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Milligan's "New Romancer" Mashes Historical Genius with Online Dating

Peter Milligan has never used online dating services. He's happily married, but he does admit that if he was single today, he would likely check one out.

Despite his lack of personal experience, the veteran comics writer is taking the online dating plunge in his latest series from Vertigo. "New Romancer," illustrated by relative newcomer Brett Parson -- an artist Milligan calls "a star in the making" -- explores the trials and tribulations of Lexy Ryan, a coder who has been fired from her "cushy job" in the Silicon Valley. She has since been hired to create an advanced "love or romance algorithm" that will give her new employers, a tech company called New Romancer, an edge in the online dating game.

Readers will also meet the love of Lexy's life: Lord Byron, a very real English poet who died in 1824, as well as his daughter, the equally real Ada Lovelace, who is often regarded as the first computer programmer. (For those keeping track at home, Ms. Lovelace died in 1852.)

Milligan finds it fascinating that this scientific genius (Lovelace) was the daughter of a creative genius (Byron). And while they never knew each other in real life, he's always wondered what they would have said to each other had they met.

In "New Romancer," his wondering ends.

CBR News: "New Romancer's" leading lady, Lexy Ryan works for a company that runs an Internet dating app. Do you have any experience with online dating? And what were your thoughts on these types of introductory services before you started developing the series?

Peter Milligan: Yes, Lexy works for an online dating start up. I didn't have any personal experience with online dating, but from someone old enough to remember when this kind of thing would have been looked at with a degree of distrust, I've always had a pretty positive feeling. I remember meeting a young couple in Spain; they were both really attractive, he made films, she was creative and they met via the Internet. So I always thought about online dating as a useful modern resource. I'm married, so have never needed to use it. What I mean is, I'm married and I also haven't used it. All those cheating husbands who used sites like Ashley Madison show the two aren't mutually exclusive!

Did your views on online dating change while writing "New Romancer"?

I must admit, after doing research and talking to people who become pretty obsessed with the 'swipe a shag' kind of mentality, I can see it has a down or dark side. If I was single, I'd probably check it out, though.

Fired from a "cushy job" in Silicon Valley, Lexy becomes a coder for New Romancer at the start of the series. What else can you tell us about Lexy?

Not just any coder. She's trying to create an advanced kind of "love or romance algorithm" that'll give her new employer, New Romancer, an edge in the tough Internet dating world.

Lexy is not your usual 24-year old woman, and her love life has been anything but usual. The greatest -- perhaps the only -- love of her life has been a poet who died about 200 years ago: Lord Byron. "New Romancer" is the story of what happens when you finally get to meet and know your dream lover.

While Ada Lovelace did receive a Google Doodle on her 197th birthday -- the true hallmark of celebrity and worth -- not many know much about the world's first computer programmer. Does this series highlight her accomplishments? And is Ada Lovelace an actual character in this series?

First off, yes, Ada is a character in this story. She becomes more important as the story progresses. I always found it interesting that this incredible woman who, with Charles Babbage, achieved so much is so unknown. This story certainly does highlight if not her achievements, then her brilliance. The fact that this scientific genius was the daughter of the creative genius Byron makes for a fascinating dynamic: of course, they never met, after Byron left England when Ada was a baby. I always wondered what they'd say if they had met. In "New Romancer," we find out.

In "New Romancer," you unleash Lord Byron on an unsuspecting world. Known perhaps most famously for his poem, "Don Juan," Byron's version of the world-famous womanizer is satirical, and is actually easily seduced by women himself. Will this premise match up with your Lord Byron, or does he remain history's greatest lover?

You're right about" Don Juan," Byron turned the old story on its head by making his hero the object of seduction. I think Byron considered he suffered a similar fate: chased and lusted after by half the women -- and quite a few of the men -- of Europe. The Byron that appears in "New Romancer" has a bit of both, which I think is close to the truth. Both a great seducer, and a great seducee. [Laughs]

And Casanova and Mata Hari also play roles in this series. From Cyrano de Bergerac and Charles Dickens popping up on "Doctor Who" to Seth Grahame-Smith's "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter," historical figures have long been enjoyed as characters in fictional storytelling. Why does it work and what can you share about your own set of rules for integrating them into a modern world?

I think it works when the historical characters help to further the theme of the story they're in. In other words, that they're not just random figures chucked in to liven things up.

I'm now going to tell you that Casanova and Mata Hari aren't just chucked in! [Laughs] They're a logical albeit unforeseen extension of what Lexy does that enables her to meet Lord Byron. They're also bang on the theme of love and seduction.

Again, we know the basic premise but beyond the romantic comedy elements what can you share about the overarching story and the mystery behind the company and its leadership running New Romancer?

On one level, it's the story of the whacky love affair between Lexy and Byron, set against the backdrop of an Internet dating company. But there is the dark side of love, too, evidenced by Casanova and Mata Hari.

More importantly, there is the dark or damaged side to Lexy, herself. Because while it's funny and weird, it's also unnatural for this young woman to have this kind of obsession with a man who died 200 years ago. To get to the heart of this mystery, we need to meet her father, discover just why she lost her other job in Silicon Valley, and just what nefarious stuff they're up to in the basement that they call The Wollstonecraft Center.

What can you tell us about your partner-in-crime, artist Brett Parson?

It feels wrong that I've gone all this while in this interview without mentioning Brett, because Brett is brilliant. His art plays a huge part in the tone of this story. I can't say enough about how impressed I am with him. He has a wonderful sense of humor, and amazing characterization. When I saw his drawings of Lexy, I loved them: they were just Lexy. His Byron is perfect too. Brett's a star in the making.

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