Published Mar 01, 2005One of the most difficult things in life is figuring out what you want to do with it. In many cases, dreams are forgotten, loves are passed over and too many people settle for what they think they should have instead of what they want.
Brian McLachlan is not one of those people. "Any non-artistic person who finds out what I do tells me how lucky I am. Even when I wasn't making any money, people saw greener grass because I knew what I wanted to do with my life."
It is precisely that passion that has made No Dead Time, McLachlan's graphic novel published by Oni Press, an irresistible read. Artfully drawn by Thomas Williams, the story focuses on Nozomi and Seth, two people stuck in jobs they hate, who want something better from life. Problem is they don't know what they want, which makes going after it very difficult. In trying to break free of what they know, they find something more important than careers.
Although elements of his life are included, McLachlan's book isn't an autobiography. "Personally, I don't like biographical comics. Sitting Bull? Malcolm X? Tommy Douglas? Biographies of those guys make sense. Most people don't live interesting enough lives to warrant that kind of attention. Instead, I took a lot of little interesting moments from people's lives and wove them into a narrative that's full of moments that ring true and seem universal without sitting through the equivalent of someone clipping their toenails."
For his two main characters, McLachlan used elements from his past as a foundation. "Like everyone else, I wanted to work in a record store, and for two-and-a-half years I did," says McLachlan. "Going to work there was like huffing Courtney Love: it made you crazy. There was a guy who'd eat sardines and jellybeans for lunch. I needed to write something set in a music store to share this insanity, but I think that anyone who has worked retail will be able to relate. For contrast I added the second protagonist who works in the other job twenty-somethings end up with: office drone. It brought me to a story of people in the rat race who were looking for themselves and for love."
Love is one of the main themes of the story, as Nozomi and Seth each try and figure out what they want from a potential partner. Along the way, there are many other interesting people they run into on a regular basis. Funny thing is, these other people are drawn as animals. Nozomi's co-worker at the record store is depicted as a devil-girl and Seth's boss is an ogre. That makes for some great visuals whenever there is interaction between protagonists and secondary characters.
"I decided that the surrounding rogues gallery should be visual representations of their personalities. It saves time when introducing them; the cover tells you how the main characters are judging them. As their judgment improves or wanes, the character might change visually as well. It adds another level to the storytelling while being sweet on the eyes," says McLachlan.
There are also social messages that the book explores. Whether addressing the issue of anorexia, in the case of Seth's ex-girlfriend, or stereotypes of facial piercing, as Nozomi is all too familiar with, No Dead Time has one theme in particular that runs through the entire book: passion. "In No Dead Time, the characters talk about how to find that passion and purpose in life besides the act of baby-making we all enjoy. Maybe someone will find that it's not just luck that helps you find your passion, but some self-examination."
How can you find "the one" when you still haven't found yourself? As one of the questions addressed in No Dead Time, McLachlan has managed to weave a tale that not only tells a story but has a purpose. The two main characters, Nozomi and Seth, are each trying to find love but realise that they aren't ready for it. For them, trying to find meaning in their daily existence is far more important than hooking up and getting your rocks off.
Ben Rivers had an epiphany when he visited his aunt at the nursing home where she worked. "It was a terrifying experience, because each face I saw was a reminder of our occasional failures as human beings first, that these people weren't strong enough to take care of themselves, and second, that their families couldn't, or wouldn't, take care of them."
Because of that realisation, Rivers has written and self-published a comic called Empty Words. It's the story of Audrey, a nurse's aide in the local senior's care centre, and Greg, a writer suffering from writer's block. They agree to help each other out by Greg writing about Audrey's experience of losing a resident at the centre where she works, and in exchange Audrey can work through her grief.
Originally meant as a love story, Rivers decided to bring deeper meanings to the fore in Empty Words. "I most enjoy sharing moments of very personal, intense feelings because I think people subconsciously take more away from that than they would if I was force-feeding them pages and pages of dialogue and exposition and political intrigue."
Asking "What do I want the audience to feel?" gives the writer the freedom to direct the reader emotionally. Rivers has taken a simple love story and added an element of depth, making it much more than the cutesy art suggests. Watching Audrey struggle with the death of someone she cared for strikes a chord of grief within the reader. By choosing to deal with her pain by herself, despite offers of support by friends and co-workers around her, Audrey shows remarkable strength and compassion for those people forgotten by their families. Deciding to put a loved one into a nursing home is a difficult decision to make and through his story Rivers shows his readers the impact of that decision. Not bad for a little "indie" comic.