Part 4 of 6 | Paul Gravett talks to Paul B Rainey about how life led him to create There’s No Time Like The Present, a graphic-novel project that has taken him seven years to complete, and how he got to Now.
Perils Of The Ultranet
PAUL GRAVETT: How did you feel about the way the internet has transformed how people can publish comics and get them to a global readership? What did you think of the earliest experiments with webcomics, by others and your own?
PAUL B RAINEY: I was feeling very devastated by Diamond’s decision to no longer carry my comics because, at the time, I viewed it as my only way of getting my work out there. I had felt for years that comics, for their own sake, needed to find a way of bypassing the distributor and the internet is one of the methods of doing this that has emerged. I really liked American Elf by James Kachalka and tried to replicate his model of posting something daily online when I started Book Of Lists. The internet is great and the difference between before and after its arrival on our lives is one of the influences on my graphic novel There’s No Time Like The Present.
PAUL GRAVETT: Your Book of Lists, both online and in print,was an on-going project. What motivated this?
PAUL B RAINEY: During my wilderness years after the end of Love Bomb, I found that I was still drawing comics. Once I became aware that I could find a way of posting the strip online, and that it didn’t need to conform to the format limitations of the American format, I found that very liberating. I had always wanted to have a go at a diary strip, but I found that, very quickly, I drifted into self-indulgent whining. When I was at the Abbey National, I worked with a woman called Alison. It amused me to keep a list of all the mean things that she said to me and, one day, once it had become quite substantial, I read the list out to Alison and my work colleagues in an unemotional voice. Everybody seemed to find it funny and it struck me that the voice, and the disciplines I was using, might be good methods by which to draw a diary strip.
“It amused me to keep a list of all the mean things that she said to me,
and one day, once it had become quite substantial,
I read the list out to Alison and my work colleagues in an unemotional voice.”
PAUL GRAVETT: So you chronicled your daily life and observations in diary comics – what were the challenges and rewards of making autobio comics?
PAUL B RAINEY: I found the strip constantly rewarding. Friends, family and work colleagues, people who didn’t usually read comics, always responded very positively to it. I was very pleased with the boundaries that I had imposed upon myself and felt happy working within them. I had also got the balance right between the rate at which I wanted to produce the strip, its reliability and the rest of my life.
The challenges were making people aware that it existed. The visit-stats to my website during that period were a steady and satisfying climb. I also didn’t want people I knew to worry about being on the receiving end of a venting in Book of Lists, if they said or did something that might upset me in my daily life. I tried to make sure that, usually, I was the butt of the ‘joke’.
Paul Gravett: OK, so what was the initial spark that triggered There’s No Time Like The Present? When and how did you start it?
Paul B Rainey: It was a combination of ideas for strips that I hadn’t found the time to draw. I had the idea for a sit-com I had called Geekwa about a group of Geeks/cult media fans who would meet every fortnight to talk about Star Trek and the like and I had created a bunch of characters for that. I also wanted to do a time travel story that avoided the clichés that one might normally encounter in time travel stories, like for example, if you’re careless in the past, then you might wipe yourself from existence. I had managed to agree a year long career break from the Abbey National which I intended to use to create a more substantial, novel-length piece of work. Funnily enough, my original intention was to work on something else entirely, but when I actually got started on the work, I found myself more enthused by what became There’s No Time Like The Present.
“Time travellers can only go as far back in time as the point at which time travel is invented.
This means that there is a whole history that, despite this incredible discovery,
the future still can’t get access to. “
Paul Gravett: The story opens with a reference to Diamond Previews, the thick monthly catalogue giving comic-shop customers the chance to order their choice of title two months in advance. Was this one influence for the idea of having access to pop culture from the future?
Paul B Rainey: Not really. The idea for the ultranet (where characters can download movies and music from the future) was my attempt to acknowledge that a seemingly impossible thing, the internet, had occurred during my lifetime. When I was a teenager, it was impossible to imagine something like the internet existing and yet, over ten years later, there it was. I can now access movie trailers and pop videos and old school friends that I’ve lost contact with with relative ease. Amazing!
Paul Gravett: Did the whole story come to you, did you know the ending, or where you were heading with it from the start? Did you have any idea how long it would run for, and the time you’d need to complete it?
Paul B Rainey: When I started the strip, I knew how it ended and I also knew the points throughout the story that I was trying to navigate to. However, I was totally aware that it would take me a long time to complete and so I allowed myself a lot of wriggle room to be spontaneous and to prevent myself from getting bored by my familiarity with it.
Paul Gravett: What appeals or disappoints visitors from the future when they come to our present day? Are they harking back too to an earlier, simpler time?
Paul B Rainey: In my story, time travellers can only go as far back in time as the point at which time travel is invented. This means that there is a whole history that, despite this incredible discovery, the future still can’t get access to. My view was that the future is a very, very, very long time and that there would be plenty of people wanting to book up all the transmissions to as far back into the past that they are able to reach. Because these people would also want to return home after their visit, this meant that are no places available for the indigenous population of those eras to travel into the future from.
Paul Gravett: What science fiction authors have influenced you and in what ways? And any in particular on There’s No Time Like The Present? Andy Oliver from Broken Frontier suggested a hint of Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five?
Paul B Rainey: I haven’t read any Kurt Vonnegut. Perhaps I should. I went through a big Philip K. Dick phase shortly before starting work on There’s No Time Like The Present. I thought, if I can create something with the imagination and emotional impact of Valis, then I would be happy.