John Harris Dunning on memory and atmosphere in ‘Wiper’ • AIPT
What do you get if you mix Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind with blade runner? It might seem a bit Wiperan all-new original graphic novel from writer John Harris Dunning, artist Ricardo Cabral, colorist Brad Simpson and letterer Jim Campbell.
The story follows the windshield wiper named Lula Nomi, who is a PI who guarantees “total discretion” by undergoing a total memory wipe at the end of each job. However, when she lands a new deal working for a robot named Klute, she faces a giant mystery that forces her to “learn what happened to [journalist Orson Glark]…and the truth about itself. Fans of the above Blade runner find the same kind of tense sci-fi magic, with a rich world and atmospheres galore.
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Before Wiperwas released on November 16 via Dark Horse Comics, we recently caught up with Harris Dunning via email. We talked about writing proper science fiction, more Blade runner connections, explore ideas around memory, and much more.
AIPT: What is the elevator pitch used for? Wiper?
John Harris Dunning: A private detective working in Africa a hundred years from now is hired to find a missing journalist. As the case unfolds, she begins to suspect that her disappearance is somehow connected to her own mysterious past…
AIPT: The narrative seems really interested in the idea of memory/recollection. What is your interest in exploring this idea, and how does it have to do with how technology “forces” us to remember our days?
HDD: What an interesting connection – and not the one I had made. I’m interested in how memories shape personality: we create stories about ourselves to become the people we are. And we are all unreliable storytellers. Until I was 30, I kept detailed journals. I was often surprised when I looked at previous entries how differently I remembered things. My memory of the events had been subtly modified over time to serve my current accounts. Any psychologist – and police detective – will tell you, our memories are extremely unreliable.
AIPT: Similar to that last question, is there anything relevant today – like living in a state of surveillance – that has spurred any part of the story?
HDD: I’m hugely against state surveillance. [that] the whole so-called “developed world” sleepwalked. It is up to all of us to rebel and dismantle the current system. It’s already nightmarishly dystopian. In this book, I explored not so much the surveillance aspect of big tech companies as their oddly gleeful arrogance – especially when it comes to their totalitarian ideas about utopia. These guys genuinely seem to believe they know better. It’s very annoying to me – especially since they think they’re doing good. But what idea of the good? And good for who, exactly? In the world of Wiper these companies are tough and refuse to take responsibility for their own mistakes. Sound familiar?
AIPT: Why put Wiper like a graphic novel and not single issues in advance?
HDD: The graphic novel Wiper was born out of confinement. There were paper shortages in the United States and production blockages that led to a huge reduction in orders, so it was decided to go straight to the graphic novel. This decision really refined my world-building with artist Ricardo Cabral. We have lived and breathed this world during confinement and following it directly. He focused our energies. It kept the story cohesive in a way that it wouldn’t have as a collection of unique issues.
ITPA: Wiper is described as “tropical black”. What does it mean, and is it really a little ironic satire/parody of the onslaught of black comics?
HDD: Haha! I love this interpretation! But no, I love that atmosphere of sleazy waterside nightclubs in ’30s Miami or ’60s Lagos. Dirty neon-colored suits and ice cream sticking to sweaty bodies. Palm trees and gunshots. I wanted to bring those elements into the science fiction space. I was using the term to communicate the idea to the artist and colorist, mostly, but it stuck.
AIPT: Is it easier or more difficult to write science fiction as the world not only makes great technological advances, but also gets crazier and more terrifying as well?
HDD: This is the perfect time to write science fiction. All the more ammunition for inspiration! The real challenge for me is trying to preserve a sense of wonder at the heart of the science fiction that I produce. I don’t mind if the world is dark, scary, and unsettling, but I also want it to be a place my reader would want to have a drink, populated with characters they’d like to meet. I don’t want to create a simple dystopia. Simply put – the first Blade runner film against Blade Runner 2049. Even in a movie like Extraterrestrialyou kind of want to hang out on the Nostromo, or in this universe.
AIPT: I feel like the book, especially in the early parts, does a great job of creating and encouraging lore without making it overwhelming. How is the world of Wiper similar to ours, and what part of that lore do you really need to know or master?
HDD: For me, it’s all about building the world. I want readers to want to crawl into the book and live in it. That’s what comics were to me as a kid. They still are, to some extent. A space station isolated from the real world. A laboratory of alchemists to concoct spiritual survival techniques. A temporary autonomous zone to dream. I hope the lore picks up readers and they enjoy it – it’s not necessary to grasp the story, but it’s an important part of the book. As important as the story itself.
AIPT: What was it like working with the artistic team of Ricardo Cabral and Brad Simpson? what did they add to the process and the story in general?
HDD: I’ve known Ricardo for years, and we collaborated on a pitch a few years ago. I am a big fan of his work. Once Wiper was commissioned by Dark Horse, I brought the project to him and off we went. We spent a good few months working on the world – the clothing, the architecture, the technology design – and then he started drawing pages. He blew me away. From the beginning. His level of dedication to world-building was astounding. It was difficult to find a colorist who could complement and elevate Ricardo’s work, able to work with the level of detail he produced. Brad Simpson took our vision of a tropical palette and ran with it. He comes from a background as a painter, so he brought a very unique aesthetic to the project. He was an integral part of the creative team, as was letterer Jim Campbell. It was a pleasure to work with someone like Jim who ensured the words and storytelling were so cleverly presented. Brad and Jim amplified the storytelling tremendously.
AIPT: To what extent has design influenced the universe and traditions here? And vice versa?
HDD: An early draft of the screenplay was written when Ricardo started drawing, so it didn’t impact the actual writing of the book – but much of the drawing is the universe and the legend. I still discover things in the pages, it’s the generosity and genius of Ricardo Cabral. I find myself seeing a weird alien or robot for the first time that makes me laugh – Ricardo’s imagination is delightfully weird and surprising. It reminds me of early work by artists Kevin O’ Neill and Bryan Talbot in Nemesis the Warlock in the British comics anthology 2000 AD. Bulletproof world construction. It is also the publication where some of the best work by Alan Moore and Grant Morrison appeared. It had a huge influence on me.
AIPT: I feel like, as elegant and intense as the book is, it also maintains a sense of playfulness and almost sensuality. Why is this an essential feature in a story like this?
HDD: That’s a big compliment, so thank you. My primary ambition is to entertain. I wanted there to be a comical and sexy side. High energy. Optimism. Singularity. This is what I want our readers to come away with.
AIPT: I think, given the concepts and visuals at play here, this book will be compared to a mainstay like Blade runner. Is it boring as a creator, or are you just trying to accept it and run with it?
HDD: i love the first one Blade runner film. With Extraterrestrial, it remains the model of intelligent and exciting science fiction. Two entirely singular works. So, all comparisons are welcome! As has now been recognized, the look and feel of Blade runner was hugely influenced by filmmaker, comic book creator, and wizard Alejandro Jodorowsky. It therefore seems appropriate that Blade runner should inspire comics. Nothing can stop the flow!
AIPT: why should we read Wiper?
HDD: Because they want to take their breath away – and travel to a place they’ll never want to leave…
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