Interview: Shaun Manning discusses Interesting Drug, Plus an Exclusive Extended Preview
When a man from the future recruits average retail worker Andrew Smith to help him create a drug that will allow him to travel through time, Andrew thinks he’s found the way to erase all his problems. However, the power of nostalgia proves to be the strongest of drugs, creating an epidemic of addiction with Andrew as its unwitting kingpin. If you could take a pill and travel back to any time in your life, where would you go? That’s the premise of writer Shaun Manning‘s upcoming graphic novel Interesting Drug which hits shelves May 28th courtesy of Archaia, an imprint of BOOM! Studios.
The graphic novel, featuring art by Anna Wieszczyk, is a trippy sci-fi, psychological thriller, that gets you to question what’s real, and what’s in the past. There’s dangers in taking drugs in general, but even more when you’re stuck in the past!
We got a chance to ask Manning some questions about the graphic novel (and time travel in general), and also have an exclusive extended preview of the graphic novel after!
Graphic Policy: So how did the graphic novel Interesting Drug come about?
Shaun Manning: It started basically with the concept of “drug-induced time travel.” There’s this idea that’s shown up in science fiction more than once that all of time exists simultaneously and we’re just moving through it — we perceive it as a straight line, past to present to future, because that’s the only way we know how to go. I don’t necessarily believe that, but I do find it really interesting. It also suggests that, if we were able to travel through time at will, in any direction we chose, to any point along our timelines, we shouldn’t need a time machine to get us there. It’s inside us already. So how do you unlock that? Well, a drug might be one way.
GP: What drew you to making this a graphic novel instead of a monthly limited series?
SM: I’d done a first-issue script for the Advanced Writers Workshop at Comics Experience, an online course run by former Marvel and IDW editor Andy Schmidt. At that time, I saw it as a four- or five-issue miniseries. When Archaia picked it up, though, at the time they were not publishing single-issue comics, so from that point on it became a GN. This was early in the process — it’s very much structured as a graphic novel now. And it’s a beautiful book, something I’m really pleased to debut with.
GP: And how did Anna Wieszczyk come on board the project?
SM: After I had the script for the first issue (what would become, with revision, the first chapter of the GN), I started casting about for artists online. I posted on forums like Digital Webbing, Deviant Art, Penciljack, etc., and got a few really nice responses. But when I saw Anna’s work, I knew that’s what I wanted.
GP: The style for the art is interesting in that it uses real pictures mixed with the drawn art, creating a trippy dream like look. Was that your idea or Annas?
SM: That was all Anna. But that’s part of why I wanted her for the book — her style is like nothing else I’ve seen.
GP: The graphic novel has an interesting take on addiction, in that it expands the idea to being addicted to being focused on the past and nostalgia. Where’d that idea come from?
SM: That actually emerged in the writing. When I started in on this, it was basically just about a master manipulator from the future causing chaos in the present. I’m glad it evolved beyond that. It kind of had to, both to be anything like an interesting story and also to address the drug aspect in real terms. And, you know, nostalgia is addictive. Everybody has their “what ifs,” and for plenty of people there was, or they perceive there was, this golden time when everything was great, and now it’s not. So why not live there instead?
But the thing is, what happens to the present if everyone is living in the past? Who’s steering the ship? And, on an individual level, how does anyone move forward?
GP: Something else that stood out to me was this glimpse that if one is too focused on the past, they neglect the present, and it becomes cyclical in a way. How did that come into the story?
SM: It ties into the addiction thing. Being focused on the past is one thing — not terribly productive, generally, but mostly harmless. But if you could actually go back, spend time there? And this time, you can say or do exactly the right thing, or keep trying until you get it right? Why waste time on the unpredictable present?
GP: With a lot of stories that involve time travel, the rules that govern it can be a focus of either the story, or for the reader. How much did you work out of how it all works in this world?
SM: It’s pretty carefully worked out, but I try not to let it get in the way. The first thing for me is always the characters, and I had a lot of fun writing these guys. Andrew and Leilani, our heroes, are ordinary people with this great, long-lasting friendship. I like them. They have a standing date for a TV night that goes back to Dawson’s Creek. They’re witty but notthat witty; they tell jokes that don’t work, and they call each other on it.
But as to the sci-fi aspect of things, there’s a very specific way that time travel works in my story, there are limitations. Tristram lays it out pretty early. But he’s the bad guy, so a lot of that will be lies. The truth comes later.
GP: There’s a lot of debate on the legalization of some drugs here, and things might get out of hand. Did that come into play at all when you were writing this?
SM: I started on this book before the legalization movement gained the traction that it now has, where states like Colorado have effectively voted it in and are now struggling with the contours, where medical marijuana kind of muddied the waters (they are still extraordinarily murky in Michigan, where I live) and I know decriminalization in the UK has had some unexpected consequences, but the debate has always been there. Many of the benefits that advocates promised have in fact materialized, and I think the problems of these early days can be overcome — we need proper discussions without reducing everything to pro or con, we need to see what breaks in order to fix it, so we can be smarter moving forward.
All of that said, the time travel drug seen in my story should in no way be legal. Ever.
GP: Since everyone in the story was focused on this, I feel like I need to ask. What point in your life would you travel back to if this drug existed?
SM: Ah, man. I’m pretty happy where I am. But I also love to travel, so I can’t say for sure I wouldn’t do some sightseeing.
GP: What can we expect from you next?
SM: Well, I’m putting the finishing touches on my digital-first series Hell, Nebraska on Comixology. The sixth and final issue is just about done and I’ll be doing a print collection of that, as well. Beyond that, I’ve got a bunch of stuff I’d like to get off the ground — some superhero books, more than a couple really wicked comedies, historical fiction, probably a few others. We’ll see what the future brings.
Check out the exclusive extended preview!