Culture Jammer: Brian McLachlan talks "No Dead Time"

Thu, June 24th, 2004 at 12:00am PDT

Comic Books
Jonah Weiland, Executive Producer/Publisher

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[No Dead Time]The twenties. No, not the era, but that time of your life when you've moved out of your parents home and start figuring out what you're going to do with life. It's a time of pressures, challenges, uncertainty and new adventures. It's also a time of life that's perfectly suited to be mined for story ideas.

Coming this September from Oni Press is the 136 page original graphic novel "No Dead Time," by writer Brian McLachlan & artist Thomas Williams. It details the lives of two twenty-something's, Nozomi and Seth, who hate their jobs and are looking for love, all while they're trying to find themselves. Naturally, it isn't easy. CBR News caught up with McLachlan to learn more about "No Dead Time."

"It's funny. And it has romance, but I'm afraid to call it a romantic comedy because then it sounds like the kind of thing you're forced to sit through when it's your girlfriend's turn to chose the videos," McLachlan told CBR News. "You know, the kind of movie that goes 'straight-to-airplane.' This is actually funny. Not comedy meaning 'and there's a quirky best friend.' It's more pre-romance anyway. It's a story where the main characters are single and not quite ready to be dating. They need to get some stuff in order before they go looking for love.

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"It's a snapshot of a certain age, too. They're both 20-somethings working at jobs most of my post secondary education friends ended up in: retail and office. Nozomi works in a mall record store where she deals with the kind of idiots who look for Zepplin under Z. Seth works in a cubicle dealing with power hungry drama queens. They're both just developing a political view point of view. Neither have totally fit into the system yet, or really settled in.

"The title comes from a situationist saying 'vivez sans temps mort' or 'live without dead time.' It was the name of the epilogue in 'Culture Jam,' one of the first sort of political books I read, and it stuck with me. The situationists were all about living life out of routine. They became the spectacle and the star rather than the passive viewer of life. Nozomi and Seth are at that point where they want to start living a richer life that's their own story so the name seemed to fit."

As you might expect, McLachlan once spent quite a bit of time in a record store, seeing as how he worked for one. While he didn't work on the floor, he was in the art department, he still got to witness and hear stories of the retail insanity his coworkers were a part of.

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"I started keeping a journal of the people I worked with and the things they did," said McLachlan. "I was there for two and half years and worked with around 250 people. I really didn't get a chance to work in too many of those absolutely unbelievable characters into the story. For instance, the guy who had paranoia of appendicitis and ate sardines and jellybeans doesn't make an appearance. But that was the launching pad for the story, the setting. There was just so much going on there. It's a job that a lot of people covet so I thought that people might actually be interested in reading about it, too. They might be a bit disappointed. They still paid minimum wage to clerks. Sure you get to listen to music all day, but not your music. The guy who ran the basement for a while would put 1 Prince album in the 5-disc changer every single day without fail. Plus, once a week were Prince days when he played nothing but Prince. Is that better than the radio at Urban Outshitters? Your discount on CDs was pretty immaterial because you got paid so little that you could hardly afford rent. You didn't have to wear a uniform but that meant every conversation began 'Excuse me, do you work here?'

"The great part was that it was a real interesting group of people to work with. Musicians, artists, actors, writers, film makers, drug addicts, lesbians, thieves... mostly artsy people who all had fascinating perspectives on life and experiences to share. So people are right to think it's a cool job, but it's not all Empire Records rooftop rock parties. I always figured that movie could have spawned many sequels. There's a lot of material to be mined in the CD store. How could I not tell a story set there?"

While the characters in "No Dead Time" are based on real life people, McLachlan tells CBR News that no single character is based on a single person. He took personality bits and quirks from multiple people he worked with at the record store to build the characters that inhabit "No Dead Time."

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"I let a bunch of friends from the record store read the story. There was the inevitable 'So am I this guy?' because I'd give a character a particular experience that they had, or their favourite cuss word. But nothing's that simple. I know lots of people with interesting stories or affectations, but no one who has had a life that makes a great story arc. Biographies are prefect for people who lead extraordinary lives, like Gandhi and Sitting Bull. But chronicling music nerds and office drones without exaggeration, amalgamation or adding a cohesive plot seems like pretentious masturbation. It might be fun but at the end of the day it has no lasting impact. If I was going to take up a whole OGN, there had better be a lot of fiction woven into the facts.

"The weird part is one character who was not based on anyone I knew is someone I've now become like. There's a girl in the book who works at a vegetarian food stand. She doesn't meet many guys because the only males who eat there are metrosexuals or are dragged there by their girlfriends. Right now, I'm working part time in a video game store. And let me tell you, comics have a bad reputation for not having very many female fans, but video games are even worse. You probably see more men who are into scented bath oils. There are a handful of great women into destroying army bases and recovering the power crystals of Xyquithk-Clon-7, but it seems all of them have steady guys. I'm a very casual gamer myself, so I understand what they don't see in it. It's rare to find a game with any real story to it. The only reason someone seems to not skip the poorly acted dialogue bits telling you how your character became an amnesiac (which is like 50% of games I think) is to see the 'cool' graphics."

As any good writer does, McLachlan did research outside of personal observations for "No Dead Time." Non-fiction works like "Culture Jam," "No Logo" and "The End of Work" played a role in the creation of his graphic novel.

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"I didn't even really scratch the surface of the problems with workplaces and advertising those books get into, but hopefully some of the stuff in the book will lead people to books like those," said McLachlan. "I mean, we have all these computers to do jobs for us, like in the Jetsons, but we're working more hours instead of less, and more people are unemployed. Why don't we just divvy it up so we have 30-hour work weeks and can enjoy some of that 50's promised future of astro-relaxation. Maybe I'll get to explore that more in a sequel or another story."

Bringing "No Dead Time" to print has been a long process. A few years back McLachlan pitched his story to Oni Press as a four-issue mini-series. They liked the story, but thought it would read better as an uninterrupted piece. When Oni began to explore publication of more original graphic novels, the time had come for "No Dead Time." Now all they had to do was find an artist.

"At a convention James Lucas Jones was showing me some samples of possible artist collaborators. Thomas Williams was the immediate stand out. As well as his excellent draftsmanship, which is considerable, I just was amazed at his acting. He makes a character driven story come to life. Looking at the comic's shelf I'll see some artists who illustrate a person is upset by having the same face they always draw, except with streaming tears. I'm all for simplification, but that's just weak. Not very many people capture the body language and range of expressions that Tom is able to do. If super hero books keep doing stories with them talking about their problems out of costume, Tom's going to have an easy time stealing jobs away. Not to say Tom can't do action, but there seems to be a trend away from that right now. Plus, this is a black and white book and Tom makes black and white sing in octave ranges most people can't accomplish with colour. Texture, line, shape, form, he's brilliant at them all. I'm really lucky he agreed to do the story.

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"The script calls for the secondary characters to not appear human. For instance Seth's boss looks like an ogre. It's a quick and visually interesting way to introduce a character. A story set in a record store and office? Yawn! It would work better as an independent movie or a play. So I'm glad that Tom has brought these fantastic extras to life and that they fit so well into the book."

McLachlan's relatively new to comics. He went to college for illustration, but realized that storytelling was where his real talents lay. He's been published in a number of magazines, including the subculture magazine Vice. For six years he's done a regular comic strip in Canadian rave scene mag Tribe and his comic "Tic Tac Machete" was published in the Dark Horse Strip Search Book as well as on the Oni Press Web site and elsewhere. "No Dead Time" is McLachlan's first long length published comic.

"Hopefully this book will show my story chops a little better. I love doing gag strips but this longer, cohesive, character driven story is a lot of fun, too, and it would be great to do more of these. Everything else I'm doing is in the pitch stage right now and I wouldn't want to jinx them. Although if I'm lucky, I'll get to do my Hawkwaman story, half Hawkman, half Aquaman, all crime fighter! He's not so good in fire, but kicks teeth in the other 3 elements."

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