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Nicholas Tana plots a dark and dismal future in 'eJunky'

Comic Books

Nicholas Tana plots a dark and dismal future in ‘eJunky’

The compelling slice of noir-y sci-fi debuts in mid-September.

As a whole, sci-fi relies on a balancing act of sorts to work effectively. All the best stories have to lean into genre tentpoles — be it Star Wars or Starchaser — while also breaking brave new ground all on their own. That way, these movies/books/etc. manage to poke the gooey nostalgic parts of our brains while showing us a continued promise (or punishment?!) for whatever lies ahead in distant galaxies and timelines. It’s this very dichotomy that helps define one interesting new graphic novel, eJunky.

Written by Nicholas Tana and illustrated by Kyle Faehnrich, eJunky is a multi-layered slice of sci-fi noir. Tana himself has a pretty solid elevator pitch below, but at its core, the story involves technology meant to “filter and regulate emotions, leading [to] pain and suffering to become commodities in a world that has made them virtually illegal.” Toss in a mind-altering drug that allows people to explore someone else’s memories, a disgraced detective, and a police group called the Alternative Reality Investigation Squad, and it reads sort of like Blade Runner meets Total Recall. But eJunky is so much more — it’s a glimpse of the future both unsettling and all-too familiar, a world we could be marching toward with every new advancement and decaying social structure.

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eJunky official debuts on September 19 via Scout Comics. In the meantime, Tana was kind enough to answer some of our more burning questions. That includes not only the aforementioned elevator pitch but his thoughts on working with Faehnrich, how our own technology informed this book, and why sci-fi stories remain so deeply important and vital.

AIPT: What’s the elevator pitch for eJunky?

Nicholas Tana: In a society where emotional regulation devices have eradicated pain and suffering, eJunky follows the journey of a former Alternative Reality Investigator. Haunted by visions linking him to a dangerous cult, he embarks on a mission to stop them from unleashing painful, cellular memory experiences capable of sparking a revolution.

AIPT: Why are dystopias so interesting? Are we trying to “prepare” ourselves somehow, or maybe stave off our own fate somehow?

NT: Dystopian stories captivate us because they depict a world engulfed in despair, which simultaneously ignites a sense of hope. Through dystopian fiction, we encounter a darker reflection of our own reality, connecting us to it and providing comfort in knowing that our own world appears slightly better. Moreover, these narratives compel us to contemplate how we can improve our lives amidst challenging circumstances.

AIPT: I think this book touches on a lot of essential sci-fi tropes and themes (mind-altering drugs, fascist-adjacent governments, etc.) Do you worry about how to add to the great sci-fi “canon” and still be inventive or progressive?

NT: Having delved into a vast array of sci-fi works, I can’t recall any that feature a cult group exploiting pain and suffering as commodities. While some tropes, such as cloning, emotional regulation, and cellular memory, might have been explored in the sci-fi canon to some extent, eJunky brings them together in a fresh and innovative manner. If this had been done before, I wouldn’t have felt compelled to write it!

eJunky

Main cover by Darick Robertson. Courtesy of Scout Comics.

AIPT: Building off that last question, are there any specific references here? I feel like this story is purposefully a smorgasbord of sci-fi and a commentary on its place in culture at-large.

NT: Absolutely, I enjoy breaking barriers within genres. It’s both my tribute to what inspired me to create and write in the first place, and my attempt to leave my own mark on the canon and make something new. Similar to Quentin Tarantino’s approach to film or how DJs blend various music styles, I sought to create a unique mashup in eJunky. In my previous work, Hell’s Kitty, I toyed with the horror genre, casting renowned horror actors in parodies of themselves. In eJunky, I played with different sci-fi tropes and dystopian themes while also incorporating elements of a detective story. For instance, the character Hector Holmes alludes to Sherlock Holmes. The book indeed borrows from different genres, but it stands as its own story, particularly with the novel concept of The Guardians of Pain, who commodify pain and suffering. There’s a lot going on in eJunky, but the “real world” also has a lot going on in it. I think this information overload is something I tried to reflect in this story. As a collective whole, we’re all experience junkies (ejunkies), willing to try anything and everything in a desperate pursuit of happiness.

AIPT: One of the book’s biggest “hooks” is how pain and suffering are “virtually illegal” and regarded as “commodities.” What sort of message or ideas are you exploring, and how does it connect to our own time?

NT: eJunky delves into the profound nature of suffering, a fundamental aspect of reality. It draws parallels to the Buddhist concept of samsara, an endless cycle of suffering. In our relentless pursuit of technological solutions to improve our lives, we often create new problems, leading to increased anxiety and depression. The novel poses a thought-provoking question — is it through pain and suffering that we can attain profound transformations and cosmic, timeless experiences, imbuing life with genuine meaning?

AIPT: People use the tech here not only to regulate emotions but explore them, including via traumatic events. Are we disconnected from the importance of shared memory? Do we forget how vital suffering truly can be?

NT: Ironically, as a society that embraces technology for greater connectivity, we find ourselves becoming increasingly isolated and lonely. The emergence of the People Against Technology (P.A.T.) in eJunky exemplifies a natural reaction to an overreliance on technology as a panacea for all challenges. We observe this resistance unfolding in real life, with young individuals rejecting cell phone usage, making headlines for their unconventional stance. Confronting pain and suffering is undoubtedly arduous, leading many to attempt to forget or avoid it. However, artists draw inspiration from their pain, and personal losses often enrich our lives, fostering a deeper appreciation for the human experience.

eJunky

Art by Kyle Faehnrich. Courtesy of Scout Comics.

AIPT: Tell us about the book’s hero, Hector Holmes. He’s clearly got some issues and troubles, but his presence here is compelling, and he is an intriguing guide.

NT: Hector Holmes is a multi-faceted character, oscillating between admiration and resentment for his brother Alex, whose influence led him to join the A.R.I.S. Yet, Alex also holds Hector accountable for their parents’ misfortune, which pushed Hector towards darker and seedier aspects of life. Initially perceived as a selfish anti-hero, Hector’s true nature unfolds throughout the narrative. As we learn more about him, he exhibits compassion and heroism, ultimately embodying self-sacrifice, both literally and metaphorically. His journey culminates in a bitter-sweet self-realization.

AIPT: Kyle Faehnrich’s work here is gorgeous, and he adds a slightly surrealist quality to the proceedings. What was it like working with him, and what did he add to the story’s development and overall identity?

NT: Working with Kyle was an absolute delight. Not just an illustrator, he went above and beyond, meticulously designing and organizing the layout and panels. Even after we completed the main panels, Kyle continued to contribute by designing futuristic advertisements from Tumult’s journal and other intriguing aspects of the world, such as The People Against Technology Manifesto and Academic Papers on Cellular Memory Scraping. His detailed and prolific art aligns perfectly with the story’s tone, and I couldn’t have asked for a better partner.

AIPT: I think this book deftly explores moral ambiguity, and how there’s good and bad but also it’s easy to shift depending on your own perspective (or the perspective of others). Is that an important idea in this story in general?

NT: Certainly, I believe life isn’t simply divided into heroes and villains, contrary to how people often perceive themselves and the world around them. I intentionally avoided presenting this fictional tale as a binary narrative. Instead, I wanted it to reflect the complexity of real life, where actions and their consequences are multifaceted. Such intricacies make life challenging, and they contribute to a more engaging and thought-provoking story.

Nicholas Tana plots a dark and dismal future in 'eJunky'

Art by Kyle Faehnrich. Courtesy of Scout Comics.

AIPT: The book addresses how technology can change or alter our brains. Are we at the beginning of some daring new age, or are we setting ourselves up for something that’ll damage our humanity? Maybe a bit of both?

NT: Indeed, we stand on the threshold of a daring new age with the potential for mind-boggling advancements in science and medicine, largely driven by AI and data modeling. These technological developments offer immense promise. They will inevitably change in some ways how we think and do the things we do to live. However, we must also acknowledge that progress comes with its costs. As AI and technology advance, we may lose jobs and face societal challenges, our whole economy may flatten, requiring less people to do things, and require a stipend economy. To protect the majority, there may need to be some regulation and control measures to slow down progress, and to prepare people better for the inexorable changes ahead. Balancing the excitement of new discoveries with the potential risks is an ongoing dilemma, one that we must grapple with to navigate our future responsibly.

AIPT: The book also touches on ideas of fame (with the “dream celebrity” Astra) and even religion (the mysterious cult leader X). What do those bits/elements add, and how was it like balancing so many different running ideas/themes?

NT: Throughout history, we have been fascinated by both celebrities and religious figures, and they often wield influence over their followers. eJunky envisions a future world where influencers and cult-like figures continue to exist. Astra represents the allure of fame in this future, the type that causes people to lose themselves. X and The Guardians of Pain embody the search for something beyond material pursuits, reflecting the complexity of human desires and motivations. Navigating these diverse themes required careful consideration, but I aimed to craft a narrative that authentically portrays the multifaceted nature of our society. By exploring these ideas, the story becomes more nuanced, capturing the depth of characters and the intricacies of their plots, offering both entertainment and opportunities for contemplation on life and our collective future.

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