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Lora Innes Talks to TFAW.com About The Dreamer

The signature at the bottom of writer-cartoonist Lora Innes’ email perfectly captures her comic, The Dreamer: “Adventure. Romance. War. 1776 Is Back.” In The Dreamer, Innes’ heroine, Beatrice, is a normal (if introverted and high-strung) American teenager. However, when she falls asleep, she’s transported into the early days of the Revolutionary War and finds herself in the arms of the handsome Alan Warren–while trying to avoid musket fire, of course.

Are Beatrice’s dreams simply her imagination gone wild, or are they telling her something important? Does smooching Alan by night mean she shouldn’t pursue her crush, Ben, by day? And, most importantly, are her friends going to continue to put up with her wild tales, or are they going to get fed up with their favorite drama queen?

I was fortunate enough to interview Innes about the past, present, and future of The Dreamer: read on for her insights and a couple of spoilers!

TFAW.com: Thanks for talking with us today, Lora! I know from checking out your webcomic that you’re a die-hard Revolutionary War junkie. When did this start, and why?

Lora Innes: My interest in the American Revolution is a result of The Dreamer, actually, and not the cause of it. I grew up with a generic interest in history, mostly American history, and my favorite era was WWII. I read a lot about the Holocaust when I was younger, specifically memoirs of concentration camp survivors from lesser-known groups, like homosexuals and Jehovah’s Witnesses.

I had gone on family vacations to places like Boston (where we walked the Freedom Trail), Colonial Williamsburg, Jamestown, Salem, Massachusetts, and Plymouth Rock. So my parents had definitely exposed me to Colonial America and I carried a vague interest in the era with me into adulthood.

TFAW.com: What is it about the Revolutionary War that captured your interest?

LI: The dreamers! The men who led the colonies into a war against Britain are some of the bravest and craziest idealistic activists you’re likely to find in history. They’re up there with men like Martin Luther, who decided he would stand up against the monolith that was the Catholic Church. And he actually succeeded.

I count Sam Adams, Joseph Warren, Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin, John Adams, George Washington and the rest of them as dangerous dreamers of that caliber who stood up against a perceived injustice and persuaded a nation of people that they were right. That they found a way to work together, when there had been so much discord and jealousy between colonies, is a feat itself, forget beating Britain. Also, the Revolution was fought is a very different way than other revolutions, specifically the French Revolution. For the most part, I admire the way they did it.

TFAW.com: Why did you decide to create a webcomic?

LI: I had always wanted to get into comics but I had actually never read a webcomic before I decided to make one. And initially I was opposed to the idea. But after I really got into the developmental phase of the story, I knew that it wasn’t what comic book publishers are typically looking for.

That being said, I’d heard a lot of talk within the comic book industry about wanting to pull in more female readers. I personally think that the way to do that is to tell a story that women want to read. I was writing what I hoped was such a story. I figured if I could build an online following of readers, a publisher looking to expand into more female-friendly books might see mine, see it doing well, and think there was less risk involved and give it a try. That’s actually how it happened for me.

TFAW.com: The Dreamer is kind of a teen drama crossed with a period adventure-romance–how did you come up with that combination?

LI: I was very depressed at the time. My husband and I had quit our jobs in June of 2006 and moved to New Orleans to work on staff at a relief camp after Hurricane Katrina. We stayed there all summer, and returned to Ohio at the beginning of fall. I have always loved New Orleans, and the flood broke my heart. So after we quit our job, our home, and our lives to volunteer in the relief efforts, I was very invested in the work we were doing, and loved the people we were both serving and working along side.

Moving back to Ohio was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do, but it made sense. Knowing it was the right thing to do didn’t help me emotionally, though, and I fell into a very dark depression that lasted about nine months. I had a very vivid dream one night, about three months after we came home, where I was making a difference in an imaginary dream world–the kind of make-the-world-a-better place difference that my work in New Orleans had been. I woke up in a good mood for the first time in as long as I could remember and I wanted to go back. That was it: what if you could go back? Unknown to me at the time, I wouldn’t return to New Orleans until May of 2008, but I would make sure my heroine could go back every night.

TFAW.com: Tell us about your heroine, Beatrice.

LI: She can be a brat, can’t she? She’s 17, and a bit spoiled though she doesn’t realize it. Her parents are wealthy and she thinks that because their work-a-holic lifestyle frustrates her that she has somehow risen above it. However she drives a new VW Beetle, has all the latest technological gadgets she could want, lives in a beautiful house, but takes it all for granted.

She’s a product of the system she’s repulsed by, whether she realizes it or not. She’s a bit of a shy girl, only coming out of her shell as the lead in her high school’s drama productions, and is very prone to spending her time daydreaming. It probably developed as a way to entertain herself while her parents were too busy at work to pay much attention to her.

She seems to resent her mother for this, but is still daddy’s little girl, as much as she misses him. He’s obviously been the one to spoil her, letting her have and do whatever she wants to make up for his absence. And the emotional connection to a father figure is filled in her life by her cousin John’s father, her uncle Hercules. Her interest in making a career from the stage comes from her admiration of him, as he’s a Broadway costume designer.

TFAW.com: She seems to feel out of place in her world–her parents are absent, and her interests are wildly different than theirs. Is this part of why she is having these dreams?

LI: It’s the reason she has her head in the clouds so much, absolutely. But there is something much deeper going on with her latest string of dreams.

TFAW.com: Are all of your 18th-century characters based on real historical figures?

LI: Everyone who we have met so far, except Alan Warren. Thomas Knowlton, Frederick Knowlton, General Howe, Betsy Loring, Nathan Hale, and even the three Ranger Captains (Brown, Grosvenor, and Keyes) were all living people during the Revolution.

TFAW.com: Tell us about Alan Warren. Is the fact that he’s not based on a historical figure relevant to the story, beyond giving you some leeway with the plot?

LI: Alan Warren is not a real person. Because I’ve tried very hard to respect the lives and personalities of the men I am writing about, I did not want to take such audacious liberties with a real person, so I decided to invent my male lead. But his character is radically dependent on the life and family of a Patriot named Dr. Joseph Warren. Dr. Warren was one of the most influential men in the decade leading up to the Revolution, but he died before the war was won and never played a role in the new national government, so most modern Americans have never heard his name.

I wanted America to remember him, so I invented a fictitious cousin for him, Alan Warren, to tell my story through. Joseph’s mother raised him and his three brothers alone after their father died, so I figured having her also raise an orphaned nephew wouldn’t interfere with history too much. Five orphan boys instead of four? I could live with that change.

TFAW.com: It’s clear that he’s ill–is it a cold, or something more serious?

LI: More men died in the Continental Army from diseases than from battle wounds. At any point in the war, nearly half of the soldiers in Washington’s forces were incapacitated and unfit for duty. I wanted to show that in the story. “Camp Fever” plagued the young army, as did dysentery, the flu, phenomena, and consumption. I’ll tell you this much: he’s sick with one of them, and his symptoms started after he spent the night marching through the rain without a coat.

TFAW.com: Does Beatrice have an 18th-century counterpart? Is she inhabiting the space of a historical figure?

LI: I can’t answer that! That’s the question isn’t it? Is Bea herself really back in the Revolution, or is she taking the place of some other girl with her name and face who Alan Warren loved back in Boston?

TFAW.com: Why did William Howe capture Beatrice?

LI: I guess I can give you part of the answer. Spoiler! When the British evacuated Boston, in March of ‘76, she was arrested from her family home by the king’s men on charges of treason surrounding the events of April 19th, 1775.

TFAW.com: We’ve now seen that parts of the 18th-century story are still going on while Beatrice isn’t dreaming, which hints that Beatrice isn’t just dreaming–she’s actually somehow traveling through time. Any comment?

LI: It would appear that way, wouldn’t it? These characters seem to exist even when she isn’t around.

TFAW.com: Could her actions in the past affect the outcome of the Revolutionary War, or is she more of a spectator? What’s her purpose?

LI: I don’t know if she has a purpose. But she seems caught up in something way bigger than herself. She tried to save Alan from death in a battle, only to find out that she had jumped to the wrong conclusion, and put herself and her friend Nathan Hale in serious danger. For now at least, I think she’s afraid of changing history. Whether she is capable of that or not has yet to be determined.

TFAW.com: On to romance! This is quite the love triangle–neither Alan or Ben knows of the existence of the other, or of Beatrice’s two lives. Where is this going?

LI: It is going downhill, for Bea at least, that’s for sure. The poor girl took advice from her best friend to date both guys at once. Yvette seems like she’d have no moral objection to doing this herself, but Bea is struggling with the decision. She’s an “all in” kind of girl, and this balancing act confuses her.

She has had feelings for Benjamin for years, and doesn’t want to miss the opportunity to date him, but really can’t get past the fact that she feels a deep connection to Alan Warren that she cannot explain. It feels more real to her than her feelings for Ben, but it makes no sense. Where we’re at in the story right now, she’s trying to do the thing that makes the most sense and give Ben a shot. We’ll see how that goes.

TFAW.com: Last I read, Beatrice and Ben’s relationship had evolved, over the objections of his friend Shantel. Does Shantel want Ben for herself, or does she have other objections?

LI: Shantel definitely wants Ben for herself. She just doesn’t like Bea because it is insulting to her to think that Ben would date a shy and awkward white girl before he’d date her. Shantel’s on the cheer team; Bea is beneath her. So this doesn’t make sense to her, and it makes her angry. Unfortunately for Shantel, some of Bea’s shyness is disappearing from all she’s been through in the Revolutionary War. Bea unleashes some verbal fury at the cheer queen that she probably wouldn’t have even a week ago.

TFAW.com: You’ve included an interracial romance in the story without making a big deal that Beatrice is white and Ben is African-American. Is this a sign of the times, or will issues surface later?

LI: I don’t really think it is a big deal anymore. I know a lot of people either dating or married in interracial relationships. I especially think with young people racial barriers are disappearing. My readers don’t seem to mind, or notice even, except for some African-American readers who have thanked me for making strong black leads in my story. I will say that even though the 21st-century characters seem accidental or arbitrary compared to the Revolutionary cast, none of them are, and my decision to make Ben who he is comes from the bigger story that all the characters will ultimately fit into.

TFAW.com: Beatrice’s “dreaminess” is starting to cause friction with her cousin John and her friend Liz. Is this going to continue?

LI: Absolutely. The friction is twofold. First, Bea’s escapism is something that her down-to-earth friend Liz cannot understand easily. It’s much easier for Bea to talk to Yvette about this than Liz, even though Liz and Bea have been best friends for as long as they can remember. Bea isn’t happy that she feels like she can’t share this with Liz.

On the flip side, Liz and John have sort of started dating. And John definitely has never understood Beatrice, but it’s part of the charm of their relationship. So Bea is going to feel like she’s losing her best friend to her cousin, and her cousin (who is more like a brother) to her best friend. She’s losing her two closest friends at once. Try dating your best friend’s brother and you’ll see what I mean. Those relationships change, whether you want them to or not.

TFAW.com: How long do you see this series continuing? Will Beatrice’s dreams of the Revolutionary War stop when (spoiler alert!) the Americans win?

LI: Well . . . the Americans don’t win officially until the Treaty of Paris in 1783. Beatrice would be 24 by then. The poor girl would be through college! I hope for her sake things get figured out before then.

TFAW.com: How did The Dreamer come to IDW? Are there more printed comics and graphic novels planned?

LI: I hope to do another print series when I get enough issues finished to put out another collection. I’m not sure if IDW would want to put out more individual comics, or just another graphic novel. Personally, I love individual comic book issues, and have written the story to work that way, but they aren’t always profitable, especially in an economy like this. IDW picked up The Dreamer after Beau Smith recommended the title to Ted Adams, the company’s president. Ted checked it out and let me know he was interested, and the rest is history!

TFAW.com: Can you give us a hint as to what’s ahead, storywise?

LI: Well, issue #8–which I’m currently working on–is a collection of vignettes of each of the 18th century characters, showing how they are all dealing with the battle they just survived the day before. We finally get to learn more about who Alan is under the surface, a glimpse of General Howe as a man, not a villain, and a moralistic military dilemma that Colonel Knowlton and Frederick Knowlton see very differently. Also, two new characters appear in issue #9!

Our thanks again to Lora Innes for her excellent answers to our questions. Be sure to check out The Dreamer and let us know what you think below!

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Written by Elisabeth@TFAW

Elisabeth has been reading comics since we was a wee girl. She's obsessed with John Byrne, Criminal by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips, and making the perfect scrambled eggs. Follow her on @Twitter to get bonus conversations with her cat!