I was recently considering how I might approach the design for my downtrodden fictional setting when I conveniently stumbled on examples of a real one. I was looking at William Gibson’s Twitter when I discovered a link to some recent photography of downtown Detroit taken by Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre.
What really draws me to these images are the conflicting feelings they trigger: the sight of once remarkable architecture and ornamentation decaying is undeniably depressing, but at the same time I feel they take on eerie new beauty in their neglect. Formerly one of America’s most prosperous cities and a capital of car production, following the 1960’s Detroit was hit hard by recession (particularly in the last few decades) and thus these bizarre abandoned spaces occur. Given the borderline post-apocalyptic vibe the photos give off, it isn’t hard to imagine why much of John Carpenter’s Escape from New York was shot there.
It also got me thinking about some of the derelict industrial estates around my home city of Hull though and how they too might provide suitable inspiration – if that is a word appropriate for such bleak scenery – so I charged up my camera and took a walk amongst the factories and warehouses. I won’t even begin to pretend my amateur photos (below) approach the professional standard of Meffre and Marchand’s but it proved to be a considerably more personal and frankly refreshing research direction than I’m accustomed to. These are places I see all the time, but rarely give much thought to effectively filtering them out of my daily life. Taking a closer look, I was genuinely surprised how much of interest there was to be found.
Which brings me to my setting. I’ve said little to nothing on this blog about it, so I’ll elaborate a little to make sense of the rough sketch below.
‘Branch’ – the current title of my comic – is also the name of the station the story takes place within. Set during an unspecified near future this structure orbits the earth, isolated and decaying but also densely populated; a pressure cooker of turmoil, bigotry and corruption with the catalyst of cybernetic technology to stir things up. In line with cyberpunk’s tendency to take elements of the familiar and make them strange the buildings and streets themselves are intended to be fairly conventional, the strangeness arising from the disorientating loop of gravity they curl around.
The concept of a drum shaped station with circular gravity is far from original but I like the idea of crumbling retro buildings being grafted onto the hull like barnacles –parasitic structures using every available inch of space. In a sense, like the cyborgs there’s something vaguely nauseating about the clash of old and new it presents which should hopefully compliment the themes as such.
While it’s currently pretty crude, when it comes to more detailed concepts I’m hoping to draw on my photography research for a suitably worn down industrial look, suggesting somewhere ripe with promise abandoned to decline and long term ruin. It’s all very rough for now, but besides providing a template for more refined work later it at least proves I can draw the damn thing…