As the definition of what constitutes great literature–or even literature–changes with the advancement of time, it’s likely that the graphic novel could (and already has been, at least in filmic adaptation ratios) be vindicated in terms of how people perceive it as more than merely a medium for the, let’s be candid, “not getting laid” demographic. From Frank Miller’s Sin City to Guy Ritchie’s Gamekeeper, the richness not just in the graphics of the novels themselves, but the content and motifs have, in more recent decades, served to challenge the established concept of this medium as merely being for quick absorption. Even Margaret Atwood has embraced the potential future of literature (as mentioned below).
Richard Dent, who started out as a poet then transitioned to screenwriting and has now mastered the graphic novel writing form, presents us with a work that exhibits this ever-increasing shift toward meaningful and artful styles of this once written off in the literary world expression. Myopia is the tale of James Chase’s quest to prevent the employment of a device created by the Central Lens Network for use by the government to conceal specific facts from the general public. Already with the hero and his quest formula in place, there is a touch of the epic. And if the dystopian government element sounds familiar, Dent is aware. His take on the future culls from hints of some of the best, including Minority Report. And with the world becoming a place that seems ever-darker, Myopia offers two important gifts to its readers: hope–a sense of being able to fight for the moral and ethical–and relatability. Below The Opiate covers the “dark and light” technological themes that the first issue of Myopia conveys.
The Opiate: This project initially began as a screenplay that met with success on the competition circuit. Do you think you’ll re-convert it again for the screen?
Richard Dent: Currently the film rights to the project are represented by Dana Spector at the Paradigm Talent Agency (via my literary agent Paul Lucas at Janklow and Nesbit Associates). Dana and I have discussed the idea of me jumping onboard as the screenwriter, but it really depends on a number of factors that have to do with who is interested in buying the rights and what they want to do with them.
The Opiate: Were you surprised, considering the cinematic nature of this graphic novel, how many fiction writers became involved to show their support via Kickstarter? Granted, many of them (Atwood, Bender, Gaiman) have vast backgrounds in the realm of the surreal.
Richard Dent: Not really. Margaret Atwood just came out with the graphic novel/comic series Angel Catbird from Darkhorse. Before that she worked with Charles Pachter on the Illustrated Journals of Susan Moodie. Dean Koontz, George R.R. Martin, Jim Butcher do comic work with Dynamite. Neil Gaiman does, too, and of course he wrote The Sandman, one of the best comic book series I’ve ever read. Aimee Bender is a big fan of graphic novels.
The Opiate: Ledge Carver looks vaguely like Daniel Sujata from that Sex and the City episode, “Anchors Away.” I guess that’s kind of a nonsequitur, but it leads to me asking, did your illustrator, Patrick Berkenkotter, have any specific aesthetic in mind during his character creation process? Or any style the two of you had laid out together before beginning the project?
Richard Dent: I had to look that one up! No but we did go back and forth about people in the public eye who my characters might look like. At the end of the day there was no specific celebrity used. This is just part of the artistic process. I can describe my characters to death, but at the end of the day the artist needs a model as a springboard to create something new.
The Opiate: Were any dystopian novels influencing you during the making of this comic–George Orwell and Philip K. Dick being the most obvious examples? And were there influences even film-wise, such as Ghost in the Shell or Spike Jonze’s Her, which addresses this concept of treating our “operating systems” like real people and the potential emotional dangers of that?
Richard Dent: I’m sure that on some level all the dystopian classics inform my work, but I wasn’t thinking about them consciously while I wrote.
The Opiate: Myopia has elements of Her and Ghost in the Shell but unlike Her there isn’t really this awe or respect for technology; it’s still treated as a tool. As far as Ghost in a Shell, Myopia isn’t a planned-out thriller. Our protagonists aren’t professional renegades or even that organized. In fact, everything that their dealing with is thrown at them. Even James, who has some inside information, is learning new things about what he’s supposed to be doing and what’s really going on. In this sense, cinematically speaking, Myopia reminds me of Minority Report, Blade Runner or The Matrix–where the protagonists know more than most but overall are part of a society that is out of control and has come to normalize the unthinkable.
The Opiate: The Central Lens Network is a form of technology that acts as a benign source for “making things easier”–in the same vein as smartphones and social media–but ultimately gets mined by the government as part of its Department of Defense. Do you feel this level of “doomedness” is in the cards for the likes of Facebook, Snapchat (both long held by conspiracy 101 theorists to be in league with the CIA), etc. with our own government?
Richard Dent: I recently watched the documentary North Korea: The Great Illusion directed by Michael Sztanke and Julien Alric which explores the propaganda machine the government of North Korea uses on its citizens to project an image of a powerful nation, and couldn’t help notice similarities between that government and Trump’s administration, especially in how they both want to be viewed in a certain way and are using the governments resources to favor their own interests. And then there is the recent decision by Trump’s FCC to get rid of net neutrality… so yes, under the right set of circumstances, a global war, a major economic shift, I could see it happening.
The Opiate: Bill Glen is a proverbial “mad scientist.” His insistence that “one big power failure and boom: we’re back to flint rocks and sundials” all make him something of a twenty-first century Timothy McVeigh. Do you think that’s what most people in the future who still cling to the tangibility of the past will be perceived as? In short, will analog lovers be the new commie lefties of the future?
Richard Dent: One of the reasons I changed the style of illustration used for the Kickstarter to steampunk is that there will always be a nostalgic element in society. We will never reach that sleek, boxy future, at least not completely. Everything goes in cycles. What’s trendy happened twenty years ago. I think this allows Bill to be looked at as quirky instead of a threat, and yet the written word, books, have always had the power to create fear in those who want to control how information is regulated.
The Opiate: The conclusion of the first issue leads us to believe that the second will focus on the fate of an entirely different character. How much of the next few issues do you already have planned out in terms of the trajectory of this saga?
Richard Dent: I have total of four issues mapped out with issue two in production.
The Opiate: Your original writing medium of choice was poetry. Do you think you’ve gone the way of Ben Lerner and would prefer to write essays about people’s hatred of it rather than continue to pursue your first love?
Richard Dent: Haha. If poets didn’t complain about poetry they wouldn’t know what to talk about. I still write poetry but I don’t focus on it as my main outlet of creativity. Some of my favorite writers are Brenda Hillman, Mark Doty, Tony Hoagland, Steve Orlene, Jane Miller… I’m obsessed with chapbooks, especially the ones from Diagram Press. Sham City by Evan Harrison is a visually stunning chapbook I use to help teach comics (Omnidawn).
The Opiate: Considering the themes of Myopia and your role as a college teacher in L.A. (still not a city with a stereotype that connotes an intellectual population), do you feel especially conscious about the minds you hopefully help to mold? Or are you more the laissez-faire type when it comes to letting your students, who come from a generation that has never known a life without technology at this all-pervasive level, find their own way?
Richard Dent: I have my agenda but it really depends where and what I’m teaching. When teaching screenwriting in the National University MFA program (which is a 100 percent online) my students are older and from over the world. Many of them are already published novelist and are looking to write their first screenplay. They are so motivated that I don’t really have to worry about how I’m influencing them. All the work is online for them to complete and they always walk away from the class feeling grateful. I love it. As far as my younger “onsite” students in LA, I’m strict in the sense that I demand them to take what we’re doing seriously. I like to connect their actions in class to the outside markets considering most college students are terrified with what they’re going to do once they graduate. The idea that technology has made them a different kind of student is something I take advantage of. I set my classes up online and it makes them more accountable. As far as social media, we all experience what they’re experiencing now. It opens up a lot of interesting discussions.
The Opiate: What, in your opinion, is the best thing to come out of technology? You can say anything from the cotton gin to Pac-Man. And what’s the worst?
Richard Dent: Taking off what I just said I think the Internet is doing wonders for higher education. Aspiring writers living in small villages can now learn to write screenplays from writers working in Hollywood. The Internet also allows comic book publishers to tap talent from all over the globe. So, it’s great for creating new opportunities. That being said it can’t replace the kind of bonding that happens when people live and work side by side. It’s the little things that add up, the smells, body language, the way someone behaves when they forget you’re looking at them. Social media is staged. You’re never getting what’s presented to you. This light and dark side can be applied to almost every aspect of technology. New medicines have side effects, breakthroughs in science are adapted to the war machine. Even the cotton gin led to the growth of slavery. There’s nothing wrong with Pac-Man though. He keeps the ghost population under control.