Jamie S. Rich is the writer of such books as 12 Reasons Why I Love Her (with Joëlle Jones), Love the Way You Love (with Marc Elerby), The Everlasting, and I Was Someone Dead. This month, he has three new books available for preorder; A Boy & A Girl (with Natalie Nourigat) and Spell Checkers Vol. 3 (with Nicolas Hitori De and Joëlle Jones) from Oni Press and It Girl and the Atomics Round Two: The World Is Flat (with Mike Norton and Natalie Nourigat) from Image. Westfield’s Roger Ash recently spoke with Rich to learn more about these books.
Westfield: Let’s start with A Boy & A Girl. Where did the idea for this story come from?
Jamie S. Rich: The real beginning of it was that Natalie Nourigat had some projects with Oni that she was going to do on her own, but it was suggested that, for her first go around, she should work with a writer so she wouldn’t have to cut her teeth by doing the entire project. She came to me because we had worked together on some short stuff and asked if I wanted to collaborate. So really, the whole thing just started with us talking and figuring out what kind of story we wanted to do together. It was a real dialog. We knew we wanted to do something that was both visually interesting but emotionally honest. Once we came up with the idea of setting it in the future, we could have artificial intelligence, which was a big idea we wanted to put into it. The concept is basically a “date night” genre where you go out with someone and you’ve got one night together and everything kind of snowballs and gets out of control. In this world, we could play with the idea of choices and what are you going to do tomorrow when tomorrow is so uncertain. People are being replaced by machines. That kind of thing. It sounds really heavy, but in reality it’s a light story with lots of comedy and romance and action. But we wanted a little something different behind it as well.
Westfield: What can you say about the two characters who are going on the date?
Rich: They meet at a party where this man is reintroducing his mother to the world. She has passed away, but he has bought a robot simulation of her so that he never has to let her go. They sort of bond over how weird and creepy that is. Travis is a college student who is about to graduate, but his major was digital ethics and he has no idea what he’s going to do with that. He has one of those majors where he’s like, “why did I do this to myself? Why did I go through all this education and there are so few practical applications of it?” He’s searching for what his next step will be, whereas Charley is about to be assigned to a work program and is waiting to go out the next day. So you have two different people; one who can’t figure out what he’s going to do and one who knows exactly what she wants from life and is looking forward to it. That’s why they have a clock ticking on their relationship.
Westfield: What about artificial intelligence made you want to use that as part of the story?
Rich: It kind of came down to this idea of choices. There are questions within the story about do these very lifelike androids, who simulate exactly what it’s like to be human and replace the humans, do they have the ability to choose? The thing between Charley and Travis is that to his mind, because she signed up for a government program, they are basically going to give her the job they want to give her and she has to accept it. He’s wondering if she’s any better off; are we all giving up our choices? Part of it too is we just didn’t want to have your standard talking heads comic set in the real world where there wasn’t much to look at. We wanted to build a future from the ground up so that we could have flying cars and different devices. Our future realm has a class system that is based on where you live in a building. So if it’s a skyscraper, the higher up you are, the more well-to-do you are and the poor are left at the bottom. It gave us a lot more possibilities for what the characters could get up to that night. There’s also the question of who they run into, who’s real and who’s not.
Westfield: As I read the description of the book, I wondered if any of this is inspired by where we are today and how you can be out and see everyone into their phoines instead of the people they’re with.
Rich: To a degree there are characters who come in ond out who are trying to contact them and phone or text them. We are taking it to an extreme as technology continues to grow and everywhere you go, someone can find you and look in on you. It does pop up and there are definitely smart phones and that type of communication. After the party, Travis actually tracks Charley down using social media. While it wasn’t a conscious, “let’s reflect on how our world is,” that did creep in as I was writing it.
Westfield: You’ve done a number of stories that deal with relationships. What do you find so fertile about that subject?
Rich: What’s interesting is that the more I do, the harder it becomes to come up with a concept like A Boy & A Girl. I used to think you could go “as long as I have a girl I like and a guy I like, I can put them together and I can tell a story.” As we were trying to figure out what made this story different, I realized that that is the constant challenge of doing relationship-based stories – how can I say something else. How is this going to stand apart from 12 Reasons Why I Love Her or one of my novels? What it basically comes down to is I am fascinated by people. I am fascinated by how they get along. Any story you’re going to tell has to have that kind of human element to it. I’m not interested in books where the characters are just sort of automatons that serve the plot. I suppose a lot of it just comes out of the entertainment I’ve consumed throughout my life from pop music to old movies; there’s always some kind of romance element to it. Even doing You Have Killed Me and writing crime books, there’s always some kind of central relationship to it. So much of what happens to us as people is based upon how we feel about others and how we want to treat others. I think that’s why I keep going back to it.
Westfield: Also being solicited this month is a new Spell Checkers book. For people who may not have read the previous volumes, what should they know about the book?
Rich: Hopefully it’s something they can jump in and out of and can pick up any volume and still enjoy it. The basic premise is that it’s three girls who, when they were young, got their hands on a witch’s spell book. Since they had it since they were children, they’ve grown up with the ability to perform magic. Unfortunately for their classmates, they’re not the nicest kids on the block. They are technically the mean girls and they run their high school using magic. I always enjoyed the rude high school comedies and I wanted to do something like that, but give it a special twist. If you like insult humor and gross out humor, Spell Checkers may very well be the book for you. It has the added element of the fantastic where demons show up and all sorts of shenanigans. In the third one they go to prom and, as per usual with them, discover that they’ve pissed off certain people and certain mythical forces align against them and they have to defend themselves.
Westfield: Who are the three girls?
Rich: I play with the essential archetype you see in movies like Mean Girls and Heathers. There’s Cynthia who’s the prissy one, Jesse is the smart one, and Kimmie who’s the badass. They’re a pretty close knit trio. A lot of what the book ends up being about, despite all the insults being thrown back and forth, is that teenage friendship that at least I had. My friends and I were all smartasses and we all picked on each other. That was just our way. It’s like I can say something bad about my family, but you can’t. Same thing with my friends. Ultimately, all the books end up being about how these girls band together despite that, on the surface, they look like they hate each other. In reality, they’re best friends.
Westfield: That’s how my friends and I were as well.
Rich: It’s a weird social dynamic where one day somebody’s on top and the next day they’re on the bottom, but everybody forgives each other in the end.
Westfield: You work with two artists on the book. Why did you decide to do that?
Rich: Originally, the stories grew out of a sketch Joëlle Jones had done of these three girls she saw at a bar and I really liked the sketch. At some point, neither of us can remember exactly how it happened, whether it was her idea or my idea, we decided to take those characters and build a story around them. At the time, we were doing You Have Killed Me and Joëlle had other assignments and it was obvious that it would take a long time for her to get to it. That was when I met Nicolas Hitori De through MySpace, that’s how long ago it was, and just thought his art was perfect for it. What we did was I basically borrowed the model we used to use on Hopeless Savages where every issue had two different artists and one drew the main story and one drew flashbacks that illuminated what was going on in the main narrative. I basically ripped that structure off from Jen Van Meter and had Joëlle doing all the flashbacks. One review I really liked explained it that in reality, the girls were more human when they were younger before they had all these powers and so Joëlle’s art shows them more realisticly, and they get more cartoony the older they get. I thought that was a pretty good theory that I was going to adopt and pretend like we did that on purpose.
Westfield: Also solicited this month is the new It Girl and the Atomics collection. Is there anything you’d like to say about that?
Rich: Yeah. It Girl had a learning curve to a degree. I really got my legs as far as how to write a superhero story by the second story arc and ended up focusing less on the longer, complicated tale like we did in the first five issues, and did shorter stories that were more about having fun and showing It Girl going off on superhero adventures. I feel like, creatively, we got stronger and stronger. I’m really proud of how the second six issues came together. Also, it was fun to continue to work with Mike Norton but also to bring in Natalie Nourigat. We’d already been done with A Boy and A Girl for a while, so it was nice to re-team with her. I find my writing really adapts, or I adapt, to who I’m working with. I feel like the two issues she did would not have happened without having her involved; I wouldn’t have come up with the same kind of characters. I feel like if people are missing out on just a fun superhero book you can pick up anytime and just read and not have to worry about a giant back catalog of continuity, this is the book for you. That’s what I wanted out of my superhero books, so I basically wrote my own.
Westfield: What can you say about the stories that are in the volume?
Rich: There are six issues and three different storylines, though two of them connect together. It’s similar to A Boy & A Girl in that there’s a lot going on; big robots to fight, there’s super technology that exists just beyond the parameters of the real world. As a character, It Girl continues to grow and evolve and become secure in her job as a superhero. A lot of the fun of writing her is constantly coming up with things that she can use in her adventures. Her power is she can touch anything and appropriate those properties. As I’m writing the stories, the challenge becomes how do I find new and inventive ways for her to use those powers to get out of whatever jam she’s in? This time, we’ve created all the villains on our own so there’s a variety of characters including a Jack Kirby-inspired group of little kid commandos who are super spies but they’re all in junior high. There’s a man who has eternal life. Those kinds of plots; your basic Silver Age superhero plots.
Westfield: The series has ended. Do you hope to go back and do more with It Girl eventually?
Rich: Yeah. There was kind of a convergence of circumstances. Mike Norton, who draws like four books a month, is working on Revival, The Answer!, Battlepug, and he often collaborates doing backgrounds for Jamie McKelvie at Marvel. He was going to have to move on and there were just certain other circumstances behind the scenes that aligned where it made sense to shut it down for a while. I have a third story arc I’d really like to do at some point, but I’m waiting for the timing to be correct, find the artist to do it, and see how we wanted to go from there. At some point, Mike Allred’s going to be coming back to do Madman as well, so that’s also going to be a factor in when we get back to doing another It Girl.
Westfield: You have all this coming out now. Do you have any other projects in the works?
Rich: The funny thing in having three books in Previews is they’re all coming out a month apart; September, October, and November. So at least it will be spread out a little bit. I do have more going on. I have a book with Dan Christensen that should be happening sometime in early 2014 at Oni Press. I’m going to have a couple projects with an artist named Megan Levens that we’re going to do with a couple different publishers. I’m about to be starting on a new project with Joëlle Jones. We’re going to be doing an ongoing series together for Oni that is based on an idea she came up with and that we developed together. That’s something I’m really excited about. It’s been almost five years since she and I did a full project together, so it’s going to be fun to get back to collaborating with her. We’re co-writing it this time and I think it’s going to be a far more interesting project for me as a writer to work even more closely with my artist.
Westfield: Any closing comments?
Rich: I consider myself lucky that I get to do so many different things. They keep letting me back in. After I do one book, they let me do another. It’s all I can hope for. I’ve been waiting a while for some of these projects to come out, so I’m looking forward to seeing what people think.