Jamie S. Rich is probably best known for his years as editor-in-chief of Oni Press, a post he inherited from Oni co-founder Bob Schreck and held from 1999 until 2004, when he left to pursue a freelance writing career. Since then, Jamie has proven a prolific writer of both prose and comics, completing the trilogy of thematically linked literary romance novels he began while at Oni with the most recent installment, Have You Seen The Horizon Lately? He’s also produced the novella, I Was Someone Dead, the ongoing series Love the Way You Love, which ties into his novels, short stories for books like Four Letter Worlds and the roast issue of Usagi Yojimbo, and the original graphic novel, 12 Reasons Why I Love Her.
12 Reasons was illustrated by newcomer Joëlle Jones, who burst out on the scene in 2006, having previously worked on a six-page story for Dark Horse’s Sexy Chix. Joëlle’s art on 12 Reasons has been a sensation, and has led to contributions to Vertigo’s Fables and Viz’s Shojo Beat, and a nomination for the Russ Manning Award for Most Promising Newcomer. She’s currently illustrating a book for DC’s Minx line for younger girls called Token, as well as another graphic novel written by Jamie, the hard-boiled crime story, You Have Killed Me. The two also have several short stories coming out in different anthologies later this year.
I sat down with Jamie and Joëlle at the New Old Lompoc pub in Northwest Portland on August 14th.
The Wright Opinion: So, Joëlle, let’s start with you. You sort of came out of nowhere the last year or two. Are you one of those people who seems to have come out of nowhere, but really have been working in the trenches for a couple years, or did you really come out of nowhere?
Joëlle Jones: I think I kind of came out of nowhere. I went to art school, but never worked in comic books or anything, really.
WO: Where did you go to art school?
JJ: I went to PNCA down in the Pearl [District of Portland], studied painting there for awhile, then ran out of money and that’s kind of when I started to get into – well, I mean I’ve always been into comic books, but that’s when I really started trying for it.
WO: So, you’ve been reading comics since you were a kid?
JJ: Yeah, I’ve been reading comics since I was about nine years old.
WO: What kind of stuff?
JJ: I think the first couple ones I was into were Punisher and, of course, X-Men. It started with a whole lot of superhero comics. Kind of moved into, the older I got, more interesting things, expanding.
JJ: Tons. I think originally David Mack I really loved, Rick Mays, Chris Bachalo, a lot of those guys at the height of the ‘90s, the really sexual, awesome comics.
WO: Which came first, was it Shojo Beat or Sexy Chix?
JJ: Sexy Chix.
WO: And how did you get that?
JJ: That was actually the very first thing I ever did. I showed my stuff at a convention to Diana Schutz and that’s how I got a job doing that. Maybe she needed a few more girls to be on the anthology.
WO: Jamie, it’s been about three years since you left Oni and you’ve been writing freelance?
Jamie S. Rich: Yeah.
WO: How’s that worked out? How’s it been different?
JSR: I’m a much healthier and calmer person. In fact, we just were finishing up something the other day and I was explaining to Joëlle some of the headaches getting stuff from the colorist and said this is what I had to do everyday when I had a job.
I didn’t like who I’d become as an editor, because I wasn’t doing what I wanted to do, so just by making that change, it’s a world of difference. My output has increased and my speed has increased. In general I’ve just been having a blast and mostly I’ve been able to now for a year do nothing but writing, but for occasional part-time jobs here and there as things lull.
WO: And the freelance editing that you’ve still been doing, is that to keep your toe in it or is that mostly favors to people like Mike Allred and Andi Watson?
JSR: Mostly favors. I mean, editing-wise it’s bargain basement. It’s really more copy-editing. I don’t handle their schedules at all. With Andi it doesn’t matter, and with Mike it almost doesn’t matter. He doesn’t necessarily do his deadlines, but he’s all forward momentum, so you’re gonna get it as soon as you’re gonna get it.
WO: They’re people who don’t need editing as much?
JSR: No. I mean, Andi never really did. Even at Oni, you’d get something from Andi and it’d be pretty much completely done. I’m not sure what goes on at British public schools, but his grammar is atrocious and he knows as much, but it’s really pretty much just proofreading. Occasionally I might make a note that just says, “this isn’t quite clear.”
Like with Glister [Watson’s all ages series from Image], just yesterday I was working on number two and there were a couple things that I think his narrative voice was not quite catching. Certain elements are redundant, or he’s got, and I’ve had this problem, you have kind of a very storytelling voice, you tend to either over-explain or under-explain sometimes, so there’s been a few more notes like that, but those are just suggestions and otherwise the story’s there. I don’t think I’ve ever had to ask him to redraw something.
WO: In interviews I’ve read with you, and on your blog, you’ve mostly talked about these three main novels you’ve written, and also there’s I Was Someone Dead, but the three sort of thematic novels, and that you’ve had those in your mind for a very long time. Did you plan on writing comics as well, or has that been a sideline that’s just come up?
JSR: Yeah, I always intended to. Before I was writing novels, as a kid I thought I was going to be a cartoonist. I was going to be this weird combination of Walt Disney, C. S. Lewis, and the comic book guys, because I had planned these vast epics that in weird ways actually have origins of the novels I ended up writing, but that were going to be cartoon shows, movies, a series of fantasy books, comic books, and I would sit there and I wouldn’t actually write the stuff, I’d sit there and create lists of every project and all the offshoots.
And eventually in junior high I started to realize the mechanics of things. One, I realized I couldn’t steal spaceships from He-Man or planes from G.I.Joe and put them in my stories. That was an eye-opener, realizing there’s copyrights and things, but also just in discovering I can’t draw, I’m terrible at drawing. What I really like is to tell stories, and that’s when I started to transition into writing instead.
WO: So has it been a conscious effort to sort of straddle the line in that a lot of your novels look like – they don’t exactly look like comic books, but they have the illustrated covers and illustrations within?
JSR: That wasn’t originally by design. That came out of, when Scott Morse agreed to publish Cut My Hair, because he actually published it himself before Oni took it over–
WO: Through Crazyfish.
JSR: Yeah. That was his suggestion, because it made it a little more appealing to the comic book market, which was going to be the main selling market and was much more of a bull market back then.
And with I Was Someone Dead, James Lucas Jones said, “You’ve gotta have illustrations, it just fits,” and then when Andi agreed I was completely on board. But it has been sort of a conscious move to get it out of the books and have it only in there a little bit. Ironically, the new book, Have You Seen the Horizon Lately? was always intended to be more multimedia, so I ended up continuing with that and so there’s a couple of pictures that Joëlle drew in there.
WO: Yeah, Joëlle, I wanted to ask about Have You Seen the Horizon Lately? Is drawing the cover to a novel significantly different? It’s designed differently than you’d design a comic book cover. What role do you guys have in working together on what the cover and the interior images are going to be?
JJ: I would say that I didn’t notice it was different until I saw it on a book. I guess I’m trying to work at such a frantic pace lately that I just try to get what I need to get done done, and then I’m surprised when I see it.
JSR: I tend to art direct heavier on the covers, too, on the novels. It started with Allred, because on Cut My Hair he demanded that I tell him exactly what to draw. So then I was like, “Well… do this,” and that might be why that cover’s so conceptually busy. There’s stuff all over it, including the numbers and everything was all in the original idea.
Chynna [Clugston, cover artist on The Everlasting] was a little less. I think we just talked about it. And with Joëlle I had kind of a basic idea of what I thought it should be, and then with the two quote-unquote photos she did inside I said, “This is what I need for this particular part of the story,” so it was very straightforward in that sense.
WO: And were those referenced at all?
JJ: Yeah. Weren’t they kind of an F. Scott Fitzgerald…
JSR: One of them was, yeah, totally an F. Scott Fitzgerald lift.
JJ: Yeah, and I can’t remember the other one.
JSR: The other one I think I just described to you and you might have had [your boyfriend] sit in front of you.
JJ: I don’t even remember what it looks like.
JSR: But the F. Scott Fitzgerald one of him in the tux is supposed to reference a specific photo.
WO: The last question on the novels for the moment is, since you have said that those three are the ones you’ve had in mind a long time, do you know what you’re doing next in novels or are you maybe focusing on comics for awhile?
JSR: Right now the focus is on comics while I sort of percolate, because I don’t know what the next step is. I’ve written another script for Joëlle hopefully to eventually draw, called This World and Body, which probably points the way towards what tone my work’s going to take and definitely was sort of a technical breakthrough, but now I’m just trying to find out what story is in me now versus what was in me when I came up with this trilogy twenty years ago. So, that’s something I’m trying to think about while not worrying about it too much. I want also to be completely stand-apart and not have the same characters, just because it’s time to do that and show that I can.
WO: Joëlle, going back to artistic influence stuff and what you were saying about the artists of the ‘90s, do you see yourself as part of specific generation of artists that’s happening now?
JJ: I would like to consider myself as part of that, but I still feel so new to everything that I feel like I’m kind of just getting my feet wet, finding out where I want to go, what I belong to. I think when you label yourself, you can only do that from looking back. I don’t think I could do that in the moment.
WO: Have you noticed anything happening with your art over the last – I’m actually not sure when exactly you started working on 12 Reasons Why I Love Her. When was that?
JJ: When did I start? Two…?
JSR: Two years ago this September was when we met.
JJ: I was so surprised, actually, with what happened. I was really shocked, I didn’t expect it. I mean, so many books come out in a year that I figured it would just go under the radar, and I’m surprised that my work got noticed at all. I’m not trying to sound overly humble, but I’d never done it before, so I didn’t assume that right out of the gate I would actually get attention.
WO: Now that it’s been awhile since then, how have you felt your process change? Is it more comfortable to draw a page now?
JJ: No, sometimes it’s not, because now I know so many people are gonna look at it. Before it was so easy to just go with it and trust my instincts. I didn’t know that so many people would write reviews of it or read it. So I kind of got a little neurotic about it starting the next book. It took me awhile to get momentum going because my perception totally changed and I realized, “Wow, people are gonna look at this now.”
WO: And now you’re taking on even more visible projects like the recent page in Fables. What was the reaction to that? How did you find Fables fans, generally?
JJ: Awesome. I didn’t know they had such a great following. I think it came out on a Wednesday and we went to a show in Seattle that weekend and I had people coming up with the page, asking me to sign the book right away. I was shocked.
JSR: Yeah, she drew Rose Reds and Snow Whites all weekend.
JJ: All weekend. It was great, yeah.
JSR: Didn’t someone offer to buy the page the day it came out?
JJ: Yeah, the day it came out somebody wanted to buy it. So I found the Fables fans are awesome, [laughs] really loyal.
JSR: And I will say, I knew that 12 Reasons was going to hit the way it hit. It really is the project that I just could feel it when I was writing it, everything was lining up and it was so effortless. And then when I met her I was so excited by what she started to do with it and I had no doubt that people were going to freak out when they saw her stuff.
I can only liken the reaction she gets to when I used to have a friend who was a musician that I’d go to her shows and do her merchandise table, and afterwards people would come up and they’d ask, “Do you know her?” It was this instant reaction, this connection people had to what she was doing, and I find a similar thing with people, they get so excited about Joëlle’s work and so instantly fanatical about it.
And I think that when they see what she’s doing now, it’s gonna blow their minds, because it’s gone to not just the next level, but three or four levels. So, as her biggest fan, and people will have to wrestle me for the title, I’m impressed.
JJ: My mom is gonna wrestle you.
WO: The artwork you sent me from the upcoming short stories you guys have done together did look a lot different to me. The faces are different, a bit longer, less round. There’s a bit less noodling than was in the early book, and the linework is thinner and smoother, just more assured. You said earlier that you’re feeling more pressure on the work, but technically, do you feel like the craft has grown, that’s become a bit easier?
JJ: Yeah, I think that I did get a little self-conscious after I saw it in print. And I like to really beat the crap out of myself for my work [laughs], so when I saw 12 Reasons in print, I wasn’t really happy with it. I definitely realized that my inking was really sub-par and needed to be at a different level. So, I think right now I’m just trying different, maybe smoother, cleaner, more confident lines than 12 Reasons. And I hope that wasn’t the draw, the terrible inking [laughs]. We’ll find out I guess, when the next book comes out.
WO: And which is the next book? Is that gonna be You Have Killed Me or does Token come out before that?
JJ: I think You Have Killed Me will come out before and then Token will come out later, hopefully within the same year.
JSR: They’ll probably be finished around the same time, but the Oni process is a little faster than the DC process.
WO: So, how did Token happen? Were you part of the pitch for that or did the Minx people approach you?
JJ: Well, I heard Brian Wood dropped my name off to Shelly [Bond, Minx Editor] and told her to check it out, which is awesome, and then she just called me one day and asked me if I would do it. I didn’t even know what the Minx line was. She had to tell me all about it. So, yeah, I really liked the concept for it, and I was excited to be a part of it and get my feet wet all over the place and try different things.
WO: Have you guys got an opinion of Minx generally, since it started? Have you gotten a chance to read the books?
JSR: Yeah. I mean, it’s been mixed. I really liked Re-Gifters a lot.
JJ: I loved Plain Janes a lot. That’s my favorite.
JSR: I liked Plain Janes. I thought it had some issues with the language of comics. It was a new writer starting the form, but I didn’t think that such a huge issue with it that it would cause any problems or was enough to throw the book out or anything, because I actually really enjoyed it from a conceptual point, Jim Rugg’s art, a lot of individual sequences. I met Cecil Castellucci and I love her, and from the sound of it volume two is going to be brilliant. So far, it’s a decent little line.
JJ: I’m excited about the whole idea. I mean, stuff like that wasn’t available when I was a little girl. Even though I read comic books, I read superhero comics and there was maybe some manga, but not anything that interested me. So I don’t really read manga, but something that would bridge the two, I’m really kind of fascinated by that. Of course, I’ve got something invested in it, so I hope it goes well. I’d love to see it do well.
WO: Since you were saying that there wasn’t a lot of that when you were younger, do you hope that your work, for Minx but also generally, can appeal to an audience of younger girls?
JJ: Oh, absolutely, I want that. I would love to talk to a young girl that reads comic books. Because I don’t, besides my niece, and I force it upon her. Growing up I didn’t know many girls like that. So yeah, I really do hope it creates something else.
WO: So, Jamie, I have to ask: are a lot of people asking you about a Minx pitch that they assume you must have?
JSR: Yeah, pretty much I’ve been getting that a lot. I haven’t talked to anyone about doing one and no one’s talked to me about doing one.
WO: Would you like to?
JSR: I would consider it. I could probably do it without too much difficulty, but in the last three years my focus has been so myopic that I’ve only just started spending more time proposing stuff for things that aren’t my own. I haven’t really sat and planned anything out. You never know.
WO: Joëlle, how have you organized working on Token and You Have Killed Me at the same time? Are you fast as an artist?
JJ: [laughs] Some days I think so. I don’t know. I’m losing my mind. I’m a disaster area right now and I think I will be until I finish the two books. And I know there are other artists that are able to do it, but I’m having a rough go. I don’t know. Jamie’s worked with more…
JSR: My experience is you’re really fast. It’s just a matter of, we’ve had to learn what kind of management style she needs. If it’s like she needs someone to constantly ask, “Are you doing that? Are you doing that?” [Joëlle laughs] and then when she’s on point she’s super fast. And it’s tough because we live so close to one another and we enjoy each other’s company, so we’re each other’s distraction at times.
JJ: Then he calls me, “Why don’t we go have some drinks?”
JSR: I think that was you more than me, though.
WO: That’s something I wanted to ask you both about. There are a lot of writer/artist teams who talk about never meeting or rarely meeting. How does living so close together affect the way you work together? Do you collaborate more closely or is it still pretty compartmentalized?
JSR: For me it’s been extremely positive, because she’s been more of the guiding focus as to where things go next. It was her idea to do a hard-boiled crime thing, which didn’t take much arm-twisting, but that came out of her wanting to draw that and forcing me to have the guts to write it, which I probably wouldn’t have on my own.
And then even the next thing that we may do, This World and Body came out of a joke where Randy Jarrell at Oni looked at chapter two of 12 Reasons and said, “You guys should do a sexy comic book. Not a sex comic book, but a sexy comic book,” and I laughed and went, “Yeah, I’m the last person on earth who should write that.” I told her, “Isn’t that funny?” and she said, “No, you should write it. I’ll draw it.”
So, for me it’s been essential, especially in such a figuring out period for myself, to have somebody to say “Try this. Try that,” and forcing me into it. I don’t think I would have gotten that with an artist who lived in another town and that I never saw. And we can give each other instant feedback, too, which is always good.
JJ: Yeah, I need a lot of feedback [laughs].
WO: Is that one of the main advantages of your collaboration? What are some of the other reasons that you guys think you fit so well?
JJ: I think it’s the reason why we continue to work together.
JSR: We’d never met when Diana told me about her and we met at a coffee shop. We are literally two blocks apart on the same street, but we never knew each other and so we went for a meeting at a coffee shop to look at her portfolio, which I’m sure took all of ten or fifteen minutes, and we hung out all day.
JJ: We went drinking and singing karaoke later.
JSR: Yeah, we sung karaoke the first night. And I think that definitely had a big influence just in that we enjoy each other’s company and we like the same things for the most part.
JJ: And we both like to argue quite a bit. We’ll get into these arguments that have nothing to do with anything.
WO: Getting back to your schedule and doing the books at the same time, do you still have a day job?
JJ: Kind of. I bartend, so it’s kind of like a night job. I bartend twice a week and I love bartending a lot, so I don’t wanna let it go. I work in a great bar and enjoy everybody I work with, so I think, even if I got to the point where I didn’t need it, I don’t know if I’d let it go. I like it. Especially being cooped up in my house the rest of the week, all by myself. It’s humbling to have to bust your ass for not very much money two nights a week and it feels good, it feels like you worked hard, as opposed to sitting at your desk, watching Oprah.
JSR: I don’t know when it’s coming out. The solicitation made it out to the bookstores, then it was put on hold before it was solicited to the comic book stores, but then suddenly the bookstore orders came in and it was like, “Well, it’s time to go. This is good.” I’m not sure exactly how that’s going to affect how it gets put out to the comic book shops, but there’ll be a collection of the first three. There’re five out now and six will be out in October or November. So we’re going do two three-issue collections.
From there we’re still kind of planning what the story’s gonna be with the book. If it continues it’s probably going to change format and it’s definitely changing artists because Marc [Ellerby] always intended to jump off after issue six, maybe come back for special things.
WO: What would the format change be? More standard comics issues?
JSR: I don’t know. It would probably be depending on what Oni can sell and my guess is that if it’s starting to take off in the bookstore market, they might want to move it to original graphic novels. It’s either going to be original graphic novels or, yeah, regular stapled comic books, but my understanding is that the feeling is the slimmer manga lines aren’t necessarily as good as they could have been. And that could change, too, overnight, if suddenly there’s a collection out there and suddenly everybody wants the rest of the story.
WO: So far I’ve just read the first issue that was made available online and pages here and there of the others. But I did really like the theme song. You cowrote that, right?
JSR: Correct. I wrote the lyrics and then sat down with the musician Lara Michell with her guitar and her laptop and told her some of the things I liked. I gave her a disc of songs, which were feelings that I wanted music-wise, but I have no musical talent whatsoever. The poor thing had to listen to me sort of try to sing melodies to her.
And it was fun watching her write it and playing around on her guitar, then she’d scribble these things and suddenly there’d be notes. And she changed some of the words around, because when you hear it coming out of somebody’s mouth you realize that it doesn’t quite flow. So we spent a day in the studio and by the end of the day it was really bizarre to walk out with a CD. We talked about doing more, but schedule-wise it’s just never synced up.
WO: So, format and artist change aside, do you have long term plans for Love the Way You Love? I recently read The Everlasting and Lance’s story in that is episodic but comes to a thematic end, so I’m wondering how you decided that Tristan’s would be an ongoing story by comparison?
JSR: In The Everlasting, Tristan was sidelined and I knew there was a story in there because it was coming out in the different pieces of the prose. So I was thinking, “When do I ever tell Tristan’s story? How do I do that?” and that’s when the comic book idea came along. It’s a weird thing that I’ve never been able to adequately explain to people, in that when I get the ideas, it’s not, “I’ve got an idea, what’s the form?” Usually form and idea come together.
So I knew that there was a Tristan story, but until I said, “It should be a comic book and it should be an episodic shojo manga comic book,” suddenly that was when it made sense. So it’s not like I ever sat around and thought, “Well, should The Everlasting be a comic book or should it be a screenplay or should it be a novel?” I just always kind of know, so it sort of came together that way.
Part two is up. In it, we discuss Comic-Con, the Eisners, Jamie and Joëlle’s upcoming short stories, and their collaborative process. Plus, lots more art, including several pages from You Have Killed Me, and the lightning round.