Not Your Average Cyberpunk

Image by Richard Roberts

Image by Richard Roberts

It’s cool that popular science fiction is focusing more on space operas and post apocalyptica, but I miss the days when cyberpunk was a bigger force in sci fi. Fortunately, there are still artists and writers interested in exploring that kind of techno futurism.

There are several comics out there with classic cyberpunk elements that call back to Blade Runner, The Matrix, Ghost in the Shell, and Neuromancer. Tough guys and even tougher women. Human/computer interfaces. Mind bending/enhancing drugs. Massive and sinister corporations. Clear plastic and black leather. Perpetual, neon-laced nighttime.

That stuff is great. I love the look, the tech, and the action-packed storylines of classic cyberpunk. However, I am always interested in the work of writers and artists who want to use some elements of a genre, but take the story somewhere new. It’s that kind of exploration that keeps a genre fresh and interesting. Here are three webcomics that take cyberpunk in different directions.

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Seclusion Thunder is the most like classic cyberpunk of the three. The heroine, Nathalie, is a synthetically-enhanced cop working undercover to stop the trade of an illegal drug called “chimera.” The drug enhances a user’s mental and physical abilities and gives them trippy dreams. The thing is, she’s hiding her own use of chimera from everyone she knows. Seclusion Thunder has great black and white art by creator Rafael Ventura. He does a beautiful job of conveying movement, which keeps the intense action scenes easy to follow. Interestingly, all the cops Nathalie works with, at least through Volume 1, are women. That is certainly a departure from the typical one-badass-lady-in-a-sea-of-dudes formula for classic cyberpunk.

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Drugs and Wires is true to its name. There are plenty of drugs and people getting hardware directly implanted in their brains. The comic’s anti-hero, Dan, takes whatever drugs he can get his hands on in between runs with his delivery job. Lin, an implant surgeon, gives Dan advice and a hard time in between electro-prodding her patients. When Dan sees a zine memorializing his death from an implant “worm” things start to get interesting. I love that creators Cryoclaire and Io Black have set Drugs and Wires in 1995, lending the comic a nostalgic futurism. By creating this alternate past, they’ve gotten to explore all the cool hardware implants we were sure would be in everyone’s future back in cyberpunk’s heyday. Cryoclaire has infused her artwork with a spiky energy and humor that sets the comic apart from the super-serious tone of other cyberpunk design.

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Buying Time is a cyberpunk romance that follows the developing relationship between Vinnie and Galvin, two workers at Hyperion City’s all purpose plant. The futuristic setting has all the quasi-industrial buildings and neon a cyberpunk fan could want, along with a corporation that monitors and charges for everyone’s social interactions. But Buying Time has a decidedly different tone than most cyberpunk. The story is charming and sweet and examines the excitement and anxieties of dating. Vinnie wants to pursue Galvin, but to do so he has to open a Daily Leisure Credit account that gets subtracted from each time he interacts with Galvin. Vinnie doesn’t have much money, and the comic explores the difficulty of having a social life when you don’t have a lot of extra cash. Creator Casey J has made some delightful characters and I enjoyed spending time in his friendlier, less intense cyberpunk world.

If you are looking for a different take on cyberpunk, I recommend giving these webcomics a try. Be sure to check out an even more extensive list of webcomics compiled by cyberpunkonline.net where I was introduced to these three comics.

Seclusion Thunder has Volume 1 available online, and I hope there is another volume already in the works. Drugs and Wires is ongoing and updates on Mondays. Buying Time was completed in January 2016, and the entire run is still available.

//Images via Artstation, Seclusion Thunder, Drugs and Wires, and Buying Time.

Kate Gorman is editor of Art & Literature on Paper Droids. She is also the author of the speculative fiction novel ON THE ICE, the screenplay and creative how-to collection INT-EXT, and the locative fiction audio walk series GREENWAY QUARTET.