Time-travel stories have criss-crossed fiction for over a century, but now they're stepping on each others toes in the upcoming Oni Press OGN Time Share.
Long-time Doctor Who artist Dan McDaid joins writer Patrick Keller on this humorous homage/parody of the time travel tales - complete with kooky elderly father figure, a brash youngster, and a terrorizing artificial intelligence.
Newsarama spoke with the duo about this time-spanning story and where Time Share comes from ahead of its anticipated release January 25.
Newsarama: Patrick, Time Share - what's it about?
Patrick Keller: It’s about an exciting real estate opportunity that I’m dying to tell you about… No, no, just kidding. The short version is, what happens when there's more than one time traveler out there? Nearly every popular time travel story is about one person or set of people hopping around the timeline. I wanted to mash a bunch of them together and let them bounce off of each other. (Sometimes literally.)
So you've got post-apocalyptic would-be saviors, uptight Victorian inventors, misguided teenagers in over their heads, hapless victims of science experiments gone awry, and even a race of otherworldly space-time “hall monitors” trying to keep all these other people in line, all stepping on each other's toes.
The other central idea of the book is what if all these time travelers were, you know, human. Oni Editor-in-Chief James Lucas Jones pointed something out to me as I was writing this: All the characters in the book are failures. I mean, it's fun and funny and exciting to watch guys like Marty McFly, Sam Beckett, and Kyle Reese pull off the seemingly impossible, but I'm pretty sure if I were in their shoes, I'd probably screw everything up really, really bad, and probably wet myself in the process. And there's pretty much no limit on how bad you can screw up if you have a time machine.
Nrama: So just who is Ollie Finch in all of this?
Keller: If these people are failures, then Ollie is their king. Given the chance to right a wrong that's haunted his family since he was just a mop-haired kid, he seizes it, but he promptly gets stranded in the free-wheeling 1970s, where he just makes everything worse. And that's all before the first page of the book!
Dan McDaid: Ollie is kind of an ordinary kid- not too bright, not too brave - who gets mixed up in stuff that's far, far bigger than him. I think when I started working on the book I felt it was going to be pure comedy, and to be sure there's a lot of comedy in the book. But as it went on, as Patrick wrote it and I drew it, this strange sadness crept into the story. The book is still a rollicking good time, but it's a lot deeper than I expected it to be. And Ollie's feelings of loneliness, of isolation, and then his eventual growth... that's really the core of the story. That's the emotional content. The final chapter - and I promise I won't spoil anything here - is a real heartbreaker.
Keller: Ollie has a good heart, no doubt. But he learns the wrong lessons from his failures and withdraws from the world - a scaredy-cat, you might say. (Fitting, since I named Ollie after my cat.) This has the added benefit of giving him the humorous character flaw of assuming the very worst at nearly every turn.
Nrama: This isn't just homaging other time travel stories, but it's steering straight into them and smashing through them—I especially feel a Back To The Future and Bill & Ted vibe. What led you down this route?
Keller: The original concept I pitched to Oni some years ago was “four time travelers and their childlike killer cyborg sharing an apartment.” It was more sitcom-like and episodic, so I was drawing upon broader, well-established types. But they wanted the format to be longer and serialized, so I kept the characters and put them in a less broad universe.
Beyond that, though, I just love time travel stories. I couldn't help it - I just wanted to write the genre a funny, weird love letter, the way that Monty Python's Holy Grail was to Arthurian legends, or Airplane! was to disaster movies.
Nrama: And so what’s this road map like of destinations Ollie Finch hits in the timeline?
Keller: Oh man, he gets around, doesn't he? He ping-pongs around from the funky, hungover 1970s to 19th century Paris, to the post-apocalyptic wastelands. But he really just wants to get back home in time to take his best girl, Roxy, to the prom.
Nrama: Dan, what's it like to be asked to draw so many different settings and time periods? Did you have a favorite or most challenging?
McDaid: Like I say, I'd done this kind of thing quite a lot before - it's kind of the main uniform and standard procedures of Doctor Who - so it wasn't a huge challenge. Actually, there's a sequence about a third of the way through the book set in 19th Century Paris, and I was simultaneously drawing exactly the same time and place for a Doctor Who strip. So I was pretty well trained in drawing a lot of different whacked out time travel scenarios by the time I started on Time Share.
Nrama: We’ve been talking about heroes, and failures – but heroic failures. What about the villain in all this, the A.I. Phil. How does Ollie run across Phil?
Keller: It's probably more accurate to say that Phil runs across him. I hesitate to call Phil evil, because in my head at least, he's really just struggling with being an infinitely smart, immortal intelligence. He sees these dopes jumping around the timeline willy-nilly as a way to escape his desperate existence. Unfortunately, to do that, he's got to take existence with him. Actually, that is kind of evil, isn’t it?
Nrama: And where's Ollie's uncle, who owns the rocket car time machine?
Keller: I love, love Uncle Jacques. He's in the book just a little, but he's all over it in spirit, and he's key to Ollie's redemption. I wrote a full backstory for Jacques that's only hinted at: He was a brilliant professor and theoretical scientist who got caught up in the 60s hippie movement, did a little too much acid, and wound up working as a special effects designer for Parliament-Funkadelic to make ends meet. Which is how you end up with a tricked-out Cadillac rocket car time machine!
Nrama: And Dan might need a time machine to balance this, IDW’s Judge Dredd, and that Doctor Who script he mentioned. How many books are you juggling now, and what made you want to do Time Share?
McDaid: Weirdly, the answer right now is none! I've just finished a run on IDW's Judge Dredd, and while I have a few things on the cards, at this precise moment I'm enjoying some post-Dredd downtime. Which is nice, and unusual for me! I can feel my wrinkles fading!
The main appeal for Time Share was the concept, which was a weird, funny, kind of offbeat take on some of the stuff I was doing at the time for Doctor Who Magazine. It was also a mix of stuff I'd loved as a kid, with elements of Back to the Future, The Terminator, and Bill and Ted. I think that was almost the way it was pitched to me: what if Marty McFly crashed into the T-800? What the hell happens next? So that concept was very cheeky and very appealing to me.
Nrama: So how did you connect with Patrick and Oni Press to do this book?
McDaid: They approached me! I had just finished drawing Jersey Gods for Image Comics, and there was a big hole in my work schedule. I was itching to draw something else with a lot of color and a lot of energy and humor, and Time Share arrived at exactly the right time. It was destiny.
Keller: Time Share has been in the works for many years now, so I think we caught him when he was maybe younger and more impressionable. But he added so much to my script - layers and layers of depth and wit, and made all these ideas I had real. Dan's utterly brilliant, and I can only hope more and more people get to see his work.
Nrama: So guys, big picture - what are your goals with Time Share?
Keller: Honestly, I just hope people find it as much fun to read as I had writing it and seeing Dan draw it. And I'd like to do another one soon!
McDaid: To change people's minds about time travelers. Sure, they look cool on TV and in films, but in real life they're total wangs. The guys at CERN know what I'm talking about.