A dystopian tale that calls to mind a certain L.A.-set sci-fi classic starring a replicant-hunting Harrison Ford in a colorful tie, Image Comics’ “Non-Humans” borrows a page from Ridley Scott’s landmark “Blade Runner” but puts a distinctive spin on the narrative. In the new comic book out Wednesday, co-created by Whilce Portacio, Noah Dorsey and Glen Brunswick and written by Brunswick, hard-boiled Det. Oliver Aimes is hunting down not criminal replicants, but toys that have come to sentient life and now make up a new societal underclass that exists on the margins of the population in a decimated urban landscape. Hero Complex contributor Jevon Phillips caught up with Brunswick and Portacio to discuss their creative inspiration and the tone of “Non-Humans” itself.
HC: There are strong hints in the book, but what were the influences that you used to shape the world of “Non-Humans”? Both the look and the tone of the storytelling?
GB: The obvious influential comparison is “Blade Runner” in terms of a futuristic yet partially dystopian Los Angeles. But as much as we’d like to cozy up to that image you also worry that’s its been done before — you want to put a little distance from that classic vision as well. Our look follows our story in that this is not a society where the American government has collapsed and lies in fractured ruins — this is an America that’s had to adjust to make room for living toys — a new minority that we weren’t really expecting. These Non-Humans, as they’re called, are not just cute and cuddly — they can be violent, insecure and subject to all the same frailties and desires we humans endure. We’re certainly influenced by Philip K. Dick, Asimov and Raymond Chandler — although I think we’ve tried hard to envelop a number of archetypes while at the same time trying to make it our own. The tone of the story is dark — we’ve got teenagers on drugs 24/7 in order to curb the Non-Human population — the disease that gives life to the toys is most active during puberty. The majority of humans now live in new large buildings and enclosed shopping centers while the Non-Humans have the run of the streets. They’ve inherited a portion of the old decaying L.A. neighborhoods that the wealthier humans have left behind. It’s these story points that point the way and have influenced Whilce’s unique design of our world.
WP: Obviously there is “Blade Runner,” but for me it was more for its serious attempt at science fiction in terms of content, as opposed to any visual metaphors or themes. For me serious science fiction is about creating a unique world and then making all the creative decisions only based upon that world. Never did we think “Oh this would be cool, let’s fit this somewhere…” All decisions were based upon what we have established because of the parameters of this world. The storytelling arose from the fact that we have so much different in this world that we needed a lead character that was in many ways “outside” of this world, he doesn’t like the world he is living in. So he would be a person that would react like the reader to a lot of things we introduce. Being a detective, we can shroud this all visually in a slightly noir way, which helps to keep things mysterious.
HC: For Angelenos, Los Angeles is well-crafted in “Non Humans.” Recognizable, yet different. How did you approach laying out the city?
GB: The first thing that Whilce and I discussed was how we were going to achieve a vision of L.A. that was different but not unrecognizable. Our initial thought was to take pieces of an overbuilt Hong Kong and dump that on top of a present-day Los Angeles. Then Whilce had a vision of our L.A. car culture expanded — humans would simply ride between these huge enclosed structures where they would live never having to venture out if they didn’t want to. The Non-Humans would live all around us in the structures we left behind. Once we had that it became easier for Whilce to evolve the present landscape into one that was compatible with that vision. Visually, at least for me, the book has been a tremendous success.
WP: As we had our countless hours of discussion building this world it became apparent that we had to and should tackle the “otherness” that humans would feel for NHs. It then became apparent that because the origins of NHs predominantly are as plastic toys, humans would have a psychologically easier time of thinking of them as non-human. So I started thinking of segregation in our history and then it hit me — a perfect visual metaphor would be to have huge towers of technology, but like subdivisions today, some see that as a way to say “only we belong here and you do not.” … it fit perfectly that if humans lived in these lofty towers and Non-Humans lived outside in the plains of Los Angeles, then it hit as Non-Humans lived at the feet of us superior humans.
HC: Det. Oliver Aimes is the main character. We find out a lot about him in the first issue, but what kind of journey is he going to take?
GB: Det. Aimes wants to make a stand against the Non-Humans but he’s fighting a losing game. He’s hunting for a ventriloquist puppet/serial killer that murdered his former partner. He’s got serious demons in his past that continually fuel his hatred of Non-Humans. He has a new female partner that is too young and too beautiful in his view to be a detective. To make matters worse she’s a huge advocate for Non-Human civil rights, which she’s more than willing to point out especially when they’re in harm’s way. His son is dating Spice, a Victoria’s Secret mannequin, against his wishes. Things on the police force aren’t much better. He’s constantly being dogged by Medic, a former medical dummy that has become the first Non-Human detective on the force — he’s one part Sherlock Holmes and another part Mr. Spock, and he’s completely annoying as far as Aimes is concerned. Aimes is conflicted at every turn — his belief system is about to be severely challenged. If he survives he will experience a life-altering change on a journey that is about to take him through hell.
WP: The comic book begins with Det. Aimes fervently hating Non-Humans — it ends in an emotional way in his childhood before this all changed the world. In a way it is the constant cycle of emotions we go through when we are children, then we become adults and throw away our childish ways, and then in old age we go back to our childhood memories.
HC: At the beginning of your book, you ask readers to write their own stories, integrating them into this world. Interactivity is king nowadays, so it seems to be a great touch. Can you explain why you did that and if it may actually impact your storytelling?
GB: The idea of toys coming to life is something that I think we all have imagined at one time or another. Under the circumstances, it seemed a natural question to wonder what the readers attracted to our story would envision. What kind of toys would they want to see come to life in their world? I think we are just really curious about what possibilities readers will bring to the table. If someone comes up with an idea that moves us I think it would be awesome to include that character in one of our stories. Social media and reaching out to the fans is something we are mindful of, but I think at the core of all of this we just really would like to see other takes on a question that we’ve certainly given a great deal of brain power to.
WP: I thought that since our story can be condensed to all the characters living with their childhood, that we should build out this world so clearly so that fans and other creatives alike could easily recall their childhood toys and imagine what would happen to them in our world. They used to say New York City was the concrete city of a thousand stories, I want our Non-Human world to be the place for thousands and tens of thousands of stories, personal stories that Glen and I never could think of, but stories that fit so easily within the world Glen and I built.
HC: Twenty years for Image Comics. What have your memories and experiences been with them?
GB: I remember in the early ’90s when Image Comics first launched “GEN 13.” That book stood out to me because it was the first book that made me laugh out loud in a long time. This was in contrast to all the deadly dark serious books we’d been fed in the ’80s. Image was a place willing to take chances and counter-program. Image is, in my mind, the most important comics publisher. It’s the only place a creator can retain all of the ownership to their property. I think that statement alone puts Image in a class all by itself.
WP: I have seen first-hand all the ups and downs, and to be honest there were lots of downs, but I can say all the good that we did intentionally or unintentionally far outweighs the bad. The testament to it is the times we live in. Today it is easy to believe that a comic book creator in his/her room can create something and if it is worthy in content and creative it can and will become so many other things that the world can enjoy … we at Image had a big hand in making that happen. Of the big three so to speak, only at Image can you still create to your heart’s content and reap the benefits of your efforts and Image as a company will not take from your endeavors. We will, as we always have, be on the sidelines cheering you on — as it should be.
– Jevon Phillips
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