Talking Social Media, Artificial Intelligence & Collaboration With Friendo’s Alex Paknadel And Martin Simmonds

by Olly MacNamee

This week sees the publication of Alex Paknadel and Martin Simmonds’s sci-fi thriller, Friendo #2 from Vault Comics. The story of one lonely, self-deluded failed actor and his relationship with his faulty A.I. Think Google Glasses with an evil A.I. genie and you’re partly there. Using my own high tech gadgetry, I tracked down Alex and Martin to quiz them over their new series, our growing reliance on social media and collaborating with others.

Olly MacNamee: Alex, how would you best describe your new sci-fi series, Friendo to the cause reader?

Alex Paknadel: Friendo is a messed-up buddy movie where the “buddy” is an augmented reality marketing A.I. This dirtbag failed actor called Leo is given a pair of sci-fi augmented reality glasses that layer information over everything he sees, but in order to monetise them the manufacturer’s preloaded this marketing system that renders a kind of algorithmically-generated best friend called Jerry into his field of vision. Jerry and Leo become fast friends and it call kinds of spirals out of control from there.

OM: It’s certainly a very contemporary problem you’re dealing with isn’t it? Where did you get the inspiration from for this particular story?

AP: To be honest, I had the idea way back when Google Glass was still going to be a thing. I’m still convinced that tech will re-emerge in some form, but for now it’s dormant. Anyway, I kept wondering how they were going to monetize the things and it occurred to me that instead of having all these push notifications swim into your eyeline, what if you just had a companion; someone who knew your entire online history and therefore pretty much everything about you?

Olly MacNamee: Martin, how have you adapted your style to this particular comic. I mean, it’s very different from Punks Not Dead, isn’t it?

Martin Simmonds: Yes, it is very different, but there’s a lot to be said for changing things up from project to project, and Friendo really lends itself to a simpler, cleaner look. As an artist, it’s always good to challenge yourself, and I really wanted to take a stripped back approach with the linework. For one thing, I wanted to see how I could strip things back without compromising the storytelling, but also it seemed like a good opportunity to give Dee a load of room to have fun with the colours. The thing is, if I coloured this myself, I’m sure I’d end up leaning back into my usual way of working, and it wouldn’t have the look it ended up having. Dee’s a phenomenal colourist, and it’s those sickly cocktail colours in Friendo that make the book so visually distinct.

OM: Congrats on the renewal of Punks Not Dead by the way. You must be well chuffed.

MS: Thanks! Yeah, it’s great to be able to continue Sid and Fergie’s story. There’s a lot more story to tell, so hopefully we’ll be able to continue on for a few more arcs.

OM: We’re all in some ways addicted to apps, social media and the internet. What’s your own drug of choice on that front?

AP: Honestly? Twitter. It’s that morbid dopamine hit from calling out a crappy politician or muting a troll. Thing is, it’s illusory. We’re just captive consumers, all of us. We’re being driven mad by this technology for the profit and enjoyment of others. I have to use these platforms to promote my work – and I’m certainly trying to draw more rigid boundaries – but if I could unplug tomorrow then I would. I love interacting with fans, but I’d vastly prefer to do in person or in long form correspondence where I can choose my words carefully and so can they.

OM: Now, you’ve mentioned that part of Leo Joof’s problems stem from his own ‘toxic masculinity’. In issue 2 he certainly seem to be on a spiralling path towards self destruction. But, his problems go back further to his childhood and his ‘daddy’ issues?

AP: Absolutely, but never forget that his daddy issues are the excuse he’s given himself to behave like an asshole. Don’t we all concoct primordial scenes for ourselves to some extent? Don’t we all rationalize some of our bad behavior by positioning ourselves as the *real* victims? Thing is, everything kind of falls apart if everyone does that. Aren’t we seeing the consequences of the assertion of straight white male victimhood play out in the most catastrophic, potentially civilization-ending manner right now? We’ve been told we’re perfect as we are our whole lives, but reality is now very forcefully telling us otherwise. If we take the path of grievance and victimhood like Leo, then we’ll fail to listen. If we fail to listen, then things will get very ugly very quickly… for everybody.

OM: And how does the collaborative process work between you and Alex in Friendo? What’s your input on the whole mise-en-scene of the book? 

MS: Alex and I both had very similar ideas for how this book should look, so visually it’s been pretty smooth going. Really, we’ve built up Friendo’s horrible, plastic world between us without ever having to discuss aesthetics in too much detail.

OM: I’m also interested in asking you about White Noise, a writing studio you share with Ram V, Dan Watters and Ryan O’Sullivan. I’ve heard of artist studios, but not many writers’ studios. What are the benefits of this fellowship and camaraderie?

AP: First and foremost it’s about quality control, I’d say. We share our creator-owned work and kind of edit it in-house, which is such an incredible resource to have. Secondly, it’s about pooling resources so we can always fund marketing efforts and pitches, even in leaner times. Thirdly, it’s about boosting each other wherever we go. There’s a friendly rivalry between all four of us, but ultimately we all want to get where we’re going together. Thus far it seems to be working.

OM: Finally then, Alex, with issue 2 coming out soon, what can people expect as Leo relies more and more on the friendship of an artificially created corporate driven stooge – er, sorry, I mean, friend?

AP: Well, in issue 2 you’re going to see Leo and Jerry’s relationship deepen in all the wrong ways. Leo was abandoned by his flesh and blood friends when he was mugged, so now he’s investing all of his emotional energy in Jerry, who only exists to make him buy stuff. What happens when Leo runs out of money, and what lengths will he go to in order to keep seeing his new ride or die bestie?

Friendo #2 is out this week from Vault Comics. You can read our advanced review here.

And, read our review of issue #1 here.

Olly MacNamee

A unashamed DC Comics fan and sometime teacher for over 20 years! I got lucky and found the escape hatch. Now, I just read and write about comics all day long. Co-host of the ICE-Cast podcast and one third of the brains behind Birmingham's street art and graffiti festival High Vis Fest.

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