Talking With Mark Russell About His New Dark Sci-Fi Satire AWA Upshot Series ‘Not All Robots’

by Olly MacNamee

In the near future robots have replaced humans in virtually every corner of the workplace. But, is this wholesale automation of society good for us? That’s the question posed in Mark Russell’s newest series, Not All Robots (illustrated by Mike Deodato Jr.), and one he explores in this blend of sci-fi horror and satire. With the first issue out today, I took the opportunity to once more quiz Mark on the new book and his philosophy behind it. 

Olly MacNamee: Hello, Mark. We meet once again. And this time it’s to discuss your new series, Not All Robots from AWA Upshot. A series that put a sharp satirical spin on the worrying real-world trend for the slow erosion of certain jobs to automation. What spurred you on to make this a theme of your first series with AWA Upshot?

Mark Russell: Hi Olly! This was an idea I’ve been kicking around for some time. Using robots as a metaphor for how we, meaning men, hold onto privilege even though it’s been weaponized to make everyone miserable, including ourselves. And talking to Axel, I became sold on AWA as the right place to tell this story. Especially when it came to bringing an artist of Mike Deodato’s caliber onboard to make this world come to life.

OM: In this near-future world you’ve built, robots have become the default workers in every corner of society. To the point that many seem to be suffering from some kind of Stockholm Syndrome where their mechanical servants – and family members –  are concerned. Are we in danger of the very same thing when it comes to our own relationship with technology? 

MR: There are basically two economies. The labor economy, where everyone from sign twirlers to doctors and lawyers use their labor to survive, and the capital economy, where people survive off their ownership of things. And automation is simply the replacement of labor with capital. So once all the jobs, all the economic opportunities for those who trade their labor to survive, are taken over by apps and robotics owned by major corporations and investors, there will basically just be the capital economy. So if, on the day automation and artificial intelligence become realities, we’re still in this Jeff Bezos model of private ownership, we basically all become obsolete. Burdens on the system. 

OM: It may be another dark humoured comic book, but there is certainly an inherent danger too? And one that’s grows through the first issue. The ‘glitch rate’ commented on here by a panel of talking heads on TV is rather… problematic, shall we say. But callously swatted away. A similar question, I suppose, but is this something we are guilty of too in today’s society? 

MR: Definitely. Whether it’s gun violence, domestic violence, or being casually poisoned by the products of our own consumerism, we tend not to treat the real violence being done to us as a crisis, simply because we’ve simply grown use to it. The irony being that we don’t treat it as a major threat precisely because it is a major threat. That’s generally how people in the world of Not All Robots approach the “glitch-rate”, the knowledge that there’s a small chance their house robot will malfunction and kill them. It’s such a ubiquitous and looming danger that people have just sort of accepted it.

OM: Although, by the end of the first issue, you certainly lean towards a darker tone. What can we expect as this series develops?

MR: I’m not going to lie to you. This is a dark tale. But it’s not unremitting bleakness. It’s not like sitting in a closet listening to darkwave albums all afternoon. It’s got some reasons for optimism and hopefully we can all laugh at it in a I-sure-hope-that’s-not-me-in-twenty-years sort of way.

OM: And joining you on art is the amazing Mike Deodato Jr. It must be a fan boys dream come true working with the likes of Mike? Was this a partnership suggested by AWA Upshot? In fact, how did this series come about in the first place?

MR: Axel is the one who’d suggested Mike, who I was mostly familiar with from his superhero work. But Axel showed me some of the non-superhero work he’d been doing for AWA and I was blown away by it. When I started receiving art pages from Mike it quickly became apparent that he was the perfect choice for this project.

OM: There are bigger themes being played out, but the heart of it all is Razorball’s story. An emotionally charged droid with his own problems, it would seem.What can you tell us about this central character?

MR: Razorball’s journey is largely a cautionary tale about the Radicalization Industrial Complex. Razorball, for very good reasons, feels alienated and unloved. He’s frustrated with his job. He knows that it’s just a matter of time before he himself is replaced. And he feels harnessed to a family that merely tolerates him because of the paychecks he brings in. In other words, he’s a prime candidate to be radicalized by others who want to use him as cannon fodder for their own agenda.

OM: Design wise, he – and others – reminded me of Neill Blomkamp’s excellent film, Chappie. Was this film a design influence ? Or was that all down to Deodato Jr.?

MR: I loved Chappie, but we used the droids in Star Wars, particularly IG88 as more of a touchstone for this series. I wanted the robots to be very mechanical, almost crude-looking. Both to contrast them from the human-like mandroids that they are building to replace themselves and also as a sort of visual cue for their general attitude. That they aren’t these refined, empathetic creatures endowed with great emotional intelligence, but machines. Beings that are all edges and hard realities.

OM: Mark, as always, many thanks for your time. And, all the best with the new series. 

Not All Robots #1 is available now from AWA Upshot and this interview doesn’t entice you, maybe my advance review here will.

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