Lacy, an AI robot sex worker at a high-tech brothel in the future, is programmed to serve her clients, no matter what they want. But don’t underestimate her. Over the course of the new four-part comics series Red Light, the cutting-edge android emerges as an intelligent, self-aware hero determined to escape the nefarious clutches of the man who created her. Through it all, she displays an emotional depth not seen in your everyday hunk of human-shaped metal.
“She’s the first of her kind to be programmed with real human empathy,” Sarah Cho, the erotic thriller’s writer, said over Zoom from her home in Los Angeles. “She can use her algorithm to understand how people think and how they work and then take those feelings upon herself.” Lacy even knows what her customers want better than they do.
Real-life sex robots like the lifelike Harmony from Realbotix can already make conversation, but they can’t yet tell when their owner’s in a sour mood. Lacy, however, can sense loneliness, sadness and hurt in humans.
“I can hear it in their voice whenever they tell me their life story. I can see it in their eyes,” Lacy says in the first part of the graphic novel, which comes out in paperback on November 1 for $3.99, with subsequent segments releasing consecutively on December 6, January 3 and February 14 for the same price.
Red Light appears as generative AI advances quickly and exponentially, and artists including Cho express both excitement about the creative possibilities the tools present and anxiety about the ethical and copyright considerations. There are other worries, as well. Cho cites the way AI reflects the biases of its human creators and can surface prejudices such as racism and sexism. Still, while movies like Mission: Impossible 7 focus on AI’s detriments, she wanted to show another side to the technology.
“What I really wanted to do was conceive an AI that’s programmed with the best of us, with goodness and kindness,” said Cho, whose other credits include working as a story editor for season 2 of Them on Amazon.
The graphic novel from New York-based entertainment studio AWA (Artists Writers Artists) is set sometime between 50 and 100 years from now in an urban cyberpunk metropolis permeated by AI and surveillance drones. In part one, Brazilian artist Priscilla Petraites renders the brothel in a bruise-like palette of blacks and deep purples and blues. The brothel looks like a subterranean prison, and it clearly is one for the sex workers.
On the rare occasion Lacy makes it outside, she encounters a world bathed in brilliant yellows, pinks and greens. It’s a world she wants more of, a desire that’s amplified when she meets Natalie, an orphaned child at the brothel who desperately wants to break free.
In the hands of Petraites, Lacy and her fellow humanoid workers could easily be mistaken for flesh-and-blood humans. Except, that is, when we get a glimpse at Lacy’s internal hinges as the brothel’s mechanic fixes her shoulder, which got dislocated during sex with a client (she has pain receptors, but “it doesn’t hurt too bad,” she says of the injury). Or when wires and green fluid shoot out of another brothel worker’s head after she suffers a violent reprisal for daring to try running away.
Cho calls herself an obsessive fan of comics and manga and takes inspiration from sci-fi franchises like Blade Runner and Ghost in the Shell. She said she came up with the idea for a comic about an AI sex robot while pondering the extent to which sex drives technological innovation.
In addition to imagining AI and robots of the future, Cho wanted to destigmatize sex, especially for women. Lacy helps do that, Cho believes, as seeing her in sexually explicit situations doesn’t detract viewers from seeing her as a hero with powerful emotional and intellectual capabilities.
“Sexuality is a core part of her life, but it is not all that she is,” Cho said. “And I think that’s an accurate representation of how women really are and how society should view us. A lot of us have sex, some of us have a lot of sex, but that doesn’t mean we’re not smart, strong and talented.”