Category Archives: Illustration

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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Science fiction: Near, distant or far? Why is The Lightstream Chronicles set in 2159?

Science fiction author William Gibson said,

“Personally I think that contemporary reality is sufficiently science fiction for me. Some critics are already maintaining that science fiction is a sort of historical category and it is not possible any more…I have to figure out what it means to try to write about the future at a time when we are all living in the shadow of at least half a dozen wildly science fiction scenarios.”1

I am not of this opinion. I think it is still possible to write compelling near, distant and far future fiction. The frustrating part is often the off-the-cuff critiques, and quick dismissals that any trope such as robotics, or immortality immediately render the work a rehash. I’ve heard this many times. So, it was an conscious decision when writing the original script to make this a distant future fiction.

I follow Robert Heinlein’s definition of science fiction:

“Realistic speculation about possible future events, based solidly on adequate knowledge of the real world, past and present, and on a thorough understanding of the scientific method.”

With that it is incumbent upon the author to hold those realistic speculations in one hand and with the other, threads of the present that could stretch far into the future.

One of my primary thematic motivations is speculating on human and transhuman futures. To me, based on present day facts, seminal aspects of transhumanism are already in place. We already have cochlear implants, artificial hearts, robotic limbs, transmitting health monitors, and other technological improvements built into our bodies. Without some sort of wild card devastation (which could derail any speculative future) here is no reason to consider a decline in the sophistication and amplification of health-assisting technologies. As with most technologies that, over time, etch themselves into our culture, these will become progressively more accepted as logical improvements to our natural bodies. Based on the current rate of technological advancement and the propensity for technology to grow exponentially, it is not unreasonable to consider a neart future—say 10 to 15 years—where our natural human bodies are significantly enhanced by multiple technologies from retinal implants, to augmented reality, in the form of organs, genetic adjustments, replacements, and interventions designed to keep us younger, sharper, and better in some demonstrable way.

This 10 to 15 year future could easily be the premise of a “near future” design fiction (and perhaps my next book will take that track), but I wanted to follow the threads deeper for two primary reasons. First, is the pragmatic reason that it takes a long time to write and produce a graphic novel of this complexity and I did not want to embark upon a race with technology to complete my story before the speculative future was either no longer speculative or was simply wrong. The second reason, is that small changes, to me, are not disruptive enough to provoke discussion and debate. An incremental change, one that seems like the logical next step, runs the danger of appearing too rational and “on course” to disrupt our present day thought processes (i.e., Her). If we only observe incremental trajectories, we cease to contemplate the long term.

The argument against long-term, future speculation is that it ceases to be plausible because, by then,  “anything can happen”. But this is merely a truism. The fact is, anything usually does not happen. There is an enormous amount of logical speculation that can be derived from what usually does happen given the human condition. If you combine the human factor with plausible advancements in technology—given reasonable trajectories of scientific focus—then we are, in fact, dealing with realistic speculative futures.

This brings me to the narrative itself. If you want to take the next few steps, and look beyond incremental change, to the logical next steps of viable AI, and synthetic humans, fully realistic and indiscernible virtual reality, functioning telepathy, ubiquitous surveillance and indefinite life-pans, then to exert a firm grasp on the science and the current gaps that exist, the only responsible thing to do is move your story into the distant future. To accomplish this you don’t need a 300 year Star Trek future but rather two or three generations from where we are now. This places us in a distant future of approximately 150 years. In my estimation, you just can’t plausibly get there any sooner.

If we want to talk about these logical trajectories we have to place ourselves in a setting that permits them to exist. Then we can look back on how they came to be. To me, this is the crux of design fiction. You may not like it, but the idea is provocation and examination of the futures we incrementally build. If you may think it passé and stereotypical, then you might also find yourself quickly bored of stories that also include tropes such as life, death, love and redemption.

1.http://www.reuters.com/article/2007/08/07/us-books-authors-gibson-idUSN2535896520070807?pageNumber=2&sp=true

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Profound change: Perfect bodies, adjustable hormones, and nakedness almost passé.

p62

There is a  rather significant discrepancy between the thousands of visitors to the “webcomic” every month, and those that visit my blog. As bereft of technological prowess as I am, I have not been able to find an effective way of combining image an blog together on one site, though I know there a million webcomics that do it. Part of my challenge is finding the time for the overhaul. Possibly this summer. Anyway, there is lots of good stuff here. But then again, if you are here, you are not part of the problem. However, if you are here, let’s get some dialog going. I would love to get more feedback on the story, or the themes, or design fiction, or any of the above. I would be happy to discuss the finer points of rendering or 3D modeling. Just throw something out there. Keeing within the discourse of reasonable minds,  I’m willing to entertain it. Just sayin’.

So, here we are on page 62 as Kristin confronts Governor Nakamura on why Sean was hanging out on the especially nasty part of town. Last week I went in to considerable detail on what one might find in a trip to the Mong Kok district of DownTown, but the Governor doesn’t seem to have a clue why Sean was there. According to the Governor, “I know that it is unusual these days, but Sean was raised with strong moral convictions”. Kristin does, indeed, find this unusual — perhaps unbelievable. I see this as a bit of a commentary on the morality of the 22nd century and I’ve written about this before. In a previous post I wrote:

“Andrew Curry (2010) examines this idea in The 1910 Time Traveler, asking what a 1910 Edwardian might think of 21st century London. He thinks many of the technologies may well be conceivable. The bigger changes may be in the quality and realism of content, the disappearance of industry and cleaner air. ‘The bigger changes, though, would almost certainly be about values.’ The society is more international, more politically civil, the role of women has changed dramatically, and then there is: ‘Casualness of dress and social etiquette generally: both Edwardian men and women tended to travel well covered up, even at the beach. In contrast, our informality of clothing, and the casualness of our language – even rudeness – along with the end of most visible signs of etiquette, would be a profound change… But there’s perhaps an underlying story here. When we think about long-term change with the benefit of hindsight, the things we think are unfathomable are usually the technology – planes, cars, computers. But it is at least as likely that the things that time travelers would most struggle with are the shifts in social values, which are almost invisible to us because we swim in them constantly and adapt ourselves to them as they change.'”1

One could surmise that so goes morality. Yet, the bigger question is whether we, in our 2159 skins, even notice? Bodies are perfect, you can manipulate your hormones and body chemistry, illness is history, and nakedness is almost passé. Pornography has gone from something you look at, to a visceral experience in the V. With a constant redefinition of morality based on our social change at what point will we no longer recognize it?

I think not.
I think not.

The Governor’s comment is not something that we would find uncommon for a parent to say today, many of whom are unaware of what their kids real moral life looks like. Sean is a prodigy. He is a highly regarded and influential scientist, and synthetics designer and he’s been living on his own for a while. How would the Governor really know if Sean has retained his moral upbringing? Lots of interesting questions as the saga continues.

1. Curry, Andrew. http://thenextwavefutures.wordpress.com/2010/09/04/the-1910-time-traveller/

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Graphic novel or web comic, it’s still serious business. Plus a CGI rendering update.

p 55

This week we’re peering into the regen pod where Sean floats suspended in a amniotic soup. As they encounter the visual of Sean’s injuries, Kristin Broulliard and the team are a bit taken aback and the crime takes on a more visceral punch. Despite the fact that modern medical science has found a way to repair this kind of trauma, the memories, however repressed they might be, could still be stored up inside Sean’s head — or not. Under normal circumstances, portions of the brain that house memories can be accessed and much like tracking through a DVD, selectively erased. The procedure is more difficult than it sounds. Memories are stacked, like thin layers and they are not always sequential. If the procedure samples too deeply, or grabs a snippet that does’t belong, the subject can awaken missing key components of their personality or identity map. In extreme cases, illegal intrusions using cheap, makeshift headjacking devices, can disrupt the autonomic nervous system affecting heart rate and respiration and ultimately resulting in death. Sean’s fate remains to be seen.

Would you erase the memories?

Chief Science Officer Broulliard is a bit taken aback.
Chief Science Officer Broulliard is a bit taken aback.

Progress update

While The Lightstream Chronicles exists as a complete storyline in screenplay form, the graphic novel obviously evolves more slowly. This week I expect to put the finishing touches on Chapter 2 and begin the Chapter 3 Prologues. I have slated a number of new pages and scenes. There are 6 chapters in total. Chapter 2 is the longest and chapter 3 is the shortest. As soon as I get the entire project in the bag, I’ll start posting a spread each week, or possibly two postings per week. Believe me I’m as anxious as my readers to “see” how this ends. But of course, I can always change it up. Let me know your thoughts here. Thanks.

 

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Regenerating damaged human tissue. A design fiction chrysalis. The Lightstream Chronicles online graphic novel and web comic.

The regen room. Page 54.

As I mentioned in an earlier post,

“…many accident victims and their injuries can be repaired, their body parts replaced, or regrown and their virtually lifeless bodies, regenerated using advanced stem-cell-based biomedical treatments. Because of the gravity of Sean’s injuries he will most likely receive an immersive regen. Patients treated with immersive regen are often coherent and functioning in a day or less.”

Sean’s injuries, though most likely terminal or resulting in serious impairment or disability in the 21st century, can be repaired or “regenerated” in a matter of hours. The process is known as regen and consists of an induced coma and submersion into a muculent, stem-cell-enriched, liquid – something like amniotic fluid on steroids. The patient actually breathes the fluid and it is absorbed into the skin. Sean’s broken bones were set before submersion, but once broken bones are set, cells regain their original undamaged functionality, the regen goes about sealing wounds and restoring damaged tissues, according to their original genetic blueprint.

The brain and its subtle intricacies are not always as predictable. Brain science by 2159 has been relatively successful in recording, restoring and implanting memory, however, severe brain injuries may still result in permanent damage. In Sean’s case there is the added complication of headjacking which can, if botched, result in a brain death. SInce Sean is the only survivor of the recent series of rape/headjackings in DownTown, his ability to remember the attack could shed some much needed light on the perpetrators of the crime.

Notes on building the regen pod

Here I was looking for something rather organic, not plantlike, but possibly like an insect chrysalis, pupa, or a freeform amniotic sac. (I found the photo below, after designing the pod BTW). I also wanted to suggest that the fluid contained therein was thick enough that the body could literally float, suspended. Then, a bio-electrical charge is also present throughout the fluid and serves to accelerate absorption of the regen into the tissues. These electrical charges can be seen swirling about and illuminating the fluid. Hopefully, all of this comes across to some extent. The circular, ring-like devices generate an electromagnetic force that keeps the body upright and they can also be used to channel regen fluid directly into the body, such as the tubes that are inserted into Sean’s nose.

Common_crow_pupa.1
Common_crow_pupa.1
The Regen Pod.
The Regen Pod.

All of this is somewhat easier said than done. The refractive qualities of the regen pod, reflections, lighting, and electrical charges proved to be incredibly costly rendering choices. Whenever the pod was featured I could expect many anxious hours of waiting for renderings to materialize. I’d love to get your thoughts from readers on the 22nd century sound effects that might go with these scenes.

 

 

1 Chrysalis photo courtesy of Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pupa#Chrysalis

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Body Armor, and Kicking Butt in Hong Kong 2. The Lightstream Chronicles, online graphic novel continues.

“Director’s Commentary” p49

As Kristin Broulliard and Toei-N arrive at the waiting area for the intensive care regen unit on floor 212, it looks as though they might be a bit late. It looks like a cast of characters has already assembled. Col. Lee Chen is snapping orders at a couple of his elite enforcement droids, and there are a couple of folks in the background to whom we have not yet been introduced. Soon.

The question arises about body armor. As we noticed early in chapter one, Col. Chen wears his armor pretty much wherever he goes, but his reasons are different from the droids. Being a droid in DownTown can be a life threatening proposition. True, the droids need to look intimidating, but their armor is much needed protection. Killing or disabling synthetic, (aka droid) is not a capital offense, (which many believe to be discriminatory), but it carries stiff penalties and a mandatory, non-parolable prison term or erasure. As with any crime, however, criminals rarely plan on getting caught. Drive by shootings and snipers are fairly common, so the  armor comes in handy and protects the most critical operational functions of the droids, which are contained in the chest and head. In DownTown, whether you are human or synthetic police, there are sections where armor is strongly advised. Col. Chen has no fear when it comes to busting heads and kicking butt in DownTown. His elite droids have a nasty reputation and their sometimes brutal tactics, are rarely questioned by the New Asian government. As for why the colonel is wearing armor in TopCity, the answer is simple, he’s a badass.

Lee Chen and his armor.
Lee Chen and his armor.

For the record, when Col. Chen is in TopCity, he wears his white dress armor, when he’s in DownTown, it’s the more intimidating black version.

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Rendering trickery is part of the process for the digital, online graphic novel — The Lightstream Chronicles

Page 43

This week, two of the stars of our web comic, graphic novel continue chatting it up in the public security command center at Police HQ. I will let the conversation speak for itself and focus today’s comments on the challenge of rendering these control room scenes.

As I have stated before, everything is “shot” on location. That means that Kristin and Toei are on in virtual space, in a control room location, atop the same police headquarters featured on page 41 with a view of the built city of Hong Kong 2 that has been featured on pages previously. (The latest being chapter 2 prologue pages ix2-x2). Hence, when the camera is framing our cast the view is exactly what is “outside” the windows, or with them “in the room”. One would logically think, then, after all this “building” that it would be a simple matter of lighting and “shooting”. Alas, it’s not so simple. And the problem is focus. Using a real camera, in a situation like this would most likely yield a background out of focus so that we could capture crisp focus on our characters. Unfortunately, in Autodesk Maya, incorporating the rendering algorithms to calculate depth-of-field into all of these renderings would have increased rendering time astronomically, and probably not yielded a realistic look when it was all finished — if it ever finished.

I wanted the reflections in the glass to be fairly crisp, but the buildings that were far off in the distance to be more out-of-focus. All this required separate renderings. One for our subjects, another for the glass, and a third for the cityscape. Then the appropriate amount of blur was applied to each layer in Photoshop and composited into one single image with a believable depth-of-field. All part of the process of making The Lightstream Chronicles as engaging and visually interesting as possible.

mask-demo
A few of the layers that made up the first panel of page 43. There were more.

 

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Goodbye privacy, in 2159 it’s a surveillance state. At least there’s no humans watching.

The latest in the digital, online, graphic novel/web comic: Page 42

Last week we moved location from the Mong Kok district to high atop TopCity and the landing zone for Police Headquarters in what was once the Causeway Bay area overlooking the harbor. On the 275th floor of Police Headquarters is the citywide, public security, command center. From here, almost every square inch of interior and exterior space in the 560 square miles that is Hong Kong 2. Everything is monitored by synthetics and illegal behavior can be detected even within someone’s living quarters. To learn more about the mesh see this link. Most people have come to accept this knowing that only synthetics with artificial intelligence are able to view the most intimate aspects of their lives. That is, of course, unless it is illegal behavior and then it becomes accessible to human authorities for evaluation and action. Nevertheless, the incredible light show that is the “big board” in the command center at Police HQ is quite a visual treat and there we find two key characters in The Lightstream Chronicles story, Chief Science Officer, Kristin Broulliard, her right-hand “synthetic” Toei-N, Commander of Synthetic Police. While human presence is not required in the command center the two seem to be perfectly content just “hanging out” and surveying the multitude of feeds and data displays from thousands of collection sites around the city.

command-close-up
The “big board” in the police headquarters, public security command center.

This week we see some friendly banter between the two friends.  Kristin is lamenting the lack of excitement in her life, reducing her evenings to hanging out in the police command center and talking to a synth. Though the term “synth” can be used in a derogatory way, it can also be interpreted as affectionate slang. Synths make ups significant portion of society. Numbering in the millions throughout the world, they serve in civil service jobs, manufacturing, law enforcement, the military, domestic service,  and also for companionship. They are available in hundreds of different configurations and designs, from deliberately non-human to virtually indistinguishable from the real thing. Some synthetics are so life-like that they are legally required to identify themselves and their “class” status upon before interacting with a human. A complex set of laws has been written and rewritten to accommodate these new designs providing rights and protections for both humans and synthetics.

Enjoy the conversation.

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Breathtaking Hong Kong Aerial View – Web Comic Prologue Continues

pix2-px2

If you only take a quick glance, you may mistake this prologue to chapter 2 spread, pix2-px2, as a repeat of the splash page that preceded chapter 1. So, don’t do that. Take a closer look. The cityscape is busier, more congested and populated with several new buildings. It’s also a bit more noir. As we progress through this cyberpunk future, I’m feeling that it’s all a bit too bright and chipper so I think the city will continue to change as the book progresses. It’s also more than just mood.  From the very beginning, Hong Kong was constructed using GPS data, satellite photography and Google® Maps. Since i’m trying to be as authentic to size and scale as possible, I wanted the view from the hospital, a key location in chapter 2, to be accurate. In other words, if we’re standing on top of the hospital and looking around, I want us to see the surrounding architecture as it actually exists in the story. But I didn’t really have a firm location for the hospital when the story began. Thus, when I placed the hospital, as a structure, where I wanted it in the cityscape, it became noticeably absent (to me) from the aerial view featured in chapter 1.

This kind of accuracy may not be necessary in the long run but when you look out a character’s office, or apartment I want the views to be true to their actual locations in the city.

As for the architecture, almost all of the high-rise structures in TopCity, the newest and most modern part of the city, had no precedent so their models had to be created from scratch. These were designed as taller versions of cutting edge 21st century buildings, with some inspiration from Zaha Hadid and Frank Gehry. Some of these structures are 300 stories.

It should be noted that not all the buildings are 3D shells. Several, like the hospital, police headquarters, other places where characters work or live, were built to include detailed atriums, aircraft landing pads, restaurants, and bars, even though they may not actually have a part in the final story.

 

One of several changes to the Hong Kong skyline.
One of several changes to the Hong Kong skyline.

Other parts of the world were combinations of stock models, and customized 3D modifications. For scenes that take place in DownTown, a decaying version of the low-rise sprawl of 20th century Hong Kong, the distinctive look of Asian urban-architecture has a needed to be recreated. A few existing stock models were found that captured the basic essence of decaying Asian city dwellings.

The structure that spans the harbor is a bit of design fiction. The TopCity Spanner covers most of old Hong, and provides a clean break between TopCity and DownTown. The spanner is conceived to use high strength, lightweight, “programmable” materials that provide the ability to shift shape, organically to accommodate new growth. The Spanner became the new, affluent “street level,” towering 50 stories above the original streets of Hong Kong. The shadow of the spanner over old Hong Kong serves as a constant reminder to the inhabitants of DownTown of the gap between the wealthy and the poor.

There are a few more changes that I would like to make but you’ll have to wait until chapter 3 to see them.

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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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