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Writer Jamie S. Rich has been a staple of the independent comics scene for more than 20 years, first as a frequent writer to letters columns (sometimes called a letter hack), and then as an editor at Dark Horse and Oni Press. Since 2004 he’s made his living as a freelancer, creating comics like It Girl & The Atomics and You Have Killed Me, and writing about film for several Portland, Oregon, newspapers.
But that’s not why I reached out to interview him. Yes, we talked about his comics work, but what I was most interested in is his recent prose novella Bobby Pins & Mary Janes, a story about a young woman trying to carve out a life while working as a comics editor. Although far from a comic industry tell-all, it’s unique for providing an honest perspective on the editorial role in comics while also serving as a convincing slice-of-life story.
We also discuss his recently announced webcomic at OniPress.com called A Boy And A Girl, his penchant for collaborating with artists in person, living in the comics hub of Portland, and his recent endeavor to do a writer’s version of off-hand sketches for fans.
Back in late July/early August, Robot 6 was fortunate enough to feature independent comics industry veteran writer Jamie S. Rich guest-blogging with the group–partially in promotion of his and artist Joëlle Jones‘ You Have Killed Me, the 184-page hardboiled crime graphic novel released by Oni Press in mid-July. Rich, an established writer of prose and comics, recently ran circles (in a good way) around some questions I shot his way recently about his latest book. Enjoy, hopefully as much as I did.
Tim O’Shea: Back in 2006 in an interview with Tom Spurgeon you told him (about You Have Killed Me) “12 Reasons was going so well, I think we had only been working on it a couple of months, but I didn’t want to lose her to anyone else, so I asked her if she would work with me again and what she would want to do, I’d write her anything. She said she wanted to do hardboiled crime, and since I had the same passion for it she did, I jumped at it, even though it scared me because it was so different from what I’m known for. She’s challenging me in incredible ways I would never challenge myself.” Can you discuss what ways this story challenged you?
Jamie S. Rich: Well, most immediately, it required some real plotting. Relationship stories like what I had previously been known for don’t require as much careful planning, they have a natural flow, peaks and valleys that are tied to the rhythm of real life. It’s often unpredictable, less structured, and there is no definite resolution beyond whether or not these people stay together. In a crime story, you have something that happened, and the discovery of how it happened has to be detailed and lead to the revelation of the truth or the punishment of the criminal. You can’t just have a random stranger suddenly emerge and say, “Oh, yeah, this homeless drifter did it.” I mean, you could, but a lot of people would call you out for cheating, that’s not a good story. For You Have Killed Me, I had to concoct a trail for Antonio Mercer, the private detective, to folloq, and each step had to kick up new dirt and I had to keep all of that dirt ordered, even when false or a red herring. There are expectations of that kind of plot. Just as Chekhov said if there is a gun in the first act, it will go off in the third, if you need a gun to go off in the third, you might have to think about having it show up in the first. There is far less left to chance.