Whether it’s the doomed romantic story of “12 Reasons I Love Her” or the noir murder mystery of “You Have Killed Me,” Jamie S. Rich and JoÃ«lle Jones have a long history of collaboration — and their next project could be one of their most intriguing yet. “Lady Killer,” a new series from Dark Horse Comics releasing in January 2015, focuses on Josie Schuller: homemaker, wife, mother and brutal assassin. Taking place in 1960s Seattle, the series takes the concept of the bored sitcom housewife and gives her something to do: Murder.
Based on a concept developed by Jones in 2011, “Lady Killer” is the result of research into ads, educational films and cinema of the 1960s that allows the artist to cut loose with a level of violence that can only be described as “Mad Men’s” Betty Draper meets “Dexter.” The creative team is rounded out with the colors of Laura Allred and letterer Crank!.
CBR News spoke with Jones and Rich about their longtime collaborative process, what makes “Lady Killer” stand apart from the rest of the books on the stands and why the concept of a ’60s housewife as a contact killer is even more interesting than it seems at first glance.
Jamie, JoÃ«lle — what can you tell us about how “Lady Killer” came to be and why you decided to collaborate on the series.
JoÃ«lle Jones: I came up with the idea, told Jamie about it and asked him if it had any legs. He seemed really excited about it. We sat on it for quite some time and tooled around with it and eventually made some pages.
Jamie S. Rich: The concept she brought forward — this housewife in the early 1960s who is also an assassin — at the time, she already had the origin story, how it came about. She has the basic starting point, and we just started batting it around, watching movies and reading about the ’60s. As it seems to be now, that concept is just instantly reactive, and it’s a pretty easy sell based on that slug.
A couple years back, JoÃ«lle, you had those faux-’60s housewife ads with the wives actually posing as murderers in a subtle way. Was that part of what inspired “Lady Killer?”
Jones: I’d come up with the idea for “Lady Killer,” and I’d come up with those as an idea for research and having fun. I really wanted to draw the character and draw that world. That was just a way for me to play around with it without having to jump right in and do the comic yet.
What’s the core concept behind the series? Who are the people involved and where does the story pick up?
Rich: The main character’s name is Josie, and essentially, she is your average housewife. They live near Seattle, and if you know anything about that time period — we’ve referenced Betty Draper in some of the advertising — the reality of it is that housewives were really bored. A lot of them were educated up to a certain point, then they’d get married and drop all their education. As technology improved, the less they had to do. The easier it got to clean the house, the less time it took, the less you had to do throughout the day.
We worked with that concept — what other outlet could she have? That was JoÄ“lle’s concept: She could be a killer. Part of what the eventual arc will be is figuring out who she’s working for and why. The character arc that we first started with is that when she begins doing this, she discovers she has a real knack for it, and the moral ambiguities there were really fascinating. Does she come to like it, why does she kill, how she chooses to kill were what really intrigued me about JoÃ«lle’s initial ideas.
You’ve collaborated together on a few different projects before, in a myriad of genres, but “Lady Killer” is a new endeavor for both of you — especially with the violence level as high as it is. What was the challenge for you in taking on a genre like this?
Jones: The collaboration is completely different on this one. I’m spearheading this one and taking control. The dynamic’s shifted quite a bit, but I think after some growing pains in the beginnings, we’re getting our sea legs.
Rich: Yeah, JoÃ«lle is — in a sense — the head writer. She’s done most of the plotting except for certain scenes here or there that we talk through. I’m almost like Harvey Keitel in “Pulp Fiction,” where I walk in and we look at where all the body parts are and we figure out how to clean it up, and I’m doing all the dialogue polish. But how the first issue is plotted out is all JoÃ«lle, then I came in and wrote a lot of the dialogue and re-wrote some of it.
I think a lot of what we started off with, that we had to figure out how to work through, was figuring out the right tone. We both really like “Charade,” and that movie in particular is this interesting bridge between old Hollywood and the upcoming ’70s, where it’s really light and fluffy — it’s Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn — but it gets really dark and violent. I think that was an early touchstone that we talked about, and bringing that level of violence into what is usually a very safe, very clean world.
What other pieces from that time period helped inspire the series?
Jones: I read “The Feminine Mystique.” I think that was a big inspiration. Reading about these women, their lives and how — just bubbling underneath the surface — there was all this emotion that had to be tamped down. I felt like that was really good ground to work with in this really tense situation.
I didn’t watch a lot of film for it. I mostly went to advertising, books — I watched a lot of those educational videos of how to dress and stuff. I’ve watched so many of those, I’ve watched a ton. I really enjoyed it! Sometimes, I’ll still watch a few of them. [Laughs] Etiquette books, stuff like that.
You were really deeply entrenched in the ’60s when it came to researching this book.
Jones: I was, back when I was coming up with the idea and working it out. Now, I try to stay away from it too much. I feel like if I research too much at this point, it might take the book in a different direction. I already know where I want to go. Now it’s that practice of forget everything you’ve learned and go forward.
JoÃ«lle, you’ve had a very diverse career in comics, taking on all kinds of genres from “Madame Xanadu” to “Ultimate Spider-Man” and “Helheim.” How is designing characters for “Lady Killer” different from any other project you’ve done?
Jones: I’ve always been a fan of the earlier Disney films. I can’t stand the ones in the ’90s. I really wanted it to have a feel of — I love [Disney animator] Milt Kahl in particular — and I wanted it to have a feel, a callback to the animation I really love, but juxtapose it with horrible violence. I thought that would be funny and it tickled me. I tried to do a lot of character designs along those lines.
Beyond the art and the writing, the coloring is also a big part of the book — and you’ve got Laura Allred as the colorist for “Lady Killer.” She doesn’t do much coloring outside of Mike Allred’s work.
Rich: I think the last person she colored — she just did the “Duke” miniseries — but the last person she colored with Jaime Hernandez for the Marvel “Strange Tales” anthology. She only colors people she likes or is interested in, and she loves “Love and Rockets,” so she jumped on it.
JoÃ«lle wanted to color it herself to set the tone and it seemed like schedule-wise it would be tough, so I asked her, “Who would you want?”
Jones: Yeah, and I said, “My dream colorist would be Laura, but there’s no way I’d ever get her.” Jamie said, “Well, let’s just ask.” We asked and she said yeah. I was so excited! It was only matched by when I got the pages and I saw the colors. I fucking love them. They’re so pretty.
Rich: I think what made her such an obvious choice is what she and Mike do together — I think Mike hates it that he gets called retro so much — but that almost flat color style. She doesn’t use a lot of blend, she doesn’t use a lot of modern techniques, even though it is all digital.
Jones: There’s not a lot of modeling, either.
Rich: We also knew she would understand all the cultural references, all the ad artwork. One of the guys we talk about is Robert McGuinness and they have a huge Robert McGuinness poster in their living room. There was no having to give her any of that information.
Jones: She knows.
With a colorist as experienced as Laura, do you find that you don’t have to give much direction?
Jones: I don’t at all. I really want to be hands-off and see what she would do. I was just excited and I wanted to see her go nuts, so I didn’t give her any direction at all. I’m so happy with it.
Rich: The sense I’ve gotten from Laura is that she’s more concerned that JoÃ«lle’s happy — they’re so concerned with the other being happy! It’s kind of like the perfect relationship.
How long has this idea actually been in development?
Jones: Three, four years.
Rich: It was at San Diego — 2011 when you did those ads? Early 2011 is probably when we started talking about it.
Jones: It feels really good [to see it happen]. I was never able to make it happen because of scheduling conflicts, so it feels great to finally see it and get it out of my system.
Looking at the level of violence in the book, it’s a much higher level than anything you’ve drawn in the past. Was that therapeutic for you?
Jones: [Laughs] I think so, yeah! I have a really dark tone of mind, so it’s nice to have an outlet. [Laughs] Yeah, I have a morbid sense of humor and love dark comedies. Her stabbing that lady in the chest was so fun for me to draw. It made me chuckle, I really enjoyed it.
I do the scene completely inked first and then I do the blood spatter on top of it, so it’s always funny to see it really bloodless. It’s perfect and pretty and then I just go and destroy it with ink. I really enjoy that part.
You’ve got a really cohesive team on “Lady Killer” — the two of you have worked together for years, and you’ve got Laura on colors and Crank! on letters. With creator-owned comics becoming much more popular, how challenging is it to put together an all-star team like this?
Rich: Yeah, this was pretty much magic on how this came together. The first colorist we thought of, we got. I’ve worked with the Allreds now for over 10 years — 15 years, something like that. I’ve known them for 20. It’s definitely almost like a family affair at this point. I’ve worked with Crank! on a lot of stuff.
It’s funny because Laura Allred doesn’t have her own email address, so we have to send her everything through Mike. There was actually a funny story where Laura turned in the first color and everyone’s looking at the color and wondering what happened to the lineart. It was really dark and plugging up, and nobody could figure out what happened. We all wake up one morning and there was this super long email from Mike that said, “Well, Laura’s going to kill me, but I was really fascinated by JoÃ«lle’s textures, so I went in and played with the file.” He messed with all the settings! It was easy to fix, but it was this big mystery.
I thought that was a big compliment for JoÃ«lle, because he wanted to zoom in and check out how she did her inking.
Jones: Yeah, it was sweet.
Wrapping up, what’s your hope for the series? Is this something you want to be doing five years down the line?
Jones: I guess that would be lovely, but my hope is pretty simple: I really want people to get the sense of fun I had creating it. I hope they have as much fun reading it as I had making it. I’ll ride that as long as it’ll take me. If people keep enjoying it, then I’ll keep doing it. If people don’t want to read it, then I’m done. I got it out of my system. We’re just having a good time!
Rich: Yeah, I’d like to have some time to explore the different aspects of the story, but I think JoÃ«lle picked a good starting point where — if for whatever reason, this was it — it’s going to be completely satisfying for everyone who reads it. I like when people respond to characters and they want to know more. I hope that comes across and that’s the demand.
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