Category Archives: Graphic Novel

On Worldbuilding and the graphic novel

Some cursory research into the term worldbuilding will provide the description for an exercise in constructing a different world than the one we live in. It could take on the aspects of fantasy such as the world of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, or the role-playing game of Dungeons and Dragons, or it could be a fictional universe akin to the worlds of the Star Wars series of movies and books. In fact, any imaginary world, past or present, could qualify for the worldbuilding description. Whatever genre it assumes, good worldbuilding requires a significant amount of thought. Things like culture, politics, technology, social issues, health, and even human interaction are things to be considered and crafted. Since the author is creating a fictional universe and establishing all the rules, I really can’t imagine a science fiction writer doing anything less to assemble a coherent story.

I wrote The Lightstream Chronicles in the spring of 2011, originally as a screenplay, and then converted it into a graphic novel script shortly thereafter. As part of the exercise, I created a timeline that brought the world from 2011 to 2159 taking into account, (broadly at first then gradually adding detail) the geopolitical environment, technology, tools, society, culture and even some wild cards thrown in. Much of this appears in the first few episodes (pages) of the story (Season 1) but considerably more detail is available by accessing the backstory link on the LSC site. Nevertheless, since the production of all the episodes is still in the works, the process of worldbuilding continues as I sort out increasing levels of minutiae as it applies to all of the above.

A key motivating factor in my creative process is also the center of my research, namely how design and technology affect us as human beings. Design affects culture and culture affects design. Because culture is a hefty composite of our beliefs, behaviors, hopes, dreams, and humanity, it is my assertion that design and its conjoined twin technology, in many ways are becoming the primary sculptors of our culture.

I’ve come to view some version of the worldbuilding exercise as almost a prerequisite to design. If designecnology does have such a profound impact on culture and all of its entanglements, can design really afford to move into the future without considering these larger implications?

Perhaps this is something for my next academic paper.

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Backstage on page 109 – latent memories

This week I’m taking a break from the usual future chitchat to give a behind-the-scenes commentary on page 109.

In panel 1, we revisit the Prefectural Medical Center where Sean Colbert is mending from his assault as Keiji gets his first glimpse of the victim. This is reminiscent of the scene on page 54 in Season 2. Keiji’s pre-programmed clearance provides him with access to just about anything and puts him in a very powerful position to hasten the investigation. The doors literally part for him upon his arrival.

Then next step is to see tap in to the patient’s condition and download everything from vital signs to the status of each injury and how damaged tissues, broken bones, contusions and lacerations are responding to the regen process.

I added some details to Sean’s appearance. Since he has been suspended for nearly 12 hours in the regen “soup.” I wanted to show noticeable improvement in the injuries. The bruises are not as severe, nor are the cuts, and he has even started to grow back his hair, which we can note was completely shaved in the Season 2 scenes.

When Keiji accesses the control panel, by virtue of the super conductivity of the regen suspension liquid and Keiji’s ability to bypass anyone’s brain gate encryptions, he receives a quick flash of latent memory that’s still active from Sean’s past. This is an indication that, at least some of Sean’s memory is still in tact (possibly leading to an identification of the perpetrator(s)), but it also reveals an interesting wrinkle that perhaps no one else thought of: the victim is also Keiji’s creator. Erasing a synthetic from any memory of the laboratory and manufacturing process, especially individuals involved in the creation is a primary protocol — which Sean faithfully executed. of The final image on page 109 harkens back to Season 1, page 21 where Sean takes the critical step of erasing any memory of their prior relationship. This could complicate matters, but that remains to be seen.

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There’s a hack for that.

In The Lightstream Chronicles circa 2159, the government of New Asia (virtually the whole world) owns the Lightstream. The Lightstream is the evolution of what we think of as the Internet today. It is a photo-fast unlimited transmission space that channels everything from your DNA, to your recent V (virtual) experience. It’s considered un-hackable because any intrusion is instantly traceable. It was engineered that way back in the 21st century when New Asia’s breadth was expanding and the government realized that anything other than complete control was just an accident waiting to happen. Since virtually anything consensual is legal and the public is convinced that only AI has access to their private behavior, most don’t consider this a breach of freedom or privacy. But that’s the future…

I recently came across an article in The New York Times about a new web service called the Hackers List, where you can hire a hacker. According to the site HL site, “Hiring a hacker shouldn’t be a difficult process, we believe that finding a trustworthy professional hacker for hire should be a worry free and painless experience.” I’ve always thought so. According to TNYT, “It is done anonymously, with the website’s operator collecting a fee on each completed assignment. The site offers to hold a customer’s payment in escrow until the task is completed, “ and over 500 jobs have been put out for bid, including everything from getting into someone’s email to grabbing a company’s database. Yes, we’ve monetized and consumerized hacking.

Now it may seem as though this next item is unrelated, but reserve judgement. A recent article in WIRED magazine tells us “Why the US Government is Terrified of Hobbyist Drones.” I’ve blogged on this before, but the whole drone thing has already escalated out of control. According to WIRED, the FAA held a conference that was open to civilians but closed to the press. At the conference,

“…officials played videos of low-cost drones firing semi-automatic weapons, revealed that Syrian rebels are importing consumer-grade drones to launch attacks, and flashed photos from an exercise that pitted $5,000 worth of drones against a convoy of armored vehicles. (The drones won.)” At the conference they showed something called the DJI Phantom 2 a, “quadcopter, strapped to 3 pounds of inert explosive.”

Hmmm. What have we here?
Hmmm. What have we here?

Interestingly, this was a newer version of the drone that landed on the White House lawn earlier this year. So the drone maker, a Chinese company that doesn’t want to loose it’s foothold on this booming market created a firmware update that incorporated something called GPS geofencing. The manufacturer has added the White House to a soon to be list of 10,000 places you will not be able to take your drone. Most of these are airports.

TNYT cited a spokesman from the drone maker,

“‘We do provide different layers of security to make it difficult to hack and get around,’” says DJI’s Perry. But for those determined to avoid geofencing, “there’s an easy way to do that, which is to buy another quad-copter.”

Now maybe you see the connection to the earlier item. So what are we to take from this? Well, we could say that this is another example of technology out of control. We could say that this is proof that with stuff like GPS geofencing we will always stay one step ahead of the hackers. I say this is just the beginning.

Of course, my residence and probably yours, too is not on the geofencing list. What about us?  But wait. Why not hire a hacker to set one up for you?

Fast forward two years: My telco is overcharging me for my premium channels. I log into the HakStore and download my $7.99 hack for that.

Think the Web is tangled now?

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Recognition technology. We know who you are and maybe what you are thinking about.

New technologies are everywhere. They are being developed in labs every day—if not every ten minutes. If you are searching for them, like me, then you are likely to run across hundreds of techy developments that are on the cusp of being something mainstream within the next 10 years. Then, there are those technologies that we never hear about but that are fairly well developed, except that, as a society we’re not ready for them. So they sit in a lab until other developments come to pass or the marketing department decides that there is a high enough percentage of the population that will use or even accept them.

There is a great scene in the 2002 movie Minority Report where John Anderton (Tom Cruise) walks into a Gap store. Immediately upon entering, his irises are scanned and the resident hologram begins to make suggestions based upon his purchasing preferences. In the movie, Cruise has just had his eyes swapped out with someone else to disguise his identity. So the virtual sales person thinks he is Mr. Yakamoto.

That movie is 13 years old. Today, iris scan recognition is already widely in use and in case you missed it, retinal scanning is now obsolete. The United Arab Emirates uses it at border crossings, India has begun enrolling its 1.2 billion citizens by capturing individual iris data, and in at least a half dozen applications for security around the world. It’s only current drawback is that you have to be standing still and fairly close the scanner for an accurate read. 1

Fear not, however because for people moving about and not standing still there is facial recognition which is much less picky about the quality of the scan, or in this case, the image. Facial recognition algorithms have improved dramatically over the years now logging 16,384 reference points which are referenced against a database and, fairly quickly can identify a person with 80 -90% accuracy. Higher accuracy rates just take a bit longer. 2 Right now its in use by law enforcement in airports and high security areas, but also at retail locations to catch shoplifters. Now it gets interesting because, while we fine-tune the iris scan, the same facial recognition system that is used to identify ne’er do wells can also be used a la Minority Report to identify shoppers who are regular customers, or help them find the lingerie department. A quick cross-reference with their online shopping habits, Facebook page and their Google history can also tell them how much you are likely to spend, your favorite color, and the name of your best friend to remind you that their birthday is right around the corner.

Putting this in context with what we’ve seen in the last few weeks of The Lightstream Chronicles, the idea that Keiji-T, with access to someone’s memories can ascertain their guilt or innocence is a logical next step. Too far, you think? Brain implants are already in testing that can implant memories 3 and augment decisions. Commonplace in the year 2159, perhaps.

 

1 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iris_recognition#Deployed_applications
2 http://www.fastcompany.com/3040375/is-facial-recognition-the-next-privacy-battleground
3 http://israelbrain.org/will-human-memory-chips-change-the-world-by-dr-ofir-levi/
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Of the Sunday comics and story arcs, and instant gratification.

I was one of those kids who grew up with the Sunday comics and lots of comic books. Peanuts notwithstanding, I wasn’t much for the “funnies” as much as I enjoyed the dramas. I still remember my favorites like Steve Canyon, Dondi, Judge Parker, Terry and the Pirates, and Dick Tracy. In all of these, there were long-running stories that carried on for weeks and months. We would get big doses on Sunday and then through the week there would be a single black and white page with only three or four panels for each strip. Fortunately the artists were savvy enough to save the really big events for Sunday. This all came rushing back to me today as I looked at page 104 of The Lightstream Chroniclesand I’m thinking of the folks who manage to follow TLSC on a regular basis. Even though I’m not giving out the black and white treatment, some of the pages strike me as, “Is that it?” I’m thinking back now to how I felt when there were only a few tiny snippets of dialog to advance the story as I waited for more on Sunday. But alas, I guess that’s just one of the things that make comics such a unique genre and a singular experience all their own.

I have been mapping out the completion of the story and though we’re not at the half-way point yet, I have completed 130 pages and they are ready for publication. As I have mentioned before, my goal is to get this thing finished so that we can speed this process up and I can start publishing all double-page spreads, instead of just single pages. It will get us a little bit closer and speed the story process along a bit faster.

But comics really aren’t about instant gratification. Hopefully, they are about lingering on the images and thinking about both what comes between panels and what’s going to happen on the next page. What do you think?

A classic.
A classic.
terry_pirate
Milton Caniff did Steve Canyon as well.

 

Steve Canyon courtesy of : http://www.oldradioshows.org/2014/11/aviation-in-old-time-radio/
Dondi courtesy of: https://pulllist.comixology.com/articles/497/Talkin-Comics-Up-In-Morningside-Heights

 

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Welcome your new synthetic companion. Where will artificial intelligence go?

And now, back to the future.

In a previous post I looked at the pros and cons of creating a living adult human through a process known as progenation, or genning, as not always successful, despite government assurances that the failure rate is miniscule. The process takes about 4 weeks and the resulting human can be created to the exact age of the customer, however, you cannot order, for example, a younger version of yourself, nor can you be genned if you are under the age of consent, which is 16.

The legal age of consent notwithstanding, there is science behind the decision. Though the body can be developed to the precise age of the customer, based on exact DNA imprinting, the brain, remains an empty mass of tissue. In a sense, since it was grown in the lab, it has no “experiences”, no learning, and no cognitive processes. The final phase of genning is “brain accretion transference” (BAT), where all mental, cognitive and experiential data from the living brain of the original human donor, is transferred to the progenated being. If successful, the progenation process is complete. The government reports the success rate for transference at around 92%, but some sources put the number much lower. When transference fails, there is no way to repeat the process and the living body must be terminated. Additionally, there are anecdotal reports that even successful progens, after years of life, can die suddenly without explanation or display psychotic episodes.

The genning process is expensive and usually reserved for the wealthy, though it is possible to engage a less reputable lab to gen for a fraction of a government sanctioned progen. These labs are, of course, illegal.

The other option, if you are looking for a same, is to build a synthetic human. It is much more reliable and though the final product is not quite a duplicate, the results are considered much more predictable. Plus, you can program out your bad or annoying traits and make the new you more assertive — or submissive. This is just one of the many options in the booming synthetic industry led by companies like AHC.

friendposter-m
One of the latest ads from Almost Human Corporation.

 

Since “grey matter” in a synth is a specifically configured quantum brain, the customer can upload their brain and personality into a synth for the identical synthetic version of themselves, or choose from thousands of other personality types. A same synth is comparably priced with the genned version, but there are also thousands of variations and feature sets that make owning a synth within reach for most of the populace. going the synthetic route also carries fewer restrictions, child synths, for example are also available (saming restrictions still apply).

Synthetics range in style from commercial labor synths to domestic, extended family versions, animal, pleasure models, and expert systems just to name a few.

Science fiction?

This may all sound like crazy talk, or just fun science fiction, but it isn’t an unreasonable trajectory based our current interests in the advancing technology and our human proclivities to adapt and adopt these technologies when they come to life. We already have signs of this. There is Paro the baby seal robot therapist, Zoomer the interactive robopuppy, and activists for synthetic love. While most scientists believe that we are looking to decades in the future before we have an operating system as lifelike and emotive as the one in the movie Her, if you pull those threads into the future of The Lightstream Chronicles, an industry every bit as developed as our current day automobile industry does not seem like a stretch. As far a uploading our minds into a machine, Ray Kurzweil sees that happening much sooner.

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Of “Here”, Chris Ware, and transcendence in the graphic novel.

There are numerous developments that have traversed my inbox this week, so it was a bit of a debate with myself as to whether I would blog about technology or a new graphic novel that is hit the streets this week. Moved by my artistic side, I decided to comment on a glowing review, by none other than Chris Ware, of the graphic novel Here. The “game-changing” graphic novel is the work of artist, illustrator and apparent bass player Richard McGuire.

According to Ware’s review which appeared in the guardian, the idea for the book originated with a short story in the pages of RAW in 1989.

“Across six black-and-white pages, it simply pictured the corner of a room from a fixed viewpoint, projecting a parade of moments, holidays, people, animals, biology, geology – everything, it seems, that defines and lends human life meaning – on to windows of space labelled by year (1971, 1957, 1999, 100,097BC). Birthdays, deaths, dinosaurs. In 36 panels, the universe.”

After putting down the magazine, Ware says, “It was the first time I had had my mind blown.” In other words, in those few short pages, in what was for all intents and purposes a comic, the author was able to transcend time and space by evoking the thought of the reader to probe deeper into their own existence. Ware continues,

“You could say it’s the space of the room, the arbitrary geometry imposed by a human mind on a space for reasons of shelter and as a background to this theatre of life. But you could also claim it is the reader, your consciousness where everything is pieced together and tries to find, and to understand, itself. This is a big step forward for graphic novels, but it is so much more than that. With those first six pages in 1989, McGuire introduced a new way of making a comic strip, but with this volume in 2014, he has introduced a new way of making a book.”

 

Here by Richard McGuire
Here by Richard McGuire

Wow, what a review, and by a legend no less! I will have to get it this book, but it also made me think—again—about the power of visual narrative and perhaps the power of art in general. I admit that at times i can get so wrapped up in moving my story forward and completing each panel with all the technical 3D gyrations and rendering passes, that I might forget about the potential power of the narrative itself. Ware and McGuire are visionaries in the field of comics and visual narrative. Ware breaks the boundaries of time and space continually in books like Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth, and most recently with Building Stories. He engages readers to stop not only to think but to touch and even to make. This takes the already multi-modal experience that is so unique to comics into new dimensions literally and conceptually.

I believe that the highest achievement of any literary form is to make you think about your world and your place in it—maybe even your purpose in life. Having your “mind blown” seems too lofty a goal, but as I creep toward the midway point in The Lightstream Chronicles, I think about the day when it may be in print, hardbound and laying open while nestled in the lap of a reader. As they turn the page, they pause, look across the silent room—and think.

Nice.

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A Science Fiction Graphic Novel About Design and the Human Condition

Page 100

We’ve reached page 100 and in some cases, The Lightstream Chronicles is already longer than many graphic novels. Nevertheless, as meaty as the author has worked it to be, there is so much more in the developing story. I was asked recently, “Where is it going?”

Expect some intrigue, angst and an action packed climax, but as with most science fiction and even design fiction, it is about people.

If you know anything about the author, you know that I’m a designer, heavily ensconced in research in the area of Design Fiction, Speculative Design, and Design Futures. The Lightstream Chronicles is a foray into a future world where we, like it or not, have been changed by the design and technology that we have embraced over the years. We are different. Our behaviors and expectations have changed. This is what design does to society and culture. Don’t get me wrong; it is not necessarily a bad thing. Design is a product of which we are as human beings. It is a reflection of humanity. Hence, it will reflect both bad and good, something that I believe is not a “fixable” tweak in our DNA. It is the essence of our design. In many respects, without it, we cease to be human. We have the choice between good and evil and depending on what we choose, our design and the various manifestations of it will reflect those choices.

As I wrote,

“In The Lightstream Chronicles, the author creates a science fiction graphic novel and asks that the reader ponder the same self-rationalizing tendency as it applies to slick new enhancing technologies and the “design” decisions that fostered them. It looks at not only the option to make the decision, but the ethics of whether the decision should be made, as well as society’s competency to choose wisely.1”

Perhaps then, it becomes a graphic novel about the human condition. In a way then, it is like most fiction, but it is that and more. It also examines where we find meaning, especially when most of what we would consider our greatest fears—of death, disease, physical or mental decline, of enough food and water, sustaining the environment or having enough energy—have vanished. Is it enough to satisfy us, to fulfill us, and give us meaning or does it leave us wanting?

The only thing that seems to have survived the grasp of man and his ability to wipe it away is evil. The perfection of synthetic humans would seem to be the answer, though even then, man has found a way to twist them. And if we become the creators are not our creations still made in our image?

What do you think?

 

1.Denison, E. Scott. When Designers Ask, “What If?”. Electronic MFA Thesis. Ohio State University, 2013. OhioLINK Electronic Theses and Dissertations Center.
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Privacy is dead. Is the cyberpunk future already here?

This week, a brief thought to provoke thought. Surprisingly it has been 30 years since William Gibson released his groundbreaking work Neuromancer, that ushered in a decade of artistry inspired by the genre known as cyberpunk. Just a few days ago Paste Magazine ran an article, “Somebody’s Watching Me; Cyberpunk 30 Years On, and the Warnings We Didn’t Heed.” Therein, writer Brian Chidester delineates the fascinating influence of Gibson’s work on the music of the day as well as the ripples it continues to send into the present.

With my futurist, sci-fi, cyberpunk leanings, I was caught up with the observation of how much of Gibson’s, “…near-future where computer technology was woven into our DNA—where a virtual data sphere played the dominate role in the human interface,” is already here—and we didn’t notice—or as Chidester notes, “…quietly came to pass.”

The music connection is deep and profound but it is also intertwined with the events of the days and the decades to follow. From DARPA’s creation of the internet, to post-9/11 paranoia, the Patriot Act, WikiLeaks, Edward Snowden, Google, Twitter and Facebook, to the ubiquitous storage of cookies and individual user preferences (most of which are freely—even blithely—given), we, “…have, in essence, created business models that are a dream come true for the CIAs, FBIs and NSAs of the world.”

Yet perhaps more chilling than where we are, is how we got here.

“Google, Twitter and Facebook, lauded as broadening the scope of human potential, in fact, built algorithms to drive us to predictable results. Cookies store information on individual user preferences. They have, in essence, created business models that are a dream come true for the CIAs, FBIs and NSAs of the world.

Facebook has nearly a billion users, with tons of personal data on each one, proving that plenty of individuals are willing to provide private information to get something that is free and fun. Simply put: We’ve allowed ourselves to be smitten. The computer is now miniaturized, or, as Bruce Sterling predicted, ‘adorable.’ Christopher Shin, the engineer of Cellebrite, a device that aids the U.S. government in collecting information from cellular users, contends that the iPhone holds more personal information than any other device on the market.”

So if we can go from cyberpunk, science fiction, to present day future in 30 years, given the exponential growth of technology, were will be be smitten next: genetic engineering, transhumanism, synthetic biology?

Chidester concludes:

“If we stop to ask how we got here, we may look back and find the signs embedded in cyberpunk literature of 20-30 years prior. We may then wonder how we might better have heeded its warnings. But it is too late. Privacy, under the current paradigm, is essentially dead.”

What other cherished possession will be the next to fall?  Or have they all already fallen?

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A taste of future-tech in the graphic novel.

If you are a regular to The Lightstream Chronicles, then you know that what you see on the Web is only a fraction of the detail that is available from the high-resolution PDF that accompanies each page. This week I thought I would highlight a few examples of plausible future tech that have occurred on recent pages.

The coffee

Just your average beverage replicator
Just your average beverage replicator

For example, soon after Kristin and Keiji entered her office back on page 93 Kristin offers Keiji coffee. There’s no Keurig in the office—at least not one that we would recognize—but there is a beverage replicator similar to the one that Marie used back on page 80 when she whipped up a Cabernet for Kristin. The beverage replicator, in this case, the same one that Marie used, a Maitre-deux™ kitchen food and beverage replicator. Model FVX-GNN42H71000.

Kristin “taps” in her favorite blend and delivers a freshly brewed cup of coffee including the cup. Since the flavor configuration can vary as well, Kristin prefers a French Press style at a precise 92.6 C. 325.309 ml. If you look closely into the background of page 93 you can see her making her selections.

The cups

A nanotherm cup.
A nanotherm cup.

The coffee cups that Kristin dispenses to hold a precise 325.309 ml. and are replicated bone china with a nanothermic structure that keeps the contents steaming hot—indefinitely—or until the liquid evaporates. That’s why you’ll catch a whiff of steam throughout this scene.

The desk & tablet

A simple intermediary.
A simple intermediary.

Kristin’s desk is an active surface. In other words it is able to transmit, receive and display (or project) information from any other active surface including the luminous implants that both Keiji-T and Kristin have embedded into their fingertips. (Everyone else in the world has them, too.)

The thin glass tablet that Keiji is “porting” to is simply an intermediate storage device that Kristin then transfers to her desk surface and, ultimately to holographic projection above her desk. The tablet can also store vast amounts of data for later access.

Just a sampling of some of the details in the background—a lot like the design and technology we take for granted everyday.

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