The Craving For Organic Connection: Ray Fawkes Talks ‘Junction True’
Junction True was pitched to me as "Fifty Shades of Grey meets the Matrix." Boy howdy, does that sounds trashy, I thought. Actually, it's not. Take the "bald journo in the dirty cyberfuture" of Transmetropolitan, take out the aggro and the orange, and center the story on his desire to please a woman --- a woman who wants, with elegant refinery, to dominate him --- and that's Junction True. In this technorganic near-future, there's... a process that's available, for those who really want to commit to the dom/sub bond. It's dangerous. It's illegal. It's what they want.
Our lover-boy Dirk has a best friend, with her own opinions, her own research, her own knowledge of health and healthy relationships. She's a vital inclusion, and speaks balance against the obsessional themes. "Maybe it's not the best idea to put living parasites into your body for fashion or low-key sexual thrills?"; "Maybe even people in sado relationships should like each other as companions too?" I mean, she has a point, right?
I spoke to Ray Fawkes, who wrote the script for artist Vince Locke, about some of the decisions that went into his creative process. At the time of my asking I'd read only the first chapter of Junction True, but even from the preview chapter, I liked it a great deal. Gently creeping body horror, women of confidence, the new normality of your classic cyberpunk environs.
I've since had the opportunity to read the whole book and it reminds me of a) Vertigo classics and b) the dark, sweaty, hyper-romantic horror prose of Poppy Z. Brite and Caitlin R. Kiernan that I sank indulgent hours into as a teenager. Stories of lonely friends who habitually dye their hair unnatural colors and resent each others' life choices, people in love with people who hurt them, rotting faces, infected bodies, delicious death. Now with internet capabilities.
ComicsAlliance: Why center an ostensibly cyberpunk story on organics?
Ray Fawkes: I’m not sure this is a cyberpunk story, per se. It is a story about body modification and interface, so I can see where it might seem to be wading into the genre --- but organic connection and are craving for it are what Junction True is all about. Without the organics, there would be no Junction True. Okay, I'll reverse the question: why place your story of organic connection in an aesthetic setting of remote, electronic connection (dissociation, even)?
CA: How real is the science in this book? How near to real are the skin worms that you use to introduce and pretty-up the parasitic theme?
RF: All of the science in this book, with the exception of the Junction True procedure itself, is real or near-real. Which is to say --- most of the parasites either do exist or could easily exist with minor genetic tweaks (genes responsible for phosphorescence has been pinpointed in certain fish, for example, and could be spliced into a simple animal like a worm with little relative difficulty, I’m assured) --- and the idea of a “surgical assist” machine as displayed in the book is within our capabilities, technologically speaking.
Applicable to all this though: it’s likely that much of what exists in the book isn’t in the real world because nobody thinks it’d be a good idea --- or a profitable one --- to make it.
CA: Why did you choose to begin with aesthetic parasites, rather than controlling ones? The domination is still one step away from direct to the nervous system for our protagonist; he's not got a brain worm that makes him do things, he's asking to be required to obey on pain of death. Why not make her control absolutely literal?
RF: The Neumod culture is supposed to have an underground, DIY feel to it --- so even though the people involved are messing with their bodies and the creatures they attach to them, it’s unlikely that anyone would have advanced the science far enough to manage something tricky like a brain-controlling parasite. Then again, I’m sure it’d be somebody’s fantasy, so maybe there are a few drooling idiots somewhere in the background who tried it.
CA: Would you say you're speculating along "realistic" lines? Is that a relevant question, do you think?
RF: Honestly, I don’t think the question is strictly relevant. The story is the story, and what is real in it serves the purpose of the story. I’m concerned with “realism” so long as it applies to a framework of believability within the context of the book, but I’m not too worried about how “real” it is.
CA: You make a point of illegalizing the symbiotic procedure, explicitly removing the idea of full, genuine consent. Why is that?
RF: On the one hand, I’d say that the Junction True procedure would be illegal because it’s almost certainly resulted in deaths in the past --- most likely from botched attempts.
But you raise an interesting question, and it’s one that I think would have legal ramifications. Undertaking the Junction True procedure would eliminate the possibility of withdrawing consent in the future --- once it’s done, one partner becomes entirely physically dependent on the other for the rest of their lives, and can only remove their consent by committing suicide.
CA: Your artist has also worked closely with Caitlin R. Kiernan. What might readers who know her novels find to enjoy here, if they don't know your own work? Is there any thematic overlap, do you think?
RF: Caitlin writes wonderfully dark, emotional fiction. I think readers of her work would enjoy find that Junction True lives at the same end of the spectrum of atmosphere that hers does, so to speak.
CA: Will readers see any full-frontal male nudity? I can't help but notice there have been a number of panels featuring bare breasts; is there much variety in the sexual characteristics your audience sees?
RF: Yes, you will.
CA: Did you have any worries about establishing the character of a woman in such a... well, immoral, apparently self-serving position? I appreciate her lack of apology --- how did you find the confidence to give her confidence?
RF: It never struck me to think of her as a self-serving woman per se, but rather just as a self-serving person. Teralyn is cruel, self-absorbed, and troubled --- but none of that has anything to do with her gender, nor is it meant to be a reflection on her gender. She is what she is, as an individual.
I could quite easily have swapped the genders of the two main characters and not changed the way they behave at all --- though I think depictions of cruel men mistreating weak women are quite plentiful in media already, and play to tired stereotypes that I didn’t want to get into in this work.
CA: Why, in your opinion, is watercolor such a good choice for horror work?
RF: I like the way watercolor blurs and bleeds at the edges, often, and I think it suits a feeling of organic unease perfectly. Readers of my other work (like Intersect) will be familiar with my application of the medium.
CA: It didn't occur to me until long after I read the first chapter, but you've yet to establish any hint as to why your protagonist is willing to undergo surgical submission. Is that coming, or is it just a fact about him that defies explanation?
RF: I think it’s something deep rooted and hard to explain, as are many kinks and obsessions. To get too deep into trying to figure out Dirk would be to stray from the narrative, in my opinion.
Junction True by Ray Fawkes and Vince Locke is published in August by Top Shelf Productions.