Monkeybrain Comics are making a profession out of doing surprising things. Launching last year, their initial raft of titles covered everything from European supernatural crime whimsy with Bandette to the perils of being a supervillain who’s beaten your nemesis in Edison Rex. Their line has continued to expand and diversify and there’s not a single book they put out that I don’t like. But my favourite, by far, is Amelia Cole and the Unknown World. The story of a female magic user trapped in a world not quite her own it sits perfectly in the overlap between Harry Potter, Books of Magic, urban fantasy, superheroics and the sort of visual wit and representation of magic that Alan Garner pioneered in The Owl Service. It’s a fantastic book, and the first volume has just wrapped. I talked to co-writers Adam P Knave and DJ Kirkbride about how the first volume’s gone, what their plans are for the future, Lemmy the golem, Kevin Spacey and the Hidden War…
So here we are at the end of volume 1. For readers still on the fence about the book, how about you chaps explain why they should pick it up?
APK: Amelia Cole and the Unknown World is a 6 issue arc in a much larger tapestry of Amelia Cole stories. It’s the start of things and introduces Amelia Cole herself, as she’s thrown into a strange situation, on a world she never heard of. That’s the core of it – the idea that the universe tosses us things we don’t expect and our lives are the what we make of them. How we cope with problems reveals who we really are much more than our intent. Intent is easy, doing is hard. Amelia DOES, even if it is sometimes the wrong thing. She’s young and learning and means well. But there are consequences, even for the best of actions. And she has to deal with those, too. The six issues are a journey of discovery, personality and resolve.
DJK: Let’s not forget also tons of crazy magic action, snarky quips, cool friends, pastrami sandwiches, averted disasters, doing the laundry, dark conspiracies, and lots of crazy fantasy creatures!
APK: Right. It’s also full of magic, adventure an eight foot golem named Lemmy, and a wand that happens to be a ten inch iron pipe wrench.
DJK: Who wouldn’t want to read about a pipe wrench and a junk heap techno-golem and lots of ‘splosions? Someone I don’t trust, that’s who. Basically, if you want to earn my trust, read AMELIA COLE AND THE UNKNOWN WORLD.
Let’s talk about how the book evolved. Were there surprises in this volume for you? Did the characters all agree to do what you asked?
APK: Thankfully no. Battle plans never survive contact with the enemy, as it were, and for my part I was surprised by the Protector. His end move in issue 2 was not at all what I had thought we were going to do. It changed who he was for me. He became far more of an interesting character who cared deeply what other people thought and reacted often in… almost fear I guess, instead of careful thought.
DJK: Yeah, lots of plans, but we hashed all of it out before script writing, and better ideas always trump the original ones. As for the characters, The Protector was a bit of a surprise. He has more shades of gray (will using those words get this interview more online hits?) than maybe we’d initially planned, but we don’t take the easy route. Honestly, it makes some of volume two more challenging to write, but we think it’ll be worth it. I was also surprised at how popular Lemmy became. …Just kidding. I figured if everyone loved him half as much as I did, he’d be the fan favorite. It is weird to love writing dialogue so much and then the guy who doesn’t speak becomes one of my favorites, but there you go.
What’s been your proudest moment of this volume?
APK: Honestly, the day Chris Roberson and Allison Baker asked us to be a part of Monkeybrain. I always feel like I shouldn’t need validation, I know when stories suck and when they sing and all that but D.J., Nick and I spent so long pulling this world together that to have them ask us to join them on this publishing adventure meant, and will always mean, the world to me. It was like being told our work was not only good but good enough to be part of the launch, the first face they show the world. That was amazing.
DJK: What Adam said (Chris and Allison rule) is a close second to my mom reading and really liking the book. She’s always been supportive of whatever I wanted to do, but I think she geniunely enjoyed this one, regardless of the fact that one of the writers is her son. (Me. Adam has a different mom.)
APK: I am also proud of the fact that Nick has never flown across the ocean to smack either D.J. or myself. I’m pretty sure some of the stuff we’ve asked him to do, and the deadlines, have given him reason to do just that.
DJK: I’m not proud of that, more amazed by it. Nick is some sort of saint. St. Nick. Because it’s always Christmas morning when Nick’s art is in the emails! Yes, I just did that.
APK: Now I might fly out there and smack you. See what happens?
If there is one single thing you could do slightly differently with the book, what would it be?
APK: Did you know I think everyone asks us this. And I’ve always just been “oh lots but don’t worry,” but fine. Here we go. One big one. I would’ve wanted to find a way to bring the wrench in in issue one. Though that would’ve made issue 2 and thus everything about the Protector wildly different, the wrench wand thing makes me so damn happy.
DJK: Interesting, Adam. I did not know that. I kinda like waiting for it, to be honest. Two issues with wands makes the wrench more of a surprise, I think. For me, I wish we’d shown the all magic world more instead of just inside Dani’s apartment in issue 1. Just to give more of an idea of the differences between the three worlds. No one has mentioned having a problem with it, but I always kinda wanted to do that.
What would you do differently if you were starting now?
APK: Found a way to go for a .99 cent price point instead of a $1.99 price. But… well keep reading this interview…
Now the slightly wacky questions; soundtracks you wrote the scripts to? Hey Gillen does stuff like that and he’s ended up writing Iron Man, so it’s worth a shot, right?
APK: I always write to music. Always. My prose work I make soundtracks to, but for Amelia scripts I usually seem to just find an artist for that issue and work off that while working on script versions and beat passes and such. I don’t have a list of them but I remember issue 6 I worked off of a lot of Beastie Boys and for issue 4 I played a whole lot of Warren Zevon. Music is a major part of my writing and it’s one of the reasons I love Gillen’s work. I cold write essays about his stuff, frankly.
DJK: I used to write to music more, but that was when I had a working CD player and tape deck (kids, ask your grandparents about CDs and casette tapes). Now I do occasionally fire up the iTunes on my lappy when writing, but it’s usually just a shuffle, and after a few minutes, I don’t even know what music is playing. If I notice a song when writing, that usually means I’ve gotten out of the moment for some reason. Having said all that, nothing puts me in the writing AMELIA COLE mood like the “I am the Doctor” theme from DOCTOR WHO and John Williams’ SUPERMAN theme.
Speak of the Lemmy buttons. Where are they? Are they still available? Will there be more?
DJK: That was Adam’s idea, and, well, I doggone love the things.
APK: There will be a limited number of them showing up at cons this season.
DJK: So be on the lookout for team AMELIA COLE at a con near you!
Do you subscribe to the ‘Here is who I want cast in the movie of my comic’ school? If so, who would you like cast in the movie of your comic?
APK: I think Nick and D.J. have cast the theoretical movie a few times. I know at once point I had a suggestion but can’t remember it now. Though, and D.J. can, and should, correct this, but I think he wanted Kevin Spacey for the Magistrate.
DJK: Yeah, Spacey would be perfect for that. I think Nick has brought up more casting ideas than Adam and I have. He had a couple good choices for Amelia; the one I remember was from PERCY JACKSON AND THE LIGHTNING THIEF. (Quick imdb search reveals actress’ name to be Alexandra Daddario.) It’s all fun to chat about here and there, but we don’t write with actors in mind or anything. Our pal Robert Love (who did a cool Amelia pinup in issue 5) suggested Selena Gomez for Amelia, which I bet the kids would like. It’s fun to chat about here and there, but we don’t write with actors in mind or anything. The main question is: who would play Lemmy?
And who would you like to direct it? Again, assuming you’re of that school.
APK: Rian Johnson. Just… yes, please.
DJK: That’s a good choice. I’d also throw 1978-era Richard Donner into the mix. Heck, Donner now if he’s still directing. Give it some of the old fantasy fun with a healthy dose of verisimilitude!
Do you have plans for the character outside comics? I could see her suiting novels, comics and podcast fiction particularly well.
DJK: We don’t have any set plans, no. We’ve been approached about some things, but nothing anywhere near concrete yet. If there is a demand for AMELIA COLE outside of comics — be that novels, podcast fiction, TV, movies, video games — of course we’d be open to it. The only thing we can guarantee right now, though, is the comic, so that’s kind of monopolizing most of our brainpower.
APK: Yeah, nothing firm yet. But I do want to accent that “yet” because the second someone gives us a reason to really do even more we will probably leap into the breach and fall to our dooms. Wait, no, that can’t be right.
What else are you guys working on? Or are you focusing on Amelia Cole right now?
DJK: Adam and I have written a comic for Dark Horse that Robert Love (of NUMBER 13 fame) is drawing. We’re not sure what else we can or should say about it, as it’s just in the beginning art stages. We’re excited, though! I also have a couple solo writing things percolating, pitches being put together that are in the artists’ hands… My fingers are crossed that Adam and I, both together and solo, have a lot more work out there for readers’ reading pleasure in the not-too-distant future!
APK: I also have a new ongoing series coming down the pipe I can’t talk about just yet. But I will be able to announce it soon. Very soon…
So, in the words of President Bartlet, what’s next? For Amelia?
APK: Well, first Josh and Toby need her to help them deal with Congressional issue and then C.J. … oh, wait, you didn’t mean… sorry. Right. Amelia has to deal with a whole new job. A lot of people think being close to your enemies makes things easier. They’re wrong. Amelia has the hot seat now and we’re going to see how she deals with the responsibility and stress. We’re also going to delve into the consequences of volume 1 for other characters as well, of course. We have a solid draft of the whole of volume 2 already, so we’ve taken a lot of time working out where the threads we’ve been hiding both in sight and out of it lead. Now we start to tug on them. Hard.
DJK: Yes, the next storyline is, in some ways, going to make UNKNOWN WORLD look like a cakewalk for Amelia and her friends and even her frenemies. As with volume 1, we did some kind of wacky, dangerous things with where the story goes, and we think folks are going to dig it. Also, a puppy.
APK: Did you just use the word “frenemies”? Because… No.
Are you going to print with volume 1?
APK: We would love to. Will we? You’ll have to wait and see. Insert maniacal laughter here.
DJK: (looks around all shifty-like, nervous laughter)
What are the differences for volume 2?
APK: There are three major difference we want to shout to the world!
CHANGE ONE: The book changes name to AMELIA COLE AND THE HIDDEN WAR. This means, if you buy it, well, right now Comixology doesn’t cross-link titles. Look at Locke & Key and Hellboy, for example. So you’ll have to pay attention and keep an eye out for the book. That’s a bit of a pain, and Comixology might change how they do and don’t link stuff before issue 1 of Hidden War ships, but we felt it was an important change. Important enough to make this risky a move.
CHANGE TWO: The issues of volume 2 will be 12 story pages long (so they’ll show as 15 with cover and credits and such) instead of 22.
CHANGE THREE: AMELIA COLE AND THE HIDDEN WAR will be only .99 cents an issue.
DJK: Everyone be sure to read CHANGE THREE before reacting to CHANGE TWO, please.
APK: And then read all three again, and then have a dance party and cupcakes.
Is volume 2 a good jumping on point?
APK: I think so. We bring you into the world and the action and tell you what you need to know as soon as we can so people who are new won’t be lost. But you’ll still enjoy volume 1 (THE UNKNOWN WORLD) so you should go read that anyway. Also we dig having beer money.
DJK: As I kid, I used to jump into comics that’d been going on forever, right in the middle of storylines, and I liked trying to figure out what the heck was going on. Having said that, the second volume brings the reader up to speed really quick. Having said THAT, comics on ComiXology never sell out, so it’s easy to start from the beginning. (Just remember to put “Amelia Cole” in the search bar — that way you’ll see results UNKNOWN WORLD and HIDDEN WAR.)
How long will it be?
APK: Vol 2, AMELIA COLE AND THE HIDDEN WAR (and no I won’t stop repeating it until everyone remembers it) will be 12 issues long. Also just to be clear we didn’t just chop an issue in half and go for it. Each of these 12 is its own brick in a larger story and is as packed with character, story and action as we could physically manage.
DJK: Yeah, we were unsure how writing shorter issues would go. Would it be half the story? But no, we were pretty surprised that somehow managed to make these shorter issues feel pretty hefty. And we know Nick, Rachel, and Ruiz will be able to make it look and feel hefty,not cramped. These are gonna be some fine looking comics! Lots of magic for your (less than) a buck!
APK: I am so excited for AMELIA COLE AND THE HIDDEN WAR. God I love making this book. This is a dream come true for me and makes me happy all the damned time.
DJK: Same — and the best is yet to come! (By that I’m referring to AMELIA COLE AND THE HIDDEN WAR. Keep an eye out. And just put “Amelia Cole” in the ComiXology search bar to find volume 1: UNKNOWN WORLD and volume 2: HIDDEN WAR.) Ahem. AMELIA COLE AND THE HIDDEN WAR.
So that’s AMELIA COLE AND THE HIDDEN WAR, right? 99 cents, 12 pages an issue, more of some of the best urban fantasy on the market, as well as the world’s best, and only, magic wrench. I can’t wait.
Every issue of AMELIA COLE AND THE UNKNOWN WORLD is available now from Comixology. Once AMELIA COLE AND THE HIDDEN WAR launches soon.