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Last month saw the launch of Sidewise, the Zuda Comics series by writer Dwight L. MacPherson and artist Igor Noronha. Now that the series has been running for a few weeks, I email interviewed MacPherson to learn why he set out “to create a smart, engaging, action-packed historical fiction story that will appeal to readers of all ages… and still be cool”. The story is described at its Zuda site as: “Teen genius Adam Graham borrows his parents’ time device to visit 1902 London, only to find himself in an alternate dystopian past. As a member of Nikola Tesla’s band of young freedom fighters known as SteampunX, Adam must wage a war against a myriad of deadly steam-powered robots, mad scientists and a nefarious state police controlled by Queen Victoria’s preserved brain to free the oppressed nation, crown a new monarch and return to his world in time for a final exam.” Be sure to visit the Zuda site every Thursday for new installments of the webcomic.
Tim O’Shea: For folks that don’t know steampunk, two-fold question, could you provide a brief description and what it is about the genre that appeals to you?
Dwight L. MacPherson: Certainly. Steampunk fiction is a sub-genre of science-fiction and fantasy. Stories generally take place during Victorian times (hence the “steam”) and contain fictional technological advancements (such as steam-powered robots, laser rays, battle dirigibles, etc.) or technology that was created at a much later date (such as the computer). Because of the inclusion of futuristic technology, alternate history is also a large part of most steampunk fiction. The works of H.G. Wells and Jules Verne are prime examples of steampunk fiction, as are the novels “The Anubis Gates” by Tim Powers and “The Difference Engine” by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling, and the classic television show “The Wild, Wild West.”
Everything about the steampunk sub-genre appeals to me: the romanticized time period, Victorian sensibilities, futuristic gadgetry, magic and alternate histories. I became a fan of Wells and Verne as a child, so I guess you could say that I also find it nostalgic.
O’Shea: The story has alternate versions of historically recognized figures such as Tesla and HG Wells. Is Ms. Hopping inspired partially by any historical figures in particular?
MacPherson: Every member of Tesla’s team (there are members we haven’t met yet) has a name with a historical or mythical connotation that is–or should be–important to the British people. With a bit of research, I’m certain readers can learn some very cool historical facts about England as well as learning a bit about British mythology.
O’Shea: Adam Graham travels to the past to start this tale, but I’m curious is the 2009 life he came from similar to our earth–or is it an earth history where time travel is fairly common?
MacPherson: On Adam’s Earth, space travel exists only in science-fiction novels. Adam and his parents have created the first time machine and young Adam was stupid (or arrogant) enough to use it for his own personal gain.
O’Shea: Do you delve into what Adam’s parents are like at all–given that it was their device that started all the wheels in motion.
MacPherson: Without giving anything away, I will simply say that it’s a strong possibility. I wouldn’t rule anything out in this story.
O’Shea: While the Tesla and Wells of this tale are fictional constructs, did you end up doing some research on the two?
MacPherson: Oh, absolutely! I’ve always been fascinated with Tesla and I grew up reading Wells’ novels. I don’t go into any project–especially one that involves historic figures–without first conducting extensive research.
O’Shea: As you note at your blog, “SIDEWISE is the first all-ages project to win the monthly competition.” And your use of that term (All ages) is intentional, given that your own teenage son pointed out that being described as “Kid-Friendly = Kiss of Death” in terms of marketing the book. Given its unique status at Zuda as “all ages” are you trying to reach out to websites that try to inform parents like the School Library Journal’s Good Comics for Kids blog or do you have other plans to target kids, parents as well as fans ofhistorically inspired fiction?
MacPherson: Absolutely. I’ve been reaching out to several all-ages sites as well as to educators. Whether they reach back remains to be seen. In the meantime, my goal is to gain a large following and ask readers to share SIDEWISE with friends and family. As with any grass roots marketing strategy, we can only succeed with the help of our supporters.
The great thing about SIDEWISE is that it can be read and enjoyed by readers of all ages: young readers, young adults, adults, parents, educators, grand parents–it’s for everyone. And everyone is our target audience. Might as well aim for the stars–right? Why limit oneself?
O’Shea: According to your blog: “Before I begin writing a story, I complete a bullet outline of the complete story: beginning, middle and end. As I continue conducting research and fleshing out the big picture, the bullet outline becomes a much more detailed document accompanied by image references for the artist.” Since Sidewise has been picked up by Zuda, have you had to add several bullets to that core outline?
MacPherson: Oh, no. My outline was completed when I submitted this project to Zuda. I turned in the entire Season 1 script three weeks after we won. I went into this contest with the mentaility that we’d already won, so I made sure that everything was ready to roll as soon as we got the green light. I believe in being positive (thanks to my parents) and proactive (thanks to the Army).
O’Shea: Working in the Zuda platform, is there a greater amount of almost instant gratification for you, as the readers can respond immediately (Versus waiting months until the comic is published…) and/or is it equally maddening to see instant criticism as well?
MacPherson: Well, I definitely enjoy and appreciate the immediate feedback, sure. And I also enjoy and appreciate feedback from the discerning folks who read my published work. Idon’t find any feedback maddening, to be honest. As long as I know in my heart that I created the very best story I was capable of writing, positive feedback is gravy and negative feedback (as long as it is constructive) is food for thought. Comments like “You suck” go in one ear and out the other.
O’Shea: What’s the greatest benefit in terms of collaborating with series artist Igor Noronha?
MacPherson: Igor is a workhorse! The man does it all: pencils, inks, colors, letters. It makes the collaborative process much simpler working with one person as opposed to a creative team. Not that it’s necessarily harder to work with a team, but generally, teams are made up of several individuals across the U.S. and around the world. That can get a bit strenuous and difficult at times. People do, after all, have real lives. Or so I’ve been told. [laughs]
O’Shea: Anything you’d like to discuss that I neglected to ask you about?
MacPherson: If readers would like to find out more about me and my past, current and upcoming projects, I (kinda) maintain a blog here and I am totally hooked on Twitter. I pride myself as being accessible to my readers, so if you can’t reach me through my blog or Twitter–which I highly doubt–I also have a Facebook page.