Interview with M.F. Wilson and Nathan Fox
David Fernández (D.F.).- First of all, we would like you to tell us about the origins of the project: how did it start and how the idea that articulates the story took place, and at which moment did Nathan Fox join the project.
M.F. Wilson.- It started with a cold call. I saw Nathan’s work in Rolling Stone magazine and I felt he had the gritty style I was looking for so I started tracking him down. I went to his website, which has his home phone plastered all over it, and I called him out of the blue. We started talking about the project, and Nathan was really busy with illustration work – we didn’t know if he would have time. He wanted to read the script anyways, so I emailed it to him. After he read it, we talked again and this time he was excited. He really vibed on the material, and he like the idea of doing it with Heavy Metal Magazine.
D.F.- Considering your experience and educational background in filming, was the story of Fluorescent Black born with the intention of becoming a script for a hypothetical film or did you think, since the first moment, that the ideal medium to develop it would be the comic-book format? Which advantages and disadvantages do you appreciate in one medium and the other, when it comes to narrating this specific story?
M.F. Wilson.- Fluorescent Black began as a film script. The script was very dense. There were so many things that had to be detailed for the reader to get an idea of the world I was seeing in my head because what I was imagining wasn’t something common to readers. The giant bugs and the rampant vegetation, and all the freakish people – that’s not something that easily referenced; I couldn’t just compare it to another sci-fi world. Being a filmmaker, I am naturally attracted to images over words. I felt the story needed to be put into graphic novel form to really show people what it looked like. There are natural differences between the two mediums. I find that the film medium is the most comprehensive medium of all. It has picture, sound, music, and acting – all rolled into one. That said, it is very limited in other ways. Making a film is expensive and requires a lot of collaboration, meaning sometimes things get lost in the process. With the comic medium, there is more freedom to experiment and take artistic risks.
D.F.- Are there any plans to adapt this story to the cinema?
M.F. Wilson.- Yeah, there is a plan but it’s complicated. I’ve spent a lot of time developing the Fluorescent Black movie with various people in the film industry. There’s been a ton of ideas about how to do it correctly. I’ve always said that it has to remain wierd – that’s the defining characteristic of what we did (and most good biopunk literature). I’ve written treatments for two more books/movies. It’s broken into a trilogy. The first book is actually the second part I’d also like to see a video game made out of Fluorescent Black – I am a long time gamer, and I’ve got some unique ideas for it.
D.F.- Despite the fact that in Spain we have known about this work through a single compilation book, it was originally published in the pages of Heavy Metal. In what manner did the fact that Fluorescent Black was initially serialized in three parts (2008 and 2010) affect your plans? Were you sure since the beginning about the intention of compiling the issues in a single volume?
M.F. Wilson.- Doing it one part at a time actually opened up the process. It gave us time to rethink the story as we continued to create it. It was originally going to be two parts, but the first part felt too compressed to us. After we finished the first book, we decided to expand the second part into two parts. That gave us more time to explore the world and characters.
Nathan Fox.- Exactly, We got well into the first 48 page installment and realized the Heavy Metal format would allow us to expand the characters and world. The addition of a third installment really allowed the story to unfold at it’s own pace. The pressure to compress the story into two edited 48 page installments would have really changed the narrative as a whole. The three installments really fit the original pace we were after.
D.F.- Which role did Kevin Eastman, editor in chief of the magazine, play in the book? Apparently, he provided you a great deal of support during the development and promotion of the work.
M.F. Wilson.- Kevin was the first person we approached because we knew he would give us complete freedom. That was the most important thing to us and the reason why we chose to publish with Heavy Metal. We could put in all the nasty shit we love. Kevin also agreed to do the book in the oversized format, which was a big thing for Nathan, whose artwork is very detailed and looks better blown up in a bigger size. Heavy Metal has done a lot of great things for this book.
Nathan Fox.- The freedom Kevin gave us was amazing. We wanted to keep the ultra violence and the sex in the story. Kevin left the door open so we could stay true to Matt’s original vision. That freedom allowed us to show the horrifying existence of Max and The Butchers. Survival in their world is NOT pretty, and not something that could not be softened. Heavy Metal was the ONLY publisher who would allow us to show that explicitly.
D.F.- Among the references that might me intuited in your work, we could mention the works of Aldous Huxley, Katsuhiro Otomo, William Gibson or Philip K. Dick, especially when it comes to certain common ingredients such as the portrayal of a dystopian future, a great deal of social class-based segregation and the presence of corporation-managed technology, such as the agents that enhance does social differences. Are we right? Which other influences would you mention as influential in your creative process?
M.F. Wilson.- I love all of those authors, so I’m sure they are floating around in my brain. But actually, I would say the biggest influence for me was Paul DiFillipo’s book Ribofunk and all of David Cronenberg’s venereal horror movies. Ribofunk was the first Biopunk book I read. And when I say Biopunk, that’s what I mean. It’s a relatively new genre that is starting to spread it’s seed in literature and cinema It’s full of sex, and blood and guts and bodily fluids, almost like some of the early slasher pictures. And there’s always a certain weirdness to it. That is very different than Gibson, Otomo and Dick who are usually focused on high tech computers, robotics and virtual reality. We don’t have any of that – I don’t think there’s a single computer in Fluorescent Black. The thing that we share in common with those authors is the “PUNK” part. Punk is always geared toward “kill the rich,” “take down the corporations,” and “destroy the system.” So, yeah, I’d say I was influenced by the PUNK part.
Nathan Fox.- Yeah, Otomo has always been a big influence for me in storytelling and character. I wouldn’t say he was a direct influence but more of an inspiration for the juxtaposition of Utiopian vs Dystopian society we wanted to put in the book. The last thing I wanted to do was bite Otomo’s epic but I am a big fan of his work. We put a lot of easter egg homages to Ottomo in the panels. The PUNK aspect of FB was my main focus, though. Matt introduced me to a lot of his influences in both film and music and he was a great source of inspiration for the soul and design of the characters. Most of my artistic influences come from printmaking, comics, film and painting. Yoshitoshi, Samura, Bernet, Caniff, Kubrik, Freud and Schiele were among the strongest influences for the story and art. Bonde Do Rolê With Lasers and M.I.A. Arular and Kala albums were basically the soundtracks for the series. But yeah, that destroy the system undertone drove most of our direction and influences. Mix that with a lot of “Punk” and the real world Bio-science that is actually happening in Malaysia as we speak and BOOM!… Fluorescent Black.
D.F.- Fluorescent Black fits into de “Biopunk” genre. Is there another work that can be described as part of this movement that has inspired you in a special way?
M.F. Wilson.- Let me try to describe Biopunk in images. A mother digging through a slippery pile of guts to find a kidney you’re going to implant into your child. A man injecting himself with frog and blowfish hormones to stop the progress of a manmade virus that’s infecting your body. It’s a transsexual growing new genatalia. It’s a punk rocker who has tailored their genome so that they will be covered in fish scales from head to toe. It’s weird. It’s gross. It’s biological. It’s natural and unnatural at the same time.
Nathan Fox.- There is a lot of science fiction art to point to but nothing specific or direct. The best example of what we were imagining and/or shooting for can best be summed up with a bit of future technology in development today – the self contained, home DNA sequencing kits (gene tapping kits of FB) (1, 2 and 3).
D.F.- Despite the blueprint of the aforementioned references, in this case you really make the expression “reality always beats fiction” true, so in spite of reading a science fiction book that takes us to the year 2085, this “fiction” doesn’t look so far away. What’s your opinion on scientific and technological advances and the effect they have in social relationships, both in a small and in a large scale?
M.F. Wilson.- I think science is always going to evolve. You cannot stop progress. Personally, I love that the increased pace at which the world is changing. I love thinking about where we might be in 50 years. Unlike a lot of people, I am not afraid of all the tampering with genetics and stem cells and cloning. I say, let’s kill the sacred cows. I want to start seeing cloning, bioartistry, and manmade splices. I mean, it’s going to happen someday. If the right guys don’t do it, the wrong ones will. I think it’s better if it’s sanctioned and managed, than if it happens off the radar.
Nathan Fox.- I’m not so sure about the positive aspects of where genetic science is headed; it’s not a perfect world and human error is all too common. So that said, I am pretty open to supporting advancements in genetics and biology. My only hope is that some sacred cows will survive, at least in terms of their social impact on some of the future generations way of life: safe food and biology, health and medicine, earth sciences and environmental advancements, etc. I too would like to see a lot of barriers torn down and science lifted up to a new level of development – there is no way to stop people from creating a society infused with technology. We are kind of living in one as we speak. Computers the size of phones, genetics kits, etc. There is no real way to know how it will all go, so with a bit of civility and caution and a lot of support, genetics and science should continue to evolve and accelerate. Someone will lead the way, hopefully with transparency and humanity in mind…
D.F.- One of the most noteworthy aspects in the choice of Singapore to base the story; especially due to the fact that it ends up becoming a character on its own because of its peculiarities: it’s one of the main financial centers of the world, it has a tropical climate, it’s the country with the second greatest population density, it has a great ethnic and linguistic diversity and has led to the construction of Biopolis, a city fully dedicated to the investigation of biomedical sciences… Why did you choose Singapore as the story’s scenario and how did you live the documentation process, considering the surprising contrasts of this city?
M.F. Wilson.- You’re completely right, Singapore is a character in the book. In many cases, I would say that it is the main charácter. I got lucky and happened upon it at a very early stage of the conceptualization process. I wanted to find a hot enviroment to set the story in. I didn’t want the rainy dark world you see so much in sci-fi books/movies. I was looking along the equator and that’s how I found Singapore. Baaam! Right there, dead center on the line. Then as I researched, I found out about the Biopolis and their social policies and I know it would make a great setting for what I was trying to do.
Nathan Fox.- Agreed in full – it is and was the perfect setting. BIOPUNK fit like a glove. Jeromy Cox nailed the tone, color and intensity of what we were looking for in the collaboration. I did a ton of research to try and stay true to the cities and culture that would have existed when the Biopolis started its Utopia and Anga took over as a young scientist. There’s no way of denying Singapore as a character and direct reference. As an armchair tourist and researcher it became one of the bigest characters in the story and carried FB on to higher level. The fact that this place exists is the anchor that makes the reality of Fluorescent Black almost as much of a horror store as a sci-fi one. I wish I could have visited and researched in person. One of these days… I am sure it will make me want to redraw and edit just about everything. There’s nothing worse than not having personal experience when illustrating a real place. Hopefully I did the location and culture justice in the series.
D.F.- In addition to the purely recreational aspects and the dosage of action, violence and intrigue it features, Fluorescent Black puts several interesting topics on the table in order to think about them: territorial disputes, public health, organ traffic, cloning, technological patents, body modification, bio-art… Did the main plot come out first (the figure of Max, Nina and the rest of the cast) and you enriched it afterwards, or did you follow the opposite process?
M.F. Wilson.- It was the opposite actually. I wanted to explore those topics and the first thing I did was flesh out the setting, then the plot came later. Once I knew it would be set in Singapore/JB, a lot of themes started to make sense and I began brainstorming possible plots that would showcase the setting. It seemed natural to me to write a star crossed love story set in a world that is divided on both a class level and a genetic level. I had never seen that, so it felt fresh. Then, as the plot developed, the characters started to come to life.
D.F.- Regarding the graphical aspect, it’s particularly shocking due to its density, dirtiness and luminosity… maybe it’s more similar to the style you used at DMZ that the one you chose to use at other projects. How did you determine the artistic line to work on this 2085 Singapore?
Nathan Fox.- Matt’s script set the tone and details of the scenes and character designs for the most part. His script and screenplay were amazing and the actual locations and slums assisted in setting the tone and our picture of what this world would look like. Jeromy and I really wanted to keep that acid, saturated color we saw in the color pallette when we researched Singapore and Johor Bahru. Diving into that research and our own imaginations, we ended up developing the extreme colors and textures in the book. Matt really wanted to give the viewer a sense of immediacy in every panel – that there would be no way to get away from this imagined future world and its horrors. Artistically, since the there was no way for the lead characters to get away from their worlds, I wanted the story to really have an impact and stay with the viewer at every turn and panel in the story. So Matt and I just set out to make sure that the viewer feel stuck in the panels just as the characters felt stuck in their own struggle for existence. THERE WILL BE NO ESCAPE!…
D.F.- We assume that you use photographs of the country as part of the documentation process. Which references did you use when defining the most futuristic aspects of this location?
Nathan Fox.- A lot of photo reference and research of the Biopolis the real science city that’s incide of Singapore. I looked at asian archetecture, imagined, and researched technology and went over I just designed it from there. I use a ton of reference and try to research as much as I can before I begin projects. Conceptual architecture and future/experimental design played a big role in how I envisioned Singapore in 2085.
D.F.- We have a feeling that the collaboration with colorist Jeromy Cox has been really tight. Which kind of indications did you give to him and which factors did you consider when choosing the color choice?
Nathan Fox.- Collaborating with Jeromy is always amazing and he was the first choice for the book, hands down. Once we started researching for the series and talking about color, the research and our own experimental color palettes just ended up syncing on the book and approach. Jeromy is a seasoned comic book colorist but also a talented and visionary artistic force on his own. There were just no rules – it was all play and experimentation. Matt’s vision was extreme. My imagination of what we could pull of was insane and Jeromy made it all come to life. It was an amazing experience and process I hope to collaborate on again. He really made the book live and breathe. I could not be prouder of this project.
D.F.- The presentation of the volume is especially attractive, including an interesting introduction, extras (maps and pin ups), and an impeccable design by 1Trick Pony Studio. Did you leave this design entirely on the hands of Patrick Macomber, Isaac Klein and Ron Batchelor or did you have a clear idea that you send to them? How did the collaboration with authors such as Becky Cloonan, Tim Bradstreet or Guy Davis at the illustration gallery take place?
M.F. Wilson.- Nathan and I both speculated what the different characters and locations would look like through the eyes of another artist. We approached the artists we’re friends with and asked them if they’d want to do a pin up. It was a fun experiment for all of us to see the different treatments of the characters, especially considering how specific our vision of them was. We asked each artist to pick their favorite character and do their own take on it.
Nathan Fox.- The result of the finished OGN was humbling and amazing. 1TrickPony really nailed the design of the book and lead the way for how the finished GN was compiled. We had some input and proposed our own wish list for what we were looking for in a finished graphic novel – they designed the rest and nailed it. In terms of the extras, we were really excited to have extra room in the collected book to add a lot of extra pages to the story to expand the world a bit more, add the pinups, glossary and map – almost like creating a documentary or archive. The viewer would be able to not only read the story but understand the language, culture and topography of the world we were illustrating. The guys at 1TrickPony really put their best foot forward and the book truly stands out for it.
D.F.- In order to finish the interview, we would like to ask you about present and future projects you’re involved at, and if there is any chance that you will go back to this 2085 Singapore.
M.F. Wilson.- I want to do another book. We’ve already talked a lot about it. It’s partially written. But we’ve got to find a way to buy ourselves some time. As for me, I am just wrapping up a sci-fi short film called The Final Moments of Karl Brandt starring Paul Reubens and Janina Gavankar. I’ve also got a new TV show I’m developing called Capital, that I would describe as a totally fucked up modern mythology. Other than that, I’m still going to punk shows and sci-fi/horror conventions and trying to have some fun in life.
Nathan Fox.- As far as Fluorescent Black in concerned, I think it’s agreed that we only scratched the surface and would love to continue the series. There are a few other projects and scripts of Matt’s that I would and will kill to do at some point. Since the book came out we have both been busy with other projects. I’m currently working on a teen graphic novel for scholastic and am the new monthly artist on Haunt, written by Joe Casey for Todd McFarlane thru Image. Once we get a chance to block out some time in the near future, my guess is… Anja, Nina and Max will return in spades and some new books will be slated for production. Matt’s scripts are too good to hold off for too long… STAY TUNED!
D.F.- That’s all on our part; we want to wish you the best of lucks and thank you for the time you have dedicated to the interview.
M.F. Wilson.- I just want to say that I love Spain and all of our Spanish friends are thrilled to read it in their native language. Maybe the next sci-fi world we do will be set in Barcelona. Thank you!
Nathan Fox.- Thanks to you as well. I can’t wait to finally visit Spain and am beyond excited about the spanish edition of Fluorescent Black. Many thanks to your readers and all of the support from our Spanish publishers and fans. All the best and keep in touch. CHEERS!!!