Tag Archives: dystopia

Page 36 – Approaching the webcomic exciting season finale.

Page 36

Sean is in a bit of a jam. There’s two minutes to the “no-excuses” curfew. He just made it to the Magshuttle in what he thought would be plenty of time, but only to find that it is out of order, the next nearest shuttle is a big block away and, of course, it’s raining like hell. Let’s not forget that he’s carrying a mysterious bit of contraband, as well. Downtown is now deserted. If anyone has found themselves too far from home they have already ducked inside one of the all night bureaus, to sleep, disappear into the V or some other diversion.

With only two minutes Sean makes a run for it as the ubiquitous surveillance provided by mesh imaging throughout HK2 monitors his activity. Security surveillance may be the least of Sean’s worries, as panel three reveals someone else is watching Sean. Eyes glued to the treacherous, slippery pavement ahead of him, Sean jogs through the torrential downpour. As he passes an alleyway, arms shoot out and make a violent capture.

Production notes:

The last few pages were quite a technical challenge as I detailed in a previous post. It’s difficult to create the feel of a torrential downpour in cg. Everything about the scene changes because — everything is wet. There are lots of zoom opportunities on the last two pages. The surveillance image is nicely realistic, and the water on Sean’s face was a real trick. Though not entirely satisfied, I think it gets the point across. You can also spot a zooming air taxi in panel three and the feet of someone waiting in the alley in panel 4.

Next week’s season finale, the final spread of Chapter 1 will answer some questions on what happens to Sean, but also leaves many unanswered.

Next week: The season finale!
Next week: The season finale!
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A cyberpunk dystopia can be an unfriendly place. Webcomic page 35.

DownTown Blues

I’m paraphrasing a quote I just read but can’t find:

In every utopia there is some dystopia, and in every dystopia there’s a little utopia.

We could probably say,

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way..” Charles Dickens — A Tale of Two Cities (1859)

Page 35

As Sean exits Techman’s hideaway, he discovers that he’s in the midst of a torrential downpour, not uncharacteristic for mid-summer in Hong Kong 2. Of course, Sean is prepared for this eventuality thanks to his advanced bodysuit. As we have seen, it not only changes color and pattern at a touch of the fingertips, but it also as we saw on page 31 has self-healing, and morphing features. Retracting the sleeves, unfurling a hood, expanding a pocket, or storing objects is all within the realm of advanced fabric design. For a bit of science behind this, current technology has already enabled biometric bodysuits. According to a 2004 press release from Arizona State University, “…ASU researchers call their outfits the Sensory Chameleon Bodysuit, which act as a “smart second skin” through the integration of printed organic opto-electronics and integrated flexible nano-genetic devices on textiles. They enable real-time remote personal health and medical monitoring into multimedia and sensorial clothing” (Derra). As this technology becomes more advanced and miniaturized and bodies become more idealized through genetic engineering and internal chemistry modification, a tight fitting second skin is a plausible mainstay of future fashion.

Don't you just love those happy Asian logo characters?
Don’t you just love those happy Asian logo characters?

Once Sean deploys his waterproof hood he jogs toward the MagShuttle that brought him to DownTown. In the final panel Sean is met with some bad news. Apparently, even in the 22nd century things break as the message is relayed by a holographic, pseudo-robotic avatar. He is directed to the nearest shuttle access but that is a long block away and time is ticking. We covered what can happen after curfew in previous blogs.

Sean’s built-in clock keeps him abreast of the time, but can he make it in time?


July 19: page 36

July 26: pages 37 – 28 The season finale! 


Derra, Skip. “ASU News & Information from the Office of Media Relations and Public Information.” ASU News & Information from the Office of Media Relations and Public Information. Arizona State University, 17 May 2004. Web. 13 Mar. 2013. <http://www.asu.edu/news/research/wearable_elec_051704.htm>.
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Cyberpunk web comic and graphic novel | Page 34

Page 34

Let’s set the scene:

Techman and Sean have been chatting it up for the last 20 minutes and they’ve polished off the better part of a bottle of rare, original Asian pear brandy from the early 21st century. It’s safe, to assume they’re feeling the affects. According to Techman’s calculations on page 31 and if we tally up the time, it’s probably approaching 2250 hours and curfew is at 2300. If you’re caught in DownTown after curfew just about anything could happen and most of the options are not good.

As discussed on page 32, authentic alcohol exists, even in the future when when its simply a matter of tapping in the right molecular blueprint to “replicate” the booze of your choice, but most people skip the liquid and simply adjust their “chems” with a preloaded set of hormonal adjustments or “simstates” which are simulated states of whatever suits your fancy; inebriation, arousal, wellbeing, awareness, and just about any other state you can conjure up. The feeling of being drunk as a result of ingesting a quantity of real alcohol is less predictable and a bit more risky in a day and age where everything is pre-measured for pleasure. This is a totally new feeling for Sean.

At any rate he’s not slurring his speech yet and he can apparently walk a straight line. Techman has assured him that the MagShuttle is only a two minute walk from his place. If all goes well, Sean will be back in TopCity where there is no curfew, with a couple of minutes to spare.

The MagShuttle is just a two minute walk. Really.
The MagShuttle is just a two minute walk. Really.

What could possibly go wrong?

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Doing shots in Chinese – web comic page 33.

Page 33

I knew that this would happen. As I crank away at chapter 2, I get more immersed in this world of Hong Kong 2, the society and the culture. It has begun to affect my aesthetic sense of how this world looks and feels. I’m sure that when all the chapters are collected into a final volume, I will want to go back and make modifications, not unlike a director does when the work print is viewed for the first time. Sometimes you have to bring back the actors and and reshoot some scenes. But this scene is NOT one of them. In fact, page 33 would probably slotted-in as one of my favorites, It was a bit of a trick to pace out the dialog.

The breakdown

Hopefully you have been following each pages as we have progress thus far, and have been zooming in for all the additional detail. At the end of page 32 we were introduced to the Chinese symbol for “cheers.” It’s important to note that because as this panel evolves we have a couple of modes of time transpiring. First there is the dialog, punctuated with “finish”.  Then there is the before-and-after of the bottle of Eau de Vie.

The happy ending of a bottle.
The happy ending of a bottle.

干(乾 Traditional)is used when a couple of homies are having a cup of beer together. It’s more casual and sort of a masculine word, sometimes even a little aggressive. So it is not commonly used if there were ladies present. It literally means “finish (the cup)”.  It’s pronounced like something between “gone” and “garn”. There is really no exact vowel in English like that in Chinese. Plus Chinese, includes a tone-change that English just doesn’t have.

To be completely precise, I should include 干杯(乾杯)This is the literal translation for “cheers.” However, it is most often used in formal settings or with acquaintances, toasting together. It is more polite and less aggressive. Again the first character sounds like something between “gone” and “garn”. The second one reads “bay”. This one sounds pretty much the same. So when pronounced it’s  — Gānbēi! It’s a bit reminiscent of the Japanese “kanpai.”

As with most Asian translations it’s alway a bit hard to decide which way to go but my translator Linxiao Sun, suggested to go with more of the guy | guy translation since it’s a more macho spin for a couple of buds doing shots.

OK, enough of the Chinese lesson. There is a bit of interesting backstory here which flavors the society as a whole. As you read in the very early pages of the story, people can choose to live—forever—if they want. This can be a blessing and a curse as we will delve into a bit more later in the story, since the eternity thing puts a totally different framework on the idea of life, family, career, and even appreciation for being alive at all. This also sheds a bit of light on Techman’s past.

The view, of course is from above, peering into the shielded cage that Techman constructed to keep the surveillance out of his workshop and private meetings private. Hopefully you are not afraid of heights. Cheers!


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Defining cyberpunk and the alignment with Blade Runner.

The debate rages. Well maybe not “rages,” but its still going strong. I saw a rant a few days ago about how someone’s photo that they posted on reddit did not qualify as cyberpunk, because cyberpunk is not a “look.” You can find these rants almost daily by scrolling around. Hmmm. I discussed in a previous post why I believe that The Lightstream Chronicles is more aptly described as cyberpunk or sci-fi noir, than a standard science fiction crime thriller, and I provided some solid back-up for that conclusion. The reddit community defines it as this:

TL;DR: A genre of science fiction set in a lawless subculture of an oppressive society dominated by computer technology. Some would say it’s the world we live in today (but remember; it’s easy to get caught up in the romantic idea that our cyberpunk aesthetic is becoming a reality and forget that its a dystopic fate).

So, the group admits that there is, indeed a cyberpunk aesthetic, but it also sounds like that in, and of itself, is insufficient to satisfy—it needs the whole mélange to go with it. I have been reading a fascinating recap of the making of Blade Runner, in a book that is now out of print, entitled (interestingly enough) Future Noir: The Making of Blade Runner, by Paul Sammon. The author goes through almost every frame of the movie and provides comprehensive details on every aspect of the film from inception to its current cult status. Sammon (325) describes the films tie to the cyberpunk genre this way as a “a clearcut product of the 1980s”

“Cyberpunk also utilized many of the same narrative devices as Blade Runner; cyberpunk fiction was typically set in a sprawling megalopolis of the near, dark, and decadent future, pitted hard-edged, street-level outlaws against omniscient (and corrupt) corporations, and viewed emerging hypertechnologies with equal portions of fascination and distrust. And despite its air of superficial diffidence, cyberpunk—also very much like Blade Runner—was, at heart, essentially moral art, deeply concerned with all the flaws, compromises, and ethical choices that will always haunt humanity no matter how exotic or futuristic the background against which human dramas are played out.” 1

Yeah, baby. That’s what I call cyberpunk, and The Lightstream Chronicles is all about that. Hence, I am less of a stickler about whether or not the cyberpunk aesthetic contains the whole mélange. I think there is a cyberpunk aesthetic and it is indeed all around us. You can see what I’m talking about on my tumblr site.

Blade Runner-sm
Out-of-print, but you can still find it. If you are a movie geek this is must reading.

Sammon also wisely quotes Bruce Sterling from his introduction to his Mirrorshades anthology.

“Cyberpunk is known for its telling use of detail, its carefully constructed intricacy, its willingness to carry extrapolation into the fabric of daily life. It favors ‘crammed’ prose: rapid, dizzying bursts of novel information, sensory overload that submerges the reader in the literary equivalent of the hard-rock ‘wall of sound’ (Sammon 325).”

If you follow that line of thinking you can also see why design fiction clearly emerges as an offspring of the overall genre. Personally, I think design fiction is at its best when it is playing on the edge of dystopia; mainly because society lives precariously close to that edge everyday and the emerging “hypertechnologies” that Sammon alludes to only take us closer to falling over that edge.

1. Sammon, Paul. Future Noir: The Making of Blade Runner. 1st ed. New York: Harper, 1996. 325. Print.

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Even cyberpunks can appreciate a little brandy.

Page 32

Last week we learned about headjacking. Nasty business. Today, its about brandy — much more agreeable topic.

This week we settle in as Techman produces the mysterious treat that he has asked Sean to stick around for. It turns out to be a bottle of 150 year old pear brandy. What’s unusual, (besides the age which means it was bottled in 2009) is that most 22nd century libations are replicated from molecular blueprints. If you want a bottle of 100 year old cabernet from the south of France, er, French New Asia – and you have the New Asia yuán, it is instantly dispensed from a beverage replicator. Purists claim that it’s just not the same as the real thing, so this bottle is pretty special. I chose a real brand here, Subarashii Kudamono which is real Asian Pear brandy that you can find in some states in the U.S. The fruit is grown here in the U.S. The name means “wonderful fruit,” and the pears are awesome. I designed the brand identity for this product, worked on the website and the packaging.

Real stuff. Click to enlarge.
Real stuff. Click to enlarge.

Panel 2

Sean, though he is 18 is a wee naive when it comes to partying so he’s a concerned that he might get drunk. Techman puts him at ease by reminding him that with the right sequence of  “taps” via his luminous implants, he can adjust his body chemistry to mitigate the buzz. (But why would he want to do that??)

Panel 3

There’s a free Chinese lesson in panel 3 as the duo toasts the equivalent of cheers, in the city’s native tongue.


Zoom opportunity:

Check out my cordial glasses that I designed a few years back but could never find anyone to produce them. More here.

Cheers. Or should I say 干?

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Mysterious gizmo in T-Man’s cyberpunk workshop

Page 31

Sean and his pal are securely sequestered in Techman’s copper-enclosed cyberpunk workshop free from the ubiquitous surveillance of the New Asia government and HK2 Police. There’s no need for five pocket jeans in 2159, because Sean can tuck his mysterious liquid circuit into the self-healing fabric of his bodysuit.

In panel 3, Techman invites Sean to stick around for a treat of some sort but Sean is a little concerned that he might get caught in Downtown after curfew. The air taxis and magshuttles stop running at 2300 hours and no one in Downtown is allowed on the street. Most of the synth brothels, bars, and V-parlors will let you stay the night—for a fee—but doors close promptly and usually automatically at the appointed time. You can also find a few pod hotels, but I wouldn’t recommend them.

Sentinel Synths and Enforcer Drones are the only ones you will find on the street after hours—except, of course, outlaws and ne’er do wells that prey those who have missed the shuttle and can’t duck into a parlor or pod hotel for the night. Things don’t bode well for those hapless souls.


Synth Sentinels: nasty but stupid. Hi res available here.
Synth Sentinels: nasty but stupid. Hi res available here.

The criminal element in the cyberpunk world of Downtown Hong Kong 2, is robust, but the after hours street criminals are in another league entirely. These consist of roving gangs of synths who were twisted by local gang-lords to rape and/or torture their victims while recording everything from the victim’s perspective; a process called head-jacking. A small device is clamped to the back of the neck directly over the victim’s chipset and the memories of the incident—complete with all five senses—are recorded. The experience is then sold on the black market. Depending on the quality of the device and trauma level, if the victim survives the crime, headjacking can result in partial or total memory erasure, and in some cases, death.

Headjacking is a capital offense.

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Inside Techman’s cyberpunk workshop. Comments on The Lightstream Chronicles web comic.

 Page 30

Thanks. You’ve made it to page 30. Now that we are inside Techman’s workshop you’ll probably find some interesting things to look at. Since one of T-Man’s income sources is antique 21st century electronics, this was my opportunity to douse the scene with lots of props, from phones, to cameras, Macintosh computers, headphones, copy machines and more. Yes, that is a 17″ MacBook Pro, (already an antique). I have also thrown in some 22nd century technology as well. Hopefully, you are downloading images from the web comic page and you have used the zoom tool to it’s full capacity on page 29 because there’s lots to look at there as well.

We also get the opportunity to see why Sean made the trip to DownTown in the first place. The “implant” and “thumb chiller” were interesting projects to work on.

Of course it's a liquid circuit.
Of course it’s a liquid circuit.

The tiny anodized chiller can be opened telepathically and the data is in liquid form, so it has to stay cool until it is implanted. At this point, the significance of this liquid circuit is unknown. If you zoom-in on the final panel, you’ll see a scrolling hologram that serves as the serial number for the little guy.


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Cyberpunk debate rages on. Meanwhile in Hong Kong 2…

I’ve been seeing more debate on what qualifies as cyberpunk and what does not but I have dealt with this in a previous blog, so I’m sticking with it.

Page 29 Commentary

This week we peek inside Techman’s workspace. A couple of story notes come through on this page. First there is the fact that Downtown is a several degrees cooler than TopCity, a phenomena caused by living in the shadow of the TopCity Spanner. This second level of the city covers huge portions of Downtown and the result is limited sunshine on Downtown residents. The next note is that Techman keeps his lair cold enough to see your breath. As he says it is to, “keep things fresh.” For now you can use your imagination.

In building this scene I had to collect a lot of public domain “props”; kind of like a set stylist does when they are out looking of accessories to make a room look lived in. I was part of this process for years as a set designer and creative director so the analogy is pretty solid. Of course, this is done in Hollywood, too using a prop manager. I have no qualms about using stock in these scenes since I am doing precisely what the prop manager would be doing on a movie set. Obviously, they’re not building every prop from scratch. As for the boxes, logos, and textures much of this was customized from the existing model image files or created fresh.

We’ve already determined that Techman is a bit of an outlaw who skirts under the proverbial radar and dodges the ubiquitous surveillance that permeates the world of Hong kong 2 in the year 2159. Back in my days as a designer working for Royal Dutch Philips here in the states, I would occasionally make my way down to the geek dome, the place where all the engineers would work on things like remote controls and televisions. They had these rooms that were entirely shielded in copper screen to keep signals in as well as to keep other signals out. As we move to page 30 you’ll see that I’ve built one of these rooms for Techman.

Techman invites into his “shielded room”. Stay tuned for page 30.


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Some source images for graphic novel metropolis

I thought I would share with you some of the source images for Hong Kong 2, the metropolis where my graphic novel takes place. As I have revealed in some previous posts, we’re looking at a mega city on the North American mainland 148 years from now. I don’t want to reveal too many particulars that are central to the narrative but essentially the identity of this city has become a conglomeration of 22nd century architecture mixed in with a hundred years or so of Asian-style city stacking. A trip to Tokyo, or China and you quickly begin to see what happens when you have to stack more and more people into a finite area. Generally, you build higher, connect-on, and do a lot of retro-fitting. In the graphic novel, the high-rise now floats up there around 150 or more floors and that’s where you find the more affluent social groups. The closer you get to the street, it gets poorer, darker and considerably more dangerous. Though this was never touched on (to my recollection) in the movie Blade Runner, I recently saw a piece of promotional video from Ridley Scott that featured interviews with Scott, Douglas Trumbull, and Syd Mead that discussed much of the art direction for the film classic. Apparently they had a similar dystopia in mind.


Here are some images I collected from the web and my travels that give a peek into the kind of city texture I’m thinking of.

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