thesis, When Designers Ask, “What If?” that I did exhaustive research on comics and graphic novels, as well as the topic of design fiction, but science fiction is this enormous thing that encompasses a vast array of genres and sub-genres that I frankly did not have the ability to explore within the context of the thesis proper. Now, however, that the thesis is complete and submitted to the Internet database as one of a gazillion theses, I can begin to explore those areas that time and scope did not permit. Hence, cyberpunk has caught my attention and beckoned me to further examination.

As in design fiction, there does not seem to be any one authority on the subject and it has morphed in its collective understanding over the years. The combination of “cyber” from cybernetics and “punk” most commonly associated with the early 70’s and 80’s rock music genre could literally be interpreted as thinking machines with attitude. But over the years, the term now confers a sort of uber-technological society where people are not just human and machines are not just machines; there is a shared reality, or virtual reality. An explanation from the Cyberpunk Project website offers an elucidation that I like:

“This technology is visceral. It extends itself into people via brain implants, prosthetic limbs, cloned organs. It is not outside us but under our skin, inside our minds. Technology pervades the human self; the goal is the merging of man and machine.”

"...under our skin..."
“…under our skin…”

And if you want more, Lawrence Person gives an in-depth description in his Notes Toward a Postcyberpunk Manifesto. I particularly like this snip:

” It may have been Isaac Asimov (though I first heard it via Howard Waldrop) who said there were three orders of science fiction, using the automobile as an example. Man invents the automobile and uses it to chase down the villain: adventure fiction. Man invents the automobile, and a few years later there are traffic jams: social problem fiction. In the third type, man invents the automobile, and another man invents moving pictures: fifty years later, people go to drive-in movies. It is this third order of fiction, social fabric fiction, that was at the heart of cyberpunk…The best postcyberpunk moves further into third-order science fiction, the plot arising organically from the world it’s set in.”


To me, that is what drives the plot of The Lightstream Chronicles. If you’ve read the backstory on the web site or on pages 3 and 4 of the web comic, then you can see the social fabric fiction at work. It is interesting to note that the godfather of cyberpunk is the same guy who coined the term design fiction: Bruce Sterling. Person (from the same manifesto), paraphrases Sterling’s assessment that, “cyberpunk carried technological extrapolation into the fabric of everyday life.”

That makes for an even more interesting topic: perhaps real design fiction is also cyberpunk. Either way, and even if it’s all really just another flavor of SF, I’m convinced that TLSC play in the cyberpunk sandbox.

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Sci-fi web comic. Page 22. Director’s commentary.

Today the title has been shortened from “sci-fi, CG, crime thriller, web comic laced liberally with design fiction overtones” to the title above. What other choice did I have?

Page 22

The scene in Sean’s lab continues. He has just authorized erasure of a select set of memories from Keiji-T, his ultra-sophisticated synthetic human. As we saw on pages 17 & 18 Keiji has been commissioned by the New Asia Police Hong Kong 2 division as a state-of-the-art detective. Keiji reports to work at Police Headquarters first thing in the morning, though Sean remarks that he will be sleeping a bit later than that. We can gather from page 20 that Sean has an appointment with the face on the screen, on page 20.

Design fiction diegetic prototypes

Aside from the design of the cascading visual interface that Sean uses to erase Keiji, and the other props that make up this scene, there are a couple bits of visual design fiction that happen on page 22, and in true form we do not obsess over them or really even call them to the foreground in any overt way. As true diegetic prototypes, they blend into the background, not particularly magical and part of everyday life (at least Sean’s everyday life.) This first is the way Sean makes his worktable and chair disappear while simultaneously enclosing his work in a transparent crypt. This will keep his work off limits to his lab assistants until he gets back. The second visual trick is not so obvious and you have to be paying attention. The difference is Sean’s bodysuit. Not that in p22, panel 3 Sean is wearing his grey, AHC uniform. In the final panel, the style has changed to a digital-camo look (very fashionable in 2159). How did he manage this, you ask? Thanks to programmable fabric and the commands from his luminous implants changing your clothes is virtually instantaneous. For more on luminous implants, see this post.

In the final scene, Sean exits through a huge , aperture-like vault door to the rear of the lab. It’s interesting how so many of these props are designed to be functioning elements but are seen only as a glimpse from a distance. This is a lot like a movie production where enormous amounts of detail are built into the sets since you never know where the camera will end up pointing or how close the director will decide to get to said prop. Alas, so much of it ends up as only a passing glimpse, part of the texture and context of another world.

Comments welcome. Cheers.

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The web comic born from a screenplay.

Where do these ideas come from anyway? In the case of  The Lightstream Chronicles, it has been a circuitous route. At the earliest stages of the project, before there was a cohesive alignment with design fiction, the story was bits and pieces, a piece of dialog, a sketch, or an idea. There were also numerous influences absorbed over the years from a host of movies and books, but not in the way that mimics one or the other, more like interesting stuff duly noted and filed away to be expanded on someday.

But science fiction is tough to write. When you write science fiction you will inevitably be criticized for being too much like ______. Then there are the naysayers that insist anything that is derivative of any part of anything else is no longer an original idea. Of course, if you follow that logic we would have dismissed as derivative the pursuit of a better wheel design after Fred Flintstone.

Another derivative wheel.  image courtesy of:
Look, Martha, another wheel!

image courtesy of:

Many science fiction writers have lamented that the rate at which technology changes can make their ideas obsolete before a book goes to publication. Furthermore, what are now considered science fiction tropes, are probably that way for a reason: some technological advancements, like robots, seem inevitable. When you are writing about something far in the future, you expect that we will have conquered some problems and further complicated others.

More recently, themes were influenced by the forecasts and speculations of a number of futurist writers including Michio Kaku, Thomas Frey, Ray Kurzweil, Aubrey de Grey, and Vernor Vinge, and from an extensive survey of emerging technologies in the areas of energy, medicine, computing, artificial intelligence, transportation, and nanotechnology.

Now all of this would probably still be churning around inside my head if not for the need to complete my thesis and the graphic novel project inside of three years. Hence, I needed to find a way to write this thing. Unfortunately, there are no classes at OSU for writing a comic book/graphic novel script. The screenplay, however, is a close cousin. Not because every graphic novel in the universe is ending up as a movie, but because a screenplay is really two things: what the characters say, and what the audience sees; pretty much the content of a graphic novel script. Fortunately such a course exists at OSU and conveniently, the product is a finished screenplay and a built-in deadline. It took a little rule-bending, since the class assignment was to write a screenplay for a short film — 30 pages or so — and mine timed out at 87 pages. But my instructor was most accommodating. I selected the freeware Celtx, to write the script, got an A in the class, and using a nice little feature in the software, I was able to convert it to something like a graphic novel structure. There was a still considerable page and panel readjustment but the software did offer designations for balloons and captions.

Things came together in surprising order. But then, why did I doubt?

The web comic was another tangent entirely. And you can read up on that in a previous post.

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Passing the MFA examination.

Next stop graduation.

Can’t believe that I haven’t written about this. The exam was last week, April 3rd. I submitted the 300+ page thesis about two weeks ago to my thesis committee. The last 150 or so pages were comprised of the shooting script, so while I did write all those pages, the scholarly part consisted of about half of the total content. The shooting script became the day by day guide—essentially a comic book script—for the graphic novel which I continue to use whenever I am creating images and panels. (Always plugging the story.)

Earlier in March, as part of making my rounds to universities as a candidate for open design faculty positions, I prepared a complete pitch on the entire design fiction thesis and project. Since Ohio State was one of those schools where I was interviewing, many of the faculty and most of my committee saw the long version of  When Designer’s Ask, “What If?”  Anyway, the presentation was trimmed down to a much smaller and concise snapshot so that the committee would not be seeing a lot of duplication. There was a rather lengthy discussion afterward with some genuinely tough questions, but in the end everyone signed off with only minor corrections to the thesis paper. (I have a tendency to over-comma.)

After extinguishing the comma problem I submitted the paper to my advisor for a final review. This will get uploaded to the university archives and then the process is officially over. Graduation is on May 5th.

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Hi-res CG Web Comic – Page 21

Good morning (depending on what part of the globe your are in). Here is this week’s commentary on today’s new art for The Lightstream Chronicles web comic.


Set up

If you are new to the director’s commentary for the web comic and want to know more about what has happened before, make sure you check out previous posts to get up to speed.

Page 21

Last week it became evident that we are in Sean Colbert’s private lab in the penthouse of Building 3 of the Almost Human Corporation high -rise complex. Page 21 is actually one of my favorite pages and the image of Sean looking in at his creation, who we now should recognize as Keiji-T from the scene on pages 17 and 18. (As you know, all these panels are rendered in high-resolution CG). In panel 1 Sean flicks aside the holographic screen projection that was his center of attention on page 20. If the reader zooms in on this you should be able to see the motion in Sean’s hand and the dissolution of the screen. In panel 2 we have what I call the Man and Creation image with Sean staring at Keiji-T floating in a stasis container. Panels 3, 4 and 5 show the “reset” process. Here, Sean basically wipes clean any memory Keiji hold of Sean from this point back in time. When Keiji awakes in the morning, he will have his assignment to report to police headquarters, and should hold no memory of his creator. It would appear that perhaps Sean has grown fond of his creation and regrets the idea that they will never meet again.

Enjoy. Cheers.

You can read more about Sean, Keiji and the rest of the characters on the cast page of The Lightstream Chronicles.

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