Bestselling author Janet Evanovich’s “Alex Barnaby” series continues in July, transitioning from prose novel to graphic novel courtesy of Dark Horse. “Troublemaker,” co-written with daughter Alex Evanovich and featuring art by Joelle Jones, will be published in two volumes, with the potential for more Barnaby stories to follow. CBR News caught up with Jones, the artist, and editor Sierra Hahn to discuss the project.
Since debuting in “Metro Girl,” NASCAR mechanic and spotter Alex Barnaby has found both romance and adventure with driver Sam Hooker, and in “Troublemaker” the pair will have to navigate voodoo curses, mysterious messages, and their own complicated relationship to rescue a friend whose fallen in with some unsavory characters.
Though there is no shortage of authors and creators from other media crossing over into the comic book field, Evanovich may be one of the more surprising entries of recent years. “We had initially reached out to her because she’d written this glowing review of ‘Buffy Season 8’ for ‘Time’ magazine, and we were very appreciative of that. We got her address and sent her some books to say thank you,” said Sierra Hahn, the editor on “Troublemaker.” “That led to us building a relationship with her when we found out she was a big comics fan, and that some of her favorite titles are ‘Buffy’ and ‘Little Lulu,’ which we also publish. The relationship and discussion kind of grew out of that.”
Hahn said that the chance to work in comics allowed Evanovich to return to the world of her heroine Alex Barnaby, who has previously appeared in the novels “Motormouth” and “Metrogirl.” “Lately she’s been so focused on the ‘Stephanie Plum’ series, but she had this opportunity to revisit Alex Barnaby. When discussion of making some comics came up, it seemed like a good opportunity to revitalize that series, which is such a visual, action-packed type of story. It seemed the perfect fit for it,” Hahn told CBR.
Given that Evanovich is an established author but that she and daughter Alex, who is scripting the project, are both new to the medium, CBR asked Hahn whether there were aspects of early “Troublemaker” drafts that presented editorial challenges different from what might be seen from more comics-specific creators. “I was really impressed, actually, when the first script came in from Alex, because it was clear that she’d paid a lot of attention to the pacing – how much dialogue can fit on a page, how many panels on a page,” Hahn said. “She was very aware of page turns and having something dramatic happen on the left side of the book or the right side, so you’re not spoiling events that happen as you go along.
“There were certain places where I’d shift where panels would occur, or have fewer panels or more panels, or encourage her to put more dialogue into a page, which is generally not the problem,” Hahn continued, laughing. “Usually it’s like, ‘ok, we need less there,’ and that’s with very accomplished comics writers. I think if anything she was too safe in her approach, but that made it a lot easier for us to go in and add things to it, to really flesh it out, and make it feel like a comic.”
Jones, the artist on the series, agreed that the Evanoviches’ first comic script showed the opposite problem as many who are just beginning to write for the medium. While other screenwriters and novelists struggle with only being to show one action per panel, Jones said of “Troublemaker,” “I was a little surprised at first at how bare the script seem to be of direction for me. I thought that a lot of the characters gestures and actions and setting would be up to me, which I really didn’t mind. But the further along in the project that we got, I received a lot of feedback from them about maybe what was missing that they really wanted and had meant to add. Once we figured that out, the process went a little smoother.”
Visually depicting characters who have a previous existence in Evanovich’s prose novels was also something that Jones found herself fine-tuning based on the writers’ input. “It was a little difficult at first,” Jones said of finding the right look for Alex Barnaby and Sam Hooker. “I am sure that Janet and Alex had a very distinct idea of what their characters looked like before all this began, and to turn them loose into someone else’s hands to flesh them out, well, it took a while for me to iron out the kinks and to get as close to their vision as possible.”
Hahn recruited Jones for “Troublemaker” with input from Janet and Alex Evanovich, who Hahn said “loved Joelle’s stuff right from the get-go.” “That process was really easy for me, to find someone who could achieve the visual aspects of [the story]. I’ve been a longtime fan of Joelle’s stuff and I think she has really, really interesting dynamic characterization. She puts a lot of energy and motion into her characters, there’s a lot of fluidity there. So I knew that the energy that you find in Janet’s work with Joelle’s visuals would be a really great combination.”
The energy in Jones’s work manifests itself a bit differently in each project she takes on, from the humor of “Dr. Horrible” to the noir thriller stylings of “You Have Killed Me.” “I would like to think that with every new project I will be able to try something different,” Jones said. “For ‘You Have Killed Me,’ it was more brooding and dark so I was able to try out some more angular lines and heavy blacks and it was so wonderful to work on. ‘Doctor Horrible’ had such a wonderful sense of humor to it and hopefully that carried over to the art.”
Jones’s most recent work, the first volume of a new “Spellcheckers” graphic novel series, was just released by Oni Press. The book also features art by Nicholas Hitori De and, like “You Have Killed Me” and “12 Reasons Why I Love Her,” is written by Jamie S. Rich. As she collaborates with Rich on so many projects, CBR asked Jones whether he gets protective of her work when she goes across town to work on “Troublemaker” or “Dr. Horrible.” “I don’t know – he sure teases me about it, but I think that as long as I can work with him every now and then I don’t think he minds.”
While Jones keeps busy with the second volumes of both “Spellcheckers” and “Troublemaker,” editor Hahn said that she’s eager to see how both comics readers and Evanovich’s fans respond to their initial offering. “I think it’s interesting to bring in people who aren’t generally known for working in the comics medium and seeing how people respond, be it Gerard Way from My Chemical Romance with ‘Umbrella Academy’ or Janet Evanovich doing this,” Hahn said. “It’s fun, it’s exciting.
“Hopefully, for Janet’s fans, they get to experience a new medium that I certainly love and that Janet loves. I think her fanbase really trusts her taste, she’s a taste-maker for them, so for her to say, ‘Look at this really fantastic medium, this is what I’m going to do with it,’ that’s an exciting thing for her fans. It also revitalizes a character that readers haven’t seen for a while. I think they’ll be excited by being able to visualize those characters and this world. I hope that comics readers are drawn to the energy and the pacing and the characterization. I think Janet’s books have a lot of great energy, a lot of really great characters, a lot of humor, a lot of action that I think comic fans will find enjoyable, too.”