Artist and world-builder Deathburger is a man with a vision. While his vision includes odes to heavy metal music, surrealist art, and manga, it nonetheless inspires boldness in all who witness it. That vision, an artistic world titled The Future Is Now, has created a space for artists and fans alike to engage with Fantasy and the amazing in ways that feel unprecedented. He calls into question the powers we worship (money, class, access, and excess) and instead uplifts the voices of the unassuming. His world’s heroes might be bound up in power cables and tech, but their struggles certainly mirror our own world. Deathburger sat down to answer questions for The Seelie Crow in between weaving tales for The Future Is Now and we’re certainly better for it.
The Seelie Crow: You create such unique pieces that in some ways feel like an homage to the experimental works of Moebius and Philippe Druillet, for example, but your creations are also so unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. How did you develop your style? What did your journey look like?
Deathburger: I grew up reading European comics, not just the Franco-Belgian school, but also Italian, from the Balkans, Spain and South America. Authors like [Milo] Manara, Hugo Pratt, [Francois] Boucq, [Jean Pierrre] Gibrat, [Jacques] Tardi, [Regis] Loisel, [Bernard] Yslaire, Enki Bilal, [Francois] Schuiten,Paolo Eleuteri] Serpieri, Alfonso Font, Carlos Gimenez, Juan Gimenez, Breccia (both father and son, incredible artists) and of course Moebius. I’m sure there are a lot that I am missing. I would also go and buy copies of a magazine called Cimoc (just Comic backwards), which was sort of the Spanish equivalent to Metal Hurlant, to find new authors and things to read. I was born in the early 80s, so when I read these comics and magazines in the 90s they were already “obsolete”; most of them I would buy second hand. The 90s is also when Manga and Anime arrived in Spain and became big. So, adding Katsuhiro Otomo, Masamune Shirow and Hiroaki Samura to the list, you would get a pretty good part of the influences that have raised me artistically. You would have to add books to that. I’ve always loved Fantasy literature like Michael Moorcock and JRR Tolkien, and have defended that influences and inspiration from written material can be as strong, if not more sometimes, than purely visual material. In fact, I think why I’ve always loved comics so much is because they blend visual narrative with text.
The Seelie Crow: Can you describe the world you’ve created with The Future is Now and how the story unfolded for you? What was the inspiration?
Deathburger: The world of The Future is Now is an alternative world, you can find names and similarities with our reality, but it happens in a future that is different and almost at a certain point in history has forked following a different path. The year is 2107, and some of the technology is very advanced (flying cars) while most of it retains a retro quality to it (lots of cables, 80s looking computers). There are different countries and regions, but the central story takes place in Robo-City Prime, a vast Mega-City that is ruled by a supercomputer named The Machine. The Machine rules through a Robo-President and Four Ministers. It’s a very repressive, fascist place, with an unmovable corporate oligarchy and the Ministry of Information serving as a sort of Stasi/Gestapo organization that finds and destroys any form of dissidence. The protagonists, Sai Zhang and her crew, try to find a way to revolt and confront power, or sometimes just try to survive.
It’s a world I’ve developed for quite a long time now. It started with just a bunch of sci-fi / cyberpunk sketches and eventually grew up from there, one step at a time. That’s been my philosophy when developing this, to continue to add on top of it and expand the universe, with the story, with characters, with places, etc. When you look at it now, after about six or seven years there is quite a bit of complexity, extension, and lore to it, but it’s really a combination of small blocks that I’ve developed and put together day after day.
The Seelie Crow: I really love all of the women you have in your art, especially how you portray them as warriors, and rebels, and troublemakers. Are there women in Fantasy and Science Fiction, or other stories, that inspired the women we see in your art?
Deathburger: This is something that also has been a result of an evolution for me. As I’ve become more conscious of the way gender and roles are built in our society, and the inequalities and power dynamics resulting from that. I mean that on an intellectual level as I had read a lot of material while I was studying arts and after that, too, but also my development as a person and my relationship with others, and my understanding of life. Eventually, all that also reflected with what I was doing as an illustrator.
Before I started working on more sci-fi and cyberpunk stuff, I used to do a lot of pin-ups and a lot of female body-centric pieces. It didn’t take long to find all that becoming very sterile in terms of where I could go with that. I wanted to tell stories and I wanted to create characters. And I was drawing these women that had no voice, no personality, no name, their only purpose was to be a channel for composition, aesthetics and at best, symbology. From there it felt only natural to start creating a universe and a world that I could populate with characters and give them a reason to be and allow them to develop, speak, take a hold of the flame, and some become powerful, some become rebels, some become heroes, others become oppressors, or victims of the system.
And when it comes to stories, I think those characters being female becomes important and powerful when they are a result of precisely that, giving them a voice and a space to develop that power – much like in society – rather than, in present days, simply trying to fill a corporate/PR bingo when producing media.
Then, with women representation in media, it’s absolutely legit to denounce a general lack of powerful female characters, and protagonists in media over the 70s, 80s and 90s (and beyond). Still, I feel sometimes a lot of good characters get overlooked. Here are some of my favorite mentions:
The classic Ripley and Sarah Connor. From Robocop, one of my all time favorite movies, Annie Lewis. In the 70s, Barbarella and Stella Star from Starcrash are powerful, sometimes the sexual liberation part is hard to understand for people, and some of the 70s gaze does creep in. Kei in Akira is an awesome female character, especially in the Manga, plus points for all the shit she has to endure from Kaneda being a creep. I would say, like, 70% of Ghibli movies have strong and well developed female protagonists. Female characters in 80s horror movies like Night of the Creeps and The Blob remake start as “empty headed” cheerleaders, but when shit gets real I believe in both movies they end up leading the charge, flamethrower in hand. In Friday the 13th VI: Jason Lives, Megan is an absolute powerhouse of a character. There are a lot of horror movies that had great female characters, that now feel like a metaphor of women trying to survive in that cesspool full of monsters that was the 80s. I feel like I’m missing a couple more good examples that I really like.
The Seelie Crow: What role did music play in developing your world? How do you think music shapes visual art?
Deathburger: Music is very important to me from a creative process perspective. I don’t think the influence it has can be measured, or really described in a specific way, but when I’m working I always have music playing. It helps me concentrate and get in the zone, and sometimes gain a specific mood, or engage with it. That doesn’t mean it translates to the images literally, but I imagine it as walking a road and having a companion with you. There are cases where I’ve been directly influenced by lyrics, which is something I love to go about and quote when I post illustrations too.
You can read the rest of this interview and more in Issue 3, available now in print and digital!