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Comic-Con 2009: "Surrogates"—When Second Life Becomes First Life

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Before Atlanta-based writer Robert Venditti had a publisher for his graphic novel, Surrogates, Bruce Willis topped his rather fantastical wish list of actors to play the lead. Seven years later, guess who’s starring the film version. Surrogates—which opens September 25—features a world where people jack into robotic avatars and send the bots out into the world in their stead (trailer here). Not only was this Venditti’s freshman graphic novel, but it’s publisher Top Shelf’s first credit as a film producer. “Bruce Willis is one of the few actors who can do the action sequences and personal moments,” Venditti told me during a break signing his novel at Comic-Con. “A big theme in the book is the relationship the main character has with his wife. He’s a police detective who can do his job without worrying about the hazards of his job. He’ll go home to his wife and she’ll only react with him through her surrogate, because she’s uncomfortable with aging. So it’s a strain on their marriage.” The story (illustrated by Brett Weldele) mines the psychology of wanting to be something than who we are. Venditti got the idea from books on Internet addiction and TV shows like Extreme Makeover and Dr. 90210. But its theme was eerily prophetic. “What would society be like if there was a technology that enabled us to stay in our homes and send these idealized versions of ourselves to the real world?” said Venditti. “Since I wrote the book in 2002, fans have sent me articles about some of this technology starting to take place,” such as long-distance surgery through robotic arms and electrodes that enable individuals to move items by thought. “Some sociology professors told me the used the book in their classrooms.” His next project—The Homeland Directive, a political medical thriller out next summer, also from Top Shelf—examines another technology-oriented theme. “Do we live in a time when personal privacy and national security can coexist?” he said. “But that’s as much as I can tell you right now…” One hopes he's including a role for Willis—wouldn't want to freeze out his big Hollywood connection. —Guest-blogger Susan Karlin

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