Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Death Mask: Act I: The Idea, part 2

Death Mask was born on June 26, 2010. I can pinpoint this with accuracy because that is the day that I first did a sketch of Graft, the main character of this graphic novel/webcomic adventure and it just so happens that at the time I was doing a “sketch-a-day” thing and so I happened to put the date on that sketch. Super handy now, isn't it?


Now, the sketch isn't all that wonderful, but it was incredibly useful in that I was able to pretty much nail down what Graft's uniform was going to look like. As of this moment I haven't done much more concept art of Graft so his uniform pretty much still looks like this first sketch.


So, the idea. I was already thinking about doing a practice project, as I mentioned in part 1. For reasons unknown to me, I started to think about torture, how it works, and its effects on the mind. Furthermore, I thought about how the psychological effects might be even greater if the torturer had no emotions to read. The victim of the torture would have no sense of humanity to grab onto.

And thus, the concept of the Death Mask. As you can see in the sketch, Graft is wearing a helmet. It is called the Death Mask and has no expression. The idea is that the victim of the torture (more specifically, this is about torture with the specific purpose of getting information, not just torture for its own sake) would not be able to identify their torturer, nor would they be able to tell how their torturer is feeling. It is almost a complete removal of humanity.

The basic concept of the story is this:

In 2086 in Mumbai, India, things are looking pretty grim and crime rates have spiraled out of control. As a result, a new squad was created: the Extractors. They extract information from criminals for the purposes of solving and preventing crime. The Extractors function as independent agents under the leadership of one man, and the techniques they use are at their own discretion. They don't torture, at least most of them don't, but they come near it. The main character is Graft, one such Extractor, who prefers using psychological interrogation, not torture.

This is some dark stuff. Ultimately, I didn't want this comic to be about torture, and in no way is it advocating torture. Indeed, the whole point of this story was to raise questions about morality and torture. What defines torture? Where is that line between interrogation and torture? And the classic: do the ends justify the means?

I remember reading an article a couple of years ago that mentioned a moral quandary that was presented to law students. It was a theoretical situation where a terrorist hid a bomb in the city of New York. The authorities captured the terrorist (or a terrorist from the same cell; I'm a little fuzzy on the details) and now they faced a choice. If the bomb goes off, millions of people would die. But if they tortured the terrorist, they could get the location of the bomb and save all of those people.

The article had some interesting information about which choice most law students made. What I found really interesting was that there was a difference in how the students responded after the 9/11 attacks. Unfortunately, I don't remember which article this is, where I got it, etc. Nor do I remember the exact information on these statistics and I wouldn't want to guess at it. If any of you readers out there find it, please send me a link.

The point of this theoretical exercise was to question the morality and ethics of torture and any justification that might be had for it. This is, if I dare use that t word, one of the themes that I'm exploring in Death Mask: Extraction.

But that's not all that the story is about. I personally believe that a story, especially ones whose themes are so heavy, require balance. First, as may be evidenced by my webcomic recommendations, while I like webcomics with darker story lines, I also appreciate humor. That's not to say that just because I like humor that I'm going to force it into my super dark sci-fi webcomic.

Second, there needs to be emotional payout for all of the dark and tragic (it's actually one of the reasons I don't really like Game of Thrones [the show; I haven't read the books so I'm not really qualified to discuss them], but don't get me started on that...). The light seems so bright because there is darkness and the opposite is true as well.

A story where only bad things happen to EVERYONE would just be exhausting, both to read and to create.

What does all of this mean? It means that there is more to this story! Not to mention the fact that I haven't even gotten into the plot of the story. So these are the things that you can expect next week as I discuss The Idea, part 3.

Image copyright of Vera Abaimova.

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