Written by Shaun Manning
Illustrated by Anna Wieszczyk
If you're standing in a parking lot and a sketchy looking guy approaches you and tells you something about your life ten years in the future, how would you take that? Me, I wouldn't react all that well. In Interesting Drug, this is the beginning to an intriguing, well-illustrated story about memory, the past, and second chances.
Andrew is a man whose life is not exactly where he thought it would be. He's intelligent, but lacks ambition. He studied Chemistry in college for a while but then dropped out, and has been working at a Best Buy for the last 7 years. While standing outside talking to his closest friend Leilani he's approached by a man named Tristam who comes right out and says he's from the future and needs Andrew's help to design a drug that allows time travel. Remarkably, Andrew decides to indulge this discussion, and is convinced of the truth of it after a trip to the past via one of Tristam's pills. Soon, the idea of changing the past takes him to a traumatic moment--and a decision to work with Tristam to make the drug better. What good is merely going to the past--when you can work to change it?
Andrew returns to college and starts human experiments (testing the drug on willing colleague students), as Tristam gets more and more involved with Andrew's life. Eventually, Andrew realizes that rather than being part of some sort of noble creation, he's just turned himself into a drug dealer. That drug, Chro-Noz, has spread all over, and turned into something of an epidemic, as people embrace all sorts of creative uses that absolve humanity of its darker side by erasing horrible actions "moments" later.
Andrew and Leilani decide to figure out what Tristam is really up to. Three guesses as to whether or not it's good news, and the first two don't count. The pair must use their knowledge of Tristam to stop him and rebuild a life that's been damaged by tinkering with the timeline. If they can manage that, maybe it's not too late for a new start for both of them.
This is a strong, enjoyable read. There are no shortage of time travel stories; it's been a staple of science fiction storytelling for more than a century. The creative team succeeds in adding something to the genre by making some smart creative choices. This story has a unique feel as far as time-travel stories are concerned. It's more like the movie Primer than The Time Machine. There's no travel to the distant past or the distant future. And within the world of the story, the focus stays pretty tightly on the main characters. Andrew's ex-girlfriend Melissa is a news reporter, and while we hear during the course of the story that usage of the drug is spreading and becoming a major criminal issue, this story never ceases to feel personal to the main characters, particularly Andrew. Andrew is the focus of the graphic novel and is a well realized character; Manning shows us the tragedy he's experienced and the impact it's had on his life.
The original feel of the story is aided tremendously by the art. Wieszczyk has a stylized take on drawing people, accentuating long, angular features (particularly in the case of Tristam). She is quite skillful in this story with respect to visual storytelling; by way of example, she's very effective in conveying Tristam's untrustworthy appearance and attitude through his facial expressions and body language, his shifty body seems to convey a shifty attitude and regard for the truth. In too large a dose, this can be off-putting, but Wieszczyk handles it quite well, particularly when Andrew meets young Tristam. He is still arrogant, but the basic decency he once had comes across in the visuals, as well as in the dialogue. Occasionally, Tristam and Andrew look a little similar, but it's a minor issue.
In addition to the figure-work, the other aspect of Wieszczyk's art that's striking is her use of photographic backgrounds (as seen above in the scenes showing Andrew and Leilani in the parking lot). Throughout the series, when Wieszczyk depicts certain scenes (such as in front of the Best Buy), or certain items (a couch, a computer, an office building), she uses real-world photographs. It's an unusual choice, but it works to provide a sense of realism, to ground the story in a mundane world which is meant to be our world, not a fantastical science fiction world.*
Manning's take on time travel here is a thoughtful one. If you could swallow a pill and go back to experience events in your own past, why wouldn't you? For many people, the option to immerse themselves in happier times would be hard to ignore, and for others the impulse to go back and punch your boss, or to injure or kill without consequence would be difficult to resist. Once you were presented with the chance to go back and try taking different actions, making different choices, would you ever stop?
This question ties in directly to another refreshing choice that Manning makes in this story, which is, in this world, you cant change the past. By doing this, he avoids questions about causality, temporal loops, or the way past actions could change the present. Many other books, movies, TV shows have covered that ground. The point that interests Manning more is the obsession people have with the past (and this itself, might be a question asked about why people are so obsessed with time travel stories). If given the chance, he argues that people would completely lose themselves in the past at the expense of the present. His point, it seems, is that people already do that but given more powerful tools would take this to dangerous and unhealthy levels. Ultimately, Andrew has to let go of his regrets and obsession with his past in order to move forward with his life. A good lesson for anyone fixated on a life choice they can't change.
If you're looking for a moving, personal story with striking art that also happens to involve time travel, Interesting Drug is worth picking up.
*Editor's Note: This is something you'll see fairly often in manga, with a city scene taken from a real city and given art touches to blend it in with the rest of the work. It's showing up more and more in Western art as well, and succeeds/fails based on the talent of the artist. -Rob M.
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