Jamie S. Rich Expands "Madman's" World With "It Girl and The Atomics"

Madman might have jetted into space at the end of "Madman Atomic Comics," but soon, fans will once again get a monthly dose of Snap City goodness. While creator Mike Allred busies himself with other projects like "I, Zombie" and "Mystery In Space," longtime "Madman" editor Jamie S. Rich and artist Mike Norton ("Fear Itself: Youth In Revolt," "Booster Gold") have joined forces to bring readers the adventures of "Madman" hero It Girl and her teammates in the new Image Comics ongoing series "It Girl and the Atomics."

Kicking off in August, the new series follows the adventures of It Girl as she busies herself in a world without Madman, subjecting herself to Dr. Flem's weird tests, which give her a ginchy, out-there experience. During the course of the series, the heroine encounters the Skunk, who accidentally killed It Girl's sister Lava Lass in "The Atomics" #7. Although Lava Lass was later resurrected, Skunk was never revisited as a character. Now, following his release from prison, the former villain takes to the streets trying to make a better life for himself -- much to the chagrin of his former animal-based fellow villains.

To get the low-down on the newest installment of the beloved creator-owned superhero franchises, CBR News spoke to Rich about playing in Allred's world, the allure of It Girl as a character and the inception of continuing the "Madman" universe without its creator.

CBR News: Jamie, how did the idea first come up to do comics in the Madman/Atomics universe without Mike Allred writing them?

Jamie S. Rich: It was something I always thought would be fun. I know it's more common for comics creators to sit around and fantasize about their perfect Batman or Spider-Man story, but I was never invested in those kinds of characters. To me, the scope seemed limited, they were what they were, and you had decades of backwater to slog through. Whereas I knew the Mike Allred comics backwards and forwards from having edited them, and his was a universe so full of possibilities. He is only one guy after all, and he only has time to do so many comics, and those comics can only fit so many characters -- so there always was the idea that there maybe could be more.

The desire really took hold, though, when Joëlle Jones and I were asked to do a short story for the last Madman series, "Madman Atomic Comics." I also ended up writing a Mr. Gum short right around the same time, which Mike Allred and Dave Johnson drew for "Liberty Comics." Both came so naturally, I felt so comfortable playing with Mike's toys and trying on his voice, I wanted to do more. I had fun, and so I wanted more fun. And so when it seemed opportune, I suggested we do a spinoff. Mike immediately went for it, much to my delight.

You've been involved with Madman on the editing side of things for a while. Was it strange stepping into the writer's shoes on this project?

I thought it would be, but from the get-go, I felt like I was channeling the Mike Allred style. It sounds weird to describe, but it was like I tapped into something. A lot of it comes down to how open Mike is as a creator, he's excited by every possibility and so enthusiastic about the process, it's infectious. Also, a big part of the reason that my editorial relationship with Mike has lasted so long, even after I stopped editing everything else, was that we've always been kindred spirits. I get what he's doing, and it's in line with what I've always enjoyed about superhero comics and indie comics alike.

Did you find there was there a reversal of roles with you as writer and Mike in more of an overseer or editorial role?

To a degree. Much of my job as editor was just to make sure Mike was on track for what he wanted to do with his comics. He's pretty hands off, and so the editorial process is much the same. His thumbs-up means a ton to all of us on the team. [Image Publisher] Eric Stephenson is also serving as editor and he's been a great cheerleader, as well. Creating "It Girl and the Atomics" has been one of the most positive and exciting comics experiences I've had since embarking on my writing career.

Was it intimidating stepping into a world that has been almost completely created by Mike Allred?

Oh, sure, but I also played it smart. I understood my parameters. For instance, sticking with the end of "Madman Atomic Comics" #17 and keeping Madman in space took a lot of pressure off. Madman, as far as I am concerned, is Mike's and Mike's alone. The folks that surround him on the other hand...

It sounds like fans will be seeing some other familiar faces in the book -- who will be hanging around with It Girl in the series?

Beyond the Skunk, there are the remaining Atomics. Namely, Black Crystal and the Slug. The team's homebase is still in Dr. Flem's building, and with Madman in space, Flem needs a new test subject for his experiments. So, he'll be a real engine for creating trouble for It Girl. At the same time, there will be lots of new bad guys. Mike Norton and I have concocted an old gang for the Skunk that readers had never heard about before. Other animal-themed villains: the Ferret, the Otter and the Hedgehog. And in keeping with the theme of fresh starts, we're trying to approach this in an accessible manner, so that anyone can get up to speed whether they've ever read Madman or not.

The Madman universe and the Atomics as a team are packed with interesting characters. What were the key characteristics of It Girl that made her the star of this book?

It Girl was the last of the team to get her powers in the original series and she really embodied Mike's idea that these mutations could empower someone with anxieties, give them new opportunities. She was a shy girl who found confidence when she became a superhero. At the same time, she maintained the good heart she had beforehand, and so remained a relatively pure character despite the things that were happening to her. I was most intrigued by the idea that this was a woman who was still growing, still learning how to use her newfound abilities and position and be a real hero. That's the arc I see for her character in the book: learning to stand on her own two feet and fight with her own two fists.

The relationship between The Skunk and It Girl is an interesting one -- he accidentally killed her sister, but she's back from the dead and he's out of prison now. How does that dynamic play into the story?

Having never really written superheroes before, lots of interesting questions have come up for me. Just dealing with the basic comic book tropes, I keep finding spots where I'm like, "How does this work?" In the first issue, I have It Girl wonder why any petty thief would stay in a city that has a superhero, where you can't get away with anything. I laughed when I recently saw that Mark Millar had a book that started off with that very premise.

So, when I was reading over the original "Atomics" comics in preparation for the series, I realized Skunk is sent to jail and then forgotten, and I started to wonder what that means when, essentially, the person he is convicted of killing is no longer dead. Does he still serve the time? That event will prove to have deeper consequences throughout this arc for both the Skunk and It Girl and her family, it's not easily dismissed. I also liked how It Girl and Lava Lass were so different and that there was a little sibling rivalry there, so here the little sister might be able to do something for the big sister, maintain a sense of balance or justice on her behalf.

Between the game It Girl plays in the beginning of the first issue and some of the imagery in later installments, it looks like video games play heavily into the story. Are you a fan?

To be honest, I'm a complete video game idiot. I've never been very good at them, and I haven't owned a home game console since the Atari 2600. I think I'm the only child of the '80s who saw the "Wreck-It Ralph" trailer and didn't have any nostalgic triggers go off.

That said, I understand the draw of the games and how, for the duration of the playing, gamers get to immerse themselves in a story and adopt another identity. For me, that is very much in line with some of the central themes of the superhero genre: self-invention, alter-egos, all that. I deal with that some in my online prose novel, "Bobby Pins and Mary Janes," too; this notion of people in comic books having more than one identity. When you think about it, we read these things as wish fulfillment, and the heroes and villains represent our best and worst impulses unleashed. So, the video game in "It Girl and the Atomics" allows for another layer of that, an additional avatar for someone who already has two faces.

Mike Norton has done a wide variety of pencil work for Marvel and DC. What made him a good choice for this book and how has it been working with him?

Amazing. The entire team has been great. The whole ball started rolling at Trickster in San Diego last year. It's a real success story of the event. Scott Morse and his crew wanted to establish an environment where creative minds could meet and exchange ideas, and that's exactly what happened. Norton and I have known each other since my days as editor at Oni Press, and I've always loved his clean, expressive style. Turns out that he and I both read the same John Byrne comics as youngsters, and that has come into play a lot. We speak the same language.

I was lucky to snag the whole "Battlepug" team for this. Crank and Allen Passalaqua have been phenomenal on letters and coloring. These three are like a machine at this point, each working together and doing their part. The level of craft they bring to the table: the pages look astounding. I am giddy every day I get new pages. Norton really understands the balance of humor and drama that is so essential to the Allred universe. His character work really brings It Girl and the others to life, but he's equally adept at kinetic action and not afraid to let his imagination stretch. I toss some crazy stuff at him and he catches it all, fixes it up and tosses it back.

Mike Norton's art really does a great job of being a good mix of classic superhero and the kind of animated feel of Mike Allred's artistic style. Was that something you guys were specifically looking for when looking for artists?

There is definitely a certain aesthetic that goes along with "Madman," that's to be sure. While we didn't want someone who was going to ape the Allred style specifically, we had to find someone who had a similar "classic" illustrative approach. I really like clean drawing styles myself, so it wasn't that hard for me, I was just looking at people whose work I already appreciated. Ideally, "It Girl and the Atomics" collections can sit on your shelf next to your "Madman" collections and they will all fit together the way a Duncan Fegredo-drawn "Hellboy" comic looks so nice next to the Mike Mignola ones. Once Mike Norton's name entered the mix, it was a no-brainer. He did one drawing of Black Crystal, It Girl and the Slug, and it was like, "Oh, yeah, that's it." Mike Allred and Eric Stephenson immediately gave the green light.

"It Girl and the Atomics" #1 debuts from Image Comics on August 8.

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