Ever since a poor Connecticut man got clocked on the head and sent back to Camelot, audiences have loved to laugh at time travelers. They provide a way to contrast modern times with the silliness of the past, or potentially equally silly future, and give us an outlet to explore forces we can't control.
That's why I was so excited to read Time Share, a new graphic novel from Portland-based publisher Oni Press, which stars a gang of lovably incompetent time travelers wreaking well-intentioned havoc across the timestream. Written by newcomer Patrick Keller and drawn by Dan McDaid of Doctor Who and Judge Dredd fame, Time Share is a wild and incredibly funny ride that pastiches and satirizes many of the most well-known time travel stories and characters in a style reminiscent of Douglas Adams and Monty Python.
Our protagonist is a young man named Ollie, who is a lot like Marty McFly ... if he were absolutely terrible at driving the time machine, which he crashes right into a muscly nude cyborg from the future on his return trip from the '70s. It only gets weirder and more bombastic from there but doesn't forgo heart or brains for laughs. Time Share will have you trying to fit the pieces of a complex chrono-puzzle together ... and have you cheering for the most unlikely of heroes.
I got to chat with Keller and McDaid about how the book came about, their favorite parts of Time Share, the time travel movies they’d stop from being made and what the future might bring for Ollie and his friends. Check out the interview below and scroll all the way to the bottom for a massive 19-page preview of the graphic novel, which slips out of chronal stasis and appears at comic book stores everywhere on January 25.
Patrick, I know this project has been in development for a few years now. Could you tell us a bit about where the project originated and how it evolved?
Patrick Keller: Well, I'd known Oni’s James Lucas Jones for a while, and he asked me to pitch him some funny book ideas, and so I gave him three — a dot-com satire involving ninjas, a romantic comedy about 1950s sci-fi monsters, and a sitcom about time travelers living together. (A time share, get it?)
They (wisely) picked the last one. My idea was to take the sitcom format and crank it up to 11. So the time travelers get jobs at a fast-food restaurant but wind up starting violent cults that worship soda flavors. And getting their brain-damaged killer cyborg elected mayor to avoid paying rent.
But while Oni sought out the right artist for the book, they also suggested linking the stories together. So I came up with the character of Ollie Finch, the teenager who flees to the past to fix his family but screws up the return trip. And the tone of the book evolved from goofy and broad to, well … still goofy, but less ironic.
Not only is Time Share raucously funny book, it's also an intelligent twist on time-travel plots that made me want to go back and read it again upon finishing. How did you approach plotting something with as many characters and timelines as this story?
PK: First of all, thank you for saying that. Honestly, I took a lot of inspiration from Douglas Adams' first two Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy stories. Neither of those books (or radio shows, if you're a purist) have an overarching plot; they just follow whatever concept Adams thought was funny at the time. So he went from a restaurant located at the end of time, to the loudest concert ever, to a civilization doomed by overzealous shoe companies.
For Time Share, I had certain funny ideas I knew I wanted to incorporate — like the time-traveling kid failing to make that critical trip back to his own time, the killer robot with the mind of a child and the misunderstood supercomputer that likes to be called Phil — and kept recombining all the bits until they all fit. Once I figured that out, then I had to make it all funny.
This is your first major comic book work, if I'm not mistaken. Was there anything you learned about the process of making comics that surprised you?
PK: Tons! The hardest thing for me was making sure everything was broken down enough. On occasion (especially early on), I'd get excited about what I was writing and forget that you can't show two successive events in the same panel (say, Character 1 hitting Character 2, who hits back).
I also learned how important being concise is. I stepped away from the book for a bit while Dan finished doing all his amazing art. When I came back I realized I could cut 30% or more of the speech and captions, and lose almost nothing. I was way too wordy!
Dan, you pay homage to several different methods of time travel in Time Share, was there one that you enjoyed drawing the most?
Dan McDaid: Hard not to love the TARDIS-like SPANDA, to be honest. It looks like a portaloo – but there's a lot more to it than meets the eye. And Uncle Jacques' amped-up VW Van is pretty sweet, too. I could see myself pottering around in that.
The graphic novel is packed with references to famous time travelers, but were there any that didn't make it in?
PK: Oh yeah! Back in the episodic version of the book, I wanted to have a time traveler from a utopian future and another time traveler from a post-apocalyptic future but have them both believed to be from the same year. This would drive the post-apocalyptic guy (who became Bax, the soldier from Phil's future in the final book) crazy trying to figure out if the other guy's existence meant he'd accomplished his mission.
I also flirted with the idea of having the antagonist be the kid who comes back from time traveling to discover his successful parents are now losers and his cool truck is gone.
Were there any historical eras you'd like to draw that you didn't get to visit in Time Share?
DM: I really wish we had done something prehistoric — I can't think of a single comics artist who doesn't love drawing dinosaurs. If we do a sequel, it would be cool to actually add a dinosaur to the gang. You'd read that, right?
Comedy in comics can be tough since you don't have the luxury of timing or sound like in movies, but your expressive characters and fluid storytelling had me laughing the whole way through. Were there any scenes in the book that you had a hard time getting the comedic energy just right?
DM: First of all — thanks! It's hard to get comedy across in comics, which is I guess kind of ironic? The only mainstream artist I can think of who always nails it is Kyle Baker. So if I'm able to get a proper 'laugh out loud' laugh from a reader, that's pretty cool to me. That means I've really done my job. But the answer to your question is basically "No." The acting side of things in comics comes pretty easily to me.
There's a lot of Jack Kirby influence in your art (as there should be in all comic artists) but are there any other comic artists you took inspiration from for this book?
DM: The late, great Darwyn Cooke, of course. And there's little touches of manga in there, little bits and pieces pinched from Wally Wood and Frank Miller. Whatever I'm reading or into at the time tends to make its way into my work, even if it's all "under the hood."
If you could time travel back and stop one time travel movie from being made, what would it be?
PK: That's a tough one, because I love bad movies so much. So why is Time Cop (which makes you believe that, yes, time traveling kickboxers is a valid use of our tax dollars) so much better than Star Trek: Generations, which feels like some sort of mandatory training video?
Maybe it's that one is dumb but ambitious instead of competent and boring? Or maybe it's that they took out one of the greatest sci-fi heroes of all time with a railing kill?
DM: The Nicholas Meyer movie Time After Time. Not because it's bad — quite the opposite, it's great — but it's such a fun idea I wish I'd come up with it myself. H.G. Wells hunts Jack the Ripper across time. If you haven’t seen it, track it down.
Is there any possibility of a second volume of Time Share? If so, what kind of trouble do you see Ollie and the gang getting into in the future (or past)?
PK: Heck yeah! I'd give an arm and a leg to work with Dan again. The man's brilliant! And, of course, I'd love to check back in on Ollie again. Maybe after he and Roxy have some suspiciously similar-looking kids?
I really can't get enough time travel stories. I love paradoxes and thought experiments. I’d like to see if I could do something even weirder for the next go-round. As a kid, I loved it when Kang would get into fights with his future self. So maybe I could do Time Share II: The Revenge of Time Master Curtis, with ten different iterations of Curtis! But first I just hope everyone enjoys the first book.
DM: If people love it, I can definitely see us coming back for more. And I'd love to see our boys getting into some prehistoric bother. Give me some dinosaurs, Patrick!
TIME SHARE is in stores on January 25. Check out the massive preview in the gallery and let us know what you think in the comments! Preview courtesy of Oni Press.