In a future where North and South Korea are once again joined, people use gene-editing technology to slip between genders and change their appearance, all set to the background of a gorgeous, neon, dystopian landscape.
At least, that’s what the future looks like in the mind of Lonnie M.F. Allen and in the pages of his latest comic book creation, Chrome Seoul.
“I’m a huge cyberpunk fan, and I’ve been doing comics for a while,” he explained. “A lot of my work has been more slice-of-life kind of stuff, and then I decided I wanted to do a cyberpunk comic. In a lot of famous cyberpunk, like Blade Runner, there are a lot of supporting Asian characters and an Asian aesthetic, but almost always with a straight, white, male protagonist. So I thought, wouldn’t it be cooler if the hero was actually Asian?”
You may recognize Allen’s work from the cover of OUT FRONT’s recent cannabis issue, from the pages of Suspect Press, where he works as a designer, or from a myriad of other local publications. Allen has already made quite a name for himself as a cartoonist, but now he’s going to touch on his cultural identity in a big way, and also on two hot topics: North and South Korea and gene editing.
“I did a lot of research on gene editing, and recently I’ve been hearing the stories about how they’re using gene modification to help with cancer and other diseases. That’s the way it always starts, whether it’s the internet or any type of technology. It always starts with engineers thinking about how to improve the world, but I think, as a writer, how’s the street going to use it?”
Not everything is negative or grim in the story, though. In addition to having a female protagonist of color, the book includes trans characters and the idea that people in the future could use gene editing for gender expression. Since Allen isn’t trans, he plans to pay a trans consultant to help him with those parts of the book, and has already gotten input from a trans person on the concept.
“The first thing I asked them was, as a non-trans person, do I have the right to tell that story?” he explained. “And they’ve been supportive. They said everyone has the right to tell any story, but it’s about how you do it. Then they pointed out a few areas where I was wrong or didn’t get things right. It was great.”
Allen thinks that the future is queer, and that science fiction should accurately reflect that.
“I think that so much science fiction is just kind of straight and straight-gendered, and that doesn’t really make sense, because we are talking about the future. I think the future is going to be this melting pot, and we are going to be seeing gender and sexuality become more and more fluid.”
“Comic books are an accessible form of storytelling that can be inclusive of the other, celebrations of the weird, and showcasing of the subversive due to affordability and ease of entry” Vince Kadlubek, CEO of Meow Wolf, who is standing behind the prjoect, added. “This medium is a way for communications to happen between subcultures with an underlying encouragement of collaboration. They rule.”
Chrome Seoul is going to be available this June via Meow Wolf, who are helping to fund the project, and Suspect Press. Look out for it if you’re into representation and dark, sci-fi realness.
All art by Lonnie M.F. Allen