One half of a time-traveling duo solving crimes that never should have happened. Tommy sees himself as a classic hard-boiled detective, but for all his attention to tiny granular details, a lot of obvious things fly right over his head. He's good with people, has a knack for criminal psychology, and is more apt to talk his way out of a fight than resort to violence. He can use mirrors to see into the recent past or speak to the ghost, spirits, and otherworldly things that are all around us but just out of the perception of normal mortal beings.
Note From Jason:
Tommy is inspired by many of my favorite literary detectives who have questionable social skills but are fairly competent sleuths. Everything for Tommy is a puzzle that needs to be solved, including how to get him and his sister out of this never-ending time travel nightmare. I also love characters who are delightfully clueless when it comes to normal everyday things but have other exceptional skills and abilities.
One of the things I wanted to get across, especially in the first issue is that Tommy and Zoe have been doing this a while so not a lot phases them. However, Tommy's grasp of the obvious extends even to his interactions with the supernatural, as you'll see in my favorite scene where he interacts with a brooding gargoyle. Humor, I think is something that is universal and can make any kind of story relatable for fans of all kinds of genres. But, like anything else it has to be balanced with the other story elements. What Tommy deals with is often outlandish and poking fun at that, through him, really grounds it in reality...even if it is a hyper-reality.
Tommy is a throw-back. His whole vibe comes from my memory of a photo from my grandmother’s high school yearbook. As you can imagine, from only have seen that image once when I was in my early teens, much of the information in that memory is gone. But I think certain aspects of me stuck with me because it just seemed to be a face from a different time. He was cute—but looked old, and young, and wholesome all at the same time. It’s hard to explain. So anyway, Tommy is the memory of this image augmented with masculinized versions of my own features.
Another thing I had to consider when it came to Tommy’s facial features was that he and Zoe are siblings. I think of them as fraternal twins (though I’m not sure this is how Jay thinks of them), and so I created their resemblance out that distinctive mouth shape that I love. Often in comics how much a character’s lips are emphasized depends on whether they're a man or woman, even if in reality they might have the same type of lips. I really wanted to avoid this omission (is that double negative hard to keep track of?), and describe his upper lip by default. My references for what this looked like are Val Kilmer and Erik Roberts.
In terms of his body composition, I didn’t want to make him your typical beefcake. I just wanted him to look like a normal guy—maybe even a goofy guy. I think of his frame as being very similar to Ryan Gosling’s, and if you haven’t noticed Ryan Gosling’s shoulders are quite narrow…musculature aside. Tommy is light. He doesn’t altogether have both feet on the ground.
The decision to have him wear high pants also stemmed from a desire to subvert the typical portrayal of an attractive man. I think back to the movie Her, and how the decision to wear high pants in that movie was a signifier that they were in another time. While technically in this story Tommy is out of his own time, he’s really a character from our own. The high pants simply signify that he is confident in his unique style…or that he’s clueless. Confidence and cluelessness are not mutually exclusive. You should see how confidently I lead people in the wrong direction.
I wanted to give him a wedding ring as well. The fact that he has to cover one of his hands I think would give him an air of untrustworthiness. Think about it: a stranger in town with a wound on his hand. Yeah, that guy’s definitely just murdered someone in the next town over, right? So I think giving him this ring goes a long way to smooth over those hard edges. I think it would have people second-guessing their gut instincts. Honestly, I always thought wedding rings were kinda lame, and they give me a real warm milk, sex-less, kinda vibe. So yeah, it’s a way to have him blend in a bit more, and just seem non-threatening. Also, since I picture Tommy as being bisexual, literally hiding his “controversial” sexuality behind a wedding ring so he blends in seems like a no-brainer.
I suppose the only thing about his appearance that contradicts this idea of fitting in, is the decision to have him wear red-tinted sunglasses. Not too many people wore sunglasses in the 1920s. Jay and I made the decision to include them because it was important that his eyes glow as part of the story and he has to hide that from people. So this is definitely a tension in the story, but hey, sometimes you just make aesthetic decisions. Not everything is perfectly real in this work of fiction.
Another one of these kinds of subtle fantastical elements is his watch face. You’ll notice that it doesn’t have hands. If you speak to Jason about this story and these characters, he’ll tell you about how he’s trying to deconstruct superheroes. And between us we had to decide the levels at which to set dystopia, fantasy, and reality. The inclusion of a watch without hands is my version of Superman’s “S” for this time traveler. It’s a nod enough.
Tommy's twin sister, Zoe is more of a blunt instrument, even though she rivals her brother's skill at deduction. Because Zoe relies more on common sense than Tommy does, she can often point out the things that he's missed. Zoe is also highly skilled with languages, cryptology, and very good at catching someone in a lie. While Tommy is more apt to settle things peacefully, Zoe is not above using force or fear to get her way. Although she enjoys relentlessly teasing her brother, she is also highly protective of him. She has enhanced physical endurance and strength, which often comes in handy if she needs to throw someone through a window. However, Zoe is haunted by some of the choices she's made along this seemingly damned journey through time.
Note from Jason:
There is a running theme throughout the series about "balance" and Tommy and Zoe are meant to be the living embodiment of that idea. However, we didn't want this to be "Holmes and Watson", but more like "Holmes and Holmes", if you paired the Robert Downey Jr. version with the Benedict Cumberbatch version. They are both equally competent but complement each other in necessary ways with their preferred methods. Zoe is a much more tortured character and her concern for Tommy forms the emotional center of the story.
In earlier versions of the story, Tommy and Zoe were still siblings, but they were direct rivals. I thought about Professor X and Magneto, lifelong friends with vastly different ideologies often coming together on common ground when it was needed. In the end, that wasn't quite the dynamic I wanted for these characters. Instead, I saw them pretty much on common ground as far as their immediate goals (solving a mystery), but philosophically divided as far as the bigger picture, not just their methods.
For Zoe, getting out of this time travel predicament is futile, but rather than give in to despair, she approaches everything with fatalistic indifference. She and Tommy are pretty much immortal and when they fix the timeline they are cast in, they get moved onto the next disaster and are forgotten. But, within that bitterness, is some fragility and vulnerability, that only her brother ever glimpses. Its this duality to her character that is very real for a lot of people. A hard outer shell covering up some real suffering inside.
When Jay and I first started talking about the story and characters, I saw in Zoe the opportunity to draw a strong and complex main character. I was immediately attracted to her manner of being, and I saw similarities between her temperament and my own. Because I found her so relatable, I wanted to make/find her attractive. Her hair cut is a throwback to the way some of the girls in my high school—a few years ahead of me—would cut their own hair. This of course seemed very, very cool to me. Aspirational levels of coolness. Levels of cool that inspire characters in comics decades later.
I wanted Zoe to have a strong face. My references for her are Amanda Palmer and Ingrid Mouth. These women have strength and presence, and a certain shape to their mouths which I love. I also remember the feeling both of these women gave me as I discovered their music, and porn, respectively.
Now having said that, and as much as I can pat myself on the back for not wanting to draw a sexy 80s pin-up girl, I very much feel the influence of another perhaps not so noble trope: that of the manic pixie dream girl. I’m hoping that by being aware of this, I can actively subvert it. Of course, I still want to straddle that line, and portray that “bit of crazy” that I can’t help but be attracted to. It’s an aspect of myself that I like, and that I like in others. It’s the characterization of that due to misunderstanding, that I want to avoid.
I asked Jason what he thought of the idea of giving Zoe a scar on her mouth. While he hadn’t prescribed it in the character descriptions he gave me, it was something that had crossed his mind as well so we both turned the key once I mentioned it. She’s been through some shit, and this mark lets you know that physically. I’m aware that a scar, blemish, or physical abnormality usually means something like compromised moral character, but I really wanted to include it to celebrate toughness. Conversely, it also means vulnerability because it reminds me that she’s not invulnerable. I think about how Padma Lakshmi celebrates her scar, and never covers it up out of shame.