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Looking Back And To The Future: In Conversation with Rob Shields, Creator of Neon Wasteland

Comics have exceptional room for experimentation – and Neon Wasteland #1 really capitalised on that. When we reviewed the first issue of Neon Wasteland, we got to see how the comic and its accompanying app provided an augmented experience to the story. We’ve now been able to catch up with series creator Rob Shields to hear about his imminent sequel and the next steps of his experimental series!

A Place To Hang Your Cape: What are some of the biggest changes between Neon Wasteland #1 and #2?

Rob Shields: There are two major changes to the comic. Firstly, the pages now have depth. In the first book I simply over-laid flat animated GIFs on top of each page. For book two I’ve developed a new technique that separates each page into multiple layers. This allows me to create distinct foreground, midground and background elements which gives the illusion that each page is a window into a living hand-drawn 3D world.

Secondly more control is given to the reader in how they experience the AR portion of the comic. In the first issue all the panels animated at once which some readers found a bit overwhelming. Fully animated pages are still available but the second issue also gives readers the option to trigger panels one at a time. The app can tell which panel you are currently viewing and only animate that panel. This allows readers to set the pace at which they experience each page just as they would when reading the comic traditionally.

AP2HYC: With a multimedia comic like this, were there still any more traditional comics you had in mind that influenced your approach?

Shields: I’m a huge fan of Katsuhiro Otomo and how he took his manga, Akira and made it into one of the most influential animation experiences of all time. I purchased the Akira 35th Anniversary box set and it sits next to me when I am creating comics.

AP2HYC: Are there any other key influences, outside of comics, that influence your approach to Neon Wasteland?

Shields: Animated films are definitely a huge inspiration to me. I’m really in love with late 80s Japanese cyberpunk OVA’s like Bubble Gum Crisis, Cyber City, Neon Tokyo, AD Police Files, the list goes on. These hyper saturated glam punk gore fests are the epitome of 80’s excess and I love them for it. I am also influenced by modern day 3D film techniques and game cut scenes on the Nintendo 3DS.

AP2HYC: What’s been the biggest challenge making this type of comic?

Shields: For me the biggest challenge has been making sure the traditional comic book experience is not over powered or undermined by the technology. I am constantly thinking about how a reader experiences a traditional comic book so I can honor those basic comic book expectations. The easiest criticism to level against this kind of experience is that its just unnecessary. For me the goal and challenge is to show how the AR can be necessary to the experience and how it can tell a story that wouldn’t be possible otherwise.

AP2HYC: How does this multimedia approach to the text impact the story you tell?

Shields: It changes the story in a lot of fundamental ways. The most obvious difference for me is that the reader is now part of the equation. The question isn’t whether or not the reader will become part of the story but to what degree they will become part of the story. So there are multiple layers to what is happening. First there is the passive layer. This is your traditional narrative experience, some kind of conflict resolution curve with a beginning, middle, end. Then there is the active layer or the meta layer in which you can start to push beyond what is normally possible in a passive story experience.

AP2HYC: Freedom seems to be important to the story in Neon Wasteland – not just in what way you experience the story, but the direction the story takes. Can you tell us a little more about how Neon Wasteland is more open than your traditional comic?

Shields: I wouldn’t say its more open but rather more expandable than your traditional storyline. The problem with freedom is that it drives you as the writer to create branching pathways with multiple endings to key story events. This sounds good in theory but what ends up happening is that the story you’re trying to tell is decimated in the process. Instead of one really well-crafted story line that progresses to a meaningful destination you get five muddled story lines that lead to multiple non-endings. Too much burden is placed on the reader to make sense of the mess and any chance of having fun quickly evaporates.

Neon Wasteland avoids this problem by creating parallel story lines that can exist independently but play off each other when intertwined. Think of it like Back to the Future part I and II. If the reader chooses to ignore the parallel story line, they can still experience something meaningful and satisfying. Likewise, if they decide to engage with the book more actively the story structure is prepared for that and will also give them an equally meaningful experience to enjoy.

For more information on how you can support Neon Wasteland, check out the Kickstarter here. Have you supported the campaign? Sound off in the comments or send us your thoughts on Twitter!

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Matthew Smith

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