Neon Lights And Chrome: Discussing `Wiper’ With John Harris Dunning And Ricardo Cabral
by Tom Smithyman
In their new graphic novel, Wiper, writer John Harris Dunning and artist Ricardo Cabral have depicted the world of 2223, a century after the West is wiped out in a nuclear war. The central character is Lula Nomi, a private investigator whose memory of each job she works is erased upon completion. But all is not as it seems with Nomi.
In an exclusive interview with Dunning and Cabral, the pair discuss their inspiration for this noirish future as well as whether there will be new stories set in the world they created.
Tom Smithyman: Wiper opens with a nuclear war, set a century from now, between Western countries and the corresponding rise of Africa as a superpower. Why was it important to start this story like that?
John Harris Dunning: I think the West is finally starting to wake up to the power and worth of other cultures. I grew up in Africa, so for me, America and Europe and the rest of the West was like Atlantis – a totally unreal place I only knew through the fantastical stories I was consuming about them, particularly in comics.
I grew up in a place where all the major cultural input we were presented through mainstream media – which was the only media that existed back then – was imported. It felt wrong. Unsettling. It was important to me to give back to the place I came from, and to imagine what it would be like in the future. Africa is a very modern, innovative place – but its output has been largely ignored for decades. That’s changing. There’s real curiosity about it.
Smithyman: The story deals with issues of identity. It seems to be saying that who we were isn’t as important as who we will be and what we will do in the future. Did I get that right?
Dunning: I don’t want to be evasive here – but I also don’t want to be too prescriptive. It’s up to readers to decide what our main character Lula’s journey is about. For me, personally, I find it very important to keep changing and growing. I don’t want to ever be unable to see things from a new perspective. We’re learning throughout our lives. The past is important, but it shouldn’t restrict our future.
Smithyman: Why did you make the decision to release Wiper as a graphic novel instead of a limited series followed by a trade edition?
Dunning: It was a decision our publisher Dark Horse made when we presented them with the story. I’m so glad they did. Doing it as one piece really allowed me and Ricardo to dig down into this world and build it from the foundation up. People are really responding to the world-building in Wiper, and I think that’s partly due to the process of creating it as a graphic novel as opposed to as single issues.
Smithyman: Ricardo, you depict a large number of aliens in the book’s 100-plus pages. Where did you find your inspiration for these various species?
Ricardo Cabral: Secondary alien characters like H´lu H´lu and Urukk play specific roles in the story, so making them very delicate or super strong matches what we were trying to convey. But all the others in the background just came to life in the sketching process. I went through a lot of lines and crazy shapes, then it was just a matter of letting whatever arose at that moment to come forth and manifest.
Smithyman: Wiper seems to have strong links to noir, Blade Runner and Total Recall. Were those your inspirations for writing this story?
Dunning: Blade Runner – the first one – is a huge inspiration to me generally. I consider it one of the most perfect sci-fi films of all time. I love the fact that although there are dark aspects of the world the film presents, you still want to hang out in it. You want to walk the streets at night, eat sweaty noodles under lurid neon light and go to bars there. The world-building is immaculate. There’s an intrinsic optimism that I was determined would be present in Wiper. I’m not a big fan of dystopia for dystopia’s sake. I like my sci-fi twisted and even dark, but not pessimistic. I’m destroying my emo credentials here!
I enjoyed Total Recall too, but it’s not a big influence on me or this book. I love the fact that Total Recall writer Philip K. Dick’s work being defined as science fiction is almost incidental. He has such a singular vision. I adore how odd his worlds are. Totally unexpected.
The book Blade Runner was based on – Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? – was inspired by early crime writers like Dashiell Hammett, James M. Cain and Raymond Chandler. They were more of a direct influence on this story. There’s something about the gumshoe schmo as a lead character that makes such a great way to explore a world. I love that genre. And it translates really well to sci-fi. I suppose because it – like film noir that it inspired – is such a modern, urban genre.
Smithyman: Since there are a lot of parallels between Wiper and Blade Runner, was Decker a replicant or not???
Dunning: I thought Decker was a unicorn?! Ha ha ha!
Smithyman: The artwork and coloring seem to have a 1990s feel. Was that intentional?
Cabral: Reading the script and talking to John about it made clear that was the right way to go, so yes. But coincidently, I’d read Neuromancer a few months before John approached me with Wiper, and I was so impressed that I was revisiting some of my favorite cyberpunk books and movies, like Ghost in the Shell, Akira and Blade Runner ( of course) at the time. When I read the script for Wiper, I was just seeing everything in neon lights and chrome, with clunky tech.
Smithyman: Without giving away the ending, there seems like a lot more you could explore with this world that you’ve created. Do you have any intention to revisit the Wiper world?
Dunning: I’m so pleased you felt that. Yes, we fell in love with this world and would love to return to it. For us, the world-building was of equal importance to the story. It’s what I’m most attracted to in sci-fi, so it’s what I wanted to provide in my own work.
Smithyman: What other projects are you working on?
Dunning: I’m pleased to say that Ricardo and I have another series coming up at Dark Horse – this time it’s horror. He’s a dream collaborator and hugely versatile. I feel lucky to have found such an exciting ongoing creative partnership.
Smithyman: Wiper was released on November 9, and I hope that sales meet your expectations so we can see more of this world. Thank you both for taking the time to talk to Comicon.