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Surrogate Father

In a world that grows ever more complicated and technical and full of computerized aloofness, how human we all remain is a matter of debate. In Robert Venditti’s vision of a future world, computer technology is able to replace human weakness in every way. Robotlike stand-ins take the place of living, breathing beings in his landmark work The Surrogates, which takes place nearly half a century into our future—a future where aging is hidden behind perfect-looking duplicates. These pseudo-clones can also do things like have sex in your place (neurosensors deliver all the pleasurable sensations directly to your brain), and you can even smoke afterward without worrying about damaging your health (you get the nicotine high sensation, while your duplicate gets all the carcinogens).

The Surrogates was a huge hit when it was first published by Top Shelf in 2006. Hollywood snatched it up (it’ll be released as a picture starring Bruce Willis later this year), and Venditti went back to work on a sequel. Here, we give you two opportunities to go deep inside the world of The Surrogates: First in our interview with Venditti, and then in a special preview of the new book in the series, The Surrogates: Flesh and Bone, coming in July.

How did The Surrogates come about? What was the inspiration behind it?
In grad school, I read a book about people addicted to the Internet. The players would lose their jobs and sometimes even their marriages because they couldn’t tear themselves away from the personas they created for themselves online. It was a thought that kind of rattled around in my head for a while, until one day it dawned on me that if you were somehow able to create a persona and send it out into the real world—where it could go to work for you, and run your errands, and so on—then you would never have to go back to being yourself. What would that world be like? That’s where the core of The Surrogates began.
Had you originally planned to tell this story in the graphic format?
I did. When the idea finally hit me, I was looking to get into comics writing, and I felt like the content and the look of the story would be a good fit for the medium.
What do you like about the comics format as a storytelling medium? Was it limiting in any way?
When I was a kid, my great dream was to be an animator, but it didn’t take me long to realize that I had no talent for drawing. Looking back on it now, I think I probably turned to writing as a means of describing in words what I couldn’t render through drawing. When I discovered comics in 2000—I didn’t read them as a kid—it dawned on me that here was a medium where I could describe something, and someone else could draw it for me. That’s the closest I’m ever going to get to that original childhood ambition.
I don’t find the format limiting, but it did force me to change the way I write. As a prose writer, my stories were typically short on dialogue. In comics, I need to rely on dialogue much more heavily.
How did you work on the “look” of the book and the color tones that were used to create this future world?
That was all Brett Weldele. The story has a very cyberpunk feel, and he penciled and colored the book to dovetail with that genre of sci-fi.
Why did you choose Atlanta as a setting?
I live in the Atlanta area, so it was a natural fit. And the Southeast has a lot to offer. We’re not a bunch of rubes down here—we have our own art, our own music, and a very diverse cultural makeup. Besides, why should New York and Los Angeles get all of the stories?
You depict a cold and impersonal future in the book. What kind of statement about humanity were you showing in The Surrogates?
I was trying to highlight the fact that we have a tendency to welcome technology into our lives without considering the impact it will have on us in the long run. Technology is a very seductive thing, and because of that, we don’t often look before we leap.
What can you tell us about the upcoming movie adaptation? How much have you been involved in the film?
Filming has wrapped and is in the editing stage right now. The release date is set for September 25, 2009. From visiting the set and seeing the level of detail they’ve gone into, the amount of time and effort they’ve put into it, I can’t wait to see how it looks on the big screen.
What are some of your favorite science fiction works?
I’ve not read a lot of science fiction. I’ve read maybe 10 sci-fi novels, but the books I have read—1984, Brave New World, Neuromancer—all were very heavy on subtext and social commentary. From the outset, I wanted to do the same thing with The Surrogates.
What can you tell us about the sequel?

It’s actually a prequel set 15 years prior to the events of The Surrogates, and it shows the world as surrogate technology is first becoming popular. Society is experiencing some growing pains, which are made worse when a trio of teens go joyriding in their fathers’ surrogates and end up committing a serious crime. The story hinges on the debate over whether surrogates should be made available to underage operators. The book is finished and will be going to the printer in the next week or so. It’s called The Surrogates: Flesh and Bone, and it’ll be in stores this July.

-- John Hogan