Talking Comics with Tim | Jamie S. Rich

I look forward to a day when there's no substantial imbalance between the number of successful male characters/creators and successful female characters/creators in comics. When I get a chance to talk about a book with a female lead, I make sure to discuss that very aspect. I was clearly not thinking of who I was asking when I interviewed Jamie S. Rich, writer of the new Image ongoing series launching Wednesday, It Girl & the Atomics. As Rich was quick to remind me, earlier in his comics career as an editor he consistently "hired women all the time and published comics that showcased their point of view". An equally interesting aspect of the project we discuss is being the writer who crafts Mike Allred/Madman universe tales (without Madman) but with Allred's support and trust (a hell of a compliment/endorsement in and of itself). In addition to reading this interview, please be sure to garner additional insight from CBR's TJ Dietsch's July interview with Rich.

To mark this Wednesday's launch of the series, Rich will be visiting three different hometown comic book stores to sign comics and chat with customers. The three shops where he will be sign It Girl & the Atomics 1 ($2.99) are Floating World Comics (from approximately 2 pm to 3:30 pm) at 400 NW Couch, Bridge City Comics (4 pm to 5 pm) at 3725 N. Mississippi, and Cosmic Monkey Comics (from 6 pm to 7 pm) at 5335 NE Sandy.

Tim O'Shea: It Girl and the Atomics is a book that captures the Madman universe (without Madman, as he left the world for space at the end of his own series). How well does it speak of Mike Allred's world-building/writing skills that you are able to create a series in Madman's world, but without Madman?

Jamie S. Rich: That was really the experiment. Madman has such a gravitational pull, particularly for Mike as an artist, that he really has a tendency to dominate. Yet, the Atomics are a team, and in any successful team, all the players are there for a reason. So, when it's their turn in the spotlight, they are just as capable, they are ready to take that stage.

In terms of the world the Allreds have created, they pretty much established from page 1 that anything goes here. What's the Rocky Horror line? "Don't dream it, be it"? In this comic, if we can cook it up, we can put it on the page. In a way, imagine all of comics history is at your disposal, and it all fits in between the pages of the first ever Madman cover and whatever final cover Michael Allred is going to put on this opus, and you can reach into any spot you want and pluck that piece of history out and use it as you see fit. Like Kurt Vonnegut's Billy Pilgrim, every moment is available to me, I can look across the expanse of time, and I can make whatever I spy into my own thing. Those are the parameters the Allreds have established--that there are none.

Series artist Mike Norton and yourself have a strong rapport creatively, how reassuring is it for you to write a scene knowing that Norton will be able to tackle whatever you throw his way?

More and more reassuring the farther we get into it. Norton likes a challenge. He doesn't want to get out of bed on Tuesday and draw the same thing he drew on Monday. As a writer, it challenges me to come up with something surprising. One thing fuels another. HIs skills as a draftsman are incredible. Plus, he is so great at the number-one priority I look for in finding collaborators: his acting. He knows how to sell an emotion, knows how to draw a humorous reaction, understands gesture. That to me is what makes the best artists. It's why I like working with Joëlle Jones, why Natalie Nourigat and I got on so well for our Oni Press book, A Boy and a Girl. Again, it's a process that self-replicates: the more the characters come alive under their pen, the more they dance for me on my computer screen.

It's the same with serialized storytelling, actually. Each new script suggests the next script. It's hard to shut off. Two weeks ago, I had an epiphany for the third It Girl and the Atomics story arc. That's a year away! I've got other things to write right now, so I have to restrain myself. It will be our first cosmic adventure. Also, we'll be ripping off some Beatles tunes.

In your recent CBR interview, you note that Image Publisher Eric Stephenson served as editor on the book. What kind of feedback was he able to provide that helped strengthen an aspect of the series?

He and the Allreds have just been great cheerleaders. Andi Watson once described to me that, what a great editor does is, he creates a space for you to work. He says this area is safe, do your thing, and I'll be here if something goes wrong. Eric is very much doing that at Image. He's got this huge building, and he's handing out keys and opening doors and letting us move in.

I do most of the organizational stuff, and so it's always a bit of a nervous and exciting day when we've gotten enough pages done to turn them in. Getting the Stephenson thumbs up is extremely validating. The whole Image team has been great really. Their enthusiasm for getting comics done is infectious and invigorating.

How did the variant cover by Darwyn Cooke (for Issue 2) come about?

For me, it just landed in my inbox one day, attached in an e-mail from Allred, and I basically wrote back, "This is amazing! What the hell is it?" He didn't even explain it. Mike was just, "Here you go!" To be honest, I'm not sure how or why it came about, I'm just glad it did. It's fantastic. Also, just imagine for a second the morning you wake up to find Darwyn Cooke art in your email. You won a sweepstakes you didn't even know you entered!

Speaking of covers, when did you realize the cover to issue 1 would work well as an homage to fashion magazine covers?

That was Allred's idea. He told me to do it. Of course, then I had to come up with things for it to say, I have to write the blurbs. It was actually really fun imagining different articles for all the creative team. Crank! really did a great job designing it, fitting in the Fiona Staples endorsement, everything. I'm blessed with a great support team. Crank! is lettering and Allen Passalaqua is coloring. And, of course, those guys and Mike Norton just won an Eisner for Battlepug!

Just to go fanboy on you for a minute, I had no idea (until reading the recent CBR interview) that you were (like me) a fan of John Byrne's work while growing up. What's your favorite Byrne series from that period of your life?

Alpha Flight. I was a big X-Men reader at the time, and though I came in during the John Romita Jr./Dan Green period, like any real comics fan I backed up and started paying some pretty hefty prices for back issues, and his and Chris Claremont's collaboration on that title is unparalleled. But I think his period on Alpha Flight and the simultaneous run on Fantastic Four was what really cemented my fandom for me. They were both so weird, and he was writing as well as drawing. I also really loved that She-Hulk graphic novel he did, back when "graphic novels" were magazine sized, 64 pages. I didn't realize how much that material was now in my DNA. I think what I really liked about Alpha Flight wasn't just how odd the characters were, but that it seemed daring that, after Issue 1, he broke away from the team and spent the next handful of issues telling solo adventures, and it was like, "You can't do that! How daring!"

Back to It Girl, how important or creatively satisfying was it for you to develop a series with a female lead?

We didn't even think about it. It was pointed out to us later by women who were stoked to see another book with a woman as the marquee star, but honestly, I just approached It Girl the way I would any character. She was the team member who I thought had the most going on, and the one I could identify with...well, not most. Mr. Gum is my guy, but It Girl was someone whose story I understood.

Honestly, I know this is kind of smug sounding, but when it comes to women in comics and all the arguing going on, my reaction is, "Where have you all been?" As an editor, I hired women all the time and published comics that showcased their point of view. I recognize talent and I go after it. At least half of my current collaborators -- Joëlle, Natalie, Megan Levens -- are women, and all the books we are developing together have strong female protagonists. This isn't me tooting my own horn, it's just the norm for me. It should be for any writer. You're writing about the world you live in. Ladies are an important part of that world. If you don't just include them as a matter of course, you suck at your job. End of sentence.

It should be noted, too, It Girl and the Atomics is an equal-opportunity comic book. Our first fill-in artist is Blue Monday's Chynna Clugston Flores, and it's not because she's a lady (and when it comes to Chynna, I use the term loosely), it's because she's a wicked cartoonist. She actually drew the It Girl one-shot for Allred and myself back at Oni Press way back when, so it only made sense.

To date, much of the Madman universe's look has been defined by colorist Laura Allred. This series is being colored by Allen Passalaqua, how did he come to be selected for the project (and I must say he seems perfectly suited for the series)?

Again, it was the Battlepug connection. It just seemed to make sense once Mike Norton came on board to say, "Hey, you guys work so well together, why not bring those dudes along?" I gave them pdfs for the Madman Atomica hardcover, so that gave Allen reference to work from, but we have free range here to do our thing, and I extend the faith the Allreds have put in me to the art team. Norton and Allen have a way of working together, and I let them hash it out for the most part. It's worked out tremendously. Allen is extremely inventive. There is a nightclub scene in #4 where he creates a glitz effect I haven't seen anywhere else.

What appeals to you more in writing in the Madman universe, the characters or the situations they find themselves in [or that find them]?

I'm always drawn to characters more than plot. I think good characters suggest good stories. You have to do things for things to happen, and what you do depends on who you are. The thing I've seized on the most is the idea of self-actualization. Throughout all of the Madman series, the search for self is always up front. That's always been important to me in my own work. So, to have a group of characters who are all trying to make themselves and the world they live in better, that to me is the perfect scenario.

It Girl is also just a really pleasant person to be around. She's a sweetheart with an optimistic outlook and a willingness to experiment and explore. I'd like to be her friend in real life, and writing about her, it's like I am. I get to pal around with a superheroine!

Any final thoughts for Robot 6 readers -- or maybe a question you'd like to ask our readers?

Yeah, why has no one ever asked what happened to the first five robots? Does no one else find it strange that we skipped right past them and just landed on the sixth? It strikes me as verrrrrry suspicious.

I hope people enjoy reading It Girl and the Atomics as much as we enjoy making it. Comics readers always say how they are sick of burdensome continuity and company-wide crossovers, and he we are, offering you superhero comics unencumbered. The focus is on solid storytelling and good-time adventures each and every time. You need never have read Madman before, but if we did our job, you're going to want to when you're done.

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