Cartoonist Mike Allred has single-handedly created a diverse and trippy world of heroes, mad scientists, aliens and rock bands centered on his flagship character, Madman. But Allred’s family of characters is more than just its main star, and It Girl is stepping out from Madman’s shadow and into her own book — and she’s bringing the Atomics along with her. It Girl has been a long-time member of Madman’s superteam the Atomics, but with Madman and her boyfriend Metal Man off touring the galaxy in their rock band, it’s fallen unto her to step up and become the hero she’s always wanted to be in Image's new series, It Girl & The Atomics.
For this madcap, Madman-esque story, Allred has tapped his long-time collaborator Jamie S. Rich and veteran artist Mike Norton to chart this new addition to the Snap City universe, and they’ve got big plans. It Girl’s up to her eyeballs in challenges, from being the unlikely guinea pig for the mad scientist Dr. Flem, being teammates with a guy called Slug, and tracking down her sister’s killer who died and came back to life. Newsarama spoke with Rich and Norton about this new series debuting August 8, to see what it's like following in the footsteps of not only Madman, but Mike Allred.
Newsarama: Everyone knows Madman, but It Girl is stepping out of his shadow as the lead in It Girl & The Atomics. Tell us about her.
Jamie S. Rich: I always kind of joke, "There but for the grace of Madman goes It Girl." I think in terms of Mike Allred's shared universe, they are the two characters that really have the most pull, and had Madman stuck with his intended supporting role back in The Atomics at the turn of the century, It Girl would have owned that book. As folks might recall, she was the last of the Atomics team to emerge from the shadows, but she quickly became the most popular.
Mike Norton: It Girl is a great character, because often she doesn't even know how to describe herself. I like that you can see that her personality has kind of evolved, like her powers. She adapts. She's really a normal woman in a superhero outfit. She gets bored, excited, annoyed, confused and scared, like most people.
Rich: It Girl is Luna Romy, the youngest member of the Atomics, who used to be street beatniks but then were mutated by some alien goo and once upon a time had an adversarial relationship with Madman. The goo had deformed them originally, but they learned to harness the mutation and discovered they had super powers. For Luna, it's the ability to adopt the properties of anything she touches. If she touches metal, she can turn to metal; if she touches a bird, she can grow feathers and fly. This is a very handy power, and I am having fun coming up with new things for her to turn into for specific scenarios. "What can get her out of this situation?"
In terms of where she's at in the new series, It Girl and the Atomics, Madman and Luna's boyfriend, Metal Man, are touring the galaxy performing with their band. It Girl is stuck back home, and she's bored, so she takes over Madman's role in that she becomes both the leading crimefighter in Snap City, but also the guinea pig for the experiments run by her benefactor, Dr. Flem. In the first issue, he has a new machine that is supposed to turn a person into an electronic signal and beam them through the air to faraway locations. This, of course, will end up having terrible results.
Nrama: Seeing how Madman and Metal Man are on a groovy space tour, what if any Atomics does It Girl have to back her up?
Rich: The team is somewhat lesser in numbers than before, but Mike Norton and I will grow the ranks a little. The core trio is It Girl, Black Crystal, and the Slug. The latter two are a couple and so their relationship is going to have some focus as time goes on. Essentially, they function as a go-to superhero team and do work around Atomics HQ, which is also Flem's science center. I am looking at their costumed adventures as very much their occupation, in the classic Silver Age sense of superheroing. This is their life and work.
In terms of all three of them, the spotlight has generally been on Frank Einstein, and for Black Crystal and Slug, they were even behind It Girl and Mr. Gum. This is their chance to get their own page time. Mike Norton draws the Black Crystal as particularly badass, which makes me want to put him in the thick of the action even more.
Nrama: So with her boyfriend and Snap City’s main hero Madman off in space, what is It Girl to do?
Rich: For It Girl & the Atomics, I am borrowing the story structure from Chris Roberson and Mike Allred's Vertigo series iZombie, and every sixth issue will be a stand-alone fill-in focusing on a side character. The first one, #6, is Mr. Gum on a day off from touring, hanging out on a faraway planet, and getting into trouble.As far as It Girl is concerned, I am always attracted to characters that are learning and growing. I see this series as her chance to really come into her own as an international adventurer. I want these to be good-time comics with a strong lead who gets better at what she does and more confident with each new mission. If she suffers setbacks, she learns from them. And she's probably going to learn a little about how the world works, too. Given the weird dynamic of Frank Einstein and Dr. Flem, replacing Frank as Flem's go-to gal is going to have its consequences.
Nrama: Jamie, you’ve worked with Mike Allred in numerous capacities from editor to writer and friend going all the way back to the '90s. How does that long-time camaraderie play into this book?
Rich: Well, it starts with my feeling that I need to impress him. It's almost like I am standing under his window serenading him with comics. I've been given the keys to the kingdom, and that's a pretty sacred trust, so I want to measure up. When I sit at the keyboard, I put on my Mike Allred suit and try to channel the spirit of all the great comics he's made over the years.
As a boss, he's been fantastic. He and Laura have always been super-generous, and it's the creative generosity that they are now extending to myself and Norton that has made this one of the most fun books I've ever been a part of. They love seeing us stretch as artists while playing with their characters. Plus, they are doing fabulous covers for us.
Nrama: What about you, Mike — why’d you sign up to do It Girl & the Atomics when you’ve got two other creator-owned series of your own to do [Battlepug and [Revival]?
Norton: The two things that made me want to do this book was, 1) Working with Jamie and 2) Getting to play in the Madman universe.
Jamie and I had talked a year ago at Tr!ckster during the Comic-Con International about doing something. I think this came into his life and he thought that I'd be a good fit for weird superheroes. I've been a big fan of Allred's characters forever. I think he's one of the most distinctive character designers since Steve Ditko, and I love everything he draws.
Nrama: I know Mike’s given over the reigns for his characters in smaller projects like anthologies and back-up stories, but this seems like he’s given you the keys to the car in this one. What’s it like taking on a character that’s been primarily worked on by one man its entire life so far?
Norton: It's kind of intimidating on one hand, but Mike is so easy to work with and inviting to all interpretations of his creations. He just seems really open to creativity in general. So I wasn't as scared to do my thing. Plus, when I'm doing a more simple and stylized drawing it's not too far away from the same artistic planet as Mike (I hope!).
Rich: It's definitely daunting, but I feel I understand what drives him and what makes his world tick. There are definitely aspects of what makes Michael Allred be Michael Allred that we can never replicate, but I think when you factor in our shared influences and that original love of comics that got us all where we are as creators, we are close enough to the same page that we can do this without sacrificing either the personality of the characters or myself as a writer.
That said, there's a reason I chose to leave Madman mostly out of it. He's Mike's exclusively, and I think it would be a mistake, and also an act of hubris and folly, for me to say I could take over that character and guide him toward his ultimate goal. That's the Allred story, not mine.
Nrama: Jamie, you’re a well-known comics writer, but not as far as superheroes are concerned. Does that play at all into what you’re doing here?
Rich: Somewhat. I have dabbled a little. I've actually worked for both Marvel and DC, though my material for the latter got lost in limbo a long while back for various reasons that had nothing to do with the quality of the work. I prefer the playing field offered here. We've adopted an "anything goes" attitude that allows us full creative license, unburdened by cumbersome continuity or corporate concerns. I want It Girl & the Atomics to be colorful and joyous and accessible, like comics I bought off the spinner rack at 7-11 as a kid.
I also get to enter into this with a little naïveté. There are devices and tropes I've ever played with before, so I get to bend them and crack them open and question how they work. I'm also lucky to have Mike Norton, who is very good at this stuff, and I know there's nothing I can throw at him that he can't draw.
Nrama: And Mike’s been quite a juggler, because I’ve lost track of all the books you’re working on this year. Mike, how many projects are you working on currently, and how do you balance it all?
Norton: That would make two of us. Honestly, it's been really challenging. I really wanted to focus this year on doing my own thing and really making a big splash. Things just snowballed and what started out as a pretty tight schedule of It Girl & The Atomics, Revival (my creator-owned book with Tim Seeley), and Battlepug, has turned into a crazy staggered schedule of revolving projects. As we've reached the halfway point of 2012, I've managed to maintain. There are even more projects on the horizon that I'm looking forward to bringing to light, and I'm excited to do them all. Comics is really all I ever want to do. I take a break here and there, but I'm mostly drawing all the time. I'm pretty boring otherwise.
Norton: Allred's a gimmie. The Byrne thing is just something that's always been there for me. I just grew up loving the man's art. I've learned to draw from stacks of Alpha Flight and Fantastic Four. I could escape his influence if I tried. Jamie noticed a little bit of it in my work here and there and revealed that Byrne was also an inspiration comic wise for him. So I like to think that we're trying to make some fun action comics like he did back in the '80s.
Rich: My favorite comics when I really got into reading as a 'tween were basically the burgeoning independents of the 1980s, particularly the stuff at Comico and Matt Wagner's Grendel, and the popular superhero titles of the day. This included something like Baron and Rude's Nexus, and also Mike Barr and Alan Davis on Detective Comics. It wasn't at all abnormal back then to go to the comic book shop and buy both Love & Rockets and Web of Spider-Man. It didn't feel like there were these lines drawn between the different kinds of work like many draw now. But this was also an era when DC was doing Dark Knight and Watchmen, and Marvel was publishing crazy stuff like Longshot, and that fit together with the more eclectic material on the racks.For a long time, Byrne was one of my favorite guys. I got into X-Men when Romita Jr. was drawing it, but became obsessed and was buying all the Byrne issues as back issues, and I was reading Alpha Flight and Fantastic Four religiously. They were just so weird, you never knew what was going to happen in the next issue. I also really liked his oversized She-Hulk graphic novel, where she fights killer cockroaches! I mean, come on. How could you not? It's only in working on It Girl & The Atomics that I realized how ingrained in my psyche those books became. To me, that era was, I guess, my Golden Age.
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