Nir Levie knows how to build — and we mean that quite literally, as he works as an architect. But when he’s not expanding the physical world, he’s assembling some rather bonkers projects that poke and prod the very lines of reality. After generating solid buzz with past graphic novels Outskirts of Vision and Mycelium Seep, Levie recently released another dimensional-smashing title, Bioripple.
The “bio-punk graphic novel” follows residents of a city where everyone’s consciousness is linked by an all-powerful A.I. (Well, it’s called “hopping,” and involves digitally-stored minds.) As Emily — one of two “protagonists,” alongside the architect Tim — tries to forge something brand-new (i.e., a sense of overall independence and autonomy), a massive rebellion makes a play that will inevitably shape their city and the future as they know it. With his ongoing interest in exploring “transformative change,” Levie uses Bioripple to tackle heady ideas of transcendence and technology, with the art itself proving utterly stupefying in its scope and overall beauty.
With Bioripple out now (via Heavy Metal), we got the chance to touch base with Levie via email. There, we talked about his past works, the development process for the book, his influences and inspirations, and how he’s grown as an artist and creator, among many other topics and tidbits.
AIPT: What’s your elevator pitch for Bioripple?
Nir Levie: A psychedelic bio-punk story about free will told through the eyes of a Law-Enforcement teacher, Emily, who hunts down members of a crime organization in an attempt to curb an illegal autonomy inside the city.
AIPT: You also work as an architect. What does that experience or insight provide when you’re building a story?
NL: In an abstract way, a comic is structured like architecture. In architecture, our role is to battle entropy. We create order, in a specific way and form. In comics I tend to do the same thing. Structuring the elements of storytelling as if they describe a physical form.
But I also use my experience as an architect to design the world within the story. I think about materials they would use, their technology, their aesthetics. In Bioripple, I wanted to show a world that is more practical and functional, and the weight of aesthetic and design there is low. The buildings are made in an organized grid shape. There are no exceptional forms. The old neighborhood is not so different but you can see the decay and mess in the streets. Architecture plays a big role in Bioripple. For me, good architecture always contains something magical. Something that is more than functionality. There are the opposing forces of order and chaos, but you need both of these elements to create something interesting. Nature and biology represent the magical element here.
AIPT: How important is it to release this via Heavy Metal? I feel like it’s a perfect alignment of sensibilities and the like.
NL: My visual influences include the artists that helped shape the Heavy Metal aesthetics, including Mœbius, Enki Bilal, and Philippe Caza. But when I first sent the pitch, I hadn’t thought about them as a publisher for this book. It was only after I heard Matthew Medney, the Heavy Metal CEO, speak on a podcast that something clicked. I’m happy they liked it and chose to release it as a graphic novel.
AIPT: What inspired you, or what were you thinking about, when crafting a story about the “disposable” nature of the human body, and the potential of a solely digital existence?
NL: I feel like ideas are always vying for my attention and I have to focus to catch them and filter the right ones. It’s as if the idea exists there but is trying to find a host to help it manifest. This time it came in a dream. It was about an old lady living inside a tree trunk. I think that theoretically it’s possible to create a copy of a person as an information construct, but the dream got me thinking. What if there’s a physical biological component to a consciousness? I was also interested in the question of determinism as opposed to free will. How much control do we have in our lives? Are we just a spectator in a bigger current? Or can we make choices?
AIPT: I got some real strong influences across the book, including Neuromancer and Altered Carbon. Were there any specific sci-fi properties that you felt helped shape the world and the story?
NL: Neuromancer is an important early influence. Akira is one of my favorite manga. I specifically like the shift between the bigger picture in this world to a specific character storyline. Some more influences include Black Hole [Charles Burns], Multiple Warheads (Brandon Graham contributed a pinup for Bioripple), Prism Stalker, and Transmetropolitan. David Cronenberg’s Videodrome and eXistenZ inspired me to think about biological elements mixed with technology. David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive showed me the importance of opposing points of views when telling a story.
AIPT: Do you have a favorite moment or panel in this book that speaks to the larger story and/or your “mission” as the creator?
NL: My favorite is a double-page spread where the point of view shifts from the two main characters and floats as if it were an outer body experience. It shows the complex world which exists under the ground. I was interested in mycorrhizal networks and the way plants transfer information. Man-made technology can be very complex, but it doesn’t come near to the complexity of organic networks. As an artist, I’m here to explore questions that are not answered yet. To dive into topics that science is currently still struggling to explain.
AIPT: Visually, the big pillars of Bioripple are the dynamic colors and the unique perspectives across the book. However briefly, what’s your process in terms of creating the feel/look/aesthetic of a book like this?
NL: I knew I wanted to tell this story from the perspective of the main characters. That meant drawing only what their eyes see. That was a big challenge, because the reader wouldn’t see the characters. To explain that these are POV drawings, I studied the way our eyes work. I came across a study in which a point of view had been mapped to a grid in 3D space. That led me to develop the specific grid of perspectives employed in the book. Our eyes never see straight lines, especially far from the center of sight. The colors are meant to help the reader differentiate between the two points of view. I chose the color palette to convey ideas and not to explain objects the way the eye does.
AIPT: There’s lots of great human emotion and issues of morality and ethics weaved throughout the story. How do you balance that work, and do you feel like Bioripple has a message or is merely exploring certain ideas?
NL: A lot of science fiction stories have a message against technology. I wanted to keep this issue open. Yes, there’s an anarchist movement in the story that is inspired by the luddite movement, but I didn’t want it to be a message because I think that’s problematic. The message in Bioripple is more abstract than that. There are glimpses of it in the magical elements of the story.
AIPT: You’re perhaps best known for books like Mycelium Seep and Outskirts of Vision. Did those projects help shape or influence this one?
NL: Outskirts of Vision was a raw manifesto about architecture. It helped me develop storytelling techniques and also how to break them. With Mycelium Seep, I explored issues of transportation and their relation with physical space. It was here that I started to think about the point of view of the drawings you see on the page. Up until embarking on these recent projects, I worked on shorter stories and developed my artistic style. When I look back at these projects, I see a clear line of progression. I look forward to developing even more alongside future projects, some of which I have already begun work on.
AIPT: Why should anyone pick this book up?
NL: Because you hear a strange voice whisper gently in your ear: ‘Read me…’
The following art is all courtesy of Heavy Metal.
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