J. Torres Breaks New Ground with Archie's "Jinx: Little Miss Steps"

Jinx Holliday entered the world in Archie Comics' Pep Comics in 1947 as Li'l Jinx, a mischievous little girl who drove her parents crazy. As the comic progressed, Jinx's mother, Mery, faded into the background, and the stories -- still short, still funny -- focused on Jinx and her father, Hap. There never was an explanation given for Mery's disappearance, but she wasn't really needed; the father-daughter dynamic gave writers plenty of material for the short gag comic.

Over the past few years, the Archie editors have revisited many forgotten corners of their intellectual property vault, and last year they brought Jinx back as a teenager in a graphic novel written by J. Torres ("Alison Dare," "Teen Titans Go!") and penciled by Eisner-winning artist Rick Burchett ("She-Hulk," "The All-New Batman: The Brave and the Bold"). As they did with the "Life With Archie" series, the editors aged the characters up in ways that, while occasionally surprising, fit perfectly with the earlier incarnations. Hap is a single dad, Jinx is a feisty, tomboyish teenager, her good friend Greg is an awkward teenage boy, and her best girl friends Gigi and Roz are glamorous and down-to-earth, respectively. That first volume was a solid, if not terribly remarkable, high-school story.

The second volume of the series, "Jinx: Little Miss Steps," ventures into new territory, not only for Archie comics but for the genre as a whole. Mery comes back into the picture, but at first all she does is let Jinx down, making appointments and then canceling them. While Jinx is trying to cope with this, and the other complications of high school (boys!), she is also trying to convince everyone that she should be allowed to play baseball and not be shunted off into softball like the other girls. Then the whole story is turned on her head in by two startling plot twists that cause Jinx to question who she really is and what she really wants. I talked to writer J. Torres about the genesis of this story, the reasoning behind Mery's dramatic revelation and writing a story with realistic teenage girl-style twists, turns and genuine surprises.

CBR News: When you sat down to write this story, what did you have in mind? Was this storyline your idea, or did the editors hand you a fully plotted outline?

Torres returns to the high school world of Jinx in "Little Miss Steps"

J. Torres: I came up with the plot with some input from my editor Suzannah Rowntree. I've had a general direction for Jinx's arc, from freshman year to graduation, from the start of this project. Things have changed along the way, but that happens a lot with my writing. The plot I pitch changes when I outline the story, then the outline changes some as I script, and the script changes when I see the art and tweak dialogue, but generally it's always moving towards the same direction.

When I talked to you a few years ago about the first volume, you said the Jinx strips of your youth "had a little more of an 'edge' to them than the other material in the digests. I enjoyed that." Your Jinx is certainly edgier than the teenage Archie characters, and she actually has a pretty rough time in this book. Did you feel like you were breaking new ground, in terms of the Archie world, anyway?

I like to think so. There are things we've done in the book that I doubt they'd allow in the Archie books. The kids talk about relationships and sexuality in more realistic terms, I think. It's still fairly "wholesome" but maybe more like a teen sitcom than an Archie comic. Although, we may be getting into "less wholesome," but totally appropriate,  territory later.

In the back of the book, there's an explanation of how the characters evolved from their portrayals in the original strip. Can you talk a bit about the thought process that went into that?

It all started with Suzannah, who envisioned how the kids from the Li'l Jinx comics grew up. She diversified the cast even more, giving them more ethnic depth than simply being  "white" and "black," and gave them some backstory, like making Gigi a child star, inspired by the original comics. She also had looks for the kids, from hairstyles to clothing, and even some real life "models" for Rick to reference. I then took all of that information, which was kind of/sort of presented to me in a format not entirely unlike The Official Guide to the Marvel Universe, and fleshed out the characters and their backstory a little more, developing some plots to continue to evolve them as they made their way through high school. All the while, the relationships and dynamics Joe Edwards created for the characters and how they interacted with each other are my blueprint. It keeps going back to Li'l Jinx and how well that world was established, which makes our job easier and a lot of fun.

I always liked Li'l Jinx because her relationship with her father reminded me of my relationship with mine. Can you explain how that became such an important part of the story of teenage Jinx?

It was a big part of the original strips, so it made sense to keep it up, but let it evolve the way a father/daughter relationship evolves when a girl goes from wearing pigtails to wanting her own cellphone. I borrow a lot from my sister's relationship with my dad, which was equal parts loving, antagonistic, humorous and dramatic.

Usually teenage girls have a hard time with their mothers. Did Jinx's mother being absent make the story more interesting or more difficult to write?

With a cast this big, having one less person in Jinx's house definitely helped! I totally understand why Disney has so many single parent families in their movies. But seriously, her absence, which dates back to the original comics actually, helped set up some interesting dynamics in the family, gave me an excuse to explore Jinx's personality, fill in some gaps, explain why she is the way she is, etc.

Speaking of that -- and I'm going to put a big spoiler warning here -- one of the most dramatic plot twists is when Jinx's mother comes out as a lesbian. How difficult was that to write about? Did you have any real-life role models?

The most difficult part was trying to make it feel "real" and unforced. I tried to come up with a backstory for Mery, where she's been, what happened to her marriage, why she's  so preoccupied lately -- and some inspiration came from a family friend who went through a similar situation. I also didn't want to paint Mery as the bad guy, however for a time, understandably, Jinx will feel that way about her. I made Gigi, on the other hand, more mature, more sympathetic towards Mery to balance out Jinx's reaction and for reasons we'll hopefully get to explore later.

Jinx wants to play baseball -- not softball, like her mother did. I think the reader wants to take her side, so it was interesting when her friend Gina said "There is nothing wrong with having spaces for boys and spaces for girls, and giving girls a chance to excel without boys getting in the way." Then Jinx tries out for the baseball team -- and fails. That was a pretty gutsy plot twist! In comics like this, the feisty girl always makes the team. Why did you do that, and what are you trying to say (if anything) about girls and breaking barriers?

I've seen that plot before and like you said, it plays out the same way every time. I decided to zag instead of zig, and I think it rings truer. First, although I'm no expert in either baseball or softball, the research I've done and the people I've spoken to back up my assumption that it's not that easy to switch gears. They're different sports, particularly when it comes to the mechanics of pitching, so Jinx doesn't make a smooth and easy transition on that level. Also, with everything going on around her, plus the fact that in the past she always came out on top, I thought it'd be fun to bring her down. It's the classic technique of breaking down your hero to build them up again. Um -- spoiler alert? I'm not sure what this particular plot element says about girls breaking down barriers, but as Suzannah likes to put it, we're going for "real not ideal" characters.

Jinx's reactions to everything -- her mom's news, blowing her baseball tryout, boys -- are always over the top, yet very human. How do you, a grown man, write convincingly about teenage girls?

My former Oni Press editor Jamie S. Rich once accused me of being a teenage girl trapped in an old man's body. I don't think he was the first to do that but I'm pretty sure he won't be the last. In all seriousness, this touches on some issues that I've been thinking a lot about lately, concerning definitions of manhood/manliness, and how we keep telling girls they can do anything boys can do, but rarely do we tell boys they can do whatever girls can do. So, why can't a guy, even an old guy, write a girl, even a teenage girl, as well as a woman, right? Maybe I'll explore this in a future volume of Jinx. But to answer your question, and not to sound trite, we're all human, we all go through puberty, most of us go to high school, and there are universal experiences. I think that's what I'm tapping into.

Tags: archie comics, rick burchett, j torres, lil jinx, jinx

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