The Inspiration for Artifice

A reader wrote me this question via email:

what gave you the inspiration to making this comic?

This was my response:

Howdy Thomas!

I got my initial inspiration while reflecting on the mess hall scene in James Cameron’s Aliens, where the android Bishop says he prefers to be called an “artificial person” instead of a “synthetic”.

I saw Aliens for the first time as a teenager and it’s one of those films that taught me a lot about good action-genre writing, so I have often replayed the scenes in my mind. The film was made in the 80s, a time about twenty years after the civil rights movement took hold in the U.S.. Clearly when Cameron wrote that scene, he was thinking about how marginalized groups in the U.S. and elsewhere were demanding to be treated as equals instead of as objects or lesser beings. And one thing those groups were asking for was for a change in how people referred to them. For example, it was made clear that referring to someone who used a wheelchair as a “handicapped person” was at best, somewhat insulting, and at worst, actually prompted people to think of those who were not as “able-bodied” as less than a full person.  Thus, that person using a wheelchair was now asking to be referred to as a “person with a disability.” Other marginalized groups were making similar requests.

Any change is difficult, even a simple request like this. So there was much dialogue and gnashing of teeth at the time over whether such a request was silly or “overly sensitive”. And when colleges in the U.S. started to teach their students about using these newer terms (and being more sensitive about making fun of marginalized groups), there was a huge backlash against “politically correct” language that was very much in the popular consciousness in later years, especially the early 90s.

And it was around this time that I started fantasizing about a scene that eventually blossomed into the full story of Artifice. You see, as a gay man, I was one of those marginalized groups. Having grown up in an environment where nearly everyone used the word “gay” to mean pretty much anything negative or weird—”That’s so gay!“ was a common expletive spat out from among even my friends in High School—I knew the labels people used did in fact have an impact on my self-esteem. So, like Cameron, I was quite aware of this request for a change in labeling.

But I was also coming out at a time when a more radical idea was being proposed—”reclaiming” pejorative words as a sign of strength. At that time (and even today), there were some black people who were using the “N-word” amongst themselves to refer to one another and, from the outside at least, that seemed to take away some of its hurtful power. Also, during the early years of the AIDS crisis, many young gay men had come to believe that keeping quiet and being “well behaved” was actually costing lives. So there was a desire to come up with a word that was more in-your-face than the happy-go-lucky “gay” (and ideally also more inclusive of lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered folks as well). Thus, it was very fashionable at the time for young people in the sexual minority to start referring to themselves as “queer”, a word that up until that point has only been used as a slur.

So, in reflecting on that scene, where Bishop ever so politely requests to be referred to as an “artificial person”, I started wondering, what the next step would be for android who wanted equal rights and yet wasn’t being taken seriously. Would he also reject the “please-let-me-sit-at-the-table-with-the-majority” term of “person” and instead choose something more radical, more scary and more in-your-face? I bet he would.

Thus the scene with the security guards in the first six pages of Artifice was born in my mind. And from that the little seed the rest of the story grew. 🙂



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