Addicted to the past
by Keith Taylor
From the June, 2014 issue
Nostalgia, as one of the characters in Shaun Manning's new graphic novel, Interesting Drug, points out, can be addictive. But the "what if" of this science fiction book takes that idea further. What if there were a drug that could heighten nostalgia, that could make it feel as if you had moved back into the past so strongly that you felt you were there, that you felt you could alter events? What if the drug became perfected to such a degree that you could alter events? History would become as transitory as a cloud. Our very existence could be changed in an instant by things happening far in our past that we couldn't imagine. It might very well become the most destructive drug anyone has ever discovered.
Graphic novels make interesting demands on their readers. The writing is often mostly in dialogue and it has to do a lot of work. Much of the rest of the information--physical descriptions, place, emotional tone, even a good deal of the narrative action--has to be conveyed in the illustration. To a novice reader, graphic novels might seem like storyboards for films, but that isn't quite right. The placement of illustration and dialogue on the page guides the reader through and communicates by its size and situation how important an event or a moment of dialogue is.
Illustrator Anna Wieszczyk has found the right palate and sharp edges to capture both the temptation of this "interesting drug" and the developing terror of its ultimate effects. The protagonist's personal history comes quickly and in dialogue: "Andrew Smith, 29 years old, studied biology at University of Michigan but never quite finished--why is that, anyway?--been working at Best Buy for the last seven years ..." And that's enough. Much of the rest of the characterization comes from the illustrations and from Andrew's actions.
He is a character we recognize in Ann Arbor, an example of brilliant promise lost or diverted or squandered. But he is different.
He has certain skills as a chemist, and a character who might be from the future teaches him how to make a drug, "Chro-noz," that sends people back into personal memories buried in their cellular structure. The experience appears to be so real they can correct their mistakes and find the forgiveness that life doesn't usually allow. Maybe.
The particular success of Interesting Drug is that Manning and Wieszczyk have found a way to keep us guessing. We jump back and forth in time, and things change or they don't. A dream becomes a nightmare, until author and illustrator bring us back to the possibility of hope. It is a wild and wonderful ride.
Manning discusses Interesting Drug with ComicBookResources.com staff writer Dave Richards at Barnes & Noble on June 28.
[Originally published in June, 2014.]