Striving For A Harmonious Human/Technology Coexistence: Tom Bilyeu On Neon Future
by Gary Catig
Impact Theory is an entertainment company that started off with a weekly interview show hosted by co-founder, Tom Bilyeu. Recently they branched off into the medium of comics where Bilyeu and world-famous DJ, Steve Aoki co-created a new series, Neon Future. The title debuted at NYCC to much fanfare. Comicon.com caught up with Bilyeu at this year’s L.A. Comic Con and discussed the futuristic comic.
Gary Catig: Impact Theory is a new company focusing in entertainment. What inspired you to form the company and what do you hope to accomplish through it?
Tom Bilyeu: What inspired me to found the company is that I worked in the inner cities a lot and I realized there are a lot of extraordinary people who are never going to do anything with their lives because they don’t believe in themselves. Trying to help people develop an empowering mindset at scale, I think the only way to do that is through narrative. We’re meaning-making machines. We transmit beliefs and character traits we want to imbue through storytelling. Creating something that from the ground up is meant to tell those kinds of stories where people can really take something away. Look, at the end of the day, she’s got to be a great story. It can’t be preachy. It can’t be a message film or anything like that, but you can really have characters that imbue a certain mentality, way of life, beliefs, just like we have for millennia with mythology. We’re trying to tell stories like a Star Wars, or a Matrix, or a Karate Kid even, that are just phenomenal stories but really have thematic, emotional punch to them.
GC: As mentioned before, you have a new series, Neon Future. It debuted a few weeks back at New York Comic Con. For our readers not familiar with the project, can you describe it for us?
TB: Yeah, absolutely. It’s set thirty years in the future in a world where advanced technology has been outlawed. We follow our main character, the most famous anti-technology person on the planet, and he dies. He is resurrected using this illegal technology. The resurrection sparks off a civil war between people who are augmented and people who are not augmented, and he has to decide which side of that war he’s going to fight on.
GC: It’s an interesting concept and with an interesting co-creator in Steve Aoki. How did this collaboration come to be? Did he approach you or was it the other way around? I know it’s not uncommon for people in music to get into comics like Black Eyed Peas, The Weeknd and Paul Oakenfold.
TB: We had met because I do an interview show. He was a guest on that show and in the interview process I realized that he wants to be cryogenically frozen when he dies. I thought that was so cool that somebody just refuses to succumb even to death and is turning to technology as a potential solution for that. That was really extraordinary. I continued to get to know him for probably about a year after the interview. Just really, really enjoyed spending time with him. He’s so creative and he’s so kind. Just a rad dude. I pitched him the idea and he loved it. It was based on his Neon Future album concept. I knew that he was going to be releasing Neon Future III in November. We’re recording this at the end of October. It comes out in November. We launched the book about a month ahead of the album to really capitalize on that momentum and to continue telling his story of the Neon Future and what an optimistic future looks like if humanity and technology coexisting in a beautiful way.
GC: Nice. I was curious of the process for writing this comic. Did you and Steve kind of develop the concepts and general ideas and defer to the writers to fill in the details, or was everyone closely involved in creating the scripts?
TB: Steve and I worked in the beginning to outline the world, the characters, and what themes we wanted to deal with. Doing all the character design. All of that stuff. In that process, we realized that the perfect person to help us write this story was Jim Krueger. Steve was intimately involved in everyone we brought on the creative team from the artist, to inker, to the writers. Then we, in house, did it in a writer’s room style led by Jim. It’s myself, Jim and two other writers. Extraordinary writers that came on from TV. It was just a really extraordinary experience.
GC: Finally, one of Impact Theory’s goals is to empower the readers. What kind of experience do you hope the readers get from this series?
TB: What I hope people take away from it is that we all have just an amazing amount of potential but what we do with that potential is entirely up to how hard we’re willing to work and the energy and effort that we’re willing to put into developing ourselves and that we’re going to have a lot of hard ass decisions to make about what’s the right path to take. We don’t want things to be black and white because life isn’t just like that. Dealing in the greys. Understanding that there’s power in aggression but then aggression can also become a really terrible problem.
Anybody really paying close attention will see a lot of parallels, thematically, to Apartheid in South Africa. The Steve Aoki character in some ways is modelled after Nelson Mandela who was trying to find a third way. When there’s oppression, there are always three options. You can remain oppressed, you can become the oppressor, or you can find a third way to actually bring those two groups together in harmony.
That’s what this book is. It starts out in a dystopic world. What we want to do is tell a story that begins in the dystopia and instead of trying to conquer robotics or technology or whatever, it’s actually about finding that third way of bringing things together. That ending isn’t necessarily the ending to the story. It’s really a question of: Can you get there and how hard would it be? What would you have to overcome to get to that point? Like Luke has to go through the temptations of the Dark Side, and so will our main character, but it’s not a Pollyanna story. It’s not an easy answer to know if you can stop yourself from spilling into the power of the Dark Side.
We are thankful Tom took the time out of his busy convention schedule to talk and are grateful for Impact Theory scheduling the interview. Neon Future is also written by Jim Krueger with art from Neil Edwards and Jheremy Raapack. The first issue is currently out and can be purchased from their website.