The Webcomic Heard 'Round the World: An Interview with Lora Innes of The Dreamer
Lora Innes is the creator of the popular historical fiction webcomic The Dreamer about Beatrice “Bea” Whaley whoose dreams about a Revolutionary War soldier named Alan Warren lead her into adventure. Issue #1 of the print series from publisher IDW came out in November and the webcomic is up to episode #123 (page 23 of Issue #50). I got a chance to interview Lora via email earlier this fall.
Can you tell us a little about yourself?
I’m a girl. That’s nothing special in web comics, but in print, it’s still a novelty.
I have a BFA from the Columbus College of Art and Design. I worked for three years doing commercial illustration, and have a habit of skipping town to do relief work. The longest stint was for four months after Hurricane Katrina. My husband and I moved down to New Orleans to help clean up. It was that decision, actually, that lead indirectly to the formation of The Dreamer.
What's a typical day for you like recently?
I sleep in till about nine. Go through my emails and message boards until eleven o'clock. Then I work on my pages for that Friday until about six or seven. I break for dinner then go back to work until about ten or eleven. I sleep in a bit the next day and then do it all again. On Fridays, after I update, I usually go to Starbucks and catch up on writing the scripts or working on page layouts or something like that just to give myself a break and to get out of my house.
Where are you located these days?
Do you have another job besides working on comics?
Luckily, I don’t. I owe this to an amazing husband who believes in what I’m doing, and works hard so we can live off his income. He definitely got the short straw on that one…
Do you read other comics? What are you reading online or in print?
Of course! Lately I’ve been on a bit Will Eisner kick. I’ve been reading through his graphic novels (and absolutely loving it). I’ve also been reading some collected trades that I had never read for whatever reason: The Sandman series, Fables, Hellboy, Harvey Pekar’s books, several of Gail Simone’s runs on titles. As for “collect ‘em every month” comics: Daredevil, X-Factor, Astonishing X-Men, Ultimate Spidey, Spiderman Loves Mary Jane, I used to read Blue Monday and think it’s starting up again…? (I hope the rumor is true!)
Online I read GWS, Rival Angels, Lackadaisy, Phoenix Requiem, Xylia, Kukuburi, The Dreamland Chronicles and Marry Me (until it ended).
Give me the 30 second "convention pitch" for your comic.
Here you go! From Wizard World Chicago!
The Dreamer is the story of Bea Whaley, a typical seventeen-year old, who starts having vivid, reoccurring dreams about The Revolutionary war… and a handsome soldier named Alan Warren.
How has the strip evolved over time?
My art style has changed, and gotten better I hope! I think some of the awkwardness of the earlier issues has gone away. I also have a really large cast, so it’s taken awhile for all the characters to be developed. But I think we’ve finally reached a point where each character has their voice and I don’t have to spend any more time on introductions.
Do you have a favorite strip or storyline from the comic? Which ones do fans seem to bring up the most?
That’s easy from the fans! They loved the early Issue #4 stuff with Nathan Hale and Bea. Naked Nathan’s rant, Nathan and his spontoon, Nathan takes off Bea’s hoops… Yeah, if I put Nathan Hale in a scene, it’s sure to be a crowd pleaser. The first kiss is also a fan favorite. It’s usually the image or page that made my readers want to read the story in the first place. Which was my intention of putting it right at the beginning of Issue #1.
As for me, there are a lot of little moments that I just love. Usually, though, my favorites are the ones I haven’t gotten to yet and can’t wait to draw. So I get to look forward to them, and work toward them with anticipation. But previous scenes that held my interest in that way have been the scene where Bea finally tracks Alan down in issue #4 and they have a sort of sweet moment when she realizes he isn’t going to die. Also the scene in Issue #3 where he says goodbye to her in the middle of the storm. That one I anticipated drawing for a long time.
Are there any of your characters you're really fond of? Any that are particularly difficult to use?
General Howe (my villain) is very hard to use. He was the British Commander-in-Chief from 1775-1778, but he didn’t hate the Americans. He and his two brothers fought in America during the Seven Years War (we call it the French and Indian War) and his oldest brother was killed in action. The people of Boston actually raised money for a statue of his brother to be built in Oxford, England. Howe was so moved by this that he was always sympathetic to the Americans. That being said, he lead the British forces at Bunker Hill where the Americans fought dirty and cost the British army 1,000 casualties. So at the point of the war that I’m writing about, he still does not want to crush the American army, but he is certainly ready for the fighting to stop, as he’s getting a little frustrated with the Americans’ obstinacy. He hasn’t been in the story much yet, but thinking of how to portray him in upcoming scenes in an honest way, while still maintaining my “villain” is definitely challenging. The little scene in Issue #5, where he puts his pistol in the face of the tavern owner is a true story. So I lucked out with that one!
Characters I’m fond of? All of them really, but I guess I have a super soft spot in my heart for Nathan Hale. He was a real captain in the Continental Army, and I’ve read so much about him and thought so much about who he was, that I always enjoy using him in my story. Of course, he’s not my protagonist, so I get to have fun with him, and the “sidekick” character in any story is usually my favorite because they have the liberty of making the viewer laugh. And I love laughing.
Do you have any long term goals or ambition for the future of the comic?
Everything about The Dreamer is a long term ambition! The entire story is probably going to be around fifty issues. I had never even drawn one complete comic when I started out so that was a lofty goal that I decided to embark on all at once! But the story is so big it’s really all or nothing--there’s no part way for it. IDW is publishing the first six issues, so I’m really excited to see The Dreamer in comic book shops. Long, long term goal? The movie, of course.
Any plans for a print collection?
IDW will be putting out a collected trade of the first six issues next summer. But Issue #1 will be in comic shops this November!
How do you go about promoting your work? What seems to be most effective at pulling in new readers?
You know, advertising on other web comics has really helped, as have people putting banner links to my page on their site. I am eternally grateful to Sarah Ellerton for this. Her banner link to The Dreamer is always one of the top incoming links to my site.
Word of mouth is another big one. A lot of people get their friends reading and I love and appreciate that!
Being up for several awards also didn’t hurt. I was nominated for the best new comic of 2008 at the Web Cartoonists’ Choice Awards, and I won three Drunk Duck Awards -- for Best Adventure Comic, Best Romance, and Best Digital Art -- and was nominated in three other categories. That always gets people interested in checking out the book. Being relatively high on both Top Web Comics and Buzz Comix has also been really helpful.
What conventions are your favorites to exhibit at? What advice do you have for others just starting to show their work at conventions?
I’ve just started out doing conventions a year or two ago. Pittsburgh Con was a fantastic show, and since it’s also my hometown, I’m sure I’ll be back. This year I did Baltimore Con and it was another fabulous show, especially for someone like me. I’ve done Wizard World Chicago the past few years, but it’s an awfully big Con and is easy to get lost in the crowd. Though the contacts you make there are invaluable. It’s just a really expensive show.
If you’re just starting out, I would recommend doing a small show first just to get used to it, and see what you’ll need. It’ll be a lot less expensive trial run than diving straight into one of the larger shows. I’d also say make eye contact and talk to people. That sounds obvious but every time I’m in Artist Alley at WW Chicago, I see so many desperate, depressed looking artists. It makes me not want to talk to them--they look like they haven’t sold anything all weekend, and are deciding whether they want to cry or leave. Smile at people as they walk by and just be relaxed. But again, at a smaller show, people are more apt to stop and chat for a bit (there are less options).
Do you have a favorite convention story?
I don’t know about favorite, but this one is fun. Years ago, while I was still trying to break in to the industry. My friend Beau Smith sent me over to show my work to Bob Shrek, and editor at DC comics. I stood in line behind a kid whose portfolio I couldn’t see. I could just hear Bob Shrek going on and on about how he needed to draw twelve hours a day for the next ten years before he could even consider being ready to draw comics. It was brutal. I was hurting for the kid and myself -- as I was about to be the next victim. Just when I thought he was finished, he started up again about how newbies always draw Spiderman holding onto both webs as he swings, but that if he did that, his arms would pull right out of their sockets. He growled, “You have to let go of one before you can grab onto the other!” When I finally got to speak to him, I’m sure I was as white as a ghost, but I showed him my work anyway. You know what he said? “You’re good enough to get in. One day it’ll happen. Just keep pushing it till it does.”
It was pretty cool.
This past year I did work for DC comics, so he was right.
Being on the other side of the table, now, I just love each and every reader who comes up to me and says, “OhmygoshareyouLora?IlovetheDreamerandFridayismyfavoritedayoftheweek!!” Yeah, that gets me every time.
Do your fans bring you cool things at shows?
At this past convention a reader brought me a two dollar bill because she knows I’m a huge Thomas Jefferson fan. That made my day. I got to show her and her friends the back of the bill where Jefferson is (allegedly) stepping on John Adam’s toes. Ha ha. There’s always a lot of history talk around my booth. For my birthday this year, one of my readers bought me a sheet of Nathan Hale 1/2 cent stamps from Ebay. I love it!
When you create a comic, how do you approach it? Do you start with the words and then think about the scene that should go with it or do you start with more of purely visual approach or none of the above?
I sort of watch it in my head like a movie. I replay it over and over again until the conversations have the right punch (a lot of my dialogue has a little bit of banter to it). I like to have enough poignant moments to end each page with a small one, each scene with a big one and each issue with a climactic one. So I’m replaying it and fine tuning it my mind until I get it right. Then I write it down in a screenplay format. When I have what I think is one issue’s worth of material, I break the script down into 25 pages, panel by panel.
What tools do you use to make comics? Can you give us a brief walkthrough of your process?
I start out doing very rough page layouts on typing paper and pen. I usually do an entire scene at once so I can see how each page flows into the next. Then I draw it full size on tracing paper with black colored pencil, really rough. Next, I trace it again on another piece of tracing paper and clean up the drawing. Then I trace that onto brisol board with a non-photo blue pencil, and on top of that do all my line work with a 2B lead holder. It’s sort of a long process, but when I photocopy the page, the blue lines disappear, and I scan the photocopy into my computer. I get very clean black lines this way, so my work looks inked even though it isn’t. I color it all in Photoshop, and do the lettering with a program called Comic Life.
Did you do your own website? What software are you using on it?
My husband does all the web work. He’s a graphic designer/interactive designer. He used Wordpress and customized the template with CSS.
How would you describe your relationship with your fans? Do you engage in a lot of online interaction with your readers?
I try to. Having a webcomic is so much fun because you have direct access to your readers, and you get to talk to them about the work as soon as it’s posted. DeviantART is my favorite online community, and I spend quite a lot of time there. You know, it’s a lot of fun giving advice to kids who want to do what I’m doing. Or just talking history with them and letting them know they’re not freaks because they love learning. A lot of teens have been inspired by The Dreamer either to write, or draw, or just do whatever it is that they love to do, and I’ll have to say, that’s really humbling and touching all at once. I really love my readers. I’m glad I’ve gotten to know them. Some of them have switched over from the “fan” to “friend” category, just because we have so much fun hanging out online.
Did you read comics as a kid? Which ones? What are your influences from comics today?
X-Men. Anything even remotely X-Men in the mid-90s I read, and back then, that was quite a lot! Peter David’s original run on X-Factor is one of my all time favorite comic runs ever. I still re-read it and laugh. A little bit later when I was in high school, Gen 13 came out and that was a huge influence on me. I also discovered David Mack way back when he was on his second Kabuki series and I can remember apologizing to him at Pittsburgh Con for hogging his table for so long. He laughed and said, “No, no, stay. If you look interested, other people will want to know what you’re looking at and come up to see!” It’s sort of hard today thinking of David Mack that way, but it tells you everyone started as a nobody.
Other non-comic influences on your art and/or writing?
Movies. Especially Disney cartoons. I went to art school because I wanted to be a Disney animator. While I was in school, I realized I didn’t like animation but it definitely left its influence on me.
I’ve also done a lot of reading about WWII and the Holocaust, and, well, those are strange influences together with Disney, but The Dreamer is one part haunting war story and one part romantic fairy tale. I always wanted to tell a WWII story but somehow I wound up writing The Dreamer first. I may get around to it some day, but the stories from the trenches and camps (and the ways people coped with it afterward) have stuck with me. I remember in one man’s memoirs he described how he was unable to sleep in a bed for months after the liberation—he slept on the floor because he couldn’t get used to the comforts of a bed. I’ve never gotten that image out of my mind: the prisoner who is finally free, but still imprisoned by his memories. I just finished reading Elie Wiesel’s Night trilogy (it’s so powerful and haunting) and after I finished Dawn, I went back into The Dreamer and wrote a fantastic scene between Alan and Bea that takes place a day after the Battle of Brooklyn.
What is it about comics that leads you to pour your creative impulses into that form as opposed to writing or some other art form?
Comics are so fantastic because you get to be the writer, director, costume designer, cinematographer, editor, sound guy, set designer, casting director, and all of the actors! It’s just a fantastic medium. There’s something very powerful in telling a story with pictures, they tend to stick with us more than words on paper. I tend to think that way, in pictures and words, so it’s the perfect expression for my creativity.