INTERVIEW: Adam P. Knave and DJ Kirkbride on the Ascent of Amelia Cole

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The first trade of Amelia Cole, one of the launch titles for digital comics publisher Monkeybrain, is published today through IDW. This marks another successful journey from digital to print, as another creator-owned digital property now finds itself available on bookshelves round the world. It’s been quite the year for Monkeybrain – but also quite the year for Amelia Cole’s co-creators Adam P. Knave and DJ Kirkbride, who co-write the series.

Drawn by Nick Brokenshire, coloured by Ruiz Moreno and lettered by Rachel Deering, Amelia Cole has been one of the breakout success stories of Monkeybrain over the last year. Telling the story of a girl called…. well, actually, let’s let Adam and DJ explain the series for themselves. I spoke to them at length about the series, how they joined Monkeybrain, and how their co-writing operates…

amelia1 INTERVIEW: Adam P. Knave and DJ Kirkbride on the Ascent of Amelia Cole

Steve: Who is Amelia Cole and what is the series about?

DJ: Amelia Cole is a very talented and powerful magician who, when we meet her, splits her time between two worlds: one of science (basically ours) and one of magic. She’s pretty obsessed with helping people out of a sense of responsibility — what is the point of all the power she has if she doesn’t use it to help people? But, being that she’s not a cop or anything, she gets herself into trouble in the magic as basically a vigilante.

A series of unfortunate — catastrophic events leads to her mentor and only family, Aunt Dani, having to close down the door between worlds, and Amelia, on the run from the cops, ends up in a world she never knew existed. It’s a world that blends magic and science, and it’s… way more complicated than what she’s used to. While she retains her do-gooder mentality, now it’s in this world with strange politics, and she has to learn a lot very quickly.

The danger is new and apparent in AMELIA COLE AND THE UNKNOWN WORLD (trade out from IDW August 14), and in our second storyline, THE HIDDEN WAR, the stakes keep getting higher.

Adam: The series is also, at its core, about growing up. We inflate the stakes, a lot, as fiction often does — adding magic and wonderment and giant rubbish golems and monsters — because it’s fun! But the story is about one woman growing up and working out whom she wants to be and what that will cost her, and keep costing her.

I remember we had, D.J. and I, a long phone call that boiled down to remembering when we were in High School. How we were, and I think we all are, two people. There’s a you at school and a you at home. When you go off to college though you can’t (if you don’t live at home) separate the two any more. They have to merge. You have to become yourself. And that’s a strange and wonderful time. It’s also scary as hell. So we have Amelia, and we show, briefly, her world, as she knows it. And then we take all of that away and go, “Here you are. Here is a world you weren’t ready for. Sink or swim.” And that’s the story. Sink or swim?

Steve: The first thing I thought when reading the series was that this was basically what a female Doctor Who would be like – were those science-fiction serials an influence on the book?

Adam: A Third Doctor (not in tone but in being in one place) maybe? But really, all three of us are huge Doctor Who and Superman fans. The idea that you help, that you do the right thing, is very big with us. And Amelia has that at her heart. She just doesn’t always think through the consequences all that well, and pays the price for it.

DJ: We don’t specifically write her as the Doctor or a specifically Doctor-type or anything — she’s way younger and less wise due to her years than him — but we do love the way good DOCTOR WHO stories make us feel, and that is something we go for in these AMELIA COLE comics. If we can give a reader chills the way the 9th Doctor’s big speech to the Daleks in his last adventure gave us, then we’ve achieved our goal.

amelia2 INTERVIEW: Adam P. Knave and DJ Kirkbride on the Ascent of Amelia Cole

Steve: What was the first part of Amelia Cole that you created? What was the very first spark which inspired you to create the series?

DJ: Adam and I like co-writing, and we’re always looking for new projects. My pal (and fellow writer) Tim Simmons introduced me to an excellent artist in the UK named Nick Brokenshire. Adam agreed Nick was awesome and we should try to work with him. So, we contacted him and asked if he’d be interested in working with a couple of Yankee writers, and, if so, what general stuff would he like to draw. He mentioned fantasy and fun, so that got Adam and I thinking.

I remember just wandering my neighbourhood at night, talking to Adam on my cell phone for a long time, and we just threw ideas out there. Amelia, though she might’ve not had a name yet, was born in that conversation. The story came out of her character.

Adam: She had a name then! She had a name you guys wanted to change! She didn’t have a last name but since day one she has been Amelia to me. And it was going to change because of all sorts of reasons and kept almost changing and I’m still so glad it didn’t. For me the first spark, and I just mean for me personally, of the story happened when I said the words “Persuasion Demon.”

We didn’t have a world, yet, or really characters beyond a few very loose personality sketches. But I thought, “Here is a place we can be free and go nuts and be big and mad and have all the fun possible!” And then everything started to make sense to me, all the stuff D.J. would banter about made sense in terms of this story.

DJ: Ah, yeah, she did have the name Amelia, and we were worried about it due to, um, other characters named Amelia in popular culture. We actually changed it to Amanda, and the first issue’s script, the one Nick drew from, she was called Amanda throughout. But I’m glad we changed it back to Amelia. It fits her perfectly in a number of ways.

Steve: I know you’ve spoken about the importance of having a defined set of rules for the book, because it deals in magic and readers need to know there are limitations and real-world laws governing the characters. How much of the world building and setting did you do before even writing the first issue?

Adam: We laid out the rules of magic early and made sure we knew what we were doing, while still leaving space to grow and go nuts in. Ninety percent of that work won’t be shown in a way any reader can see. It’s just like… because you know about gravity you can see how, in the comic, we have gravity. Stuff falls, and so on. But if you didn’t know the word gravity, didn’t know how it worked, you could read the comic and get “Oh, stuff falls” and have enough to work with.

You don’t need the theory, just the effect. It’s like that with magic. You see a lot of it you might not know is related.

amelia3 INTERVIEW: Adam P. Knave and DJ Kirkbride on the Ascent of Amelia Cole

DJ: Yeah, so long as we understand what we’re doing and don’t contradict ourselves, we figure it’ll all work for readers in the context of the story. We do explain when we feel the need to, and it’s a tricky balance, the over/under on explaining. So long as it makes sense within the pages of the book and the worlds we’ve created, it’s all good.

Steve: You’ve mentioned artist Nick Brokenshire – when establishing the book, how do you feel his art helped in defining the look, style and tone of the series?

Adam: Nick is so crucial to the book. The comic plays in some sort of half-American half-British comic because of him. D.J. and I are over here, Nick is over there and he grew up on Beano, you know? So there’s a heavy influence in his work, as is right and proper, that tells the story totally differently than an American artist would. Also he makes stuff all good-like and nifty. Nifty-Keen Nick, that’s what I never call him because that’s a terrible nickname.

DJ: Nick also adds in so many layers to the art, from jokes to surprise secret cameos, to character bits. He’s really helped make Lemmy into the breakout character he is not only through his wonderful design, but also though his body language and some background bits that Nick’s added.

There are a couple things Lemmy [a recurring character in the series] will do, one in issue 9, that made me go, “Man, I don’t remember that in the script. Adam and I are brilliant!” Then, feeling suspect, I checked the script, and it turns out it was all Nick. Fit perfectly in the story and script as we wrote it, but added a layer that made it something very special.

Steve: And what the heck is he doing here?

DJ: Oh man! That was one of the best days of Twittering and Tumblring I’ve ever had in my life. It think it started with our letterer, Rachel Deering, mentioning that a character in AMELIA COLE issue 10 looked like Adam’s ARTFUL DAGGERS cowriter Sean E. Williams. It was a coincidence, and Sean’s actually way handsomer than the character in question, but it got us talking cosplay.

I suggested we all dress as our favourite character at Baltimore Comic-Con this year, as it’ll be Nick’s US con debut and the first time we’ve had almost the whole team together with a book to sell. Suddenly Nick, who is also a performer and entertainer, started posting himself as all the major characters, one after another. It was hilarious and amazing. Basically, I think we’ve driven him insane, but he’s good-natured about it.

Adam: I DID NOT HAVE COSPLAY WITH THAT… oh wait, wrong trial. What happened? Simple: the creators of Amelia Cole love our work. And sometimes don’t sleep. And sometimes go crazy. These things may or may not be related.

amelia4 INTERVIEW: Adam P. Knave and DJ Kirkbride on the Ascent of Amelia Cole

Steve: How did letterer Rachel Deering come onto the series? What does her style bring to the comic?

Adam: Rachel came on a bit late, actually she re-lettered the first issue, Nick had done it first-pass but wasn’t happy overall. Rachel’s letters work seamlessly with Nick’s art. It’s the goal of any great letterer to be a seamless part of the art, enhancing the story through expressing the words in a way that can be the final point of cohesion between words and art.

DJ: I forgot Nick originally lettered issue 1! Man, it’s a good thing we do these interviews so I can have documentation of what’s been happening in and around my life. Lettering can make or break a comic, and we’re lucky to have Rachel with us for that all-important step.

Steve: Did the idea for the series come before or after Monkeybrain? Did you pitch to them, or did they pitch the company to you?

DJ: We’d done the first issue before we knew about Monkeybrain. I’d met Chris Roberson and Allison Baker at the previous year’s Baltimore Comic-Con, and I think Adam had met them before. They contacted him about this, and he suggested it to me. I’m a huge fan of Chris’s writing, and I, while I didn’t know much about this new-fangled digital publishing, I tend to trust Adam’s instincts, and, man, I’m so glad we joined them. They are, honestly, the best damn people in the universe.

Adam: Yeah I’ve known Chris and Allison for a while now, mostly due to sitting next to them at a bar during a con and making friends. Had no idea who they were. Just bought them a round. We stayed in touch, you know, friendships happen. I love those two. They’re just great people. And sometimes I would send Chris email going, “Here’s what I’m working on,” for no other reason than I respect him as a creator and value his opinion. I had sent him Amelia, just as a “Hey,” share type of thing. I had no clue it would lead to them asking if we were interested in Monkeybrain. I won’t forget that afternoon anytime soon.

Steve: Do you think launching this comic through Monkeybrain brought you both more attention as writers and creators? How has the experience of launching Amelia Cole with the company been for you?

DJ: It absolutely did, especially being part of that first wave. When they planned launching on July 4, and then started trending on Twitter and all the other cool stuff the kids like and ComiXology just decided to do something wacky and launch the books a couple days early, it was so exciting. We were definitely fortunate to be lumped in there with those amazing books and creators. It was incredibly exciting.

Adam: I don’t think we’re ever going to fully be able to thank Chris and Allison enough for the opportunity they gave us and the stage they’ve let us share. D.J. and I have won awards for editing, and that’s… mind-blowing, lord it really is, but this, for us and for Nick and Rachel and Ruiz, this is our first ongoing. To be able to take off from this platform, it’s like a dream. I sit on the couch at night, having dinner with my roommate, and I’ll mention, “Oh I have to go back to work, do [THING] for a few hours,” and stop and shake my head and follow it with, “When did this become my life?”

Holy shit. The launch, like D.J. said, was a carnival ride. Just nuts and spectacular and more than any of us could have hoped. And it hasn’t stopped. And if it is in our power we will never stop again.

amelia5 INTERVIEW: Adam P. Knave and DJ Kirkbride on the Ascent of Amelia Cole

Steve: How does your co-writing work out? Do you redraft one another, write together, or split the work?

Adam: We have a well-oiled system. First we sit, normally on the phone, and plot a storyline. Then we have a pass we call the beat pass (no relation!) which is basically “This happens and then this” with page markers. Told like a five year old. No grace to it. Just spacing and pacing the story. And then… D.J.?

DJ: One of us will take that beat pass and break down the first issue, do a full outline. Then the other will script that first issue and do an outline for the next. Then the other will give notes on the first, script the second, and outline the third, and so on… by the end, we’ve both touched and fiddled and messed with every line and punctuation and action to the point that we often don’t know who wrote what.

Steve: Do you think that co-writing the comic together gives you a stronger sense of what the book should be – you both basically act as both writer and editor on the series?

DJ: I’m glad you mentioned the editing because, yes, while we don’t put an editor credit on the book, that’s definitely part of what we do as co-writers, not just with the script, but then proofing and working with Nick on the art and all that. Why the hell didn’t we give ourselves an editing credit, Adam? Credits are awesome…

Adam: Nope. Nope. And I know you’re joking, but I think anyone that has a “Writer/Editor” credit on their own book is asking for a foot to gently caress their head in the way thrown bricks do. We edit the book because we have to. Just reality. And thankfully both of us are good editors and there are two of us so we can make do. But it isn’t optimal, at least to me. I love editors. I dunno. Taking that credit feels like a boast. “Look at how cool we are, we do both and it’s great!” it’s a target on our asses. We edit Amelia because we sort of have to. We just happen to not suck at editing, as we’re both also pro-editors.

DJ: Yeah, having an outside editor to look at the scripting is ideal, but I tell myself that since there are two of us, we edit each other. So… we do edit, regardless of the reason, Adam. Why do you hate giving credit where credit is due? Adam also caters the issues but refuses to take credit for that, too.

Adam: Because my toast points are never quite crisp enough, and it makes me sad.

Steve: Following on perhaps from that question: has co-writing the book helped you establish the weaker and stronger parts of your writing, making you more aware of how to deal with the weaknesses and play to your strengths?

Adam: Oh man yeah. I know I have the tendency to go far too big picture. I want everything to be a “Kirby 2001 erect anteater fucking Jupiter causing time itself to be born” level idea, with splashes of Ditko and Luc Besson, and … and … and … and it can be a problem, reigning myself in and finding the heart of the story and grounding it in a person.

DJ: Whereas I most enjoy seeing how characters react not only to those situations, but also having a pastrami sandwich and chatting before all the explosions and monsters happen. I feel Adam and I even each other out and also learn from each other. I’m certainly getting more comfortable thinking bigger in terms of stories, and I credit working with Adam, particularly on AMELIA COLE, for that.

Adam: Exactly! Yeah I learn so much from working with D.J. It’s evened out my pacing and made me remember to stop and consider more angles of any scene.

Steve: Do you find that at certain points one of you will really latch on to one character in particular, and handle most of their dialogue?

DJ: There isn’t a character that one of us handles more than another. Every line and caption and action has been fiddled with by both of us. Having said that, I really relate to Amelia as a character, in how she reacts to things. I’m no hero and don’t get in the mix like she does, but I wish I did. In a lot of ways, and I don’t know if Adam knows this or wants to know it, but Amelia is who I wish I was as a person. I really look up to her and love writing the character.

Adam: You lie, D.J.! You lieeeeeee! About neither of us handling someone better. I cannot — Can. NOT. — write the Council’s dialogue correctly. I sketch it in and D.J. has to fix it every time, holding my big dumb paw like I’m a man-child “But why am not right?” I ask, eyes filling with tears. I don’t know why. I can’t get them right. It kills me.

DJ: Well, the reason is, and I take the blame for this… The Council’s dialog is RIDICULOUS. Why did we design it that way? I think, if spoken out loud with slightly different voices, it is cool, but typing it out and making Rachel edit it like that? It’s absurd. Honestly, that fact that you have trouble with it proves your sanity, Adam.

amelia6 INTERVIEW: Adam P. Knave and DJ Kirkbride on the Ascent of Amelia Cole

Steve: Similarly, have you ever noticed that a character IS your co-writer, and has slowly taken on their personality?

Adam: You mean like has D.J. ever inhabited a character for me, so I’ve written him as that character? No. That would be hysterical though, and now I intend to hide a small side character and never… D.J. you’re reading this, aren’t you? I admit to nothing.

DJ: Whenever Lemmy busts through a wall, that’s how I imagine Adam would do it.

Adam: Except I give a good Kool-Aid Man “OH YEAH!”

Steve: The first trade has just come out, published by IDW. How did IDW come onto the project?

DJ: IDW asked the folks at Monkeybrain if we’d be interested. We love IDW and jumped at the chance, as they have an amazingly high level of books. Justin Eisinger, our trade editor there, has been great, as has the whole team. I love that company and hope to keep working with them. (Also, um: AMELIA COLE AND THE UNKNOWN WORLD is out as of August 14. Please buy it and read it and spread the word — because we want to make more.)

Adam: Yeah, we were super excited to get the offer. I mean you think, just sitting around, about landing something at IDW. And then to have them ask to print was just stunning.

amelia7 INTERVIEW: Adam P. Knave and DJ Kirkbride on the Ascent of Amelia Cole

Steve: How are you pitching the second arc, now the first is completed and collected? Were there certain characters or ideas you wanted to establish and focus on more? What can we expect to see as this second arc continues onwards?

Adam: The second arc, “The Hidden War,” is bigger. The stakes are higher. But who wouldn’t say that, right? Sorry for the bit of marketing speech. I should edit it out but I have to be honest, we do these interviews and love them. I mean how lucky are we, right? Totally. But you do interviews and you do enough of them and, maybe this is me, but you find yourself trotting out the answers you know are expected. The stuff people think they’ll hear because it’s easy and as I answer this I have two pitches, a novel, and a lettering pass to deal with and that’s just tonight. But no, I don’t like it when I read interviews filled with it, and I won’t do it now.

So the second arc? We spend 144 pages of comic to show you who these people are, what their world is like, and why we care about them so much we’re all willing to go nights and weekends without rest or sleep for the chance to tell their story. Now we get to peel it all back a layer. We get to go deeper and laugh and clap and show you guys why we built what we built. You’ve seen, if you read the first arc, the lay of the land and watched it warp and change in reaction to these people. This arc is setting them against their own desires, their fears and wants, and showing them, and us, and you, what lies underneath. If the first arc showed out love, this arc proves our love for the story, for the work. For the characters. This is the arc where we build everything higher so we can kick it harder and make the universe sing.

DJ: Marketing speak aside, “The Hidden War” is bigger, and the stakes are higher. If you thought Amelia got in over her head in “The Unknown World,” and she did, that’s nothing compared to what goes down in “The Hidden War.” Plus we get deeper into Hector the former Protector’s story and introduce a whole bunch of new character and expand the world outside of our main city and… it’s going to get pretty epic, and I’m excited to see how readers react.

Steve: What other projects do you have coming up in future?

Adam: Hah oh the can of worms. Let’s see. I have a weekly podcast called The Glory, The Glory, I write a twice weekly webcomic called THINGS WRONG WITH ME at well, http://thingswrongwithme.com, I’m co-writing my second dream comic with Sean E. Williams, Andrew Losq on art and Frank Cvetkovic on letters called ARTFUL DAGGERS for Monkeybrain.

AD is a strange beast – a sequel, of sorts, to Twain’s Connecticut Yankee set 50 years later, and containing far more assassins. I’m also working on a novel, trying to sell a different novel and working on at least seven pitches I think. Of course, there’s also this little matter of Dark Horse…

DJ: I’m not sure if we can say the title of the thing at Dark Horse, but… um… Robert Love is drawing it. He’s mentioned that online, so we can, too. It’s very exciting. That’s one project I’m working with Adam on while he does his other 100 projects by himself and with other co-writers like the writing floozy he is.

I have other things in the works, but nothing far enough along to mention yet, as I don’t want to accidentally jinx anything. But, yeah, a couple solo writing projects, the Dark Horse thing co-writing with Adam… plus some other comics we are co-writing and developing together that will hopefully see the light of day soon, because life is short, and we want to make a lot of comics.

 

Many thanks to Adam and DJ for their time! You can find them at… well… the links just mentioned above. Otherwise find Adam and DJ over on Twitter, and Amelia Cole’s first trade on sale now!

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