EDM music superstar Steve Aoki is channeling his creative energies into a new project: comics.
The Emmy-nominated producer and global DJ sensation has co-created his first comic, Neon Future, in partnership with Impact Theory Studios. The book will make its debut in October at New York Comic Con. Aoki is part of a creative triumvirate that birthed the science fiction adventure story, alongside Eisner Award-winning Jim Krueger (Justice, Earth X, Avengers/Invaders) and Impact Theory founder Tom Bilyeu.
The first issue features variant covers from Jheremy Raapack and South Korean superstar Kim Jung Gi. Here's your first look at Kim's cover:
Both variants as well as the regular issue will be available at NYCC. In addition, on Oct 5, Aoki will be headlining the panel "From the Stage to the Page: Musicians Creating Comic Books" with hip-hop legend Darryl "DMC" McDaniels, alt-pop phenom Lights, and rock star Andy Biersack of Black Veil Brides.
Set several decades in the future, Neon Future centers on an America that has outlawed advanced technology and is being torn apart by class warfare. The title of the book refers to the movement led by a charismatic figure named "Kita Sovee." Aoki is kind of the model for Sovee, who wants to bring peace to America by showing how technology can be a force for good.
Neon Future is more than just a passion project for Aoki. The concept is something that has been part of his life since 2013, since the release of his first concept album, Neon Future I. Aoki has wanted to expand upon the concept for years, but since his day job as a rock star DJ and record producer keeps him kind of busy, he needed to find the right people with similar tastes and ideas of the future to make it happen. Luckily, he found them.
“Tom and I have been brewing this idea for quite a while. When we first got together, we talked a lot about science and tech and our mutual love of comic books,” Aoki told SYFY WIRE exclusively during a phone call Wednesday while he was on his way to perform in China recently. “We brought in Jim Krueger and the three of us kind of brainstormed the concept of what Neon Future is about. I have this idea about where this futuristic society could go, but it took all three of us to put the pieces together.”
“We’re both obsessed with the brain, longevity, and building a brighter future through technology,” Bilyeu said. “Steve has a deep passion for sci-fi and technology. It literally pours out of him. You can hear it in his music, see it in his stage shows, and feel it in charitable activities. It’s part of who he is at the deepest level.”
Aoki’s passion for sci-fi is a big reason why Impact Theory chose Neon Future as its debut title. “We have a superhero project in development right now with the working title Twins that I’m super excited to unveil,” Bilyeu said. “Coming out of the gate though, we wanted to really show the world what we’re capable of. Sci-fi lets us explore relevant themes of culture, technology, and where we’re headed as a species at a much deeper level than any other genre.
Aoki said his obsession with futurism and science goes all the way back to his childhood. His love of tech and science has always been a part of his music — witness his music video for the title track of Neon Future, the album. When he decided to make his foray into comics, he took the same meticulous approach that has made him an international music star.
“It’s the same way I treat my albums. I worked on my new album, Neon Future III, going on three years now,” Aoki said. “Holding some of these songs which are so precious to me in the vault and not sharing them until they’re ready — it’s trying and it’s tough. Now, with the comic book version of what Neon Future means to me and how we’ve developed it, it’s very exciting to finally put it out there.”
During our exclusive chat with Aoki, he talked in detail about his fascination with science and tech and the role both play in shaping humanity’s future. He also explained why he’s proud to be a techno-optimist and why he is hoping to get a chance to become a cyborg (not a joke). Read the interview below, and then check out the time-lapse video of Kim Jung Gi creating his absurdly detailed variant cover.
The comic ties in to the vision of Neon Future you’ve had and been working on for quite some time, beginning with your concept albums Neon Future I and II. Why is this such an important idea for you that has stuck with you for so many years?
When I first decided to name this album concept Neon Future back in 2013, when I first started writing songs for it, I had already done a song called “Singularity.” I was obsessed with the futurist Ray Kurzweil, read all his books, and I even shot a music video where I became a cyborg. I loved the idea of combining science with music. When I got Kurzweil in the video, that’s when I saw how I could combine those worlds. So I went on to create this album series and I collaborated with scientists and in my songs. I did a song with Kurzweil. Taking it even further, I did a song with J.J. Abrams because he’s this sci-fi ambassador for our generation. I loved being able to bring those worlds together. We’ve still got a ways to go with the Neon Future musical saga. I’m still trying to push the boundaries there. I’m just excited to see how far I can take it. The thing about this story is that, while it’s sci-fi, it's on a trajectory of where humans are going. That’s what comic books are about to me. Let’s use our imaginations to see how far we can go and what we can actually do.
You’ve been described as a techno-optimist. And you can see some of the optimism in Neon Future’s story, which carries a theme of the world discovering a better future through a more fruitful relationship with technology. Talk to me about finding the bright side to future tech.
I am 100% a techno-optimist. I agree that we have to be careful and tread lightly with regards to technology but I agree with Kurzweil that, as we have progressed through time and with science and tech, we’ve always found safeguards to protect us. There’s no doubt that our future will be a fusion of science, technology and our humanity. I hope our generation, and I do believe this, finds a way for us at some point in time to become half-robotic creatures. And let me say, if I have the opportunity, I will myself do that.
You're no stranger to writing. Years ago, in your punk days, you wrote for fanzines. But it must be quite a challenge to write a comic book story, given how different it is from creating music.
I’ll be the first to admit I don’t know how to write in the traditional comic book format. That’s why we have a genius like Jim Krueger with us. Our process is very similar to a musical collaboration I do with other artists and producers. You get the track, you send it to the artist or producer, they send it back to you, and you keep working back and forth. Everyone has their strengths and weaknesses. I know what my strengths are, and I definitely know my weaknesses. And that’s how you put all the puzzle pieces together to get the story.
So as a science fiction fan, what are you watching now?
A lot of the classic sci-fi TV shows that tackle the topic of technology in a negative way influenced me. In terms of specific properties, Ghost in the Shell was an early influence. My favorite anime of all time. Armitage is another, one of my all-time favorites, looking at the ethics of a self-aware robot. I’ve also gotten into a bunch of shows after we started working on Neon Future, like Westworld, Altered Carbon, and The Expanse, too.
Upgraded is one I just watched, loved that one. Also, documentaries really influenced me. A doc on singularity... The Transcendent Man, about Ray Kurzweil. It’s incredible.
Can you talk about plans to adapt Neon Future for film or television?
I think that will come in its own time. We’re really excited to just launch the comic and tell the story it’s supposed to be told in. It is nice to think about how far we can take it, but nearly all great sci-fi begins in the print form. We’ll see where it goes from there. Maybe in our next interview, we can talk about whether it’s better to take it into film or television [laughs].