Catching up with Jamie S. Rich

Catching up with Jamie S. Rich

Jamie Rich

Meet The Rich. Jamie S. Rich.

The Portland-based writer has been a lynchpin of the independent comic industry, both as writer and previously as editor for Dark Horse and Oni Press. He recently completed the series Love The Way You Love and is continuing his long collaboration with artist Joelle Jones with the forthcoming You Have Killed Me. But for most of 2008 he's been largely absent from comic shelves, and we wanted to know why.

Newsarama: Thanks for talking to us, Jamie. What are you working on today?

Jamie S. Rich: Today I didn't actually work, if you can believe it. On some Sundays, I rest. Though I have been watching some Roberto Rossellini films that really are work unto themselves. In a more general sense, though, I've been spending most of my time on a young adult prose novel that is ostensibly what would have been the second series of Love the Way You Love had we decided to continue the comics. At this point, I'm considering this book to be kind of an experiment, which gives me the right to decide it failed and stick in a virtual drawer if need be, but I think it's going to turn out okay.

NRAMA:I initially approached you because, frankly, I hadn't seen much work published by you recently. Are we missing something – can you tell us whats been going on?

You Have Killed Me

JSR: Well, I've been working like crazy, but there has been some stuttering in terms of getting the material off my hard drive and in a committed relationship with a publisher. I've been scratching a lot of itches, trying different things, and it's been a slower process than I would have always liked, but hopefully with good reason. I think one of the things that has stalled my trajectory overall has been the longer-than-expected completion of You Have Killed Me, which Joëlle Jones is putting the finishing touches on right now. I think once that is out later this Spring, it will be the right kind of force to unclog everything else. I think that book will change the perception of both of us, it will make people think differently about what it is she and I do and hopefully expand the playing field a bit in terms of both of our careers.

The biggest change to how things are done is that I am now working with a literary agency, Baker's Mark, and my wonderful agent Gretchn Stelter, to make a plan of attack for my work, so it's no longer I just do it and toss it out there. That has been a learning process, but I think one that will benefit me in the long run.

NRAMA: A long-talked about project that's close to coming out is You Have Killed Me with artist Joelle Jones. Can you refresh our memory on this book?

JSR: It's a project that Joëlle suggested while she was drawing 12 Reasons Why I Love Her. She said she wanted to do something in the hardboiled tradition, something that drew on our appreciation for detective fiction and film noir. It's a 1930s crime story starring our own gumshoe, Antonio Mercer. He's hired to find a rich woman who has disappeared a matter of days before her wedding. The wrinkle, though, is that she used to be his fiancee, he grew up rich, and the family has turned to him hoping he will understand how she thinks in ways that someone who doesn't know her wouldn't.

You Have Killed Me

It's typically existential for me, and very true to its origins. At the same time, from a narrative standpoint, I tried to put my own wrinkle on it. I was always a little shy about genre before this, thinking I couldn't follow the rules properly. You Have Killed Me taught me that I could bend genre to my will as much as I had to bend to its demands.

Joëlle's work on the book is phenomenal and well worth the wait. She drew a lot of it concurrently with Token, and I think having so much work made her a better artist and she's really brought all those muscles she developed to You Have Killed Me. She's been doing all the tones by hand, using old fashioned zip. It looks astounding. Every line she draws makes me wish I was a better writer, because I think I'm going to get a bunch more of those "is she really going out with him" reviews where they wonder why she's not collaborating with a scribe more deserving. Trust me, I wonder, too. I worship the paper she inks on.

I think Oni is soliciting it for May or thereabouts, in a hardcover format like Northwest Passage and Crogan's Vengeance.

NRAMA: For some long-term comics fans (like me), I remember your editing work from years ago at Oni and Dark Horse. You still do some editing, correct?

JSR: To a degree, but not as hands on, not as day to day. I still work with Mike Allred, though I don't enforce schedules or anything like that. I usually see Madman when it's done, clean up the typos as best I can, talk to him about what he is doing, etc. I've also done the same for the books Andi Watson published at Image, Glister and Princess After Midnight. I've had really long and amazing relationships with both of them that none of us really wanted to let go of, so when services were needed, they were rendered.

from "Jailhouse Swing"

Joëlle and I are actually doing a short story for Mike, I think it will be in Madman Atomic Comics #16. Mike suggested I write something, and then when I did, he asked me to ask Joëlle to draw it. It's called "Last Night the Atomics Saved My Life," and it's about Adam Balm's biggest fan. Laura Allred also colored our story "The Jailhouse Swing," which is going to be in Popgun vol. 3 from Image.

Speaking of Image, I'm good pals with Eric Stephenson, and I love working in his anthologies, so I have two stories in the upcoming book adapting Spearmint songs, This is a Souvenir. One is with newcomer Natalie Nourigat, and the other is with one of my favorite cartoonists, but one who hasn't worked in comics in a while, Kelley Seda. I think these shorts are going to be the next things people will see from me.

NRAMA: You've also got a comic series with artist Mike Holmes out there somewhere. Can you talk about it?

JS: See, that's one that I wish I had kept my mouth shut a little bit on, as the process of finding a home for it has been very slow for a variety of reasons, some of which I take the blame for. It's called Lying Down, and it's partially an homage to old Hollywood. Mike came to me and said he wanted to do something with kind of a classic paradigm, and we talked about a variety of movies and stories with a male/female coupling, mostly action and crime stuff. It's sort of a con man romance think, gray morality and blurred identities. I actually wanted to write an old movie-type hero, the stoic type that you're not sure you like very much but yet you're rooting for him to get the girl anyway. I wanted to see if I could write a hero who was a jerk for most of the book and get away with it by making sure the reader knew he had a very good reason to be a jerk. I mean, some readers, particularly the male ones funnily enough, think a lot of my heroes are jerks anyway, but this time, he's really being a jerk, no bones about it.

Character design from "Lying Down"

It's all written. I wrote it in six distinct chapters, and if anything is experimental, it's Lying Down. I blame Mike Allred, whose Madman Atomic Comics changes styles every issue, and who in turn inspired me to try different things. In fact, some of what he does in the most recent issue, #12, I think he stole from me, with that whole story up top, story on bottom thing, as I did something similar and told him about it. Though mine is a tad more complicated. Bottom line: Mike Allred is a genius, and genius steals.

NRAMA: [laughs]

JSR: The funny thing is, the thing happening sooner is a book with a new artist named Nicolas Hitori de. It's on a property Joëlle Jones and I created. It's a sassy magical comedy. I expect an official announcement soon.

NRAMA: And we'll be on your case to talk about it!

After you transitioned from being an editor to a full-time writer, Oni Press has been your home for a vast majority of your work. What's your relationship like with them?

JSR: Very good, like family, with all the good and the bad that entails. I am not always the easiest person to deal with. Both Baker's Mark and the Oni guys would probably back me up on that. I'm very demanding and I'm very prickly, but Oni knows how to put up with that from me since they spent years doing it. No matter where else I publish, I will always want to return to Oni, they are just so right for a lot of things, and a total safe haven for being able to do things without being interfered with. When I was an editor there, I used to joke that when creators would stray and dabble with other publishers, it would just show them how awesome we were. Well, I tend to have that experience now, that when I start looking around for greener pastures, it's never as green as what I already have. I'm still going with the Matt Wagner lesson, gleaned from his Comico days and the frustrating end of that, so I won't put all my eggs in a single basket, but I will put a lot of them with Oni.

NRAMA: As a writer you're doing more than just comics – you've written several prose novels and also do reviews. What led you to diversifying like this and not just strictly sticking to comics?

JSR: It's just always been the way my mind worked. I was never content to do just the one thing or the other. In high school, I was already writing both comic book scripts and novels, and even dabbling in poetry and screenplays. I wrote short stories all the time, as well, and thought I would be doing a lot of that. Harlan Ellison was one of my main influences in that regard. It was just over time I realized I wasn't so good at the poetry or the short stories and I disliked the lack of control that was inherent in the moviemaking process, so those things got weeded out.

I don't think I could survive with just one or the other. Prose and comics each satisfy different aspects of my personality. Novels are the side of me that wants to be alone and just left to my own devices, whereas the comics are the side of me that is willing to be more gregarious and play with others.

The film reviews came about as a purely mercenary maneuver. I have a terrible DVD habit, one that was easier to feed when I had steady employment and wasn't living the spartan lifestyle of a soon-to-be-has-been writer, and by signing up with DVDTalk.com, I've been able to start getting a steady stream of movies for the price of a couple thousand words.

NRAMA: Let's talk about that novel you mentioned that's in the can. Is it a follow-up to a previous work?

JSR: No, it's entirely new, though in a lot of ways it is a response to the previous novels. I often have referred long while. Yet, I guess since it's kind of a hybrid of certain things, it's experimental.

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