Alasdair Stuart writes for Bleeding Cool
Monkeybrain Comics are one of the year's success stories; a tightly knit group of smartly written and drawn titles unified by the quality of the work. One of the best of their launch titles, Amelia Cole and the Unknown World, has just hit issue 5, and I talked to the entire creative team, including new arrival Ruiz Moreno, about what it's like working on a book, and for a company, at the forefront of digital comics.
What's been your proudest moment on the book to date?
Adam: As corny as it might be, I gotta say the day issue one came out still wins it for me. The road to get there was a long one and that moment, that day, stand out in my memory and I think it always will. Just so proud to see all our work come together and be released into the world. A bit scary, too, of course, but man – there's nothing like the pride of seeing your work, and the work of your friends and co-conspirators, hit the open market.
D.J.: My proudest moment on the book to date was when my mom first told me she likes it — and she really does! Some of the stuff I've written or co-written, I often got the impression she was just being polite and supportive of her overgrown man child, but I'm fairly certain she really does enjoy Amelia's adventures, which warms my cold, dead heart.
Nick: I'd have to say, the day the comic appeared on Comixology and popped up on a bunch of review sites. That was a blast. There was a big run up to that moment and the payoff was really satisfying. Also, when Allison and Chris asked us to be a part of the Monkeybrain crew. It's great to be acknowledged like that. I think they understand that comics of all types should be put out there for people to have a wider choice. Giving us a platform to sell our type of stories was was very heartening. Personally, the moment I realised I could take one of Adam and DJ's scripts and knock out all the art in a month, was a huge buzz.
Rachel: Lettering page 11 of issue 2. That whole sequence is just insane, and I was lucky enough to pull off some lettering that didn't throw off the vibe of the whole scene.
Ruiz: Actually, this is pretty easy, being asked to join the team on the creative side is my proudest moment. I've been a long time fan and supporter of Amelia Cole so it's great to be a part of a book that I truly enjoy! Working with Adam, DJ, Nick & Rachel is great and the production emails are hilarious!
How has working to a digital distribution model changed how you work?
Adam: It's made the release cycle a lot easier. There's only one bit of the cycle, the entire preorder doing press for retail and then again two months later for readers is rough. It can wear you down, which, I know, sounds like a problem everyone wants to have! Oh, woe is us we have to do PR do get word out about our book. Boohoo. But still, digital shortens and focuses the efforts which gives us a bit more brain power for making the book. And for me at least brain power can be hard to come by some days.
D.J.: I love that there's less wait between when we finish an issue and when it is available to readers. Sometimes I forget about things I write for print after they are done, and then, when they finally come out, I have no idea what the story is about and am confused. And scared. So scared.
Nick: We've had to rein in a bit on messing with panel layouts. The weird panel sequence in issue 2 was an experiment to see what worked digitally and we concluded that we needed to keep it simple. Also no double page spreads which is fine as I'm not a huge fan of them.
Rachel: It makes pre-press a lot easier for me. Other than that, it's business as usual for the letter lady.
Ruiz: All of my work is done digitally so it doesn't affect it too much. I think it's pretty cool that the turnaround on releases time is faster. Liquid nitrogen cool, you know?
Do you prefer it to print?
D.J.: I am old-fashioned and will always love print — and all physical media (CDs, DVDs/Blu-rays/whatevers). I also love actually going out to the cinema to see movies and shopping at comic book shops. Getting out and about is fun for me. A lot of kids today won't have the nostalgia I have for that kind of experience. I'm old. So… very… old. But, what was I saying? Anyway, yes, I love print… but I've definitely come around to digital, too. The comics look really sharp, and they never sell out. That's one great thing that is very important. Folks who are just now hearing about AMELIA COLE from this very interview can snag all the back issues right now, no problem. That's huge in building our audience. I think that, while there is overlap, there is a print audience and there is a digital audience — and I want all of them to read our comics. The delivery system doesn't matter to me so much. I am still trying to figure out how to bag and board my digital comics, though.
Adam: I love them both for a bunch of reasons. Print is fantastic, but so is digital and as the market expands and adapts I can't wait to see how they work with each other better and better, bringing the best of both worlds into play.
Nick: I love both! The book looks lovely and bright on iPads and computer screens and I love that anyone can buy and read the book anytime, anywhere. But, I do love to read print.
Rachel: As an old school collector, I will always prefer print to digital, BUT the immediacy of digital has to be one of the coolest innovations to come to comics in a long time. You want it now, you get it now. The added benefit of the widespread availability of the book doesn't hurt either. You don't have to go searching through your local shop (assuming you're lucky enough to have one), hoping they have a copy of the book in stock. Pop onto Comixology, search for it, download, and enjoy.
Ruiz: I honestly don't have a preference. I love print comics and support my local comic shop (More Fun Comics) almost on a weekly basis. With digital, it's more convenient for me to access anywhere at anytime and that is a huge bonus for me. I like reading my comics when I travel to unknown worlds but if I'm being honest, those other worlds have 5G service. We're so behind.
What challenges have there been to coming in on the ground floor with a company like you have with Monkeybrain?
Adam: The problems of doing anything comic-related in a world dominated by Marvel and DC remain – digital or print. There are a ton of books (and many of them fantastic!) all competing for a reader's dollar. And those dollars don't go as far as they did even a year ago. So we not only have to make sure we earn that $1.99 we're asking for an issue but we also have to be seen, which is hard when there are hundreds of other books with big budgets and machines to promote them and get them in the readers face. I'll be honest, there are weeks where it feels like we're starting from the bottom for every single sale and it can grind you down a bit.
D.J.: Honestly, being a part of Monkeybrain's first wave was huge for us! That first afternoon, when they released the books a couple days before they planned on it just because of all the excitement on them intertubes really opened my eyes to how different doing a digital comic was going to be. Plus, Chris Roberson and Allison Baker (Monkeybrain's fearless leaders) have been so supportive. As our book, and the other Monkeybrain books continue, and they add to their already impressive roster, my hope is that the audience for these comics and this brand will expand. It's a long game, and we're lucky to be a part of a publisher that is giving us all a chance to grow.
Nick: For me, the challenge has been trying to maintain a solid schedule so that we can get the book out regularly for the publisher. I've had to have a very strict daily routine for the last year because of having to balance a very intense day job with the comics work. Monkeybrain are very supportive and give us a fair amount of wiggle room in order to get our story out. It's been very tiring fun.
Is there anything you would do differently now if you had the chance?
D.J.: I don't want anyone to read too much into this, but there are A LOT of things I'd change. (Adam's going to hit me now.) Most of them, no one would notice. Little, teensy things. I make Adam sigh and shake his head a lot because I just like to tinker and worry and fret. We have learned so much with each issue, though, so there are definitely things I wish we'd caught or included in the first couple issues when we were just getting our feet wet with writing an ongoing comic after so many short stories for anthologies. That learning process and evolution also kind of the fun of creating serialized stories, though. It's like watching a TV show's pilot and realizing how different it is from the series itself. That first issue was our pilot episode. I am proud of it, and I think the art is doggone fantastic, but, story wise, yeah, I'd make some tweaks. So far, no one has complained about the stuff I'm worried about, though, so I'm not going into specifics. I'm babbling now, aren't I? …Is it hot in here? Why… why am I sweating… ? Heh, uh… next question!
Adam: D.J.! C'mere you little…! No, there is a lot to what D.J. says though I am really am less a worrier about some of it and more a stubborn blockhead. That said, there's at least one minor story note that I don't think anyone reading could ever notice that I would change. And I won't name it for fear of casting a spotlight on it now. It doesn't matter, but it nags at my brain a bit. I don't know. There are always things you look back on and want to fix, that's how it works. The day I am fully happy with a story after it gets released is the day I quit because I've lost my tiny little mind to ego. Also I would not have shot that man in Reno just to watch him die. In retrospect it wasn't worth it and Folsom prison isn't comfy. Send help.
Nick: I think I should have maybe had a colourist in from the beginning which would've allowed me to spend longer on the drawing. As it is I've had to cram the pencilling, inking and coloring into about a month and a half for each issue forcing me to spend less time on making the drawing better. Nevertheless, I'm glad that I've been able to pull it off. We have Ruiz on the team now so the pressure has eased somewhat. Yeah, I know I could've produced better drawings If I'd've given myself more time… The learning curve has been steep! And specific questions:
Adam and DJ-How has the initial plot outline of the book survived contact with the enemy? What changes, if any, did you have to make?
D.J.: By enemy do you mean the readers? Or the art team? Or… aliens? Honestly, most changes come from team Amelia, story wise. I think I'm more easily influenced by reader comments than Adam is. He's a little more steadfast with our initial plans, whereas I'm always all, "We can do what we want, maaaaan. Let's change it around and go with the flooowww…" or "My friend was confused by this one bit here, so let's explain it in great detail in the next issue! Oh no's!!!" Adam's probably the only person in the world I could co-write something with, and I've learned a lot from him and the way his mad brain works. I continue to learn with each issue. By working together, we find a happy medium, and any plot tweaks are organic and mostly only happen when we both get excited that said tweaks will make the story way COOLER.
Adam: I think the enemy is time, in this example. Or a train coming from Boston at 44mph. One of those. But yes I admit it I am always willing to improve stories but I am also always very hesitant to adjust because of something a reader said. It feels like a slippery slope to me. And maybe I'm wrong, always willing to be wrong, but we have a story. We want to tell it. So we're gonna tell that story. If a reader or six want the story slightly different then it means they care. That's a good thing, but it doesn't mean we change course at all. And as D.J. says I can go too stubborn with it. We find a great middle ground but to answer the actual question at hand – we haven't really changed the main thrust of the story at all. But we have adjusted scenes and some tone issues as we saw things completed. They finished art can inspire a change in the next issue, which is always fun.
Nick-How do you change your art style to differentiate between Amelia's worlds?
Nick: Well, I had to streamline my approach to drawing right from the beginning in order to make the story clear for all ages. The presentation in comics can seem impenetrable sometimes, especially for folks that don't read comics regularly. We wanted a simple style throughout and that has been a challenge because the panels need to be full of visual information that will build the world in the reader's subconscious. In order to differentiate between worlds, we made sure that we understood what things did and didn't exist in both worlds. In the normal world of issue 1, there are modern cars and camera phones. In the world Amelia finds herself in, there are old fashioned cars and people wearing older styles of clothing. One guy has a cassette Walkman, and so on… Ive tried to make the art style kind of old fashioned, a bit like the British humour comics I grew up on, rather than the more visually arresting American counterparts, just to keep things clear… I'm not even sure I answered the question! Colour! That's a good thing. I'm a fan of colour. I'm all for it, in fact.
Rachel-You have one of the widest skillbases on the creative team, working as a writer, editor and letterer. What's the challenge in lettering a book like this?
Rachel: Not covering up too much of Nick's gorgeous artwork. It kills me every time I pull up a page and see these stunning scenes, and then glance at the script to see that Adam and DJ have ten tons of copy for me to throw down on that page. Seriously, these guys like to jabber.
Ruiz-As the newest member of the team, what are your responsibilities?
Ruiz: I'm credited as "Color Assist" which is a nice way to say flatter. I get the inked pages from Nick then it's my job to basically use color to separate elements on the page then send it back to Nick so he can do full renders over them. It's the most time consuming part of coloring comics but it's still fun to me. I try and use the color palette Nick would use so that can save him even more time. I've done full color duties before so I know how important that is. I usually have to battle dragon monsters and defeat the evil Nick Miller before I can send the pages back to Nick Brokenshire and claim my cookies. That usually leads to an interesting conversation about Mallrats and how Adam is going to get me a Flatter nametag so I can fight people. Do I get a cookie for this interview?
What are you most looking forward to with the next stage of the book?
DJ: Adam and I are actually revising the scripts for volume 2 now so that they're ready to show to Nick to get his feedback. I'm really excited to see how he brings it to comic book life with Rachel and Ruiz! The script is one thing, but it won't be real until it's fully illustrated. I think folks are going to be pretty surprised. I sure am as we're writing, to be honest. What are we doing??? It'll be fun.
Adam: Yeah, D.J. and I keep surprising and one-upping ourselves. I think we feel the pressure to make this book bigger and more fun as we go. Every time we talk about it, work on scripts or talk with the team it's all about going further and raising not only the stakes but the enjoyment. Really I'm just looking forward to seeing how people react.
Nick: The next phase of the story is going to be great. Lots of new things to draw!
Rachel: I'm super ready for the Council to get rowdy and start throwing around some supremely evil magic. Sorry…is my horror showing?
Ruiz: Really just seeing how it all plays out. I'm a huge fan of all the characters but I'm going to be real honest, here. I want a Lemmy. I want a Lemmy spin-off. I want a Lemmy life size action figure. I think it's a true testament to Adam, DJ and Nick to have a character that doesn't speak, has no mouth & relies on expression through body language and round eyes and it works. You feel for Lemmy. I love Lemmy. Having said that, I'm really thrilled to see Protector versus Amelia. I'm ready for it to all hit the fan and see how it all plays out. Every character has been fleshed out in this book. I'm just excited for it all.
Aside from Amelia Cole, what are you working on at the moment?
DJ: A couple of projects I'm not sure I should talk about yet for fear of jinxing. One is a mini-series Adam and I wrote that Robert Love is drawing, and the other something I wrote solo that is in the pitching stages now. I hope to have lots of comics in my future!
Adam: Like D.J. said we don't really have the ability to discuss a lot of upcoming projects openly but there is that mini-series coming down the pipe, and I have another ongoing series starting next year that I'm co-writing with Sean E. Williams. Also, as I can't abide sleep, I'm working on another novel.
Nick: I've been trying to figure out how to finish my Flick And Barnaby story. I've devised a new story which for now is called 'Lulu'. My problem is time…
Rachel: I'm three issues into my creator owned horror series, Anathema and I've got a supremely awesome all ages Victorian horror graphic novel called The Other Side in the works for 2013. I write and letter both of those properties, by the way. This old dog is full of tricks.
Ruiz: Amelia Cole is the only ongoing book I'm involved in at the moment. This is my first "pro" year in comics and it's been great. I've done full colorist duties on a short story that was written by Adam and DJ, a pitch project that I can't talk about and colors on a pinup for the Oxymoron anthology from ComixTribe that Tyler James was kind enough to ask me to do. I've had a blast and 2013 is shaping up to be a good year for me. I've had to turn down a few offers because I've got a hectic schedule. I hated to do that because these are people I would love to work with but Amelia Cole is my priority. I'm thankful to Adam and DJ for giving me a chance and they care so much it's just great to work with them. They gave me my first shot and it's just a blast. I just want to take a moment and thank some others who have helped me so much. Allison Baker, Chris Roberson, Mitch Gerads, Steve Downer, Jordan Gibson, to name a few who gave me advice and continue to be very supportive and are all fantastic people in and out of comics. I promise there will be more from me in 2013 but nothing I can talk about just yet!
Thanks to the entire creative team there. Amelia Cole's one of my favorite books this year and I'm really looking forward to seeing where volume 2 goes. Plus, I want a Lemmy action figure too. Make it happen, guys.