Among the critically acclaimed series from Monkeybrain Comics, Amelia Cole by D.J. Kirkbride, Adam P. Knave and Nick Brokenshire stands out as one of the more successful. By success, we mean the creators' ability to consistently produce digital releases of individual issues, followed by collected editions release through IDW Publishing.
To date, Amelia Cole has produced 19 issues (with the 20th arriving this month), and three trade paperbacks: Amelia Cole and the Unknown World; Amelia Cole and the Hidden War; and Amelia Cole and the Enemy Unleashed. In terms of digital releases, Issue 20 will mark the second part of Amelia Cole and the Impossible Fate.
As part of this interview about the series, Kirkbride and Knave shared an early look at pages from the next issue.
Tim O'Shea: Throughout the series you have worked in little comics and pop culture Easter eggs -- stores named Toth and Frazetta, a soldier named Kubert and a Blues Brothers cameo. Do you try to work in nods like these in every issue, or do you pace it apart a little more? Any chance you will ever list all of the references at some point?
D.J. Kirkbride: A list of references is a good idea! Hmm ... maybe a trade extra, perhaps? As for the cameos and nods, they aren't planned. Once in a while we'll work them into the story via a character name like Kubert or sometimes with sound effects, or a general feel we'll going for, but most of them come from the magical pencil of Nick Brokenshire. He started surprising us right from Issue 1, and it's sometimes not until the trade that I see his little sneaky cameos. At one point we were worried there might be too many, but then it became apparent at conventions that readers love 'em, so we just sit back and watch now.
Adam P. Knave: We can let a reader do an Annotated Reference Guide some day, I think. I'd love to see it, in other words, but wouldn't want to have to gather the data. There are a lot of them, and they're all fun. But also there are a lot of them.
Kirkbride: It'd be fun, though ... maybe a contest! Hmmm ...
Now as you are on your way into Issue 20, the second issue of the fourth arc -- looking back over the run to date, how do you think the team has most improved as a storytelling unit?
Knave: Nick's art keeps growing and changing and I like to think that both D.J. and I have gotten better at telling stories, as well. Any long-form comic you'll see a steady team grow and evolve as it goes, that's one of the joys of a long run.
Kirkbride: This is also our first long-run comic. Before this, we had done several anthology shorts and had gotten pretty good at quick six- to 12-page ditties. To be able to keep going and developing the story and characters has been a joy, but that short comic training helped us learn to utilize all the space available to us. That with Nick's aptitude for clear yet detailed layouts, has helped us immensely, especially when we went to the 12- to 14-page 99-cent single issues. I like that most people didn't seem to notice the page count was shorter, so we were able to fit 22 pages of story in those 12 pages while adding up to a bigger epic. The biggest improvement is all of us realizing no story is too big. This is comics, so why not just go appropriately crazy?
From the outset, did you always intend to give the original Protector the name Hector?
Kirkbride: Haha, nope. Adam came up with that but thought I'd nix it, and instead, as is often the case, I thought it was a funny idea and thought we should go along with it instead.
Knave: Pretty sure I suggested it because it was funny and it would make you laugh, D.J. But then it sort of just worked. Because of the rhyme it echos so that now, though he is long-since not the Protector, the name filters into your brain and reminds you.
In the latest volume (Amelia Cole and the Enemy Unleashed), I was struck that the book's extras featured one story in black and white as well as other stories in one color (as opposed to full color). How much fun was it to dabble in different story dynamics like that?
Knave: The trade material is always a fun chance to play. Nick gets into working on them, and writes some of them as well, with D.J. and I helping to plot. Always good to play and see what other stuff we can do, when we don't have top keep to the exact format of the monthly book and can explore different nooks and crannies.
Kirkbride: Most of the shorts so far have been little side stories with our main cast, but Nick's noir tale "Bearfaced Lie" in the Amelia Cole and the Enemy Unleashed trade was a favorite of mine. It was fun to see that style, and the fact that we were able to make sure it was its own thing while still working with the overall narrative was a lot of fun. It opens up a lot of possibilities.
In general, would you say the steady stream of Monkeybrain digital releases followed by IDW trade releases has helped to steadily build your audience?
Kirkbride: Slow and steady is how this has gone. We learned early on that digital is a much longer game than print. The issues never sell out, so we continue to get new readers who start with the first issue. The trades are great for a whole different audience. There's less overlap than I initially thought there would be, actually.
Knave: Yeah the trade thing surprised us all. What we didn't think about was that they would be appearing on the stands once every few months and that most weekly comic readers don't read digital indie stuff so it functions like a series of OGNs not quite the same as a series of trades collecting an on-going. So they build their own audience over time. Certainly keeping issues and trades coming out helps us keep growing.
How hard has it been to stay on such a consistent schedule? Am I right in thinking Amelia Cole has one of the longest and most productive runs at Monkeybrain?
Knave: We have one of them, for sure. When we started we decided we wanted to be close to monthly and have been somewhere between four and six weeks since Issue 1. We then take a two-month break between arcs to recover and get a jump start on things. It's tricky since we all have other work to do. D.J. and I try to stay at least an arc ahead on scripts so we can see things from a high level up but that brings it's own challenges on workload. Nick, of course, takes the brunt of it, trying to draw the book and do his other work as well. But we make it work.
Kirkbride: While we don't have any schedule mandates from Monkeybrain, we as a team do like the idea of coming out as consistently as we can. We don't want readers to forget about us! Nick might want to sleep some day, though ...
It was interesting to have Amelia and Hector fighting in the same battlefield at least for one arc -- yet in the current arc they are fighting in separate worlds again. Two questions, what did you two most enjoy about the dynamics of them fighting as a team? Secondly, in having them split up again, does that afford you the chance to broaden the overall cast a bit more?
Kirkbride: It was great to explore Amelia's somewhat-outdated take on Hector. While the readers have seen him working hard to be a better man and fight the good fight, Amelia hasn't kept up with him. At all, it soon becomes clear. Last time she saw him, he was trying to kill her and trashed a city block. We had to keep that in mind. Some readers were surprised, but her still not trusting him makes sense. Their separation, and the nature of it, adds a whole new wrinkle we'll be exploring. And, yeah, the cast sure keeps growing, doesn't it?
Knave: Amelia and Hector are both heroes. He spent the first arc being led astray and has spent his time since trying to make up for it. So it was, as D.J. says. important and fun to toss them together again and see how they interacted. But now we can spin them out again and see how knowing the other's side changes them, if it does. Also, yeah, we keep adding to the cast don't we?
Speaking of the growing cast, would both of you single out a few characters who have grown beyond the initial vision you may have had for them?
Knave: Mike and George were originally, in my mind at least, just good characters to have Amelia bounce off of that wouldn't be in the thick of it. A grounding influence. But the way the characters were inspired by her and grew because of it, going toward problems and getting into the thick of it when they can, wasn't in my head until it just sat there making sense. Also characters who returned in Issue 19 that when we first used them we didn't necessarily have the same plans for we do now…
Kirkbride: It was a happy accident how that worked out. Suddenly, the one issue world building with the surprise twist at the end that was Issue 1 is paying off in exciting ways.
Care to give any teases for what lies ahead for Amelia Cole in 2015?
Kirkbride: The fourth story arc, "The Impossible Fate," is the most jam-packed of all of them in some ways. For the first arc, "The Unknown World," it was mostly in one city and mostly from Amelia's point of view. Arcs two and three, "The Hidden War" and "The Enemy Unleashed," respectively, split a lot of the story between Protector Amelia's city adventures and Hector and Omega Company in the desert, before dovetailing back together briefly. NOW ... holy smokes, we've split it three ways. Amelia's in the all-magic world; Hector's in the non-magic world; and we can't forget about Lemmy, Mike, George, what's left of Omega Company, and the rest of the gang in the blended world, fighting a losing battle against The Council. It makes for a busy story, but we like that it moves at such a fast clip.
Knave: Bigger. More fun. More exciting. More of what we all love about creating this book - trust me as much as some people love this book we love it more and love creating it and that will continue to show in every issue throughout the year.
Anything we neglected to discuss?
Knave: Outside of Amelia, D.J. is writing the great and wonderful The Bigger Bang with Vassilis Gogtzilas on the art for IDW. I also co-write Artful Daggers for Monkeybrain, working with Sean E. Williams and Andrew Losq. You should check both books out.
Kirkbride: As I often find myself saying, "Adam's right."