Genomics Blog

August 18, 2008 1:25 AM
"Free the Gene!" Fluorescent Black
Graphic Novel Interview
Filed Under: Biopunk

Here’s an interesting Biopunk find! I was scanning the shelves at the local gas station and came across the September issue of Heavy Metal Magazine.  As I flipped through the pages, I came upon a graphic novel intro called Fluorescent Black by Author Matt F. Wilson. 

As fate would have it, I was honored to meet Matt through the wonders of the internet and myspace. He graciously agreed to do an interview for this Blog and the interview in full is posted in the read more link below.

Fluorescent Black is a graphic novel story of a genetic dystopian future set in Singapore and the Malaysian peninsula. Those that don't meet the norm are exiled out of Singapore and forced to survive by selling body parts in exchange for gene therapy and medicine. Human genetic experimentation and free will are inherent in the story. The question of what is human and genetic discrimination is an underlying theme as is the struggle for survival. The Art is riviting and provides contrast between pristine Singapore and the wild outside world. This is a Biopunk must have.


Interview with Writer Matt Wilson:

1. What was your inspiration for creating Fluorescent Black? Why Biopunk? Were you influenced at all by the Human Genome Project's recent sequencing of the Human Genome?
Fluorescent Black was primarily inspired by the strange people I see everyday in
Los Angeles. I was sitting on Hollywood Blvd watching the local wildlife walk up and down the street and I began to think "what if the human race was seperated into two different races -- the sick, crazy and wierd on one side, and the healthy, sane and normal on the other." What if this difference got exagerrated through speciation and genetics? I thought that was a pretty good hook for a sci-fi story. I wasn't influenced by the recent mapping of the genome as much as I was enabled by it. It gave me a way to ground the idea with real science.

2. I love the use of Economics and Capitalism using Humans and the Genetic Discrimination that can result. I think you hit the nail on the head with the highlighting the Pharmaceutical Companies and the subsequent control of Health Care ‘privileges’. These are pretty poignant and relevant points to today’s news in a Genomic Era. It’s a nice barometer warning to keep Society’s temperance on the potential consequences of where we’re headed. I see the Future as Bright as well…but like the (irony?) that it could all go wrong if we’re not careful. I love the fact that we can discuss these themes within a popular culture framework and use Art as a sort of Catharsis for our hopes and fears. I also love the use of different media and artforms to get the message across.
OK.Sorry for going on.. Longwinded question...[grin]How do you see the current Health care System in terms of Insurance/Capitalism and Genetic Rights and Freedoms?

The American health care system is a mess. There is no easy solution for fixing it. I think the problems we face will be magnified by gengineering. As options become available for tailoring our genome and that of our children, I cant help but wonder how wide the gap will become between the haves and have-nots. Those who have access to expensive treatments will get better, those who don't will get worse by comparison. I see it as a "rich get richer" scenario, only in a biological sense. In my mind, all of this translates into a class division. Will there be something like affirmative action to help the disadvantaged keep up with the curve? I can only imagine.

3. The Human Cloning and Experimentation of Nina seems to echo the debate about the rights and freedoms of Human Cloning. The creators of Nina patented her and say they own her. I'm curious about her fate and wonder what she represents in society.
Nina represents one of the many ways human life has become a commodity in Fluorescent Black. If you can patent a gene, why can't you patent the person who resulted from it? It was Ugen money that gave Nina life so she is the product of their corporation. As for their reason for creating her -- she is like the floor models you see at car shows. She was designed to model Ugen's newest genomes. She has less rights than a standard citizen because she does not meet the legal definition of "a human being." She is more like an animal used for medical testing or a show dog.

4. The “Gen-Tap” Gene Sequencer is interesting and a nice touch.  Do you you see the fledgling industry of home DIY (do it yourself) kits as being beneficial or detrimental to society?
 As for the genetic piracy, in any data based system there is going to be leakage. Take music downloads for example, the pirates actually end up damaging the industry they are ripping off. In their attempts to spread the love they spread the viruses. Again, it brings us back to the idea that all roads lead to problems. I think DIY kits can be both beneficial and detrimental because while they empower people and give them access to technology they also greatly reduce our ability to control the technology. Chemistry kits are great for learning but they can also teach people how to make explosives.

5. Can you expand on the introductory dialogue on the bus where Blue's mom says "Money doesn't make you who you are, Blue" and Max replies that "
DNA does" with the mom's reply as "No, Max. It's what you do in LIFE that makes you who you are". The question of What is Human is evident in Biopunk and is there a line between human and post-human, so to speak?
It goes back to a theme -- is life really just
DNA and genetics and biological information? Or is life the sum of the moments you've lived and the things you have done? Nature or nurture. Nina's unique powers will really highlight this question later in the novel.

6. I loved the way you made the “Punk” part of your story. The Amazing Art and the language. The funky use of Singlese as an underground Biopunk language was a nice touch. Wherever did you score on that idea?
It started with realizing I wanted to set it in
Singapore because of The Biopolis and the unusual political atmosphere in that country. Then once I knew it was set there, I knew that the Singlish was a must (it's such a cool part of that culture). I hope I did it justice. I am going off dictionaries and first hand advice from friends that live there. I definately felt like it added something edgy to the dialogue, so I spent a lot of time trying to make it work. It is very punk in the sense that it has a nastiness to it --a phrase like "all fart and no sh*it" just sounds cool to me.

7. What are your thoughts on paying to get your Genome sequenced and
DNA art?
I'm scared of it and at the same time I am facinated by the possibilities. I think it has the potential to be very destructive to the natural balance. But, really, someone is going to do it whether I want them to or not. No one can stop the advance. Better to embrace it and prepare yourself for the things that may come. Lets all hope it doesn't get out of hand.

8. I read that Fluorescent Blue will be made into a movie. Can you tell us more about that and when we could expect it?
Yes, we plan to make a movie out of it. Right now we are focused on finishing the novel. Once that is done I think we will have a better handle on what's the next step. I can already see the movie in my mind -- it's like nothing else out there: a steaming dystopia covered in marijuana and full of skittering bugs and crazy people, a gleaming utopia of biodomes and vibrant gardens unfettered by natural law, and a host of characters that defy the norm -- the bad guys are tall, healthy, good-looking, well mannered, intelligent scientists while the good guys are ugly, savage, smelly, scarred-up, Frankenstein monsters and freaky misfits you wouldn't want to run into in a dark alleyway. Talk about a backwards line up!

9. Do you have/or are you working on any other material?
I have an indy film script about gun culture in the Southwest that I am hoping to make in the next year or so. It would be my directorial debut and would hopefully introduce people to my brand of filmmaking.

WoW... Thanks Matt. Your answers are very thought provoking. I can't wait to read the whole novel...I'll be the first to buy it in Calgary. Heck, I'll buy a few to hand out to the stores here so they can see what you've done. Can you let me know where and when it's out. Thanks again for the interview.

Thanks for the interview -- happy to be featured on anything connected to genetics.

Keep me posted. -Matt

Official Fluorescent Black myspace page

Facebook Fan Group

Free The Gene Web Site promoting the graphic novel.  

                                                            Comic Collective Interview with Artist Nathan Fox


jay wilson -

Hi Tammy, The second installment is out on Fluorescent Black and Matt, Nathan and Jeromy where at Comicon this last weekend for the signing of it. If you would like to do a follow up please contact: Jay Wilson Thanks Jay

jay wilson -

The second installment is out in the Sept issue of Heavy Metal Mag. It was previewed at Comicon last week big hit...enjoy Jay Wilson