When you were in school, what kind of books did you read? Comic books, science fiction, crime, fantasy, non-fiction, or even the (in)famous required reading we all had to endure. But did your school library have room on the shelf for a spell book?
Probably not. But in the upcoming graphic novel Spell Checkers, three junior high girls get their hands on a magical spell book and the world is open to their seemingly every wish. Fast-forward to high school and they're now at the top of their pecking order as a clique/coven. But the pedestal they're living on begins to show cracks when someone starts leaving graffiti around campus that puts them at the butt of their school's jokes. Is it one of them, or someone on the outside of their circle who's attempting to darken their proverbial doorstep? You'll have to read the book to find out that mystery, but until then we have an interview with writer Jamie S. Rich about this upcoming graphic novel.
Rich is working with regular collaborator Joelle Jones as well as artistic newcomer Nicolas Hitori, in what could be described as "The Craft meets Mean Girls" and something that Rich describes as more Don Rickles than H.P. Lovecradft.
Newsarama: How would you describe this book, Jamie?
Jamie S. Rich: It's a rude high school comedy. Three girls who as young kids get hold of a magical spell book, and it's just the wrong age to discover witchcraft. No social consciousness, an underdeveloped conscience. They are going to do with these new powers what they will, and by the time they are in high school, they pretty much rule everything. They are the terrors of the school, the popular girls gone drunk with power, and though there are rumors, no one really knows they are literal witches.
The first volume begins with a challenge to their power. Someone has started leaving graffiti around campus that, shall we say, questions the girls' moral character. Not necessarily falsely, but you know, this cannot be allowed to stand without some response. This leads to conflict, and they start to suspect one another--especially when a cute boy gets put into the mix.
Nrama: Can you tell us about each of the three witches?
Rich: Cynthia in a weird way is kind of the leader. She's the pretty redhead, the most spoiled, a kind of suburban princess--which I guess would explain her drinking problem. Kimmie is the tougher one, a Japanese American who doesn't take crap from anybody. She's got a bit of a rocker style, smokes like a chimney. Then we have Jesse. In some ways, the fact that she is a little quieter makes Jesse the mousy one. She's also the smartest of the group, a little more likely to consider the right thing. Don't mistake her quiet for weakness, though, she's probably got the wickedest sense of humor when it comes down to it. Unsurprisingly, she's the favorite of both of the artists on the book. You know how shy cartoonists can be...and how evil.
Nrama: How would you describe their relationship together, and how they could think one of them is out to get the others?
Rich: I think there is a certain dynamic among friends where the social hierarchy is always changing. Sometimes, one might be the head of the group, at other times another. Alliances shift. While one day Jesse might do something embarrassing and Kimmie and Cynthia gang up on her and make fun of her, the next day it might be Jesse and Cynthia against Kimmie. I think that's true of any young friendship, it's certainly how it was when I was in school. The set-up of a group is always evolving and the structure fluid. You all really like each other, but there is always going to be fall-outs and break-ups and then within a day or two it's all back to normal. In a way, a group of friends like this is about checks and balances, and that becomes more literal with the Spell Checkers, as they share one spell book that they must trade back and forth. Kind of like if a couple of friends shared a car, and they have to work out a schedule for who gets it when. In this case, though, she who has the book has the greatest access to magic, and so to keep their witchly bond intact, they need to keep each other in check. They are most powerful as a group.
In the case of Spell Checkers, in this first story, the graffiti is not only a challenge to the perceived authority of the girls, but it's also magic. It's not just spray paint, but the first slander is burned into the wall, the second water blasted, etc., making the girls think there is a curse being performed. Well, who else knows magic but them? And is the graffiti about specific girls showing up on days when the third girl has the spell book? Either one of them is up no good, or someone is trying to convince them as such. If it's the latter, they are doing a good job, as distrust settles in fairly quickly. It's not helped by Kimmie chasing the boy that Cynthia likes, either.
Nrama: What kind of magic is going on here – are we talking Harry Potter style, or more The Craft or something else?
Rich: It's fairly comedic magic, actually. It's almost more like a superpower than a regular eye of newt, tongue of toad type thing. A little Zatanna, a little Macbeth, and yeah, maybe some of The Craft --though these girls would never approve of the goth clothes. And I'm pretty sure they think Harry Potter is a wuss. Anybody who wastes all that power for "good" has to be mentally unbalanced.
Rich: Spell Checkers isn't a serious book. It's meant to be fun before anything else. Insults are more important than incantations, as far as I'm concerned. Don Rickles has way more power in my world than H.P. Lovecraft. This book has insults galore. Like a comic book adaptation of an old Blue Monday letters column.
That said, right now, the plan is for the external threats to largely be magic based and, quite often, demonic. I think we all want to steer clear of current trendy monsters, so no vampires or werewolves. Not unless we had a great idea for how to tear them apart and make fun of them. The first volume actually puts the boots to old-school fairy tale witches, as well as the idea that someone might make a deal with a devil to gain power. And I'm already cooking up new scenarios for volume 2.
Nrama: Let’s talk about how this book came about. You’re working with artistic newcomer Nicolas Hitori de but frequent collaborator Joelle Jones did the cover and the character designs, right?
Rich: Joëlle did the character designs, yes, and she's also drawing flashbacks in the book. We get small interludes about how the girls got the magic book and their early bond of sisterhood, both before and after the book. They were always little snots, and so their bratty natures brought them together and magic ritual made the binding real. There's a page of slapstick that Joëlle has already drawn that never fails to crack me up. Let's just say, I'm a kid that enjoyed dodgeball in school...
Nrama: And how did this book come together?
Rich: There's been much disagreement over how it all started. Joëlle has called me a liar for the story I tell where, basically, she had drawn a sketch of three girls she saw out at a bar that we both really liked, and she suggested that I turn them into characters. The fact that sketch existed is not disputed, but she thinks it's something I started on my own, that it was my idea to take the specific drawing and do something with it. Either way, next thing she knew, I had what was then a script for the first issue of a four issue miniseries.
The idea languished for a while, we were both doing other things, including You Have Killed Me, and we had a number of other projects we were talking about. We always talked about Spell Checkers maybe being something where we'd bring another artist in to handle the main art chores. Even with that strategy, though, it was a total back burner project until Nico came along. He's a MySpace hook-up. A totally random message from him about bad French pop music led me to look at his online portfolio, and I completely wigged out. His main professional experience had been doing illustrations of the W.I.T.C.H. characters for various publications. W.I.T.C.H. was partially created by Alessandro Barbucci and Barbara Canepa, who are also the artists on Skydoll, which Joëlle and I both love. Seeing Nico, it was a no-brainer, and so he did about 12 pages of samples to show Oni. It was a slamdunk from there. In fact, having Nico on board got me really jazzed, and the rest of the script just poured out of me.
I think it was the right kind of book at the right time, honestly, for myself and Joëlle. We were working on such heavy stuff, this was a chance to loosen up a bit. Both of us have been conscious of zigging when people think we should zag, which is why we did something like You Have Killed Me after 12 Reasons Why I Love Her. The expectation was for us to do more romance, so hey, let's do crime! Now comedy! Her next two big assignments, the Dr. Horrible one-shot for Dark Horse and also the two issues of Madame Xanadu for Vertigo, are also as different from one another as they are from our work together. I think it's good to keep on one's creative toes.
Nrama: And finally – and most importantly I'd argue -- when do you expect this book to come out?
Rich: Right now the plan is for early spring. We're actually in the early stages of talking about debuting it at the Chicago Comic and Entertainment Expo in April with all three of us there. Nico is drawing really fast and so the second volume should come out by the end of 2010 or early 2011. I've mapped out three books that will form a kind of whole, and then hopefully after that, three more, or basically do it until we get tired of it. There's a lot of room to play around.