One question I get a lot of the time is how I came up with the concept of Killtopia and its sprawling cyberpunk world. It’s by far the biggest, most detailed setting I’ve ever crafted for a comic – rich with sub-cultures, societal rules, fake brands and a wide cast of characters.
So, I figured I’d go over the process of how Killtopia popped out of my head and how it developed over time.
It started (as always) with a video game
All of my comics are based – to some degree – on video games that I’ve enjoyed. My first series, the post-apocalyptic saga Bust, was inspired by games like Fallout, along with movies like Mad Max and Fight Club.
With Killtopia, I knew I wanted to tap into my love of brash, punky, Japanese action video games. I really enjoy the works of creators like Shinji Mikami (Resident Evil 4, Vanquish), Hideki Kamiya (Bayonetta, Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance) and Goichi “Suda 51” Suda (No More Heroes, Killer7).
All of these guys embrace larger than life characters, each with crazy personas, ludicrous combat skills and even madder weaponry. They each embrace a more ‘punk’ mentality towards game development, where they just kind of cut loose and riff on things they love, while crafting worlds and characters that simply leap off the screen.
In particular, No More Heroes is important, as the whole game focuses on an Otaku called Travis Touchdown, who kills a local hitman, only to find himself thrust into a fight to rise up the assassin league, killing his way up the ranks for money and fame. That aspect of the game was fundamental to my idea of creating a comic wrapped around a bloodsport, where brash, larger than life characters clash to make their fortune.
But, that idea alone wouldn’t have made for a deep story arc. I needed to ground that concept in something relatable, that everyone reading it would understand and feel some sort of connection to. I thought, “Why are these killers fighting each other? Where are they fighting?”
Most importantly, I asked, “What would make a person want to risk their life so badly that they’d willingly participate in this game of death?”
After some musing, the answer eventually hit me after I saw a news report on television…
Bad for health
If you haven’t heard of the National Health Service (NHS), it’s basically a system in the UK where the state funds healthcare. It means we don’t have to pay for things like broken limbs, check ups, surgery and more.
While I was in the early concept phase of Killtopia, there were all these reports on TV about the UK Government wanting to sell the NHS to America, which would turn it into a system where everyone would have to pay for health care – which is just totally unfeasible and quite terrifying. Like, if I broke my arm tomorrow there’s no way I could pay to get it fixed.
Then it hit me, what if these assassins fighting each other are risking their lives to pay for medical care? if you were truly desperate and – say – had a sibling or parent who was dying of a disease, you might enter into this bloodsport to earn enough money to buy their treatment.
That sick sibling became Omi, and the rookie assassin who fights for her treatment became her brother, Shinji Kamiya. Fun fact about Shinji’s full name, it’s a mash up of Shinji Mikami and Hideki Kamiya, two of the Japanese game directors I mentioned earlier.
So, I had my blood sport and I had my two central characters, but I needed more. I needed a sympathetic hook – which eventually became the Mechs, a species of animal-like machines that live in a district of the city, which are hunted for money, fame and glory. They’re quite a sympathetic plot device, as they are non-violent machines that mind their own business, only attacking people when provoked.
In a bit of a twist, the Mechs graze matter within their district and give off fumes, which contain trillions of microscopic nano machines. These tiny machines are the basis for The Rot, a disease that everyone on the entire planet has. It’s literally trillions of little machines terraforming your insides as fast as they can heal, which would be absolutely painful – a constant state of pain and distress that causes the society of Killtopia to become desperate and willing to participate in the bloodsport.
The Rot – I decided – would be the first big threat of this world and from there, all the other pieces started to click into place. I love the movie Akira, and that story’s final act is all about a cataclysmic, world-ending event that threatens everyone in Neo Tokyo, so there are some parallels to be drawn there.
To flesh things out further, I used a nice little writing method that I’ll tell you about in the next section…
Class, inequality and hype
In the name of telling a rounded story, I wanted to create a character that told the Mech’s side of the tale – so they weren’t just some flat, generic threat. That’s where the character of Crash came into play. He’s a sentient Mech who befriends Shinji in the first book – and they both quickly realise that he might hold the key to curing The Rot forever. Together they set off into the city, triggering a grand chain of events that eventually impact all of humanity.
Using this similar approach, I realised that I already had a character who was poor, desperate and down on his luck – in the form of Shinji. But what happens when a Wrecker is really, really good at killing, then gets all the best sponsors, merchandise deals, movie contracts and near-infinite wealth. That’s where the character of Stiletto came into play.
Stiletto embodies the rich elite, who don’t understand the struggles of common people any more. She’s completely out of touch. Meanwhile, Shinji represents the lower classes, who have to fight every day to get by. Together with Crash, I had a trio of characters who could tell relatable stories about a wide range of topics many of us identify with today – healthcare inequality, class struggles, financial division, oppression, protesting against a system that has failed you, corporate greed, a lack of empathy due to wealth and more.
The writing method I alluded to in the previous section is to simply ask “why?” when you have an idea about 3-5 times.
“Stiletto is the current Wrecker champion.”
“Because she’s the best Wrecker in Killtopia”
“Because she has really good sponsors who help her build the best weapons and tech.”
“Because in this world Killtopia is the biggest entertainment in the world and everyone wants a piece of it, even big corporations who want to use Wreckers as their marketing pawns.”
“Because humanity is sick with the Rot and in constant pain, so they need something like Killtopia to focus on and get hyped about to forget their pain, making the human race more oppressed and susceptible to manipulation. They worship Stiletto like a god, which fuels her egotistical nature.”
You can see how, by questioning the logic of your own world, you can help flesh it out, catch logic gaps and plug plot holes early on. Try it next time you’re working on a script!
The foundations are set
All of the above might sound like a lot, but it’s still just a fraction of the process that went into making the world of Killtopia. I also spent a good year working on the idea and a rough story arc until I started working on art with the series’ original artist Craig Paton.
I’ll post another blog about how the actual story arc was planned after my world’s foundations were finalised – as there’s a lot to say about that. But with my initial dilemma, the trio of stars and the base setting in place, I started thinking about character bios – little one pagers about who each character was, their age, their personality, what they’re trying to achieve and so on. This helps keep their personality, tone of their ‘voice’ and motivations consistent throughout the whole story.
I even went deep into some of the corporations that were funding Wreckers, such as Kaiju Cola and Lucky-7, the VR porn company run by Killtopia #1 villain Saitoh – a smut peddling Yakuza who wants to reprogram Mechs to support his war against the other Yakuza gangs.
All of this emerged over time but it could only happen after the initial foundation was set.
I hope you enjoyed this first little dive into the world of Killtopia. Stay tuned for more updates down the line.
Thanks for reading!