Reclaiming the Wonder of DC's GEMWORLD: Inside AMY REEDER's AMETHYST

Amethyst
Credit: DC
Credit: DC

DC's Princess Amythest is returning to Gemworld at last -but will anyone be there to welcome her?

After her recent return in the pages of Young Justice, Amy Winston is heading back to Gemworld in a six-issue Wonder Comics series from Amy Reeder that finds her kingdom empty and her allies strangely tight-lipped about their fates, all on the day of her sixteenth birthday gala. When Amythest can’t get answers from her former best friend, she sets out to uncover the truth and rescue the denizens of the Amythest kingdom on her own no matter what it takes.

Reeder takes on double-duty in Amethyst, writing and illustrating the series with letters from Gabriela Downie. In Amythest #1, out February 26, Reeder delivers a fun, fast-paced story filled with gorgeous otherworldly gemstone landscapes and instantly engaging new characters (including one surprisingly adorable one).

Newsarama had the opportunity to chat with Reeder about the debut issue, ‘80s inspirations, and what readers can expect from Amy’s return to Gemworld.

Amy Reeder
Amy Reeder
Credit: Image Comics

Newsarama: How did you connect with DC for Amythest?

Amy Reeder: Andy Khouri reached out to me, who's my editor on the book, because he and Brian Bendis were thinking that I'd be a good fit for the Wonder Comics line. They had heard that I wanted to write for myself - they wanted to give me a lot of leeway, which was very attractive to me, and they didn't know what I'd want to do.

So it was pretty wide open. Andy was describing all the different characters that they were already doing and where people were going, and he mentioned that Young Justice was going to Gemworld and including Princess Amethyst, and I was like, "Oh, could I do an Amethyst book? Because I've been wanting to for years." So, yeah, it was really cool that I got the opportunity to do that.

Credit: DC

Nrama: What drew you to that character initially, when you first got into her? And what made you really excited about the chance to return to Gemworld?

Reeder: Well, I was actually on a pitch for an Amethyst book back in 2007, I think. It was rejected, and then eventually I did Madame Xanadu with Matt Wagner. The idea was, we were going get a DC character that hadn't been handled for a while and bring them back. And so I already did some research at that time and felt like it was a perfect fit. I had just come from the manga world instead of the mainstream world. Madam Xanadu was my first mainstream comics gig.

Credit: DC

So yeah, the thought of doing something magical sounded really attractive to me. I just loved that she exists in the DCU, and there's a lot of things you can play around with in that world. I love that you can also, if you choose, just be in there and not connect things to a lot of other continuity, because even though people can do that very artfully, I tend to kind of focus in on one thing. And so that sounded like an exciting opportunity for me.

Nrama: One of the things I really loved about Amythest is that has this young adult sort of She-Ra, sort of Jem vibe but doesn't feel specifically that. It feels very young and welcoming to new readers, but not in a way that's like, "Here's our young readers book, this is the separate one, just for you." Was that something that was kind of on your mind as you were starting to script the mini series?

Credit: DC

Reeder: Yeah, absolutely. Tone was a big deal to me, and it was tough to figure out the right balance for tone, because I've been wanting actually to do something that was inspired by She-Ra and Jem and also Rainbow Brite.

I was born in 1980, and I just, for me, I hated live action stuff, even if it had puppets. I just thought it was annoying, and I would only watch cartoons and these things, I lived for them. So I was a punk rocker for Halloween one time, and it was just like a Jem rip off.

I've been actually researching stuff like this and I was thinking of doing a Saturday morning fantasy style comic on my own when I was approached by DC and I thought, "Well maybe I could take this storyline. " And it was a similar thing with this gal who just woke up one day and realized that all of her people were gone, and she has to find them. And I wanted her to be able to fly or something, and have somebody that was on the ground, and somebody that was in the water, and the three of them together would find her people.

So when they were asking me, I thought, "Oh I could actually really apply that well to the Gemworld universe.” In addition to that, I wanted it to be cartoony, but I wanted it to have the same real stakes that '80s cartoons have. I didn't want to just be all lovey-dovey comfy stuff. Not that that's what all modern stuff has or anything, but I really did like that feeling of the '80s where kids weren't really talked down to. Death was real, and all that kind of stuff.

Credit: DC

I actually made myself a playlist that kind of helped me get in the right mood, and I made sure that there were a few badass songs in there so that I could keep a nice balance of being badass and having it have more of a life, adult weight to it, but still have it light and fun and super magical, and dreamy.

Credit: DC

Nrama: I want to go back to the person on the ground - that feels a little like Phoss, who we meet in the first issue. Could you tell us a little bit more about her? Because I love her, and I especially love Stan. I was very excited about Stan.

Reeder: I'm glad. I was really excited to make this character, because I had already kind of thought of her before as being just this cowboy type person that just was a little wild, a little warrior like, but incredibly likeable. She's a good foil to Amethyst, I think, because I didn't want it to be all about pretty princesses. There’s so much you can work with. And so I think they work well together.

Phoss is the kind of person who... She's really funny, she's really brave, but she has trouble completely opening up and talking about real things. And then she rides this caterpillar named Stan who is a giant caterpillar basically, and she has four arms. So she kind of matches Stan’s multiple limbs. I just thought it would be fun to do that. It was just kind of random.

Credit: DC

Although I keep thinking about... I keep realizing that there's little connections to fantasy stories, like I'm pretty sure that I came up with the caterpillar thing probably because of Alice in Wonderland, but I didn't really do that willingly.

But yeah, his name is Stan, just because it just was the first thing that came to my mind. I think he's really cute. I think people are gonna like him a lot, and yeah, I don't know, he's just squishy.

Nrama: He is, he's super squishy. And like you said, the juxtaposition between Phoss and Amy, that's also true of Stan and Ypsilos. There's Phoss and her big squishy caterpillar. And there's Amy, who is much more open about things right out of the gate, is obviously much more open and willing to stand-up in her party dress, and demand, “Hey, there's people missing. Who's coming with me, are you ready to go?"

Speaking of Amy's dress, what inspired the design for Amethyst? Could you talk a little bit about what inspired your design choices there?

Reeder: Well, let's see. The backpack is really just because I want her to be carrying things, and it's really hard to just have that stuff appear out of thin air. But it's kind of funny because as I was drawing her, I was like, "Oh, no, but Moon Girl had a backpack and Rocket Girl had a rocket pack. So now I just have a bunch of people wearing things on their back. Whoops."

Credit: DC

Honestly, I think the reason that ended up happening was, she’s supposed to go home. It's her birthday. She's turning 16, and so she's supposed to go back to Gemworld and celebrate in this massive birthday gala. And unfortunately, that's not what her day ends up being. And so it was a good way to take something really fancy and do a bunch of rough stuff in it.

It's hard to remember exactly the sequence of events, but I know that my editor, Andy, for some reason he was like, "Well, she's a princess. At some point, can we put her in a dress or something? Because that's just something that you don't really see as much in DC Comics?" And so that was part of it. I had this costume that I had designed for future issues that I wanted to be her official costume, but I was like, "Yeah, actually that kinda makes sense." And so that was part of it as well.

I actually think most wedding dresses are really hideous, but in an ad somewhere one time, I saw this really pretty wedding dress that had just a bunch of chiffon folded in on itself, and so I used that as some of the inspirations for the dress. It's just this image that I've kept on my phone for years. I don't even think I fully captured how pretty that dress was.

Credit: DC

Nrama: And thinking, again, in terms of art, you mentioned wanting to write for yourself as an artist, what made you really excited about getting to take on both of those roles, in general, and particularly for Amethyst?

Reeder: It's just basically what I've been wanting to do for a long time. I started out doing that for TOKYOPOP, in this book I did, Fool's Gold, and for me, that's what I want to do. I just want to make stories, and I don't feel like I'm fully making the story unless I'm writing it. I think I'm just sort of, by nature, more holistic about how I see comics, and I want control over what happens in a story.

I love coming up with characters, I love just making really powerful moments. And I've worked with some really amazing writers, and I've been able to work with them and create something really beautiful, but I always have, in my head, these big moments that I never really get to do, so that's really what it is.

I really like having characters that have really truthful moments between them or self-realization times, and I like the opportunity to do a lot of close-ups on faces and reactions to things. I just feel like I have this drive to tell stories, and it's not just telling them, it's coming up with them.

I wouldn't say that just the writing itself, that I'm the greatest writer in the world. I don't think that I'm like a literature-type writer where I have these double meanings everywhere, or super complex plots that when you divide them up and piece them back together it becomes something cool. That's not kind of the writer I am.

Credit: DC

It's really... I'm not there to impress people, I'm there to touch their hearts. So that's kind of the way that I look at things, and it's the way that I judge stories myself when I consume them. All of my favorite movies of all time are things that were just really intense and where I felt a lot from it. And so that's kind of what I try to model.

Nrama: You mentioned having that more holistic view. Does your process change between when you're just writing for yourself and maybe, in this case, working directly with a letterer, like Gabriela Downie, versus when you're working with part of a larger team, or at least one additional person, a different writer?

Reeder: It doesn't change hugely because I do actually write a full script ahead of time, except that I don't really describe too much visually what's going on because I know that I can handle it. So I just give them enough for them to understand what's going on. And sometimes I'll have in the script a thing where it's like, "I know that there's not a lot going on right here in the script, but just believe me that it's going to be really visually stunning and that's why I'm giving it some space," so I'll actually make notes like that.

But if anything, the way that it affects the process is that it makes those individual parts, the writing and the drawing, much easier to do because when I'm writing it, I'm picturing what I want. Usually when you're an artist, you get the script, and you read it, and for me, actually, it's a lot of work to take what they're saying and try to visualize it, and try and make it in keeping with them, but also really bring something to the table with it.

For me it's already really hard to come up with layouts, even when I write for myself, but when it's for somebody else, it just feels like this code that I have to kind of break down and make it into something that I feel like I even came up with myself because I feel like, I'm better at doing that, so then I have to pretend this was all in my head and just kind of own it.

Credit: DC

In this situation, I already do own it and I already know how I want to do it. Sometimes I don't. Right now I'm thumb-nailing for a fight scene where I thought I knew what I was doing but I made it so complicated, and I'm just having such a hard time piecing it all together. It feels like a puzzle, and I'm just like, "Wait, how is this all going to work?" So I'm not always 100% like that, but in general, it is a little easier I think individually to do those things, but in the end it does take up more time to write and draw than it would be just to draw or just to write.

Nrama: Are there any other characters or even just moments in general that you're excited to introduce in future issues, or really excited for readers to get to?

Reeder: There’s a really trippy scene in the second issue that I really can't wait for people to see. I happen to think it's kind of thinking outside the box and it's very show, don't tell. I think the thing that I'm most excited about is, I'm looking forward to people getting to know these characters, and getting them to the point where they feel like they know them, and then having those characters become close.

The friendship aspect in this is really important to me. I'm a really big fan of Sailor Moon and I feel like the theme in Sailor Moon all the way across the board, whenever things came to a head, it all came down to friendship, and I always found that really touching. And so I guess that's what I'm looking forward to and hoping will work is that even in the small space of six issues. that the people will really feel like they get it and they're along the ride with me even though they just met these people. So that's the hope.

Nrama: That's really exciting to me - if we were in the same room you would see the way that my face lit up because I'm bracketed behind me with a collection of Sailor Moon fans, hand fans.

Reeder: Oh yeah.

Nrama: I loved Sailor Moon growing up. Thinking about that in terms of - there's a very Usagi and Rei vibe, kind of, between Amy and Phoss a little bit.

Reeder: Oh, yeah.

Nrama: Yeah, I'm excited to see where that goes. So now I have two last very quick questions. My first one is... who's your favorite character in Sailor Moon, I have to know now.

Reeder: Oh, okay. Cool. Well, let's see, that's a good question. Well, of the main five, I really like Jupiter.

Nrama: Yes.

Reeder: I like how awkward and tall she is and how thoughtful she is. And I think she's the prettiest too, but doesn't think she is. So I think that's fun. And I really like Neptune and Uranus, I think that they... I think it can be really boring. It's easy for a couple that's happy to seem boring, but I feel like they never seemed boring, and their relationship always seemed just totally natural like, "Yeah, they're meant for each other." And that was kind of cool to see.

Credit: DC

Nrama: They were. I think it was kind of the fun of watching them sort of mess with the younger scouts as well a little bit. It was always super fun.

Reeder: Yeah. That's true, that was part of it.

Nrama: And we'll do one last quick question about Amethyst again. If you had to choose between riding a flying horse and a giant caterpillar, so Ypsilos or Stan, which would you prefer to hang out with?

Reeder: Yeah, so that is such a tough question, because I'm very proud of Stan's design. But I have to say, I really wanna fly! I just really wanna fly. And also, I've been really loving drawing horses and whenever I draw Ypsilos I just like, go like, "aww!” I just keep thinking about him and wanna hug him. So I think that, I think if it were Stan, I'd be less interested in riding him and more interested in feeding him. I think that would be fun.

Nrama: That's fair. I'm afraid of heights and a big Stan fan. So we'll split the difference. And I'll hang out with Stan for a little bit.

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