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Lora Innes talks 'The Dreamer,' webcomics, and X-Men

Lora Innes' "The Dreamer" Volume 3
Courtesy Lora Innes

A seventeen year-old high school girl dreams herself into the American Revolution every night, and a life of romance and action in "The Dreamer," a comic from creator Lora Innes. "The Dreamer," which began as a web comic and is now also published by IDW, is simultaneously an adventure and a history lesson, all wrapped in Innes' gorgeous artwork.

Innes was kind enough to sit down at the midway point of her book for a quick interview with Examiner.

Reid Kerr: Lora, thanks so much for taking time for this interview. Tell me a little bit about The Dreamer, where did the idea for this book originally come from?

Lora Innes: One morning I woke from a very vivid dream and I couldn't shake the sense that there was something important I still had do there. I had a strong urge to go back and finish the dream. Of course I couldn’t, but the experience spawned the idea: What if you could go back?

If you believed you had great purpose in another world how would that affect your "real" life?

Would things that were once important to you now feel meaningless? Would frustration set in? Would you begin pulling away from the people you love?

I had just gotten back from a summer spent cleaning up New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. As difficult as relief work was, it was nothing next to the return to suburban life. Potlucks and parties and window shopping made me sick.

Wrestling with questions of purpose and significance was particularly meaningful to me at that point in my life.

I am still haunted by my Katrina summer. I might spend the rest of my life looking for it.

Reid: Were you always a fan of that period of history, or did this book require a lot of research for you? How important to you is it to be historically accurate, or is that something you’d sacrifice for the story if the need arose?
Lora: Writing the comic did require a lot of research but not knowing much about the Revolution turned out to be a strength.

I had no idea the Revolutionary War lasted eight years. Or that the Americans lost most of the battles. The situation for most people was dire—money was scarce, disease rampant, and what food they did have was taken by one of the two armies.

Sometimes when you are very familiar with a subject your writing can feel tired or insular. Because everything was new to me, I was able to come at the material with fresh eyes.

The Dreamer is a work of fiction, but I have tried to remain faithful to the historical facts as I understand them.

Events have been changed in order to make the story stronger but most of these changes pertain to time. War for a soldier is mostly sitting around waiting, so I condensed things to keep the suspense high.

Reid: How far does this story go, in your mind? When you created The Dreamer, did you have an idea how long this story would take to tell? How far in the future do you have the book scripted out?

Lora: The Dreamer series will be six volumes in all. So Volume 3 ended at the midpoint. It's a pretty good cliffhanger, if I can so. Everything changes for Bea after this.

Until this point, the story followed a specific group of soldiers known as Knowlton's Rangers. The next volume shifts the focus away from the military and onto George Washington's spy ring.

The ending of The Dreamer has been planned since the first issue. I know the overall events that need to happen but I need to do more research before I'm able to start writing it.

The webcomic is currently on hiatus until I finish this second wave of research.

Reid: You’ve had a long relationship with IDW, but you also have a strong web presence. How do you see your webcomic in terms of your overall plan for the book, and your career?
Lora: In my initial conversation with IDW about publishing the graphic novels, Ted Adams, their president, and I were in sync about the importance of keeping the webcomic active. We both understood that my online readers are also the graphic novels' main customers.

The online readers are a very passionate and committed group. They love the comic, but they also love the community. Real friendships have grown in the comments section. A few years ago we had a Dreamer Meet-Up at Anime Boston and it was wonderful and surreal to meet everyone in person.

I think the readers have made The Dreamer what is today. I might try another project outside of webcomics, but The Dreamer will always remain online.

Reid: Doing the book on the web probably has its own set of problems and deadlines, but is it especially satisfying to get that immediate feedback from telling your story on the web?

Lora: Of course. By the time a graphic novel becomes available in print, you're onto other things. So the work inside is no longer your best work. I feel this way every time a volume is released—all I can see are the mistakes.

But with the webcomic, what I drew that week people see on Friday. So I'm still excited about the page when it goes live.

Knowing that people are at their computers at midnight hitting refresh until the new page arrives is very rewarding as a creator.

And it helps me stay on schedule. Accountability is a great safeguard against procrastination!

Reid: When did you become a fan of comics? Is there a particular book or story arc that really stands out to you as a fan?
Lora: I began reading X-Men comics in middle school.

The first comic I owned was Uncanny X-Men #303 where Illyana Rasputin dies from the incurable Legacy Virus, the Marvel Comics equivalent to AIDS. One of the junior members of the team reads the unconscious Illyana The Little Match Girl, then cries in the arms of the usually-unshakable Wolverine.

The only villain in the issue is death.

The marginalization of mutants is a fictitious depiction of the Civil Rights movement and so the best stories in X-Men have always wrestled with the question: What does it mean to be human?

Even as a young person I valued this kind of writing and finding it in a comic book was so surprising that it hooked me.

Reid: What advice would you have for other comics creators who are thinking about going the webcomic route?
Lora: Writing webcomics is different than graphic novels in that each page needs to have a cliffhanger, no matter how small.

My philosophy is that every single update must bring enough resolution from the previous page to allow the reader to feel satisfied but then present a new cliffhanger to drive them back to your site for the next update. Basically every page must be its own mini-story.

I co-host a podcast called the Paper Wings Show that is all about elevating the way we make comics. My Paper Wings blog series Three Things I Wish I'd Known Before I Started My Webcomic is a pretty good place to start.

Reid: What’s your dream in the comics industry? Where would you like to do next?
Lora: Though superheroes were my gateway into comics, I haven't read a mainstream comic in years. As my career in the comics industry has grown I've been exposed to the breadth of what we call "comics."

My interest has shifted away from superheroes and these days my bookshelf is filled with literary graphic novels. These stories tend to bring together my love of drawn stories with topics and themes more commonly found in literature.

I am really drawn to what is happening in that corner of the industry and I want to be a part of it. My next book will definitely be a self-contained graphic novel, not an on-going series.

And you might see something of the sort from me sooner rather than later.

You can find Lora Innes and "The Dreamer" on the web at TheDreamerComic.com, and also on Facebook and Twitter at @lorainnes.

-- Reid Kerr loves a good webcomic.