Rich, Nourigat Tell A Different Type Of Story About "A Boy & A Girl"

It can be a bit of a tough go when attempting to make one of the very oldest tales relevant and fresh, but with "A Boy & A Girl," the everlasting trope of "boy meets girl" has fallen into the capable hands of writer Jamie S. Rich and the very talented artist Natalie Nourigat. In their original graphic novel, Rich and Nourigat inject cleverness, heart and true personality into the timeless tale. Oh -- and androids.

Hitting the shelves in early December by way of publisher Oni Press, "A Boy & A Girl" is set in the future, where androids are practically indiscernible from humans. Main characters Travis and Charley take center stage, both of them forcing the reader to question what means to have real emotion, what it means to take a chance.

Rich and Nourigat both spoke with CBR News about their combined and separate working processes, the book's development and their take on the perennial subject. And it is from the book, and perhaps even the insight the creative duo share with us, that we may finally have the answer to the question that Philip K. Dick posed over forty years ago, "Do androids dream of electric sheep?"

CBR News: Jamie, Boy meets Girl. Boy falls in love with Girl. So what's different about "A Boy & A Girl"?

Jamie S. Rich: That was a question we asked ourselves early on in the process of developing this story. I've worked in the romance genre quite a bit in the past, both in comics and prose, and there is always a challenge to how you approach it. With any genre, really, you have to stop and ask how your new book is different from what you did before. Like, I have a strip in "Dark Horse Presents" right now, "Integer City," that is both set in the future and also a private detective story, a melding of some old styles from both sci-fi and pulp, and I had to ask, how is this different than "You Have Killed Me" and even how is the world here different than "A Boy & a Girl."

Just like, how is "A Boy & A Girl" different from "12 Reasons Why I Love Her" or "Love the Way You Love." Superficially, of course, it is set in the future. There are hover cars and androids and the like, which my other romance comics don't have. That helps because, being comics, it allows for different visuals, but it also gave me new themes to explore as a writer. Classic romance is often based on fate and the indefinable chemistry between two people. But what does all that mean in a world where life is no longer exclusively a human experience? If technology can replace and replicate intelligence, what happens to things like choice and the specialness of that special person you find to fall in love with?

It was also important for Natalie and I both to make sure that the characters were wholly defined, they were real people, and not just objects. Often the boy falls in love with his perfect girl or whatnot, and she's not real, she's an ideal fantasy. In "A Boy & A Girl," they are both actual and whole. Well, except for his Zac Efron hair. I had to allow Natalie one fantasy element.

How did you and Natalia meet, and furthermore, how did you pitch your project to Oni?

Rich: We met years ago at the Stumptown Comics Festival. I think it was maybe 2008 or maybe even 2009. I was tabling with Joëlle Jones, and Natalie came by with her portfolio. I liked what I saw, and we did a short story together for "This is a Souvenir," the last Image Comics anthology based on a band. It was a long shot. I wasn't sure how reliable she was, since she was late to our first ever meeting because she was getting her hair done. But I took a shot. [Laughs]

The story we did was adapting the Spearmint song "Julie Christie" as a short romance story. It went well. Natalie is smart and has a tremendous work ethic, just as long as her hair is perfect. If there is a bad windstorm, forget it, no art today! (I am so kidding.) Anyway, she was still in college, so her time didn't permit her to do much more just then.

"A Boy & A Girl" happened once she graduated. Oni Press had suggested to her that she work with a writer before embarking on a solo project, and I was fortunate enough that she was willing to let that be me. We had been in touch and were friends and had been social that whole time -- it's how I keep showing up in her diary comic, "Between Gears" -- and not being a moron, I immediately said yes. You meet a young talent who you know is going places, you jump on those coattails hard and never let go.

The story was something we developed together. I remember saying I wanted to make the pitch bulletproof. I didn't want to mess up this opportunity for her. So, we really thought it through, and it didn't take long once we sent it in to get a "yes."

Natalie, I'm drawn to your linework. It's pleasant, clear, and you have a real sense of space. What's your process like when creating a page?

Natalie Nourigat: Thank you.  I read the script thoroughly, and mark anything that will be tricky or that I should keep in mind -- characters moving in space, props, etc.  Jamie gives me a script with helpful suggested actions and framing, but he's open-minded to my suggestions and gives me a lot of space to define the page layout and camera angles. The first thing I send him is a thumbnailed page with itty bitty, rough drawings of how I see the pages looking. That's the most exciting part for me, because so much is decided at that stage, and you can start reading the thumbnails and script side-by-side and imagine how the finished comic will look. With each chapter, each scene, and each page, I tend to look for the focal point and emphasize it. If there is an important moment or image, I make it my first priority, give it room to be whatever it needs to be, and build up the rest of the panels around it. If Jamie likes the thumbnails, I move on to my pencils and inks (this book was inked with a Winsor & Newton series 7 size 3 brush).

Your panels -- and the way they flow -- feel as clear as storyboards. Can you talk about your background a little?

Nourigat: As a freelance artist, I've done my fair share of storyboarding and commercial artwork on tight deadlines. It's been a huge help, teaching me to streamline my work and reach a fast, clear style that communicates clearly. My tastes tend towards simplicity and economy of line. It's a big advantage when you work on a 160-page book; I was able to finish in a year while taking on other projects to pay rent.

The book is colored in a single Pantone blue -- do you feel it could have been just as effective if it were black and white? Or do you think a simple tone color adds a certain effect to the overall work?

Nourigat: This was my first project in Pantone, under the guidance of Oni's excellent art director Keith Wood. I began toning just as I would normally in grayscale, but quickly saw how the blue did add another dimension, and could be used not just for light and dark but for warm and cool, saturated and desaturated. I think it adds something really nice.

Do either of you identify with main characters Travis or Charley? How so? And are they based off of anyone you know?

Rich: For Travis I tried to remember what it was like to be that age, to be fresh out of school and a bit confused as to what to do with your education. I always knew I wanted to write, but when I left university, I was supposed to immediately move from California to Oregon and work for Dark Horse as an assistant editor. That job disappeared, though, right at the same time an earthquake destroyed the freeway between where my sister lived and my part-time job. This prompted much soul searching. I had a year of not knowing what I was going to do to cope. I worked on projects, I was writing my first novel "Cut My Hair," and developed some comic book pitches, but also realized I had no real idea of what to do, how to sell my work, how to get published. My creative writing major offered no practical knowledge. So, in that sense, I channeled myself into Travis. Though, most people might actually say I am Gregor, his stinky, mouthy best friend. Except he is based on a real friend of mine who is stinkier and mouthier than me.

Nourigat: Oh Lord, I'm pretty sure Charley and Travis's first encounter and their different reactions the next day come from a college story I told Jamie. I definitely like Charley's assertive personality and sense of self, but she's more a character I aspire to be than one I'd say comes from me!  I relate to Travis's intellectual approach to life, and the way that he interrogates others on his quest for insight. Whatever situation he's in, he gleans something from the people around him because he's willing to talk and listen to anyone.
How long has the project been in development, and have you found it beneficial that both you and Natalie live in Oregon?

Rich: Development was not so long. I think we basically did the entire book over the course of 2011. Natalie was done drawing that December.

It was nice to meet for coffee every once in a while and go over things, to gauge progress. We didn't do it as much with the actual art as we did the writing and character design, but by that point so many questions were answered, we were pretty set in where we were going. I think it was in the middle of the production that Natalie moved just a couple of blocks away. At one point, she and Joëlle Jones and I all lived within ten blocks of each other. Surprisingly, this did not lead to as many epic karaoke sessions as you'd think.

The "A Boy & A Girl" development process really taught me a lot, though, of how to build things from the ground up with someone. I was able to apply it long-distance with Megan Levens. She and I created a comic that Image is putting out next year entirely over e-mail, but with a similar "all-in" inclusiveness that made it a true collaboration. 
"Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?" is my favorite book by Phillip K Dick, and "A Boy & A Girl" seems to share similar themes. What do you both think it means to be human? 

Rich: I guess here I identify with Travis, as well. It's all about choice. How you choose to live, who you choose to be. I never got past existentialism. I found that and was like, "Yes, this is my philosophy." It didn't hurt that it's always been connected to film noir and pulp detective fiction. I just want to be Humphrey Bogart, who is easily more human than human.

Then again, maybe defining my personal approach to live in 10th grade and sticking to it explains a whole lot of what's wrong with me. Ooops.

Nourigat: Finding a raison d'être beyond instinct/programming, whatever it may be.

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