Neon Future is a new comic book series created by DJ Steve Aoki, Eisner Award winner Jim Krueger and Impact Theory founder Tom Bilyeu (CEO and co-writer, along with Krueger, Dana Brawer and Samantha Levenshus). The story is set in a near-future civil war between the Augmented, who are persecuted for integrating technology into their bodies, and the Authentic, who reject augmentation.
The Neon Future resistance movement is led by Kita Sovee (a charactered modeled after Aoki), whose goal is a peaceful future in harmony with technology. When Clay Campbell, a leading Authentic, is resurrected with the help of technology, he learns from the resistance about his true past and his role in the burgeoning civil war. This sets the stage for the conflict to come.
The comic book trailer features musical elements from Aoki's upcoming Neon Future III album.
I briefly stopped by the Impact Theory booth at L.A. Comic Con for a quick discussion with Tom Bilyeu about the comic book:
Q: Augmented humans are becoming a common theme in pop culture such as video games, film, etc. What were the principal inspirations for this story? And what makes it different from the stories being told right now?
Bilyeu: Part of why we're seeing this theme more and more is that this is an inevitable reality of where human evolution and technology are going. So when you look at what Elon Musk and Brian Johnson are doing with actual computer-brain interfaces, people are really trying to make this a reality. The reason that we wanted to tell this story and what makes it different is that we're coming at it from a techno-optimistic perspective. Normally it's like the humans vs. robots or AI, and our thing is, what makes the world dystopian is that they've made technology illegal. So how can we use technology to get out from under that to show people a more beautiful future that's in harmony between humanity and technology.
Q: Is the character that's based on Steve Aoki kind of a prophet for that, or is part of his inspiration or motivation to find balance?
Bilyeu: Balance might not be the right word, but certainly harmony -- finding ways to integrate them. In the story that character is basically our Morpheus. He's trying to paint that picture for people. Since the character is inspired by Steve and his real-life beliefs on technology, the sort of arc of the character is modeled on Nelson Mandela. What Mandela realized in apartheid South Africa -- and you're going to see a lot of those themes play out in the book -- is that there are three options for anyone being oppressed: You can continue to be oppressed; you can become the oppressor; or you can find a third way to do things that are in harmony. That's what the story's about. That character, the question that they're going to be asked in the story is, how far would you go to give the world hope? Would you kill? Would you die? It will be interesting to see him -- the secondary character -- struggle with that. The main character is someone who was the world's most famous anti-technology person. They die and are resurrected with illegal technology. So he wakes up into the world where he's the catalyst for civil war between the Augmented and the Authentic (who don't have augmentations), and he has to decide, which side of this war do I fight on? I hate technology and have railed against it my entire life, and have profited tremendously from that hate, and so now that I am one of them and have empathy for them, but all of my cultural momentum is pushing me the other way, who am I and whom do I fight for? There are a lot of themes that I think are really relevant right now for better or worse. And people will be struggling with some real things.
Q: I'm guessing that there are some gray areas and that he may be trying to find a different path, not necessarily one or the other?
Bilyeu: If you've read Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela, he's in prison 27 years and at, like, year 19 he starts realizing that these very radicalized militant young South Africans are coming in to the prison system and are criticizing him because he won't resort to violence. So he realizes these guys have so much energy and passion but he saw that they could become the new oppressor. And he just fundamentally believed you sell your humanity when you oppress somebody else. That's the tension in the story. It's viable to say I refuse to be oppressed and I'm going to rise up by any means necessary. We're very familiar with that in America with our own narrative between Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. The nonviolent approach vs. the violent approach. You'll see that in the story. There are two different characters. Both refuse to be oppressed, but they go about it in different ways. Ultimately who's right? That's going to be the intriguing answer in the story that people are going to have to judge for themselves.
Q: How long has this story been in development?
Bilyeu: About 10 months.
Q: So has the current political climate in the country had anything to do with the story?
Bilyeu: Definitely. You're not going to feel a lot of politics in the book. The book takes very much a human emotional approach. But for sure, any story is a product of its time to some degree in order to be relevant. We don't deal with any of that directly, but people will know exactly where some of the ideas come from.
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