Barbra Dillon, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief: Congratulations on the upcoming release of your graphic novel, Contraband! For those who may be unfamiliar, what can you tell us about the premise of the book?
TJ Behe: Contraband’s premise can best be described in its tagline: The death of mainstream social is here.
Sick of content censorship, sponsored spam, cancel culture and inciter-banning, everyone who's anyone is now on the dark web. Fringe communities grow in influence. Snuff and sex video content is exchanged openly. And the effects of individuals seeking to elicit sensational clips begins to effect everyday life. But when activists hack Contraband giving 100% control to any influencer with the most followers, it’s becomes complete chaos as everybody starts chasing the money and fame of being number one.
I could also put it this way: imagine activists hacked Facebook, stripped ownership from Mark Zuckerberg and their computer virus gave the app's control to Kim Kardashian, Ronaldo, Justin Bieber or whoever else is the most-followed person - in real time. Then, imagine it all happened off-grid - but the financial and power rewards were just as high. Just how far would people go to reach this digital summit?
BD: How would you describe your shared creative process in bringing this story to life, and what (or who) were some of your creative influences in terms of the characters and tone?
TJB: For years I worked at a mobile telecoms company and was responsible for managing and moderating community-generated videos posted on our premium paid-for platform. I spent 95% of my time moderating the content as we got everything coming in. Up-skirting. Death clips. Animal cruelty. Basically, all the stuff people now report immediately on today’s social channels. And this was without paying out a revenue share.
So I thought what if someone got a hold of this content value chain and paid out 50% to incentivise people to send even more in. This is the idea around Contraband. I think that’s why I wanted to focus more on the business side of such an app in the graphic novel. You get a fairly detailed idea of why such apps can grow exponentially, how people can harness value out of them and where the money is being made.
BD: At Fanbase Press, our #StoriesMatter initiative endeavors to highlight the impact that stories can have on audiences of various mediums. How do you feel that Tucker's story will connect with and impact readers?
TJB: No one knows people will abandon mainstream social for the dark better than Tucker Scott - so his platform gives people what they really want. Rampant cyberbullying. Fake news trolling. Spying, voyeurism and privacy invasion. This is Contraband, this ruthless entrepreneurs’ digital underground. It’s where profit-hungry mobs prowl city streets filming violent events to satisfy society’s demand for sensational content. I think it’s a very timely topic as post-Trump censorship on social media is now driving these groups of people to use underground / off-grid / dark web community apps.
BD: What makes Markosia the perfect home for Contraband?
TJB: Markosia is a world-class graphic novel publisher. I have known the editor Ian for many years - he’s an excellent comics creator himself - and the titles they publish month-on-month are diverse and of exceptional quality. Markosia gives people from all over the world an opportunity to share their unique stories and supports them in getting it out to the right types of readers. Harry is top-rate and a lovely man - and he’s there for everyone at Markosia.
BD: Do you foresee expanding the story into subsequent graphic novels or miniseries, if given the opportunity?
TJB: I’m current working on follow-up issues to the graphic novel. Contraband is a technology thriller that explores the lengths people would to for online fame. And when money and digital power is added to the rewards of being number one, there are interesting plotlines of what individuals will do to reach this pinnacle. Social media has such an influence on us to day - and these follow-up stories will zero in on those people it most takes a hold of.
BD: Are there any other upcoming projects on which you are working that you are able to share with our readers?
TJB: I have two follow-up issues in the pipeline. One centres on an individual being victimised by another’s desire to top the dark web application. The other is based on a strong character's struggle policing powerful individuals using the app. I feel there’s plenty of different directions to go with Contraband.
BD: Lastly, what would you like to tell fans who want to learn more about Contraband?
TJB: A first-chapter preview is available in 14 different languages (Yup, 14!) including French, English, Chinese, and, of course, English: contrabandgraphicnovel.com. You may want to check out a few reviews have come in there from Wired, The FT, GeekNation and 3MillionYears. And pre-orders for Contraband are available on Amazon, ComiXology, or a dozen other online comics / book shops here at my publisher Markosia.