Interview: Rob Shields blurs the line between cartoon, comic, and video game with latest project ‘Neon Wasteland’


Advances in technology have made great changes in the medical and science field and in our daily lives in general. It’s also changed the way we consume and enjoy entertainment. Tech like AR and VR are becoming more prevalent in media, especially games. AR is frequently used in games like Pokemon Go and Knightfall AR to provide an immersive, unique experience. Rob Shields aims to do the same by bringing this tech to comics with his latest project Neon Wasteland.

Taking cues from Brave New World, Neon Wasteland takes place in a dystopian cyberpunk future where people no longer have a human form. Instead they are digitally immortal via the Omniverse “a massive orbital computer system spreading throughout the galaxy.” The story follows two rival gangs who question their reality when a group of undead mutant soldiers overruns their camp. On their journey, they unravel the dark truth about their technological world.

Aside from the story and the vibrant artwork, what makes this comic stand out is its companion AR App. Developed by Shields, it helps bring the characters and world to life. Raging fires, gruesome headshots, and glitchy technology is animated right before your eyes. It makes reading the comic a more engaging, interactive experience, something Shields was going for.

Neon Wasteland isn’t meant to be a passive experience like a film or a repetitious experience like a game,” he says. “It’s a story with many hidden layers that don’t reveal themselves to you unless you go looking for them. The entire narrative process is built with AR in mind, so AR will play a fundamental role in the story. I don't want to give away too much, but I can say that you as the reader will become an intricate part of the story.” 

Using his game development background, Shields built the app with video game conventions like dialogue trees and puzzles that unlock goodies. While the app makes the project stand out, it’s not the focus of the comic. In fact, it’s not even required to enjoy the main story. “If you’re not interested in these extra layers, you’ll still get the original comic experience,” Shields assures. “You’ll get a story with a beginning, middle, and end but it will only be one of the stories happening. The comic is 95% comic with a 5% optional video game for those that want to dig deeper and learn more about the characters and the universe.”

Shields says the story is a satire of our society’s relationship with technology and its impact on our world. “Tech in Neon Wasteland is the same as it is in our own world,” he says, “an overwhelming force that will fundamentally change the human race forever.” Considering the characters exist in a massive computer system, it sounds like damning critique on our society’s obsession with technology. But Shields says this isn’t the case. He doesn’t have a pro or anti-tech message. Rather, he wants people to question the role technology plays in their own lives.

The characters in the story are not trying to stop this technology. There is no stopping; there’s only riding the wave of change or being carried away by it. In the face of this reality, the characters are just trying to hold on to what keeps them human.” He also believes people are drawn to technology to build connections with others.

“I think we all just want to connect and feel less alone and technology is helping us to do that,” he says. “It’s also helping us understand each other more clearly than we ever have before.” That being said, Shields is aware of the downsides. “The more the internet expands the more invasive it will get. There is a real danger of alienation or social disconnection built into technology. If we can overcome that, we will be better than we are today even if we do end up living in public.”

Neon Wasteland’s story is so rich and layered, it goes beyond the app and comic. Shields is currently working on a video game component that expands the universe and lets readers get more familiar with the characters. Throughout the story, characters will “jack-in” to the Omniverse. These moments will be represented in the video game letting players experience what the characters are going through. Though the game is meant to be a supplement to the story, the two aren’t dependent on one another.

“I want these two different mediums to work together without relying on each other,” Shields says. “If you just want to read the comic or if you just want to play the game, you’ll still get the experience you’re looking for. If you want to do both, you’ll get certain clues alluding to what’s really happening. For each issue, there’ll be an episode of the game. They’ll be roughly two or three hours long with a total of six episodes/issues planned.”

Shields’ project is just one of the many ways AR and other technology is being integrated in entertainment media. Over the years, AR and VR have become more common in video games and even music. So, is this the future of entertainment? Not really, according to Shields. “This is another option for entertainment,” he says, “but [traditional] film and video games aren’t going anywhere. These experiences fill a very specific niche and people don't want to lose that just because something new is available.”

The first issue of Neon Wasteland was successfully funded back in November. Now, Shields is hard at work finishing the comic and making sure it’s high quality. “As a solo developer there is an urge to just cram everything you ever imagined into one project,” he says. “If you allow too much feature creep the project never gets finished or it has too many loose ends. I want the work to be as strong as possible, so I am always trying to keep my eye on the bigger picture.” 

 Issue 1 of Neon Wasteland is slated for a May 2019 release. To learn more about the project, visit