Black Eyed Peas singer Will.i.am and futurist Brian David Johnson came together on Friday afternoon in New York City to tell a packed room about their upcoming comic “Wizards and Robots.” Due out in March 2014 from IDW Publishing, the story revolves around robots from the future come back to do battle with wizards from the past in the present day.
The duo readily admitted that they were an odd pair to be working together, so Johnson revealed how they met.
“Will and I both do work with Intel. We were actually introduced at work, and we were having this conversation at work," Johnson said. "I was talking about these robots I was making. We had that conversation, and then I was at the Consumer Electronics Show, and Will walks up to me and goes, ‘Give me your phone!’ I said ok. I give him my phone and he programs his number in. He goes, ‘You need to call me.’ I said ok, and then I called him. That linked us up, and we started talking. Then I get this call, I’m in my kitchen, and Will says, ‘Hey, I have this idea…’”
That idea was “Wizards and Robots.” Will had been working with inner city kids for his charity i.am.angel, encouraging them to study math and sciences, and was concerned that technological intelligence was outpacing human’s ability to control it.
“I started feeling really concerned," Will said. "You mean to tell me that my 7-year-old niece, when she’s 47 years old, will have to compete with an appliance? It sounds giggly and funny, but it’s something we should all be concerned about. In the industrial revolution we made a train, but we didn’t think we would have to compete with a train in regards to speed. We didn’t think it would outthink us.”
Will chose Johnson to work with because he was a self-starter who published his own books. Will said, “I want to work and collaborate with people who do things on their own. They don’t need a company. They don’t need some firm to fund it. They just figure out a way to do it."
“Wizards and Robots” started on Halloween 2011 in Will’s living room. The theme of the book is magic versus technology. “When you think of magic, the only reason you think it’s magic is because you don’t know the science behind it. Because you don’t understand it, you call it magic,” Will said.
Pointing to his iPad, Will said, “100 years ago this would be some magical fucking shit!”
Johnson added, “The idea behind it was that magic is just science you don’t understand. We started looking at, well, what if we used quantum physics to explain the spells? You’ve got entanglement, you’ve got teleportation. What if quantum physics was real, and that’s what actually drove these wizards? And what if we took the work I was doing with robots and we made that real, too? So we made this world very much a universe in and of itself, and started thinking about what it might be.”
“Robots from the future come back from the future to do battle with ancient wizards,” continued Johnson. “Their war takes place in our time with technology and magic based on real robotics and quantum physics.”
They then showed off special 3D-printed containers containing four books explaining the backstory to “Wizards and Robots,” as well as a USB drive shaped like an obelisk containing digital copies of the materials. These artifacts, made exclusively for NYCC, are limited to 1000 copies. The books included a story bible for both the wizard and robot factions, plus a pamphlet called the “Hope Algorithm” that explains how time travel is possible in the story.
“The idea in the ‘Hope Algorithm,’ which is the prequel, is that all data is memory and all memory is data," Will said.
The main robot character in the story is Kaku, who contains the entire sum of mankind’s knowledge, including everything on the Internet.
“Kaku, because he’s a robotic historian from 3000, he knows ever single person in this room," Will said. "Why? Because he has access to the cloud. Every single tweet and conversation that you’ve tweeted on Facebook or Twitter or Instagram. He collected all of that information.”
Johnson added, “These robots actually care, and they actually care about us. Kaku is studying us because he’s interested in us. There’s not this idea that you’ve got Terminators and all these things that are scary. For robots like Kaku, the idea of the T-9000, the idea of the Terminator, is their nightmare. Their nightmare is that you would have robots doing something bad to human beings.”
Naturally, music will play a part in the series, too. “I’m gonna score this whole freaking thing. Go to Prague and work with the big Prague Philharmonic and just score it. Fuse computer music with orchestral compositions and score a graphic novel,” Will said.
Johnson added, “We went back and rewrote history, and said what if wizards actually existed, but their power is so immense that they convinced everyone they couldn’t exist. That’s how powerful they are. That they could think that they didn’t exist. So we had Kaku the historian go back and start to track them. No one ever talked about them in history but you can start to see them. You can see back in Babylonia when a general won something he should never have won. Or you’ve got some emperor or some pharaoh in Egypt who conquered the four corners of the Earth. That could never have happened if you didn’t have a wizard.”
“Even though it’s rooted in science-fiction, a lot of it is rooted in science-fact. We just don’t have the technology to make it possible right now," Will said.
Will then revealed he’s going to MIT to study computer science and learn more about technology.
The duo are proud of the fact that they’ve created the world of “Wizards and Robots” with little outside help. Will said, “[Johnson and I] should not be hanging out. But we are hanging out, and the things we’re creating are like this. No company, just a company of two without an industry. Just a community like Comic Con where we can share our ideas and honor this world.”
Will and Johnson did, however, acknowledge that IDW Publishing and creative agency Struck have helped a lot in bringing “Wizards and Robots” to life.
They announced a “Wizards and Robots” Tumblr page was launching that weekend, which they’re using to post segments of the “Hope Algorithm” prequel book. They’ll also be releasing info on their Twitter accounts, @iamwill and @IntelFuturist, leading up to “Wizard and Robot’s” release.
Then they took questions from the floor.
A fan asked if there were any plans for a “Wizards and Robots” movie. “Thinking realistically, we’re open to people wanting to adopt our story and turn it into a movie or a videogame. That’s the power of collaboration," Will said.
Someone asked why they decided to use the graphic novel format to tell this story. Will said, ”Because a graphic novel is a building block that’s gonna allow us to do a great interactive thing. So if you start with a graphic novel as the basis, then we can transfer that and amplify that for interaction on an app. So we’re gonna do an app and our website will be hyper-interactive as well.”
A young woman noticed that they’d been referring to Kaku as a "he" during the panel, and wondered how a robot could have a gender. They revealed that Kaku is actually genderless, even though they use male pronouns for him. Johnson said, “We were very specific that the robots did not have genders.”
An artist from “The Walking Dead” magazine then presented Will with a “Wizards and Robots” pin-up he was inspired to draw after hearing about the project. The image showed Will standing next to a wizard and a robot.
The next question asked why the story is taking place in the current time period, instead of the robot’s future or the wizard’s past.
“Because there’s something happening right now in 2013 with neglection [sic], disposable mentality, no values, no appreciation of history and culture, and this disconnect with human interaction for the sake of connectivity," Will said. "So the war between wizards and robots, regardless of the metaphor of this story, is actually happening now. It’s robotics and wisdom. Those that are wise are creating all the things that are turning things into robots. So it’s a metaphor for what is happening right now. Very wise, intelligent people that dictate how we go out and socialize in the world and devalue amazing things. And it’s happening right now, regardless of this story.”
An aspiring musician asked if Will has a mentoring program for up-and-coming musicians. Will said the Black Eyed Peas have programs called Pea Pods in cities around that country that do mentor kids in songwriting and producing.
Finally, a young girl asked why the wizards and robots are fighting. “That’s the big secret about it. If there was any culture or time where humans were super-duper intelligent, it would be wizards. And the robots are… I don’t want to give it away… but it’s a different type of war. It’s a twist," Will said.