Set in a world where the living dolls and talking teddy bears stick around permanently and start demanding the same rights and privileges as all the regular humans around them, "Non-Humans" imagines what might happen in stories like "Small Soldiers" and "Toy Story" if the talking toys didn't conveniently fade out of human view at the end of the movie. The new Image Comics series by "Jersey Gods" writer Glen Brunswick and Image co-founder Whilce Portacio follows the adventures of Oliver Aimes, a down-on-his-luck cop investigating a mysterious serial killer in the grim future of 2041.
CBR News spoke with Brunswick about his and Portacio's collaboration, and the writer readily shared where the inspiration for the story came from while explaining what readers can expect to find in a gritty, sci-fi noir tale taking place in a world populated by talking toys.
Brunswick and Portacio introduce readers to the world of "Non-Humans" this week
CBR News: Glen, what's "Non-Humans" about, and where did the idea come from?
Glen Brunswick: Our story begins 26 years after a NASA probe brings back a disease from a Martian artifact that infects the entire world. The disease affects teenagers mostly -- they discover that they have the ability to breathe life into their favorite toys just by imagining them to life. These Non-Humans, as they're called, become a new minority that desires the same civil rights all minorities have desired throughout history.
The problem is, a number of Non-Humans tend to be very violent -- they have to be hunted down and eliminated for the good of society. Also, with the Non-Human population escalating out of control the entire world's teen population is forced by law to take drugs 24/7 that curb the disease in order to keep the N.H. populace in check. The internet, video games and theÂ HollywoodÂ entertainment machine all have to be shut down as they are linked as a major contributor in firing up teen imaginations. Non-Humans rule the streets while the humans live in large towering buildings and enclosed shopping districts. The Non-Humans view the humans living in their Ivory towers and remember what it was like to once be part of the human race, wondering if they might yet take part again.
The inspiration for this idea is the notion that the toys actually come from us. They're not just constructs that pop into existence one day -- they are born from our own DNA in the same way that a mother gives a portion of her DNA to her child. Our imagination gets inside the toy and brings it to life and in the process drops a bit of our personality, either good or bad, into the doll as well. The Non-Humans are subject to the same feelings, frailties and insecurities we humans have, which is what makes them so interesting.
How did you end up working with Image co-founder Whilce Portacio on "Non-Humans?"
Whilce had done a cover for me on my last Image series, "Jersey Gods." Since then, I've been a constant thorn is his side -- a constant, charming, friendly thorn in his side, peppering him with great ideas until I finally came up with one that he loved. Whilce is a huge Sci-Fi fan, and I think "Non-Humans" really fired up his passion for world building and creating diverse, interesting-looking characters. Whilce has so many great ideas -- working with him allows me to pick and choose from so many different designs. A number of our characters were created from something that he just came up with that I loved so much I felt I had to use them.
As far as story goes, ours is a partnership of equals. Whilce has many great suggestions that I wind up using in our final script. I think we both feel very comfortable telling each other what we feel works...and what doesn't. At the end of the day, we both have a better product in mind, and I think it shows.
Does the story focus on any one person in particular, or will the title feature a wider cast without a specific P.O.V. character?
We follow L.A.P.D. detective Oliver Aimes -- he's searching for a ventriloquist's puppet/serial killer that murdered his partner. He's also driven by personal demons that fuel his anger toward the Non-Humans. His new partner, Detective Eden, is too young and too beautiful in his view to be a detective. She thwarts him at every turn, as she is a major advocate for N.H. civil rights. He's also dogged by Medic -- the first N.H. detective on the force. He's one part Sherlock Holmes and two parts Mr. Spock. We also meet Buddy-The-Bear -- Aimes' confidential informant -- a hip teddy bear drug dealer inÂ PlasticÂ Town -- formally EastÂ Los Angeles. Aimes' son, Todd, is dating Spice an exÂ Victoria's Secret mannequin, against his wishes, who lives in the ghetto with a Goth doll and a little mechanical dog that has built herself into a full-size robot from spare parts. We'll also meet an underworld cadre of N.H. bad guys that have very serious plans for the downfall of humankind. Aimes has a world of crap thrown his way that he'll have to deal with in this dramatic thriller that will challenge him at every turn.
"Non-Humans" sounds as though it has a serious "Blade Runner" feel to it. What inspired the dystopian look of "Non-Humans?"
Whilce and I talked a lot about what we wanted our futureÂ L.A.Â to look like.Â Originally, we had the thought that it would be like Hong Kong moved into and on top of L.A. But as we developed our ideas a bit further, we came to the idea of the humans living in these large, new structures while the Non-Humans were stuck with the remnants of the decaying old city left behind. It created a divide between the cultures that acts as a meeting place between them and also a battleground.
The first Non-Human police officer is a major character in "Non-Humans." Is that a sign this society is finally beginning to accept Non-Humans as here to stay, maybe even as equals?
Medic refers to himself as the Jackie Robinson of the police force. I think that's an apt description for where society is in accepting the Non-Humans. He's the first Non-Human to be allowed to get a detective's shield. We're still in the late nineteen-fifties as far as the Non-Humans are concerned. Their battle for civil rights is just beginning.
Do Non-Humans have to worry about running into exact duplicates of themselves all the time?
Some Non-Humans may look alike, but they are all individual as you or me. It's kind of like twins that turn out very different from one another. Also, many Non-Humans have the ability to change their parts, so while some Non-Humans may begin the same, they actually can grow to be very different.
Why does the disease resulting in the Non-Humans' existence only affect kids?
I'm not a scientist, so I can only give you the layman's version of why the disease only affects teens. I think it has something to do with the changes teens experience during puberty coupled with the disease that allows the kids to create Non-Humans. After teens reach adulthood, they can stop taking the drugs that inhibit them from creating Non-Humans. Once puberty is over, that ability generally disappears. There's still a lot we don't know about this Martian disease as it has only been with us for a generation.
Is "Non-Humans" going to be a series of miniseries, or do you envision it as hopefully developing into an ongoing?
The plan is to see how well the first miniseries does. Whilce and I spent a year developing this property before we even had a single page. There is absolutely no justification for the kind of time we put into this project if it's just going to be a one-story arc. We have plenty of plans to follow this up. There's no doubt that we both want the opportunity to do so.
Did any toys scare the hell out of you personally as a kid?
There was a film called "Magic" with Anthony Hopkins and his ventriloquist puppet that comes to life that came out in the seventies. That character really freaked me out. It's actually the perfect type of character to be one of our story's main villains. None of my actual toys, though; most likely just scary toys I've seen on film over the years.Â Whilce has some weird family dolls where the eyes follow you around the room -- at least that's what he tells me!
"Non-Humans" #1 by Glen Brunswick and Whilce Portacio is on sale October 3.