Jamie S. Rich is an editor, blogger, and writer of novels such as Cut My Hair and 12 Reasons Why I Love Her and of graphic novels such as Love the Way You Love and You Have Killed Me. Now, he is writing the continuing adventures of It Girl and the Atomics at Image, starring characters created by Mike Allred. Westfield’s Roger Ash spoke with Rich to learn more about this new book.
Westfield: How did you become involved with It Girl and the Atomics?
Jamie S. Rich: I’ve been Mike Allred’s editor since my time at Dark Horse. I started working with him on Superman/Madman Hullabaloo and Red Rocket 7. We got on so well that when he went off to self publish The Atomics, even though I was at Oni Press, I freelance edited The Atomics series he published at AAA Pop. Around the same time, we were also publishing the older Madman at Oni. This ongoing relationship has continued even through his publishing Madman at Image. One day we were just talking and I mentioned the idea of doing a spin-off series not really thinking it was something he really wanted, otherwise I figured he would have done it already. He immediately jumped at it so it came along naturally.
Westfield: How much is he involved with the book?
Rich: So far he’s been relatively hands off. He sees and approves everything. His most input has been on the first issue where he’s working with the cover design. He’s doing all the covers and we ended up doing a fairly complex design for the first one. As far as the work I’m doing and the work the art team is doing, he’s just sort of excited to let us run wild with it. And given my history with the book, I pretty much know what’s acceptable and where I can go with the characters. So I don’t foresee taking it into realms that he won’t approve of. He’s always had a gung-ho attitude and we’re trying to carry that over into what we’re doing. We’re just trying to have fun and let our imaginations go crazy.
Westfield: What appeals to you about It Girl and the other characters in the book?
Rich: For me, the general tone of The Atomics series, and a lot of the Madman stuff, has always been a very unpretentious take on the superhero comics I grew up with. As a child of the 80s, I read a lot of the Silver Age material prior to grim and gritty elements that worked their way into it. I was around for that as well and buying Dark Knight and Watchmen and all of that. One thing Mike Norton and I discovered working on this book is both of our reference points seem to go right back to those old John Byrne Fantastic Fours and X-Men and Alpha Flight. For me, the Allred comics have captured that same kind of fun without being wholly nostalgic. They seem very present and not just trying to relive some kind of past perception. I’m trying to stick with that. For me with It Girl, I felt that throughout the series – especially in the original Atomics series – that she was a character who was discovering herself and who was finding a new path in the world and learning to be a hero. For this first series that’s where I began, at that point where she has to say “I’m going to take this seriously. I’m going to be a crimefighter.” That leads to all sorts of scenarios and the world’s open wide for us to play with a lot of different tropes and ideas that we love as readers.
Westfield: Considering that there is a history to the characters, do you fell that the book is new reader friendly?
Rich: I do. Where we’re starting is a point where, at the end of the last series, a lot of the characters headed off into outer space. For all intents and purposes, we’re putting the pause button at that moment and starting fresh with the characters who were left behind. So while there is a past to all of their relationships, each story has the ability to start from fresh ground. What I used to love about the Legends of the Dark Knight series that DC did was that even though there were years of Batman, they basically set up a situation where any creative team could come in and do four issues of Batman that stood as a complete story. I’m looking at It Girl and the Atomics in the same way. The characters do fit some certain archetypes that if you know superhero comics, or even if you don’t, they’re pretty easy to figure out. Black Crystal turns to crystal and he can shoot shards out of his hands or The Slug turns into a slug. I feel that if the stories are solid, that’s all you need to get going.
Westfield: What can you say about the story?
Rich: Despite saying that, in reality what we’re doing with the first story arc is we are looking back a little bit at the original Atomics series in that we are bringing back a character called The Skunk who was a failed super villain at the time and accidentally led to the death of It Girl’s sister, Lava Lass. Reading back over the old comics, I realized that no one ever pointed out the fact that The Skunk went to jail but then Lava Lass was resurrected basically an issue later. I started thinking, “What does that mean in a superhero world? If people die and come back to life all the time, what happens to the guy who actually did the crime?” We’re starting from that point. The Skunk is out of jail and It Girl runs into him for the first time and the story begins from there. I try to give enough of a quick rundown of the basic things that have gotten us to this point. I think that brings up a lot of the themes within the first story arc; relationships, second chances, new beginning, all the sorts of things you want to jump into at the beginning of a new series.
Westfield: Reading the issues you sent, it seems like there’s a fantasy vs. reality theme as well. Am I reading too much into that?
Rich: There is definitely that. The opening sequence involves an online video game and things are going to start coming out of that that do bring up the questions of where are we and what’s happening here. It’s her looking at,” I’ve been playing at being an adventurer all this time, but what’s the reality of what’s going to happen to me?”
Westfield: This is planned as an ongoing series?
Rich: Yes. Mike Norton’s committed to the series. I was doing an outline for issue 9 when you called. We’re several issues ahead. We’ve got fill-ins planned. I looked at what Mike Allred and Chris Roberson did on iZombie where they planned every sixth issue as a stand alone fill-in that featured a different artist and focused on a different character. I’m kind of stealing that idea. We’re already looking ahead to issue 6 and it’s going to be a Mr. Gum adventure and it’s going to be drawn by Chynna Clugston Flores. Hopefully she’s going to be our ongoing fill-in artist so that every few issues you’ll get a different Atomic that’s not It Girl.
Westfield: What can you say about your collaboration with Mike Norton on the book?
Rich: So far it’s been an absolute blast. We trust each other. I try to write in a way that conveys the ideas that I’m having but gives him room to roam. There’s been very little where he hasn’t just immediately gotten in sync with what I was thinking and then taken it a step further. We haven’t had any fights as of yet. I like to have it that all ideas come to the table so I push him to go as wild with it as he sees. He has been doing some beautiful work lately on this and Battlepug and his book Revival. I’ve known Mike for a long time so it’s nice to see him really getting into a groove that I think is going to push him to another level.
Westfield: Aside from It Girl and the Atomics, are there any other projects you’re working on that you’d like to mention?
Rich: I’m currently serializing a prose novel online called Bobby Pins and Mary Janes (bobbypinsandmaryjanes.com). It’s a novel I wrote about the comics industry. It’s about a young girl who’s an assistant editor at a mid-level comic book company and the relationships she forms and the ups and downs she encounters. I’ve been running that online and I have friends doing fan art. I have some from Nicolas Hitori De who draws the Spell Checkers series; Chynna Clugston. That’s been a fun and new endeavor. I published prose novels before but I’ve never done it in this fashion. I’ve got several projects in the works with Oni Press including books with Natalie Nourigat who drew the Between Gears comic for Image and more stuff with Joëlle Jones. So I’m always working.
Westfield: Any closing comments?
Rich: I’m out here having a good time. I’m hoping that everybody who gives the book a chance can have the same sort of fun that Mike Norton and I are having. I’m excited to be doing something of this kind and couldn’t ask for a better person to be doing it for than Mike Allred.