A futuristic Southeastern Europe chock full of AI, robots, cyborgs and a whole new level of crime that needs a whole new level of investigative officers is in store when Archaia releases its next graphic novel, announced earlier today at WonderCon. Written and created by Giannis Milonogiannis in a film noir black-and-white style, "Old City Blues" follows rookie investigator Solano on a case of murder, intrigue and social persecution that leads him to the darkest corners of New Athens in the year 2028.
Athens, Greece-based creator Milonogiannis took time out of his schedule to speak with CBR News about the fully loaded story of "Old City Blues," the people and AI that inhabit the futuristic New Athens and tease of the intriguing murder case that will take Solano far beyond his expectations.
CBR News: Giannis, tell us about the universe you've created for "Old City Blues." Where and when is it set and what's different about it from the world we know?
Giannis Milonogiannis: The story takes place in 2048 in a city-state called "New Athens," which is built on the remains of Greece after the peninsula was hit by a flood of apocalyptic proportions in 2016. The titular "Old City" is a sealed-off wasteland which consists largely of what is now downtown Athens.
It's a world where the climate has gone crazy, world poverty is at an all-time high, politicians are as corrupt as ever... it's not really that different from the world we know, in many ways. But it's a world where technology has advanced at a fast pace -- there's a colony on the Moon and true virtual reality is making its first steps, for example. The police use armored mech suits called Mobile Guns in enforcing the law. Advanced cyborgs, robots and AI all play a big part in the story.
Within this world, you've constructed a futuristic cop story. What can you tell us about the plot?
The plot follows a Special Police team as they investigate the murder of Hayashi Corporation's founder and president, who happens to be a cyborg himself. At first it seems like another case of social persecution, but it's soon revealed that there's much more to the case than cyborg discrimination. Over the course of the investigation there are a few car chases, mech fights and sword-wielding robots with some social commentary on the side.
How do the cyborgs in the world of "Old City Blues" operate? Are they more similar to the replicants of "Blade Runner" or to the more machine-like early Terminator models?
I'd say they're kind of in-between -- it's a combination of bioengineering and robotics. There are a few stages of cyborgization in this world -- artificial organ replacements and vat-grown body enhancements are widely used, for example, so you can say almost everybody is a cyborg, to a degree.
The technology isn't advanced enough to produce a near-perfect android, as with the replicants. The closer you get to becoming a full cyborg, the clunkier and more robotic your body becomes.
What about the main character, Solano? Who is he and what drives him as a law-enforcement officer?
He's a young guy who hasn't been at this job for a long time, so his sense of justice and law is still a bit idealized. He's probably on his way to becoming disillusioned, I'd say. He's overzealous about his line of work, which makes him risk his own well-being a couple of times -- not to mention bending the law a bit, now and then.
In terms of supporting characters, who does Solano interact with during his investigation?
Fighting cyber-crime is definitely a team effort, and Solano gets to work with a few different characters over the course of the investigation.
Chief Gortyn, who runs the show, is your typical, chain-smoking, disillusioned detective in a trenchcoat, who tries to remind Solano of all that is corrupt and rotten in New Athens.
For most of the book, Solano teams up with Thermidor, a hot-headed, trigger-happy young lady from the Mobile Gun unit. The two are exact opposites, in terms of character and how they approach their work, so you can expect some tension between them as the story unfolds.
Other characters helping fight the good fight are Newberg and Eidi, also from the Mobile Gun unit, and help from characters on the other side of the law is not turned down either.
You're currently living in Greece -- how has your experience living there informed your design of New Athens?
Living in Athens has informed the book in a big way, for sure. Every place gives off its own feeling of "thereness," and that finds its way into your work sooner or later. Local events influenced the story and the design of the world itself, but I purposefully avoid obvious references to anything that would ground the story and characters in Greece.
Continuing off of that, where did you draw inspiration from, not just for the city of New Athens, but for the story itself? What were your influences?
"Old City Blues" is a direct riff on all the good old cyberpunk from the '80s. The obvious references are things like "A.D. Police" and "Ghost in the Shell," "Akira," and "Patlabor." I'm pretty big on William Gibson, Enki Bilal, Hideo Kojima and Moebius, too. If you're into any of those things, you'll probably find something to enjoy in the book.
The early cyberpunk authors really created a kind of shared-universe, in a way, and this book is me having fun in that universe.
How long have you been working on "Old City Blues?" What has your process been like in getting published?
It's been a little over a year now, since I first started working on Volume 1. It's still a really young project! It's been an interesting process, turning this story into an actual book. The folks at Archaia have been very helpful, showing me the ins and outs and giving me a crash-course in book design and publishing.
What have you found challenging about the creative process of "Old City Blues?"
Everything about doing comics is a challenge! When I first started planning out "OCB," I had no idea how I was going to draw cars, robots, action scenes and cityscapes -- all of which are heavily featured in the book. Teaching myself how to draw these new things was one of the most interesting challenges in working on the book. Now that I'm more comfortable drawing these things, I'm trying to push the stories in bolder directions. Keeping it fun for yourself and for the reader is a challenge as well.
Is there anything in particular you'd like to mention to readers?
You can feel free to stop by www.oldcityblues.com and find a few different things, such as complimentary short stories, a process blog and info about the characters and their world. It's also the best place to keep up with news about the series and upcoming installments!