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DF Interview: Peter Milligan blends the paranormal with romantic comedy in New Romancer
By Byron Brewer
Fired from a cushy job in Silicon Valley, young Lexy becomes a coder for New Romancer, an Internet dating app that’s seen better days. To create fake profiles, she plunders characteristics from history’s most notorious lovers. Using little known writings by Ada Lovelace, the world’s first computer programmer, Lexy pushes the boundaries of coding and accidentally unleashes history’s greatest lover: Lord Byron.
Online dating meets courtly love in New Romancer, a paranormal romantic comedy by Vertigo veteran writer Peter Milligan and rising art-star Brett Parson (Tank Girl).
Dynamic Forces sought to delve into this most unique book, so we chatted it up with the scribe himself, Peter Milligan.
Dynamic Forces: We are getting further into the 21st Century, Peter, do you think you may go down in history as the first writer to do a comic named after an app? Lol
Peter Milligan: That would be okay, but it'd be even better if New Romancerspawned a youth movement -- one based around individualistic fashion sense, irresponsible declarations of love, unusual sex positions and zero career prospects.
DF: Tell us how this unique book – that adjective is getting tired with your books, isn’t it? – came about.
Peter Milligan: One way to keep things interesting for a writer (and hopefully his/her readers) is to try to write something that's outside of your comfort zone, in areas you haven't explored before. New Romancer does all this. My fictionalized Lord Byron feels quite a Milliganesque kind of creation, referencing literature but veering towards the overblown and absurd. The rest of New Romancer is really new territory for me. Tech. Silicon Valley. And a 23-year-old nerdy romantic girl. Most of all, the feel of this book is new: though it has dark and weird moments it's unashamedly romantic, and it has a lot of comedy.
More than most stories, this one really came about through a collaboration and series of e-meetings with my editor, Vertigo legend Shelly Bond. A number of years ago, I was working on an idea called Byron Is Dead which used Byron and allowed me to explore some of my fascination with this character. Cut forward many years and Shelly and I were emailing about ideas and this old concept came out. We played around, threw some different things into the pot. At this time, the whole issue of internet dating was really in the news. I did some research, talking to people who used these sites, and the story grew: the idea of mashing up this famous historical lover/poet with a very modern form of courtship seems irresistible. The strange though loveable character of Lexy grew ... and New Romancer was born, after a pretty difficult and unusual labor. The title “New Romancer” was a stroke of genius by Shelly, without whom this book could not have happened.
DF: Well, I am certainly glad Byron Is Dead did not come to fruition. Not ready to go there yet, lol. Okay … You kind of answered this, but just for clarity: Are you yourself a techno-junkie?
Peter Milligan: No! I know someone who does tech stuff for me and I'm always throwing questions at him: this guy has a kind of guerilla tech mentality which I like. I feel I'm probably closer in spirit to Lord Byron in this story, a man who looks around at the modern world and thinks, "Bloody hell! Really? "
DF: Tell us about Lexy as a character.
Peter Milligan: Lexy is at the heart of this book. It is through her obsession and brilliance that the story happens, that Byron (and others) are reborn in modern day Silicon Valley. She's 23, wildly intelligent and obsessively interested in the poetry of Lord Byron. She also feels an affinity with Ada Lovelace, Byron's brilliant daughter. As the story progresses, we learn what made her the way she is, her intense relationship with her father, and her even more intense relationship with a poet who's been dead for about 200 years.
DF: I think it is really cool to have Lord Byron in here, since that is what I call myself in real life, lol. Tell us how he and other historical figures get involved in Lexy’s doings.
Peter Milligan: You call yourself Lord Byron? Is that due to your name or some other unspeakable reason? A number of events coincide to make the other Byron's appearance in New Romancer. Yes, there are some weird geothermic storms going on, but mostly it's down to Lexy's obsessive computer brilliance, coupled with some little known theoretical work by Ada Lovelace, and a software company called INCUBATOR who is experimenting with A.I. Most of all, it's down to Lexy.
DF: Peter, your stuff always has a quality all of its own, but have you ever wrote what is being called a romantic comedy before, and what is the challenge there?
Peter Milligan: I think there's been comedy in my work and there has been some romance (the relationship between Shade and Kathy was romantic) but I've never written what you might call romantic comedy. I think the challenge has been keeping the tone right. I hate over-sweet cute stuff and didn't want that. A shot of cynicism or irony is necessary but if there's too much it just isn't romantic and it isn't funny.
DF: How has it been working with artist Brett Parson?
Peter Milligan: Working with Brett has been one of the highlights of this story for me. He just perfectly captures that right tone. It's funny and sometimes a little absurd but when it needs to be Brett's art can be heartbreakingly romantic. In other words, the perfect artist for the story, which is really all you can ask for.
DF: So, Mr. Milligan, what else is coming from that kinetic keyboard of yours upcoming?
Peter Milligan: Some stuff which will definitely happen but I can't talk about yet -- paperwork still being sorted out. I'm writing a new series for Image called The Discipline, drawn by Leondro Fernandez. This is a very edgy erotic thriller with supernatural elements. I've created a new story and character for Valiant Comics, set in the time of Roman Britain, involving strange Druid magic and brutal Roman imperialism -- and a remarkable hero. It's called Britannia. I've also created and am about to start writing a new character for the British comic2000AD.
Dynamic Forces would like to thank Peter Milligan for taking time out of his busy schedule to answer our questions. New Romancer #2 hits stores January 13th!
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