William Gibson's Neuromancer vs Blade Runner

leading from

a) Encountering Metal Hurlant
William Gibson has a completely impoverished life with comics as a form, he had completely missed Marvel comics revolution, but caught onto the underground comics, such as the Robert Crumb era of Zap, and he eagerly absorbed this genre, hut when he was finally getting around to think about having a shot at writing science fiction, he had lost track of the underground comics. He was in his late twenties to early thirties when he was vaguely aware of Metal Hurlant and the French comic book artists, and then the comic book Heavy Metal came out which was the American version English language version of the publication. When Heavy Metal turned up in the corner store, he would glance through it but seldom bought it, he would thinking about it because frequently the artwork he saw there, particularly the work of the French comic book artists seemed more like the contents of his own head when he tried to write, than anything that he was seeing on the covers of the SF paperbacks and magazines.

b) Seeing Blade Runner
William Gibson was writing Neuromancer and he had this vision of a futuristic city in mind and he was afraid to watch Blade Runner in theater because he was afraid that the movie would be better than he was able to imagine. In a way he had the right to be afraid because even in the first few minutes, it looked better. He thought  that his unfinished first novel was sunk and done for and everyone would assume that he took his visual texture from this astonishingly fine looking film. The simplest and most radical thing that Ridley Scott did in Blade Runner was to put urban archaeology in every frame. It hadn't been obvious to mainstream American science fiction that cities are like compost heaps, just layers and layers of stuff. In cities, the past and the present and the future can all be totally adjacent. In Europe, that's just life - it's not science fiction, it's not fantasy. But in American science fiction, the city in the future was always brand-new, every square inch of it.


Panels from The Long Tomorrow from Metal Hurlant and Heavy Metal that
inspired Ridley Scott Blade Runner city and William Gibson's The Sprawl


c) Benefitting from the flop
Then when Gibson found out that it was a box office flop, he thought "Uh-oh". It seemed as if Ridley had got it right and no one at the time cared. Neuromancer would succeed, and Gibson felt that because Blade Runner had bombed because the audience didn't seem to get it, relatively few people saw it and so it vanished, leaving almost no ripples, and the other things was that films didn't immediately come out on DVD in those days.

d) Arriving in Memetown
Where it went though, was straight through what Gibson saw as the collective membrane to Memetown, where silently it went nova, irradiating everything from clothing design to nightclub design and serious architecture. He was studying the astonishingly broad aesthetic impact on the world. What other movie he would ask has left actual office buildings in its stylistic wake? Some of this was already starting to happen in the gap between his submission of the manuscript and the novel's eventual publication. He also noted with interest, for instance, the fact that there was a London club called Replicants.

The Ivy in Covent Garden

e) Meeting with Ridley at the Ivy
Neuromancer was influenced in a large part by some of the artwork that he saw in Heavy Metal, he assumed it was also true for Ridley Scott's "Blade Runner" as well as John Carpenter's "Escape from New York"," and indeed all other artefacts of the style would sometime be dubbed as 'cyberpunk'.  Maybe a decade or more after Blade Runner was released,  he met up for lunch with Ridley Scott at The Ivy and when the conversation turned to inspiration, they discussed mutual influences, and Gibson told Ridley what Neuromancer was made of, and Ridley had basically the same list of ingredients for Blade Runner. One of the most powerful ingredients was French adult comic books and their particular brand of Orientalia, and indeed that meant that they clearly had debts to the Metal Hurlant school of the 70s, with Moebius and the others.

f) See also Ridley introduced to Metal Hurlant


  1. Paris Review: There’s a famous story about your being unable to sit through Blade Runner while writing Neuromancer.

    GIBSON: I was afraid to watch Blade Runner in the theater because I was afraid the movie would be better than what I myself had been able to imagine. In a way, I was right to be afraid, because even the first few minutes were better. Later, I noticed that it was a total box-office flop, in first theatrical release. That worried me, too. I thought, Uh-oh. He got it right and ­nobody cares! Over a few years, though, I started to see that in some weird way it was the most influential film of my lifetime, up to that point. It affected the way people dressed, it affected the way people decorated nightclubs. Architects started building office buildings that you could tell they had seen in Blade Runner. It had had an astonishingly broad aesthetic impact on the world.
    I met Ridley Scott years later, maybe a decade or more after Blade Runner was released. I told him what Neuromancer was made of, and he had basically the same list of ingredients for Blade Runner. One of the most powerful ingredients was French adult comic books and their particular brand of Orientalia—the sort of thing that Heavy Metal magazine began translating in the United States.

    But the simplest and most radical thing that Ridley Scott did in Blade Runner was to put urban archaeology in every frame. It hadn’t been obvious to mainstream American science fiction that cities are like compost heaps—just layers and layers of stuff. In cities, the past and the present and the future can all be totally adjacent. In Europe, that’s just life—it’s not science fiction, it’s not fantasy. But in American science fiction, the city in the future was always brand-new, every square inch of it.


    INTERVIEWER: Cities seem very important to you.
    GIBSON: Cities look to me to be our most characteristic technology. We didn’t really get interesting as a species until we became able to do cities—that’s when it all got really diverse, because you can’t do cities without a substrate of other technologies. There’s a mathematics to it—a city can’t get over a certain size unless you can grow, gather, and store a certain amount of food in the vicinity. Then you can’t get any bigger unless you understand how to do sewage. If you don’t have efficient sewage technology the city gets to a certain size and everybody gets cholera.(http://www.theparisreview.org)  
  2. ANY POST TO THE DISCUSSIONS ATTRIBUTED TO ME, EVER, IS FAKE

    I won’t be posting to the discussions. Neither will I post there under any assumed persona(e).

    OH WELL, WHILE I’M HERE: BLADERUNNER

    BLADERUNNER came out while I was still writing Neuromancer. I was about a third of the way into the manuscript. When I saw (the first twenty minutes of) BLADERUNNER, I figured my unfinished first novel was sunk, done for. Everyone would assume I’d copped my visual texture from this astonishingly fine-looking film. But that didn’t happen. Mainly I think because BLADERUNNER seriously bombed in theatrical release, and films didn’t pop right back out on DVD in those days. The general audience didn’t seem to get it, relatively few people saw it, and it simply vanished, leaving nary a ripple. Where it went, though, was straight through the collective membrane to Memetown, where it silently went nova, irradiating everything from clothing-design to serious architecture. What other movie has left actual office-buildings in its stylistic wake? Some of this was already starting to happen in the gap between my submission of the manuscript and the novel’s eventual publication; I noted with interest, for instance, the fact of a London club called Replicants.

    Years later I had lunch with Ridley Scott at The Ivy and we discussed mutual influences. French comics, bigtime! METAL HURLANT.
    (http://www.williamgibsonbooks.com/archive/2003_01_17_archive.asp)
  3. William Gibson: By the time I was finally getting around to thinking about having a shot at writing science fiction, I'd even lost track of the undergrounders. This was later in my late twenties, early thirties, I think I was vaguely aware of Metal Hurlant and those French guys, and then Heavy Metal began. When Heavy Metal turned up in the corner store, I'd glance through it but seldom bought it. I did think about Heavy Metal though, because frequently the artwork I saw there, particularly the stuff by those French guys, looked far more like the contents of my own head, when I tried to write, than anything I was seeing on the covers of SF paperbacks or magazines.  (Introduction for the Neuromancer graphic novel.)
  4. William Gibson: So it's entirely fair to say, and I've said it before, that the way Neuromancer-the-novel "looks" was influenced in large part by some of the artwork I saw in 'Heavy Metal'. I assume that this must also be true of John Carpenter's 'Escape from New York', Ridley Scott's 'Blade Runner'", and all other artefacts of the style sometimes dubbed 'cyberpunk'. Those French guys, they got their end in early. (Introduction for the Neuromancer graphic novel.)
  5.  William Gibson:...Years later, I was having lunch with Ridley, and when the conversation turned to inspiration, we were both very clear about our debt to the Metal Hurlant [the original Heavy Metal magazine] school of the '70s--Moebius and the others...(Details Magazine (Oct.1992) )
  6. William Gibson: It was inspired by me flipping through the English-language edition of Heavy Metal at the corner store, and usually not buying it. But it was the look of it. I had kind of, some people would say a really impoverished life with comics as a form. I was really into them when I was a kid, as all kids were then. And I was really into them in my early teens, but that was interrupted by various changes in my life in my early teens, and because of that, I completely missed the Marvel revolution. I just never had that as part of my life. So I didn’t come back to college until the R. Crumb era of Zap, and underground comics, and I eagerly absorbed a bunch of those. After that, it’s never really been part of my media diet, in the way that I’m sure they would be now, if I had been born 10 or 20 years later. (http://www.wired.com/2012/09/interview-with-william-gibson/)

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