Time travel is nothing new in fiction. It's centuries old, but writers have been coming up with fresh takes on the idea for as long as the idea itself. From Quantum Leap to Back to the Future, time travel has engaged audiences with the possibilities of outcomes if given the chance to change the past. But would you? What if time travel was as easy as taking a pill? Would you keep living in the past to make sure you had a perfect future, or would you leave everything be? That's something the characters in the world of Shaun Manning's Interesting Drug, an upcoming OGN from BOOM! Studios.
Manning, who teams up with artist Annie Wieszczyk, spoke to Newsarama recently about all things Interesting Drug including the inspiration behind the title of the book, as well as working with Wieszczyk, and what he has in store for readers down the line.
Newsarama: So Shaun, before we get into Interesting Drug, can you tell readers who might not be familiar with your work a little bit about yourself?
Shaun Manning: Well, I've published a few short comics here and there, including stories inDark Horse Presents and Top Shelf 2.0, and I've been running a digital-first series called Hell, Nebraska on Comixology for a while now, but Interesting Drug is my first big comics project. Before all this, of course, I wrote for one of Newsarama's big competitors for a number of years.
Nrama: Heh, we’ll forgive you. Interesting Drug sort of sounds like "Back to the Future" meets "Breaking Bad". How off or correct is that description?
Manning: It's not too far off--I hadn't thought of it that way, but I guess Andrew is sort of a Jesse Pinkman character, a guy who finds himself in way over his head. The dynamic is different, though, in that Tristram, the man from the future, unlike Walter has a pretty nefarious agenda from the start and Andrew would probably never have gotten himself in trouble at all if not for Tristram's influence.
Nrama: Now Andrew seems to have an "everyman" sort of feel to him. Without giving too much away, can you tell us a little bit about him?
Manning: Andrew is a very smart guy whose life has stalled out. There's an event in his past that he simply has not been able to overcome, and it's because of this that he allows himself to be drawn into Tristram's schemes. He thinks he can fix it. And of course it's never so simple.
His best friend Leilani is a big part of the story, as well. They are close, they've had a weekly TV night that goes back to "Dawson's Creek", and Lei is the first to see that Andrew's gotten himself into trouble.
Nrama: What sort of time travel are we dealing with here? Where does Interesting Drug's theory of time travel lie in the spectrum of sci-fi?
Manning: Where I see it is sort of the "all natural" time travel, a very sort of crunchy, "healing power of the body" sort of thing. Most time travel stories you see, it's a machine, or something external and artificial. My story takes the idea that if, as some believe, all time exists at once and a person's entire history is in his or her genes, there should be some way to access that. In Interesting Drug, the pill uses memories to pull a person along his or her personal timeline, anywhere from the moment of birth to the moment of death. Because it relies on memories, it's much easier to travel into the past than the future.
And also, because it pulls the user down through memories, when you're on the drug your body is whatever age you were at the time of the original experience--if you go back to childhood, you're in your childhood body, though your mind is whatever age you were when you took the drug.
It seems that Tristram has a way around this.
Nrama: Let's talk about Tristam, the mysterious man from the future now who recruits Andrew, for a minute. On a scale of 1 to Scarface, what kind of kingpin would you call this guy?
Manning: He's more Frank Underwood from "House of Cards" than Scarface. He's incredibly charismatic and will do anything to get what he wants--not necessarily because he's ruthless but because it's somewhat of a game to him, and he simply does not care about the fallout from his actions on other people, or on the world itself. Because one of the things we discover is that nostalgia is powerfully addictive--why live in the unpredictable present when you can pick and choose key moments from your life and experience them with the wisdom of hindsight?
Nrama: Why the title "Interesting Drug" for the OGN? What made you come to the decision on that name?
Manning: It's just the title that was always in my head while I was writing it – Interesting Drug" a Morrissey song, and I couldn't really think of writing a story with drugs at the center without thinking of the song. But of course it's really nothing to do with the song, my story doesn't overlap or intersect at all with Morrissey's. Just a catchy title. There's a not-insignificant number of books named after Moz and The Smiths songs; Jamie S. Rich did a graphic novel a few years back called "You Have Killed Me," there are about a million books, articles, etc. titled "Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now," and I just saw a university press book not long ago called "How Soon is Now?" Which, by the way, I've joked would make a fantastic subtitle for my sequel. That or "Panic." But in reality it would probably be called something else.
Nrama: How would you describe Tristam and Andrew's relationship?
Manning: They are using each other, but Tristram is more open about it. That's one way to look at it. Tristram is very pally, and when they first meet he tells Andrew that they are destined to have awesome buddy movie-style adventures. Andrew doesn't necessarily believe this, but he allows himself to believe it just enough to justify going along with manufacturing and selling the drug. Because there is something he's trying to accomplish, as well. It's a bit more noble than what Tristram intends, but that doesn't mean he doesn't have an agenda.
Nrama: Now what was it about Anna Wiescyzk's style that appealed to you what makes it a perfect match for your story? The color palette is sort of trippy, too. Was that intentional?
Manning: I think first it was the energy of her art, this fluid, manga-esque style that sort of brings a bit of action to even very subtle scenes. The palette, too, really worked--the sample she sent me was from her work on "Godkiller," which is a bit different but has a lot of the same qualities. It's very warm, in a way that can lull you in but also creates tension. "Interesting Drug" was our first project together, but while we were working on it Anna and I have also done a digital-first series called Hell, Nebraska and sample pages for a historical thing I'm hoping to get moving on soon--all very different stories, and she's absolutely killed it on each.
Nrama: Why did you feel this was done better as a straight up OGN instead of a mini series?
Manning: At the beginning, it could have gone either way--I'd scripted a 22-page first issue as part of my Advanced Writing workshop at Comics Experience, but once Archaia had signed it I knew it would be an OGN and I could base my story structure on that.
Nrama: Without touching on major plot points, is there a chance you could return to this world?
Manning: I'd definitely like to return to this world--there are a couple ideas I'd really like to explore, especially the idea of what it means to commit a crime while traveling into the past on the drug. Because of the way the drug works in the story, a user can't actually change his or her own past, but that doesn't mean there are no effects or consequences. The sequel would probably be an anthology of short stories, at least as I see it now; that could change. As to the main characters we see in the book, though, I'm pretty sure their story is complete right here.
Nrama: Is there anything else you'd like to tell readers about Interesting Drug or perhaps anything else you have in the pipeline for the future?
Manning: As to what's next, we're currently finishing up the last issue of Hell, Nebraska on Comixology and iVerse, once that's out I'll have a print collection – we did a Kickstarter for it last year and yes, the book is a bit late, but we're nearly there! The first issue is free, if you're curious. Beyond that, who knows? I've got a ton of concepts at various degrees of production, everything from superheroes to humor, but nothing to announce just now.
I hope people enjoy Interesting Drug – it's been a long, wild journey, and I'm excited that the story Anna and I put so much into is finally going to get into people's hands. I had a lot of fun with it, especially with the dialogue--I feel like Andrew and Leilani, especially, have a lot of fun moments, and there are still jokes that make me laugh, as tacky as that is. Enjoy the trip!