In the future, your gun will talk to you — and it’ll be kind of an asshole. That's assuming the future ends up like Adam Egypt Mortimer and Darick (Transmetropolitan) Robertson’s fantastic new scifi comic Ballistic, coming out next Wednesday from Black Mask. Check out our five-page preview, then stay tuned as Mortimer explains how he and Robertson took a world beyond imagining and then imagined it anyways.
(Note: All images can be expanded, and you're going to want to expand the first-page spread. Trust us on this.)
After we read Ballistic, we were blown away not just by the insane creativity of the setting, but the detail — it's a world so fully-realized it's like writer Adam Egypt Mortimer and artist Darick Robertson are secretly living there. When we asked Mortimer (who will be directing Grant Morrison's upcoming movie Sinatoro) a few questions to explain some of Ballistic's setting and what inspired him to create the comic, he wrote the insanely long answers you see below. Do not let their length put you off — they simply reveal how much thought and imagination has gone into Ballistic, and why it will be one of the most fun, unique scifi comics of the year.
io9: Where is Ballistic set? When is Ballistic set?
Adam Egypt Mortimer: Ballistic is set on an island nation called Repo City State, located south of South Korea, East of the Philippines, and several decades after an ecopocalypse-driven series of disasters has wiped out the West. I mean, the West is in ruins. North America looks like Road Warrior. It's just over — we don't even see it in the book, at least not this first arc. Its history, although there is a American diaspora, which is where some of our characters originate.
The island is reformed from photodegraded, molecularized plastics and reclaimed land. In Repo City State all technology is grown, based on DNA, or otherwise alive. It's based on the principle of biomimicry. Biomimicry is a movement within technology design in which biology provides all the principles and inspiration for what we build. The history of biology is the history of adaptation — and Repo City State has adapted to the needs of a threatening new ecology.
So, for example, there is no plastic used to make things in Repo City State. Instead, hyper-flexible membranes made of spider silk are a common material. Using nervous system fibers to transfer electricity, the membranes can create all kinds of products. Bone, calcium carbonate, fusions of various skin cells — these are the kinds of things from which our people build cars, guns, computer screens, etc. Butch's car is modeled to look like an American classic car from '57 — but it was grown in a vat out of living tissue.
Energy comes from various sources, including photo-voltaics (solar panels) -—but one primary source is red algae power plants, which create biodiesel without a carbon footprint.
But that's just the beginning. One thing that's vibrating in the background is the very personal use of new technology.
You can barely see it on the pages unless you look closely at certain panels, but a lot of people have phones and other phone-like devices implanted and grown inside of them. They look like they're talking to no one, but it's a conversation using a phone inside their skull, or just underneath the skin of their temple. The kinds of things we're dreading from Google Glass? That's going on inside some of these folks' eyes.
But we're interested in the frivolous, the personal, the weird. The advance in genetic technology and the widespread understanding of how to manipulate DNA has resulted in a culture of what they call "Mixtapes" — genetic implants and upgrades tailored by DNA hackers to change the body. This includes things like radically changing your skin color, growing a tail, weaponizing parts of your body, growing shark teeth. The possibilities are only limited by what you can afford and what you can imagine. And the imaginations of the Repo City State population tend to get a bit twisted.
What can you tell us about Butch and his gun?
Butch is an air-conditioning repairman who dreams about becoming a legendary criminal like John Dillinger. In fact, on Repo City State, criminals are highly revered: they are the new celebrity class.
Butch's GUN is a very powerful, but clearly psychotic, living weapon — it can talk, make decisions, and move on its own. It's addicted to a number of illicit substances, including Butch's adrenalin. The Gun is full of bad ideas.
So, in building this world, we're STARTING with a kind of techno-utopia. We've SOLVED the eco problem. We've invented all this great stuff, like flying cars. But things that are alive live in messy, irrational ways.
We get this about our characters immediately — who right of the bat are just trying to have sex and get high; and we get this about the technology — the first thing Butch does in the issue #1 is fix a malfunctioning air conditioner that's causing problems because it is hallucinating conditions that aren't present.
When your air conditioners can hallucinate, you're in a pretty warped situation.
Where did the initial idea come from? A man and his talking gun?
Yes, a man and his talking gun. This was the spark.
I used to spend time hanging out with this incredible visionary artist named Paul Laffoley. He's more like a 4-dimensional thought sculpture displaced from time than he is a man. He designs time machines and art movements from the future and talking to him is like talking to a fractal. He told me once his idea about the need for technology to have morality by being alive. He said, "If hammers were alive, you couldn't commit crimes with them. You'd try to hit someone with it, and the hammer would refuse."
Now, Paul's a utopian, so he was communicating a utopian theory about how this would work. My response was, "If the hammer was alive, it would fuck off from the carpentry crew and go get high, take a nap, and try to have sex with the power saw while your nails rust in the wind."
So that was the first neuron spasm. I went from hammer to gun, and then had the image of a man and his gun screaming back and forth at each other, blaming one another for getting into a serious mess. And the next step was to find the world in which that situation made sense.
It so happens that Paul ALSO designed a concept of living architecture. A home grown from a bio-engineered tree which he calls Das Urpflanze Haus. A living Klein-bottle. His solution to the homeless problem? "Give them a bag of seeds."
So the idea began to take shape of an entire city built around living technology. This lead me to discover the amazing world of biomimicry, and Janine Benyus' incredible work in this area. And I have to say, this fine blog has had it fair share of amazing inspiring articles about environmental science, visionary architecture, cities of the future, and bio-engineering.
There was a final initial spark that really kicked the thing forward, and that's Die Hard. The image of the ultimate American hero, shirtless and shoeless, singlehandedly taking down a well-organized paramilitary criminal crew with a pistol duct tapes to his sweaty bare back — that's always really spoken to me as the picture of the American male ideal, and I wanted to take that DNA and grow it in a vat of extreme weirdness.
How are you all imagining all these completely insane parts of the future?
Starting with the premise of "all technology is alive", we're just constantly visualizing scene by scene what the technology would be, and more importantly what the human need would be that drives the technology. For a story that's ostensibly about an action caper, the character spend an inordinate amount of time taking weird drugs and circling around their sexuality. There are genetically modified Pokémon-esque pets that secrete hallucinogens, there's men with genetically modified 3-foot penises, there are women who give birth to puppies to better pair-bond with them.
Because this is the sort of thing that people do. If you can combine genetics into technology and create the chimera of your dreams — of COURSE you would have a bat-winged car shaped like a '57 Olds. Of COURSE! We're not approaching the future like we are solving problems and predicting engineering. We're thinking with the passions and dreams and neuroses of people with access to new technology, and we're seeing what they create. So you might say there's a dream logic to it, but that's because people dream, they build and buy gadgets based on totally irrational impulses. Right now we've got access to every great thought ever written down in human history — but we spend our time on Candy Crush. Futuristic never predict that kind of behavior.
There's also an element of metaphor. My favorite sequence in issue #1 is when Butch finally makes it into a bank — and Darick made this mind blowing two-page spread where colossal spinal columns run from the meat-marbled floor to a honeycomb ceiling. Because, really... that's what a bank is. And when Butch runs into the high finance floors and finds insectile Transactors soaking in liquid capital... man, I can't believe how well he physically visualized this thing that may have seemed like pure concept. So sometimes it starts as metaphor... but it becomes real. That's the structure of innovation, and it's not always teleological.
You've mapped out Repo City State. What can you tells us about the palces we don't see in the first issue?
The map tells a story about the world, its history and its present. On the east side, the remnants of the old RCS Jail remind us that this place began as a prison colony. Biopower Inc on the northern tip is a corporate interest that was an original investor in the city. Xinua industrial park is an area full of DNA vats pumping out massive pieces of technology and red algae generators providing power.
The central area of Repo City State shows how it is an international nexus; there's populations from China, Malaysia, Japan, Korea, India, as well as an American diaspora (I have to say that I was heavily influenced by time that I've spent in Singapore — my wife is from there — and the density of cultures there is mind-boggling).
These populations all define different neighborhoods, and these neighborhoods all have different cartels running them. You can see the Big Star Cartel is running things in Nu-Seoul, a.k.a. Korea Town. We meet a character named Junior who's at the top of the Big Star Cartel.
Moving west, there's an indication for giant monument to Arborman — the mythological mascot of Repo City State. Part human, part tree. Page 3 of issue one [the first page in the preview above] is a full-page panorama of this part of the city, as Butch pilots his bat-winged car on his way to Nu-Seoul. You can see Arborman in image, and we'll circle back to it again.
The northern tip of the island is a area of unimaginable density. This island as a whole can hold the population equivalent of the United States, and these apartment complexes — designed in organic forms and visible from satellite — house millions. Butch gets himself invited to Gennie's place for a night of weird drugs and weirder pets — and that's here in the Vanderbilt towers.
And finally — the Finance District on the Eastern edge. That's where the bank is. So Butch is going to wind up there, Gun in hand.
Why is Darick Robertson so good at drawing these phenomenal and completely insane views of the future? Is something wrong with him?
It's not just the future — Darick is really good at drawing cities and making entire dense urban centers become characters. The New York he created in Happy was as intricate and alive as his futuristic cities.
I really got an understanding of his interests one day when he picked up a copy of Neil Adams' Superman Vs. Muhammad Ali and opened to this double-page spread. It's an insanely dense shot of Clark and Lois and Jimmy walking through what looks like Harlem (the text refers to it as Downtown Metropolis, an inner city ghetto, which makes it geographically non-analagous but visually quite similar).
The main characters are all the way in the back of the plane, and the streets have all kind of things going on. You can see the street as well as the sky, from tiny children to billboards up on walls, the subway overpass and the bags of garbage on the gutter. The whole city comes alive on this page.
I think that's a spread that inspired the hell out of Darick, and when I looked at that page and saw his overall work i understood how important environment was to Darick.
But... is there something wrong with him? I'm going to email him and see what he says...
So what can readers expect in future issues?
This first issue is really just a nibble. It's about Butch and Gun finally trying to take destiny into their own hands. When this goes terribly wrong, they are launched into a much bigger adventure. There is so much world to explore as we witness a terrifying scheme in which the technology of the city begins to go insane. Butch will make surprising alliances, we'll see what Repo City State Prison looks like, we'll see characters replace body parts using downloadable blueprints, we'll see what a Gun dreams of in states of higher bliss, we'll see Butch have his moment of ultimate action, and we'll learn the Gun's secret past. It totals five issues and it's our intention to make each one be an ultra-dense, information-rich environment of searing colors and risky imagination.