A page from Lane Milburn’s graphic novel Lure. Credit: Courtesy Fantagraphics

Elaborate hologram displays. A satellite planet. A mysterious deity. On the surface, Lane Milburn’s rollicking sci-fi graphic novel Lure doesn’t have much to do with Chicago. But Milburn drew inspiration from his old neighborhood, his punk band, his friends, and his near-decade living in the city.

Lure takes place on an alternate earth, orbited by an ocean planet named Lure, where one-percenters build resorts and vacation homes. When Chicago-based painter Jo takes a corporate gig creating hologram advertisements, the job brings her to Lure. But something sinister hides behind the tiki drinks and seaside views.

Most of Lure takes place in space, but it feels deeply rooted in Chicago sensibilities. Milburn talked with us about sci-fi influences, Chicago’s comics and punk scenes, and the years-long process behind the book. He’ll be reading an excerpt of Lure at the comics reading series Zine Not Dead on December 4.

Megan Kirby: It’s never explicitly said, but is the beginning of the book based in Chicago?

Lane Milburn: In my mind, it’s kind of an alternate reality version of Chicago. The whole book is set in an alternate reality. I’ve been a Chicago resident now for about eight, nine years. So, there are things in the book that gesture at Chicago, even though I’ve eliminated all of the recognizable landmarks and buildings and everything from the downtown scenes. There’s some obscure references that I think Chicagoans will pick up on. The look of the neighborhood they’re living in is very much modeled on Little Village where I used to live for many years. 

What made you decide to base Jo in Chicago? 

This book contains a lot of autobiographical material. I was pulling a lot of material from my life as a working person. This book is new for me in the way that it draws directly upon my own experience. I’ve found that pulling from the familiar and the nearby is a good way to flesh out a story world, to ground it, to give it specificity. I have two large, competing impulses in my work. One is towards world building. And another one, that has kind of taken shape on this project, is pulling from the familiar and the real. I’ve been trying to fuse those two impulses. This book is really my first time trying to do that.

Lure is available from Fantagraphics. Credit: Courtesy Fantagraphics

Can you give me a little behind-the-scenes look at your process? 

It’s all very, very improvisational. I didn’t do any thumbnails. I didn’t write a complete script for this book. I have this kind of grid on my wall. It’s like pushpins with binder clips hanging from them that I use to hang up pages that are in process. A three-by-four grid, so that I can have 12 pages hanging up on the wall at one time. My work process gets pretty diffuse, where I’ll be working on multiple pages at once. I like to have the space to hang them all up at once and look at them. It’s something with how my brain works, where I’ll work on one page a little bit and then set it aside and work on another and set it aside. I start with the penciling and the writing, and then I do the inking. Then I’ll scan the pages and color them in Photoshop, which is probably the most time-consuming step of the process, because I get kind of fussy with the color.

The book took you five years to complete. Did the story change over time?

It started as a strip on VICE, way back in 2014. I actually worked on it for a year, and then didn’t like the material I had produced. So in that way, it’s been a six-year project. When I threw out that version of the book, I switched from this comedic, old-school, pulp adventure, sci-fi mode into a realistic, sci-fi-tinged mode.

It was not fully formed when I started—it changed a lot. I had no idea where it was going for a long time. This was a very long and very messy project. I think that a lot of my process is about fighting through indecision, and that can cause things to be drawn out for a long time. Having a close friend of mine look at this book, and having my partner, the cartoonist Anya Davidson, look at this book, was really important in shaping it together. Even discovering the themes, and shaping the plot together, and kind of forming an arc. It was a very slow and messy process.

Lifting off, in Lure.

You dedicated the book to Anya. Can you talk about how you guys influence each other?

We’ve never really collaborated on any comics, but we both are always very busy with our own projects. We always look at each other’s work and give each other feedback. Anya’s always the first person I think of in terms of sharing my work with people. So, we look at each other’s work really regularly and give really honest feedback. It’s a pretty central part of both of our writing and cartooning processes. 

What draws you towards writing sci-fi? 

I think that I always gravitate towards a lot of sci-fi imagery and themes. Cartooning, for me, accesses a space of childhood creativity, which is often really wrapped up in creating worlds. That’s something that I still want to do in my work. I’ve thought about going in a more contemporary, realistic direction, but I just really gravitate towards sci-fi energy and world building.

You play in a band, too? 

Anya and I play in a punk band called Spirit Trap. I think that kind of brings me back around to the book itself—some of the character development is centered around Rachel, one of the main characters, who is a musician in addition to being a visual artist. Jo also talks about being at a music show. That sense of Chicago is also palpable in the book—the overlap between the art and music scenes. 

By Lane Milburn (Fantagraphics, November 2021)

Zine Not Dead XVI
featuring readings by Andy Douglas Day, Margot Ferrick, Nell McKeon, Lane Milburn, Dena Springer, and Cooper Whittlesey, Sat 12/4, 3 PM and 9 PM, Grace Church of Logan Square, 3325 W. Wrightwood, $10, all-ages (tickets available at zinenotdead.com).