By Michele Brittany, one of our West Coast Correspondents for Bleeding Cool
He is an unassuming kind of guy. Big glasses, a mop of hair that swoops messily from a side part, kind of quiet, likes plaid shirts, and is extremely humble and giving. That's D.J. Kirkbride. Last week, The Comic Bug bookstore in Manhattan Beach, California hosted a book signing with Kirkbride to coincide with the release of the concluding issue of Never Ending (Dark Horse) that he co-wrote with Adam P. Knave and visually realized with penciller, Robert Love. The book signing started at 5 o'clock and by the time I arrived about an hour later, Kirkbride was busily chatting with patrons, signing issues, and taking pictures of each person who stopped by and bought an issue or book.
Kirkbride was kind enough to agree to an email interview and lo and behold, but Kirkbride's co-writer, Adam P. Knave, joined in the interview as well!
Michele Brittany: What is your background – education, family, where you grew up?
Adam P. Knave: I was born and raised in Manhattan, with two parents that were both prose editors and writers. This teaches you, at an early age, that writing is both bad for your health, a questionable career move in the eyes of everyone else, and 100% unavoidable. That strange light has cast long shadows over every day of my life.
DJ Kirkbride: My education comes from the school of hard knocks. Okay, not really. I'm from Ohio, the top of the state for my first eight or so years in a suburb of Cleveland called Elyria, and the bottom of it in a small town called Waverly for most of my formative years. I'm not closely related to anyone who is or even wants to be a writer. I'm not sure what my problem is.
MB: How long have you been writing? What was the first prose you wrote with the mindset that you wanted to be a writer? What became of it? What was the first prose you published?
DJK: I went from making up stories that I told and acted out and played to really writing them in maybe the fifth grade. Our teacher gave us a story writing assignment that had to be a page or so, and I wrote four. My classmates thought it was nuts that I wrote more than was required, but it was just so fun to me. I continued ever since, hand writing stories and filling up notebooks for years before I learned how to type. Adam has written, and read, way more prose than me. Way, way more. I think I decided I really wanted to be a writer in college, but then it was screenwriting. After graduating, I had some micro fiction and comedic prose in a magazine called Tastes Like Chicken. The stories were so short and written so fast that I don't recall what my first one was…but I'm sure it was hee-larious. I also started sharing ninja poetry there, many of the poems appearing in Do You Believe in Ninjas? actually. TLC really lead to me meeting folks in the comic industry, and, in my searching for other similar independent publications, Sir Adam P. Knave, when he was writing for Too Much Coffee Man Magazine.
APK: I've been writing pretty much since before I learned to write. The first thing I wrote was a few pages I badly drew with crayon and wrote some words under it. Proto-comic? Maybe. But after that, I submitted my first prose short when I was 12, and learned how rejection feels. After that I kept writing but not as much for publication as to get better. Eventually, after a very long and winding road filled with bouts of not writing, editing only instead, and general life, I sold a zombie story to a horror anthology not long after the turn of the century. That snowballed into more short stories, some novels and magazine work, and eventually comics.
MB: Looking at your website and reading the various blurbs out there about your writing, you seem to have your hand in many projects. Can you highlight the three you are working on right now?
APK: Sure! Since Never Ending just finished, let's focus on upcoming stuff. There's Amelia Cole (co-written with D.J. from Monkeybrain Comics) which is still going strong, coming back with issue 13 on ComiXology and the start of a new arc soon, as well as the release of the second arc from IDW this May. Magic, adventure and all sorts of fun, Amelia is tons of fun. Also digital from Monkeybrain I am co-writing Artful Daggers with Sean E. Williams (Fairest, Vampire Diaries), which is starting its second arc soon, with the first trade out in March from IDW. And of course, in a month or so, I am launching a new webcomic called Dong Patrol with art by Chris Peterson (Go Getters, Bee Vixens From Mars).
DJK: Amelia Cole is my main project right now. I have other books in development, most with Adam, though a couple I'm writing solo. All of them are at various points in the pitch and wait phase, and I fear old age will take me before some of these books happen. In the end, though, I'm very proud of Amelia Cole with Adam [P. Knave], Nick [Brokenshire], Rachel [Deering], and Ruiz [Moreno]— and that Never Ending was given a shot at Dark Horse, with a nice little trade collection due out in July.
MB: You two have co-writing credits in the three-shot Never Ending (Dark Horse) and Amelia Cole and the Unknown World (IDW), how did you two meet? And, what led to your collaborative partnership?
APK: We were both writing for Shannon Wheeler's Too Much Coffee Man Magazine and met through email exchanges about that issue and became fast friends. Over the years we kept in touch, finding many of the same story interests and then D.J. started to work as Assistant Editor at Popgun (Image Comics). And then…
DJK: Yeah, I was assisting Popgun editors Joe Keatinge and Mark Smith for the first two volumes, then Joe decided it was time to step down as volume three was getting started. They promoted me to co-editor, and then were wise enough to take my suggestion to bring Adam on board in the vacated assistant editor position. We wrote a story for that one, then for volume four Adam became a co-editor with me and an excellent artist named Anthony Wu. More writing, fun times, and we set our sights on writing stories longer than the usual anthology fare. All sorts of collaborating with this guy, really.
MB: Can you provide insight into your collaborative process? How are story components brought together and editorial decisions made?
DJK: As co-writers, we basically split writing and then editing duties. We are very polite to each other, as we're friends who enjoy the other's work — but we'll cut to the chase when necessary. Every story is different. Never Ending started with an idea I brought to Adam and our artist and fellow creator Robert Love. Amelia Cole grew from discussions of what to write for Nick Brokenshire, who told us he was interested in magic. He and Adam both felt strongly about having a female lead, too. We have other comics that started from Adam's brain that he's shared with me, kind of a reverse of Never Ending, which hopefully we'll be able to get out there one of these days, too.
APK: Luckily we're both proficient writers and editors, so we can work in both worlds and pass notes back and forth without ever feeling like we're attacking each other, or dismissing one another. Except, of course, when one of us has a bad day and totally screws everything up. Then there is some grumbling and we get the hell over it — because we're friends, and writing comics is too much fun to be angry long. But to elaborate on what D.J. said up there, we split the writing and editing duties up within each phase. We pass drafts of every script and trade-off who writes the first pass. We pass our notes back and forth endlessly. Basically we both enjoy the entire process so much we each make sure we get to touch every phase of every script. It's, honestly, a lot of fun. Also work.
MB: Having just finished Never Ending and Amelia Cole and the Unknown World, I'm noticing some recurring themes – loss, isolation, despair, the concept of "other" as well as hope and otherworldly elements. And with your three-shot, you explored mortality and immortality. Is that a fair assessment?
DJK: That is indeed quite fair. Amelia Cole is a coming-of-age story, just with magic and monsters and other dimensions and an 8-foot-tall techno-golem named after a rock 'n roll legend. The other-ness comes from general coming-of-age feelings turned outward by her being trapped in volume one's titular "Unknown World." As for Never Ending, yeah, that one delves a little more into despair. It's all about loss and how we often don't know how to deal with it. Also a muscular guy in tights and a cape who punches aliens and seems to have fought a lion at some point.
APK: There is a lot to be gained from putting characters in circumstances they aren't familiar with. That leads to a bunch of stories that deal with "the other" in fiction. It's a great way to hold up a mirror to ourselves and view ourselves as "the other" and discuss some bigger questions of life — while using the reflection as a remove so we don't bore anyone with droning on about things, but rather frame it all in exciting adventures and larger-than-life stories. All stories should be personal, not only for us as storytellers, but for the characters involved. So we're often looking at life, and the problems therein.
MB: It is said that writing is therapeutic, so are these fears you are grappling with?
APK: Writing is way cheaper than therapy, keep that in mind. That said, for me, not really any more than anyone else I know. We all feel alienated, at times. Set off from the rest of our community. We felt it as teens, the hardest, and remembering that, and being able to tap into it, is part of the job. Want to write? Remember the worst emotional moments of your life and relive them, on stage, in front of strangers, while telling the story through a constant remove so you can make it relatable to other people. Yeah, so writing is a strange mix of being too honest and obscuring that because people don't want your problems, they want a good, engaging story. If we do it right, you might, indeed, wonder if we deal with the same problems, but that shouldn't matter. What matters is do you relate to those themes, and how do they speak to you?
DJK: I realized how very blatantly personal a lot of my writing was not too long ago. Some of it kind of surprised me when I started talking it out. My biggest fear nowadays is an attack from magic energy sucking monsters, so…wait. Holy crap, that's part of Amelia Cole and the Hidden War. Okay, apparently all this stuff is about me. Did you know that, Adam? How can you let me be so indulgent??
MB: Your stories have finished open-ended. With Amelia Cole you left a lot unanswered, as though the first volume was a prelude to a much larger story to come. Are you planning a multi-volume release for Amelia?
DJK: Amelia Cole is open-ended because it's an ongoing series. Unknown World was given what we thought was a satisfactory ending, just in case we couldn't do more, but we have up to issue 30 as "must do no matter what," and then we really want to go beyond that if it's financially feasible and Nick has the time and inclination to continue sitting at his drawing table until the way late of night.
APK: Besides the fact that, yes, Amelia Cole is an ongoing digital series that gets trades from IDW, so it needs to be open ended because it hasn't ended — there's something nice about stories that leave "What Happens Next?" to the reader, while still giving them a good ending to chew on.
MB: And speaking of open-ended endings, in Never Ending, which had some humor was a bit darker than your earlier works, I sense you shifted gears by leaving the story open for each reader to ponder Chuck's future. Was that your intention?
DJK: The original ending was open-ended in a different way, but it was far more ponderous and darker. The ending we went with was suggested by Adam, and it was much more uplifting, though even more open to interpretation. I hope we get into some conversations with readers about what they think happen next at cons and whatnot. We have our own thoughts on it, but, well, we're huge fans of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, basically.
APK: The key to this, I think, is that in the themes you saw in our work you missed the simplest and most prominent: Hope. Hope leaves that door open at the end of Never Ending. Hope pushes characters further and allows the world to be dark, without being oppressive. It may be the biggest thing in all of our writing — the idea that hope matters.
DJK: We really are hope junkies, even though it isn't always easy.
MB: Of all your characters, who do you most identify with and why?
DJK: I want to say Amelia, but the truth is that I find myself looking up to her. Her drive and tenacity and clear view of right and wrong, her instance to run toward trouble to help those in need instead of avoiding awkward-to-dangerous situations — it's all very inspiring to me. Her sense of humor is about as corny as mine, though, as is her love of food, so we have some things in common. A general predilection toward navel gazing and soul searching and the potential for depression are what I have in common with Chuck. Amelia's kind of how I wish I was, and Chuck is more how I am. Both are good people, but Chuck is more easily discouraged and troubled than the resilient Amelia.
APK: I have a lot of answers I would like to give, but being honest, probably Hector in volume 2 (and beyond) of Amelia Cole. He means well, he tries hard, and yet he's also been a total screw-up in the past and made a mess of things. You know. Hi.
MB: Of the characters out there, is there a superhero or superheroine you would to write?
DJK: I love writing characters I've created and co-created, and the opportunity to write someone else's character has yet to present itself, but there really aren't any I'd turn down off the top of my head. It'd be an interesting challenge. Superman is my favorite not only comic book character, but fictional character, so it'd be amazing to try to write him. Doctor Who, mostly numbers 9 through 12 (or is it 13? or 14?) would be amazing, too. Sherlock Holmes, the crews of the Enterprise from Star Trek: TOS and The Next Generation… ah, there are so darn many.
APK: My first love will always be to characters that started in my head, or a collaborator's head. That said, if we stretch the question like D.J. did (Yeah, D.J. I'm calling you out) to non-superheroes as well – Farscape would be a world I would adore to work in. Also Doctor Who would be up there. Straight superhero characters though – Blackhawks, Challengers of the Unknown, the Metal Men, Dazzler, and, of course, a Doop/Wong team-up book.
DJK: The Doctor and Captain Kirk are totally superheroes, man.
MB: What's on the horizon for you? What series should your readers be looking for in their local comic book shop?
APK: March sees the release of the first trade of Artful Daggers from IDW (written by me and Sean E. Williams, drawn by Andrew Losq and lettered by Frank Cvetkovic) whereas May sees the release of Amelia Cole and the Hidden War in print from IDW (by me and D.J. of course, drawn by Nick Brokenshire, lettered by Rachel Deering and color assisted by Ruiz Moreno) – past that there are some things coming I can't mention.
DJK: Just Amelia Cole for the time being, though I'll keep plugging away developing other projects because I am completely illogical.
MB: Where will you be next to hobnob with your fans, and how by the way, do you remember everyone's name?
DJK: We'll next be at Emerald City Comic-Con. I'll be at table Amelia Cole & Never Ending, while Adam will be straddling it with our neighboring team Artful Daggers table. It should be great! Also, I have a horrible memory for names and, as you know, forget them far more often than I should — or than even makes SENSE. It's really weird. I should get my head checked. I'm getting better, though, trying some memory tricks and just keeping a clearer head overall.
APK: I'm all right with names, but good with faces. So if we meet at a con and you come back the next year, I may recognize you, but just kinda go "Oh, yes, you, with the face, last year. Good times."
MB: What are you currently reading?
APK: Right this second I'm tearing through Kate Atkinson's Life After Life, as well as poking at some old Clifford Simak stories.
DJK: I'm currently reading Bluebeard by Kurt Vonnegut. I can't believe I'm just now getting to it, but it's also wonderful to be reading it for the first time. I'm behind on my comics, but there is Terry Moore's Echo one volume collection waiting impatiently for me on my bookshelf. I also need to get my grubby mitts on Paul Pope's Battling Boy.
A huge thank you to D.J. Kirkbride and Adam P. Knave for graciously giving their time to respond to my long list of questions. Their humor and collaborative spirit shone brightly and provided insight to their professional relationship that has been quite fruitful for them and a joy for their readers.
Michele Brittany is an independent pop culture scholar and semi-professional photographer currently editing an upcoming anthology on the influence of James Bond on popular culture. She regularly posts reviews and analysis on the spy/espionage genre on her blog, Spyfi & Superspies.
All photos in this article are courtesy of Michele Brittany.