Josie Schuller is your typical 1960’s housewife. She sells make-up door-to-door. Cooks and cleans for her adoring family. Suffers through her insufferable mother-in-law. Everything seems pretty normal, that is until you realize that Josie is a lethal assassin who has a pension for killing people with ruthless aggression in Joelle Jones and Jamie S. Rich’s Lady Killer. Coming from Dark Horse in January, this series tells the story of the lethal juxtaposition of Josie’s homelife and her life as a killer for hire.
Newsarama recently spoke to Jones and Rich about Lady Killer, the inspirations behind it, the clichés they tried to avoid as storytellers, and why this isn’t “just” a spy story. Dark Horse also provided us with some exclusive art, including the cover to the third issue as well as the first page, which features Laura Allred on colors.
Newsarama: Joelle, Lady Killer sort of started off as a series of prints you did doing mock vintage ads. What made you realize there was potential in doing an actual story with them?
Joelle Jones: I actually started with the story first then made the prints. I was having fun creating this world in my head but I didn't have any time to pursue it so I would do single image riffs on old ads just to kind of get it out of my system till I could do more with it.
Nrama: You've once again paired up with writer Jamie S. Rich here, so was the collaboration process any different this time around or was it pretty standard for you two?
Jones: It's been fun and challenging to really drive the story on this one, and Jamie has been great about letting me take over and jumping in when I ask him to.
Jamie S. Rich: Some of the back and forth was very standard for us, in how we talked through ideas and brought it together. It's been a longer process than usual, it's taken a couple of years. The primary work was just developing the characters and trading different ideas back and forth, testing out stories and plot lines. As time went on, it became obvious that Joëlle really needed to be the engine of the whole thing, and that's when she took over the main writing. I keep using the phrase that I "bat clean-up" but I don't actually really know what that means, I just know it's something people say. Being the catcher might be the more accurate baseball comparison. Because Joëlle is pitching and she's batting, and I'm just there to make sure the ball doesn't sneak past her.
That may not be accurate either. I don't understand sports. I just know that Joëlle is our MVP. It's been pretty amazing to sit back and watch her go.
Nrama: Tell us a little bit about these characters. Lady Killer reads like a spy-thriller like TV’s Alias, but with a more 50/60’s Americana setting.
Rich: There is definitely an influence of the spy genre, though probably casting our eye further back. There's a lot that intrigued us about the time period. I know for Joëlle, of course, the look of the early 1960s really appealed to her, but also, there was a specific archetype from the period, a specific social construct that was the suburban housewife that was idealized in TV shows like "Donna Reed" but that, really, had a more tragic subtext. It goes back to World War II and how women had entered the workforce to pitch in while the fellas were overseas, and here they were now being told to stay home and forget their educations and that just wasn't satisfying anymore. For a lot of complex reasons, too. There were so many changes in the world at the time, and that particularly intrigued me. Which side of history would our different cast members be on, and how that divide will affect their relationships.
Jones: What he said.
Nrama: Joelle, do you feel as though you've grown as an artist and creator even since working on a book like Helheim?
Jones: I absolutely feel like I have grown. I think that happens sometimes with artists. It just takes the right sort if project to really get you fired up and rise to the occasion. I do hope that my work continues to change and improve with every new project I take on.
Nrama: When diving into genres like the spy genre here, what are some tropes you try to avoid as a storyteller?
Rich: Well, I think calling it a spy book is a bit misleading. There are some espionage aspects, sure, since Josie works for a clandestine organization, but it's really more of a crime hybrid, a hitman story. Like that French comic "The Killer" by Jacamon and Matz.
As for genre influences, It's weird. You have to simultaneously absorb your influences and forget them. Like, Joëlle talked about the original "La Femme Nikita" in terms of the dynamic between a male boss and his female operative. So, we looked at that to inform ourselves of its tone, but then sort of just let it evaporate.
I think the one thing we wanted to consciously avoid was any romantic entanglement on the job, any sort of thing that would make this more like one of those light comedies where the lady assassin is only piling enough bodies to settle down with the handsome rogue who will rescue her from her mundane life. This is probably a bit of a bad comparison, but if you think of something like "Get Smart," as badass as Agent 99 was, they had her marry Max in the later seasons, and then stay home and have his kid, even though she was actually the talented operative. Josie is very good at what she does--at home and on the job.
Nrama: You both sort of avoid the superhero genre and concentrate on your own properties, do you find that more or less difficult when you're world building or playing in somebody else's sandbox?
Rich: I wouldn't say I avoid it so much as my natural orbits tend to circle other things, at least in writing. I've got stacks of recent Marvel Comics sitting here waiting to be read, so as a fan, I am just as upset that Kitty Pryde is dating Star-lord as anyone. In all honesty, though, that doesn't really come into play when creating something like Lady Killer or Madame Frankenstein, not even from a marketing standpoint anymore. The comics readership is so open to new ideas right now, the norton that one might be fighting an uphill battle to do something outside the norm is no longer true. The norm has becomes so broad unto itself. With books like Pretty Deadly and Fatale and stuff at Dark Horse like Mind MGMT or even Joëlle's book with Cullen Bunn, Brides of Helheim, we've seen that strange and eclectic titles have a place in comic book shops.
Nrama: When you were coming up with the story beats, did you have a direct course and knew what you wanted out of the story, or did it just snowball to just the right size?
Jones: For me it started out pretty loose and I wrote to what I wanted to draw. I got involved with the characters and a story came out. As a first time writer I thought it would be best to not over complicate it and to make it as enjoyable as possible. And I really enjoyed myself.
Nrama: Finally, what is it about Lady Killer that makes it so unique and a story that had to be told?
Jones: All I know is that I had to write it to get it out of my system. It was one of those ideas that if I didn't do something with it, it would never go away. To be honest I sort of did the whole thing for myself and when I look at the book now I'm totally tickled by it. I just hope other people will feel the same.