D. J. Kirkbride and Adam P. Knave are two of the hardest working writers in comics, and that's in a medium where working astonishingly hard is, well, the norm. They are co-writers and co-creators of the ever-expanding all-ages comic series Amelia Cole (as well as Never Ending from Dark Horse), and were one of the earliest teams to take a path that's becoming a major route to print publication: releasing their comic with artist Nick Brokenshire digitally through Monkeybrain, being picked up on ComiXology through Monkeybrain, and then proceeding to collected editions with IDW, the second of which, Amelia Cole and the Hidden War, will be released on May 7th.
By taking this creator-owned route, the team have guaranteed that they can potentially create Amelia Cole stories "forever" if they so desire, and at the moment, the desire is strong to continue indefinitely. What makes Amelia Cole special for them is the same thing that makes the comic special for readers: it combines classic adventure elements, magical motifs, and a rock-solid construction of relatable characters in the form of Amelia and her Golem Lemmy.
Amelia is crafted intentionally by Kirkbride and Knave to be as "normal" a girl as possible. She wears "ordinary" clothes and doesn't possess excessive superpowers aside from her magic wrench. But if anything about her is abnormal, it's that she represents the best qualities about humanity in a magnified way while grappling with realistic dilemmas. In the first collected volume of the comic, Amelia Cole and the Unknown World, Amelia moves between two worlds, governed by magic and technology respectively, and she ventures further into her "protector" role in Amelia Cole and the Hidden War, we watch her face situations that make us ask ourselves what we wish we would do in her shoes, as Kirkbride said recently online. The response to the comic has been a groundswell of appreciation for the way their young heroine is presented and the fantasy inspired stories that Kirkbride, Knave, and Brokenshire tell.
Bleeding Cool spoke to D.J. Kirkbride and Adam P. Knave about their work on the series.
Hannah Means-Shannon: What is it about writing that compels you to work so damn hard? Is it a psychosis?
D.J. Kirkbride: Psychosis sounds about right. For me personally, writing is a compulsion. The actual process is made up of equal parts enjoyment and fear. Telling stories is fun, and if people read and like them, it's a huge honor. The opportunity to write for comics is something I've dreamed about since I was a kid. Sometimes it can feel like work, though, when the terror of getting "stuck" or not knowing where a story should go hits. That happens a lot less with Amelia Cole thanks to co-writing it with Adam. Rare to never is the time when BOTH of us are stuck on something at the same time. If that ever happens, our artist Nick Brokenshire is a heckuva writer, too, so we'd be fine.
APK: Writing is bad for your health, kids. I sometimes liken it to drug addiction. But it is cheaper than crack and you can write and still be mayor of Canadian towns. So that's always good. It also works as cheap therapy, some days, letting you work out your own issues through characters facing similar problems. Then again it is also exhilarating and fun, so why wouldn't you do it? Plus you get back what you put in. Work really hard and you make better stories.
DJK: Interesting. I don't know how much crack costs, but writing comics has actually cost me a pretty penny, so maybe I should get into Canadian politics…?
HMS: How do two writers work together without killing each other? What's your method on Amelia Cole?
APK: Step 1: Don't kill each other. Step 2: Celebrate not-death. Step 3: Remember you're on a deadline and panic. Step 4: Write comics! Uhm, well, kinda like that. We plot out whole arcs on the phone, and then pass them to Nick Brokenshire so he can fiddle and suggest and get his hands dirty, too. Once we have that we break down issues. Or have breakdowns. I forget. D.J.?
DJK: First of all, throw Step 1 right out the window! Along with your writing partner if he tasks you! No, wait, what? Yes, two writers writing. The most important thing is all the things Adam said, but also, a 5th step is to remember that you are both working toward the same goal of writing an awesome story. In the end, it doesn't matter who said what first, or who ended the Skype call in a huff and kicked the laptop across the room, it's all about the joy of creating. Creating comics and happiness and joy and Step 6 is ice cream. Step 8 is frequent facial hair changes, at least for me, but I don't know what the heck step 7 is. AND I DON'T WANNA KNOW.
HMS: Tell us a little about Amelia. If we passed her on the street, what would we notice about her?
APK: That she helps people who need it. She actually cares about the people, and world, around her and wants to actively work on making it a better place. So if you passed her on the street and were in trouble, you'd notice she was first to lend a hand. Failing that she'd probably be eating.
DJK: But if there's no monster attack or bus accident, Amelia's a nice and usually pleasant young lady dressed appropriately casual. She's not run-of-the-mill or average or without quirks or anything, but she's also not exactly turning heads or jumping around screaming, "Look at me! Look at me!" She's a swell person minding her own, lookin' for the best pastrami sandwich in town. Or the best priced one. Or a burrito. Or maybe I'm hungry right now.
HMS: What are the biggest challenges that Amelia has faced so far?
DJK: SPOILERS for anyone who hasn't read the book yet, and please do, because we like making it, we start the whole series with a huge tragedy for Amelia. The woman who raised her, her aunt Dani, gives her life to protect not only her world of magic, but also the world of science that Amelia hangs out in sometimes. Right here is a huge loss — and then she ends up stranded in this unknown blended world, completely alone. That first issue not only dropped two of the biggest bombs on Amelia, it also enabled us to set her up as a doer. She acknowledges the loss and then moves forward, never forgetting, but also never wallowing. At least on a personal-level, the whole start of our story was perhaps her biggest challenge. As far as externally, well, we keep piling it on, don't we, Adam?
APK: Yeah, like all good dramatic Western fiction we engage her by contrasting her with the external world. Which sounds a bit murky I guess. Stuff goes bad and she has to deal. Constantly, but hopefully not so consistently that it feels like a joke. I agree, I think the biggest challenge she's had so far is the current one which comes down to staying true to who she is in the face of ever-growing obstacles that could be avoided if she just stopped trying or caring.
DJK: And also finding a good pastrami sandwich.
HMS: How far do you go towards characterization of a Golem? What are your goals in writing a non-human character?
APK: Lemmy is a fully fleshed out character. He has goals and desires like anyone else in the book. And that's key, because otherwise he becomes a very fancy stepladder. Not being human, however, does let us contrast human limits by looking at how he holds up and operates.
DJK: Our idea for Lemmy was initially based around just having a cool-looking character who is super strong and would be fun for Nick to draw and readers to look at. The key to him came when we all agreed on that kind of oval head with the two round yellow eyes and no mouth. Nick went through a lot of designs, many of which are in IDW's Amelia Cole and the Unknown World trade (back in print, y'all), and that was the one that just felt the most…pleasant — the friendliest.
Nick has really been instrumental in fleshing Lemmy's out personality. After a lot of, "Lemmy cocks his head inquisitively" and "Lemmy looks surprised without giving him a face or changing his features or giving him any dialog somehow" script directions, Nick has added a lot to the character when he's not central to the scene. Some moments of him cuddling a chubby flying dragon or petting a puppy or looking at a flower are scripted, but very often, Nick just adds them while Amelia and Officer Freeman or someone are discussing major plot points. He knows the character as well as we do, so he can enhance him through his actions in the art. We all love Lemmy. He's the best.
HMS: What's your take on the magic-technology dichotomy in Amelia Cole? Are you concerned about the industrial future of humanity?
APK: In the sense that it leads to a growing disparity between the haves and have-nots, yes. I think humanity's future isn't determined by, or held back by, technology so much as the uneven distribution and leverage of that technology. The bigger the gap in societies the more fragile they become.
DJK: "Yes!" D.J. agreed with Adam wholeheartedly. The technology or the magic or the money — the THINGS aren't the problems; it's how they are utilized, shared or not shared. I think we're concerned with all sorts of failures of humanity due to humans. In Amelia Cole, the dichotomy and the have and have-nots situation there is our way of not really soapboxing, but just adding a little bit of that fun bit of metaphor the science fiction and fantasy stories we both love so much often have. Capitalism is swell in theory, but all of us are taught to share when we're kids, you know? Use good judgment, don't be greedy. Don't be a jerk is the main message of this comic series.
HMS: What fiction and fantasy works have inspired you in creating the world of the story in Amelia Cole?
DJK: Personally, I'm kind of like a sponge. There are subconscious inspirations that I only find out about when they're pointed out to me. Certainly Doctor Strange is a big one, as well as Harry Potter and some of the tone of tamer Buffy episodes for me. Adam and I both love the inspirational chills Doctor Who and Superman give us, and we aim for that kind of feeling with Amelia. Actually, a reader at a convention mentioned that Amelia's magic wrench is a direct descendant of The Doctor's sonic screwdriver. How'd I miss that? Adam, did you know what we were doing there?
APK: I hadn't seen that one either, no. But I like it. Yeah, I'm with D.J. on this. Everything I see, read, listen to, and experience plays into the writing on some level. Untangling it is a job I think is best left for people who aren't us — who can see it from a distance. Except for a few things I know I drew from that I just don't name as they can give clues to how some things may be dealt with.
HMS: What have fan responses been like to Amelia? Are you seeing a demand for a very "real" character like Amelia from young readers as well as adults?
DJK: When readers discover Amelia, they tend to love her. I'm dangerously far from cocky, but the fact is that we've had enough folks come up to us at conventions, or buy the book one day and come back the next to tell us how much they love it, to know that something is striking a chord. Adam and I were lucky enough to find the perfect artistic collaborator with Nick, and then to have someone as professional as Rachel Deering on letters and to add Ruiz Moreno's colors and enthusiasm to the team — plus Dylan Todd's amazing production design work on IDW's Amelia Cole and the Hidden War trade (out May 7th, by the way), it's like catching lightening in a bottle over and over.
The fact that Amelia, even with the foibles and imperfections we all have to varying degrees, is a genuinely good person, who helps those in need simply because it's the right thing to do, seems to really grab attention. Not in a flashy way, Lemmy's awesome design and all those monsters and flashy magic does that, but the core of Amelia's character is what seems to matter. Kids love the look and the fun, but parents have really taken to the basic goodness of Amelia and her supporting cast. Even some of the bad guys sometimes learn lessons and atone for their mistakes. The challenge is helping more people discover the book to meet these characters we love creating.
APK: Fan response has been amazing. Watching people encounter the book is one of my great joys in life, no lie. They tend to, more often than not, get it. Something in Amelia, and I think D.J. just nailed it, resonates in ways we couldn't have predicted but take to heart. There's a responsibility we take on ourselves, due to that, as well, and it is one I think the whole team takes seriously and willingly.
HMS: I seem to recall Adam saying that the possibilities for Amelia Cole were somewhat endless in terms of upcoming storyline? How far do you think you'll go in creating this as a massive saga?
DJK: I agree with Adam wholeheartedly. So far everything else I've worked on has been a mini-series with a set ending, but I'd love for Amelia Cole to go on indefinitely. We have everything very tightly plotted through issue 30, and putting all this together has been so fun. We're currently an arc ahead of the series as it's coming out on ComiXology courtesy of Monkeybrain Comics, and to see things we've mentioned back in the early issues coming to fruition now, and making surprise connections as well, has been so fun. Issue 30 would be a very emotionally satisfying ending…but it'd be wonderful to go beyond that. Since Adam, Nick, and I own these characters and this story, we can pretty much do whatever we want. If time and readership and funds all make it possible, I'd be fine with co-writing Amelia until I'm an old man and comics are holograms or read via eyelid implants or something.
APK: I want issue 100 at a minimum. It's not gonna be easy getting there but I believe in the team we have and the story we're building.
DJK: Let's never stop writing Amelia Cole, Adam. Even if the comic can't continue or society collapses, let's chat about story ideas for the rest of our lives. Even if the comic series ends, the story will still going on…in our BRAINS.
APK: Done deal, regardless of anything else we will never stop discussing new stories for Amelia Cole.
HMS: What do you think it will take for all-ages comics to create a better future for comics and for young people? While "smarter" all-ages comics are certainly emerging, there are plenty that are somewhat superficial and don't engage with meaningful issues, for instance.
APK: That's true of any medium, isn't it? Sturgeon's Law – 90% of everything is crap. And you strive to be that 10% every single day, and worry that you're wrong. It pushes you harder. Because if one person picks up the book and decides to be a better person, to be inspired by something we create than we have made a better world. All it takes it that resonation. We've had young people come up, flip through the book and tell us how they want to make comics, and hopefully seeing this book helps them on that path. I wanted to make comics because of comics I read as a child. Reading comics made me get out a dictionary to look up new words, and it made me want to learn from the lessons of my heroes. If we can do that for anyone on Earth, man I can't think of a single thing that is cooler or more fulfilling. All it takes it doing good work and sharing it.
DJK: The thing we always say, to ourselves when creating the book and to anyone brave enough to engage us in conversation, is that "all-ages" doesn't mean exclusively for teeny tiny lil' kiddies. We literally want this to be all-ages. It gets a little intense sometimes, and the sensitivity levels of all kids are different, but I always like to say this is for readers ages 6 to 106. Once you hit 107, it might not be your cup of tea anymore, and if you're 5 or below, the monsters might be too scary, but that 6 to 106 age range is the one we're going for, basically.
Hannah Means-Shannon is EIC at Bleeding Cool and @hannahmenzies on Twitter