New Side of 'Blade Runner' Universe Explored in 'Off-World'

Blade Runner 2019 Off-World
Andres Guinaldo/Titan Comics
The second collection of Titan Comics' 'Blade Runner 2019,' heads to the colonies.

The line between human and replicant blurs even more in the latest installment of the Blade Runner franchise, as Titan Comics’ Blade Runner 2019 series releases its second collection, Off-World — which takes the series even further than it’s ever gone before.

The series, which won the 2020 Scribe Award for best graphic novel, is an official sequel to Ridley Scott’s 1982 classic movie, and is co-written by Michael Green, who co-wrote 2017’s Blade Runner 2049 with Hampton Fancher. Mike Johnson, Green’s longtime collaborator, co-writes 2019, with Andres Guinaldo illustrating.

Off-World continues the story started in Blade Runner: Los Angeles, picking up five years later as Ash’s mission goes far beyond the missing child case she originally believed she was signing up for, and the action moves to the Off-World colonies — a location often referenced in Blade Runner movies, but never actually seen… until now.

The Hollywood Reporter talked to Johnson and Guinaldo, and also exclusively shares material from the new collection, available digitally and in stores now.

Off-World is, not to put too fine a point on it, a big deal in Blade Runner terms; not only is it set in a period between the two movies (and one uncovered by the shorts that accompanied 2049), but it’s set on the off-world colonies — the first time they’ve ever appeared in any Blade Runner story. What was the process like in coming up with something that pays off literally decades of mentions for the franchise?

Mike Johnson: The key was to not give the whole game away. We wanted to preserve some of the mystery that makes “off-world” sound so tantalizing. There should always be something out there we haven’t seen yet and never will. Our approach was to show just one part of life off-world, specifically a mining operation and a Casablanca-ish space station. We mention a place called Arcadia, which is very much the kind of utopian colony we see advertised on Earth, but we never see it. Arcadia is the promise of an ideal life, free of the dystopian hardships our characters face.

Andres Guinaldo: One of the things that I love about the original movie is that it showed a world filled with suggestions, of details that are just shown, with no need for explanations. You didn’t have all the answers, but it raised a lot of questions. That created a very rich universe with a unique personality. It helped create an atmosphere, a mood. That’s one of the many reasons we keep talking about it 40 years later, and why it’s influenced so many other films.

Mike and Michael found an amazing way based on the fact that Blade Runner offers a lot of paths, all of them very seducing. Our work is to get it to safe port, while being cohesive with that future world and with all the quality we can offer.

Andres, I’m very curious about the work on the visual side of this new setting, specifically. You’re taking elements from the Blade Runner movies, obviously, but there are sequences that feel as if they’re influenced by some of the European sci-fi comics that inspired the movies, as well — and you’re also playing with scale in a way that’s genuinely impressive from the very start. How did you approach the new status quo, and the visual opportunities afforded to you by them?

Guinaldo: As I kid, I read mostly European comics. I loved Moebius or Juan Gimenez. When I was starting, my style was really influenced by that kind of creators, so it just makes sense that you can see some of their influence on my work. I guess it’s something you interiorize.

But in fact, it’s the movie that’s inspired me the most. I looked for references on each frame, and also in the fantastic work Syd Mead created for it. I know that director Ridley Scott also loved Moebius work and that also influenced the look of the movie a lot. So those paths have conflated in my work in a very natural way. I see a lot of European Bande-Desinee in Blade Runner.

Similarly, what was the design process for the characters here? Not only the new characters in the colonies, but returning faces (he asks, intentionally vaguely). 

Guinaldo: Well, in my case I’ve tried to make Mike and Michael’s ideas “real” on my designs. It’s always a trial and error process until you nail something that makes us all happy and that it “fits” the universe. The most arduous process was to get Ash, our main character, right.

In most of the comics I had worked on prior to this one, for companies like Marvel or DC the characters have been defined by hundreds, thousands of pages of comics. You just need to follow a certain set of parameters. But in a book that starts from scratch like this one in terms of our lead character, the creation of the characters is very, intrinsically related with the synergy with the writers. As soon as you get to that point of synergy, everything flows easier and much faster. It’s also a pleasure to be able to give something personal, yours, to the construction of a work of art.

Mike, I think 2019 approaches Replicants in a way that’s both in keeping with what’s gone before, and also more sympathetic and more willing to give them an internal life, for want of a better way to put it, at least compared with the original movie. What’s your thinking, when it comes to Replicants as they’re approached in Blade Runner 2019?

Johnson: To me the first Blade Runner film is as much Roy Batty’s story as it is Rick Deckard’s. Roy is the one grappling with an existential (literally) crisis. The comics give us a broader canvas to introduce new Replicant characters and explore those themes of identity and humanity that the first film introduced. It was also important to show that not all Replicants think the same way. Some simply want to escape from a life of servitude. Others are looking for payback.

This collected edition is also an unofficial relaunch for the series; it obviously continues where the story had left off — albeit with a time jump — but the main players are all in very different places, and the purpose of the story has shifted, too. What was the thinking of breaking away from what came before so dramatically — and what do you think it says about Blade Runner 2019 as a series, and Blade Runner as a larger property, that you were able to do so?

Johnson: Simply from a storytelling perspective, we want to keep readers surprised, both by what has happened to the characters and by showing them new aspects of Blade Runner’s future. The time jump accomplishes both, while also getting us excited as writers. We didn’t want the book to become simply a repetitive series of cases that Ash has to solve in the same rainy neon-streaked setting of 2019 Los Angeles. We’ll certainly see those rainy neon-streaked streets again, but they’ll have changed in interesting ways beyond what we’ve already seen.

Pivoting from that, I think Off-World demonstrates the versatility of the series, and of these particular characters — as well as the ambition of this particular story. Can you offer hints about where this story goes next, following this volume? Again, everything feels primed for a significant leap into the unknown. 

Guinaldo: I am going to try and show this world with the respect the movie and the hundreds of thousands of fans who adore it — myself being one of them — deserve. I’ve put all my effort, all my waking hours into this project, and I plan to do that, and more. I’m pretty sure all the team, writers, editor David Leach, Titan, Alcon, myself… we all come from a place of respect and admiration, and we just want to show you all how much we care, and make you find and feel the unexpected while always staying true to the original.

Johnson: We hope the third arc of the book, issues 9 through 12, are as much of a departure and surprise as this off-world arc. Even though we’ll be returning to Earth, neither Earth nor Ash is the same as when she left. She began the series as someone who viewed Replicants as products to be stripped for parts. Now she’s hunting a human, to ensure the safety of that human’s child and his Replicant wife. Where Ash goes from here is still a question. Let’s see where she is in 2029…