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Monday, July 7, 2014

Graphic Novel Review: Interesting Drug

Interesting Drug
Written by Shaun Manning
Illustrated by Anna Wieszczyk  
Published by Archaia
24.99$ (HC)

Time travel is a trope that fascinates many of us a great deal, and at first blush, it's hard to see why.  The past is inherently limited - by technology, by worries about changing the future, by disease, by... a hundred different things, really.  But when I think about the various tropes of sci-fi travel - space, interdimensional, etc... - it's time travel that's always the most tempting.

Because the unknown is scary.  But my own past?  I could travel more when I was in Japan.  I could get that date with Marisa I was too scared to pursue.  I could save up, visit my friend in New York City for a week rather than buy quite so many graphic novels and TV shows.  Or, even better, I could relive that day with Tasha, when we both called in sick to work and spent all day in bed.  I could eat at my favorite now-closed restaurants.  I could make my life - already a pretty goddamn good one - better, couldn't I?  I could relive, remake, the best days of my life.

That's the crux of Shaun Manning and Anna Wieszczyk's Archaia original graphic novel, Interesting Drug.  Andrew Smith was a guy who had everything - brilliant, well-liked, on a scholarship to college - who threw it all away.  Now, nearly a decade later, he's stuck working at Best Buy, his prodigious intellect spent riffing with his only close friend and selling electronics to people who made better life choices.  When a mysterious guy named Tristram Lang shows up and tells him that he's about to invent a drug that will allow him to travel into his own past, it seems like an impossible fantasy, but he quickly finds a way to make it work.  But Tristram is not all that he appears, and the drug has unintended side effects as society rapidly becomes addicted to its own past.
Anna Wieszczyk's art is loopy, heavily stylized, with concrete-if-cartoonish characters and ethereal, barely-there backgrounds.  The people are grounded; the world often feels like its shifting around them, or, in its most intense moments, falling away altogether. It helps set the mood wonderfully for a story that often seems half-lost in time, a feeling that fits well with Manning's slim, elliptical script.  Wieszczyk's art falls apart a bit, though, in the character work, particularly as the tension mounts and the action becomes more fast-paced.  Still, Wieszczyk sets one hell of a mood, particularly as Interesting Drug's world slides into chaos and Andrew finds the noose tightening.

Interesting Drug builds rapidly towards apocalypse, but, fascinatingly, Manning and Wieszczyk never lose sight of Smith and his supporting cast, the apocalypse happening with the same dreamlike inexorability as everything else.  It's a rapid leap in the book from Smith inventing the drug to its mainstreaming, and Manning's brief mentions of Chro-Noz' effects on society are fascinating but backgrounded.  Like Shane Carruth's classic time travel film Primer, Interesting Drug is a small story with immense ramifications, and while the two are polar opposites in how they say what they say, the focus on drama over spectacle is a strength they both share.

Nostalgia is powerful.  Hell, Buzzfeed has become a massive media juggernaut online almost exclusively by appealing to our collective sense of nostalgia.  Rather than creating new things, we're putting some of our best modern filmmakers to the task of giving us more Star Wars, enormous chunks of cash are going to rush out schlock like Transformers and The Amazing Spider-Man 2 because, hey, we liked those things as kids.  Lucas and Spielberg wanted to make the pulp movies they grew up with, so they made fucking Indiana Jones and Star Wars; J.J. Abrams wants to make a Star Wars movie, so he makes a Star Wars movie.  We are already in a society obsessed with its own past.

Interesting Drug forces that idea to an extreme, making it a drug metaphor with all of us as junkies constantly chasing that first high and ever-diminishing returns.  It's so easy to look back at our lives and see all the things we could have done differently if only we knew what we know now, but Shaun Manning and Anna Wieszczyk make a powerful argument that that's a fruitless path to follow.  Interesting Drug is a fun, heady read, and another excellent addition to Archaia's strong catalog.

You can purchase Interesting Drug at this link.
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