As any fan of time-travel will tell you, it’s not about where the story goes, it’s about when, and Matthew Loux’s new graphic novel The Time Museum takes place in all times at once.
The museum in question is the Earth Time Museum; a comprehensive collection of important artifacts and information from the entirety of our world’s history; past, present, and future. Being a fixed point, this building exists in all times at once and is staffed by a number of time traveling curators who work to collect and preserve this knowledge and share it. However, this museum does hold its fair share of secrets.
When Delia Bean is offered the chance to compete for an internship at this prestigious institution–one that she had never even heard of it before, despite her uncle being the founder and curator–she, along with five other teens from across time, are challenged in ways they never expected. While this wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey breakfast club come to learn more about themselves and each other, they’re sent down a path that will either save time, or break it entirely.
Matthew Loux talked with us about his process of writing time travel and the development of his unique art style.
Erin Keepers: Time travel can make for complicated storytelling. What was your process for developing a non-linear plot?
Matthew Loux: It’s tricky for sure, but it’s also very fun figuring out cool ways to play with the different time travel problems that can happen in this genre. My process is straightforward though. First I decided on the writing format. In this case each book is a complete story, which builds to a bigger, more dire time adventure. That’s pretty standard for this kind of series I think. The nonlinear aspects are tricky but super fun and exciting when you figure out how to make it fit with both the immediate story and the overarching plot. The downside is I had to do a certain amount of far ahead planning before I could really start work on book one of The Time Museum. At the same time I don’t want to box my story in so early in the series. I like to write organically. Even though I have a plan, things change as I write because the flow of the story and how the characters naturally start developing and interacting will dictate what and how things happen. Keeping my plots feeling quick and natural is very important to me.
How did you decide which time periods to explore? And which was your favorite?
My favorite would have to be the Cretaceous period where Delia and the kids have to navigate jungles and deal with dinosaurs gangs, T-Rex’s, and fun stuff like that. For me, it is always more enjoyable to draw and ink plants and rocks and that sort of natural environment. Thinking about how uneven the ground will be, what sort of plants and trees or even fungi will look appropriate and cool, throwing in rocks and cliff faces. I learned to love all that with my previous Salt Water Taffy series, which took place in woodsy Maine. I also chose the Cretaceous period because it seemed like a logical place for the kids to have their first time traveling assignment, but of course so I could draw dinosaurs. The kid’s final time trial had to be some sort of futuristic place to balance the other two time periods they visit in the story, so I decided on a future version of London, both because It would be interesting to imagine what such a famous city would be like 1000 years from now but also because it worked best for their assignment of discovering things that don’t belong in that time. Being a city filled with both modern and historic stuff makes that task particularly difficult for them. The second time trial brings the kids to Ancient Alexandria and to the infamous Library of Alexandria. My dad actually suggested this and I ran with it. Since I thought they needed a research-based assignment what better than the most famous library in all of history.
Your main characters each come from six distinctly different historical locations and eras, however, they all still behave very much like modern teenagers. How did their origins inform their character’s attitude and behavior?
I originally thought I’d try and have them all speak in different styles but I very quickly scrapped that idea. Even though it makes more sense, it comes across as super clunky or even pretentious. Even when writing the character Greer, who is Scottish and has an accent, I tried to minimize it. Over-writing an accent in books is a big pet peeve of mine. It was more important to the story for the kids to be able to interact in a natural feeling way and let their personalities be at the forefront. This is also part of why I included early in the book that the kids have all had their brains augmented and implanted with a language translation chip. I think that’s enough to help explain away why a Neanderthal will say modern American slang. In the first Time Museum book I probably don’t get as in to how the kids different time-origins affect their personality but it definitely does. For example, how Greer is from medieval Scotland but is the only one of the kids who’s time traveled before, so my thinking is that this displacement at an early age forced her to act tough and gruff all the time. Or Reggie who is from thousands of years in the future where I figured things would be so advanced that intellectuals would be the norm, which is why he’s less physically fit than the others and more on the nerdy side. In The Time Museum Book 2, I am also going to be able to finally hint at a bit of Titus’ Roman origins, which end up being important as the series continues.
Your art style has changed pretty dramatically between SideScrollers, your Salt Water Taffy series, and now The Time Museum. Has this been a conscious decision on your part?
I’d say its both a conscious decision and just natural artistic progression. I’m one of those artists whose art doesn’t stay super consistent I guess. I kinda envy artists that can do that. The flip side is I like my art way better now, ha ha. For The Time Museum, I did make a major conscious decision to up my game. Before that my art was more angular and a bit more simplified. I pushed myself to draw characters with more accurate muscle form and eyes, and I tried to pay more attention to things like outfits while still working within my style. Also for a story like The Time Museum where we visit multiple time periods, some of which are futuristic cities, I had to really go crazy on design and research. I ended up doing a ton of pre-production work both for characters and location design, which I’d never done to this extent on a book before. Background design is very important to me and is super essential in making this kind of story feel legit. Luckily I love drawing this sort of thing. I think when you have characters that look pretty cartoony you have to have dramatically detailed and realistic backgrounds to keep things solid. It’s an exciting juxtaposition.
As someone who writes and draws your own original comics, are there any ongoing/licensed titles being put out by publishers right now (such as Oni, Marvel, or DC) that you’d want to work on? Or would you prefer to keep working exclusively on your own concepts?
I think I am very lucky that pretty much most of my career so far has been drawing my own fiction. I know lots of artists dream of being able to do that. I will always want that to be my main gig. That said, I do love other characters and worlds and would be totally cool with trying some of them out. I’d enjoy doing some of the Cartoon Network books that are out there or the all-ages Star Wars. I’ve always wanted to draw a Mega Man comic but I’m not sure anyone’s doing that in America right now. And speaking of old-school video games, my ultimate dream licensed project (and something that will never ever happen) would be to write and draw a Maniac Mansion series.
That being said, you announced at the end of Book One that there will be a Book Two, and I’ve seen from your Tumblr that you’re already making great progress on the art. You mentioned earlier that you had to do quite a bit of planning before you could really get to work on writing. Does that mean you know how The Time Museum series is going to end?
I’m busy drawing The Time Museum Book 2 right now and it should be out at some point mid-2019. Book 2 builds on the events of book 1 as we get more into that big reveal at the end and what it means. We also get more into the kids’ relationship with the museum, Uncle Lyndon’s way of running things, and their new standing as an Epoch Squad. My hope is to keep the series going for a bunch more volumes because I have things planned out to a nice and epic conclusion with many time traveley twists and turns. I don’t know exactly why, but I love doing longer, multivolume stories. Being able to create cool detailed plotlines and having the ability to develop characters through these exciting events is just great. Unfortunately drawing these dense stories with multiple characters and time periods is time consuming so the books take longer than I wish they would, but it’s still fun, and I promise, The Time Museum Book 2 will be worth the wait!
The Time Museum is published by First Second Books, a Macmillan imprint. Find this book and other great graphic novels on their website, and find more about Matthew, his upcoming projects, and his other published works at his.