Saturday, July 18, 2009

Jamie S Rich talks "You Have Killed Me" and Criterions

(future cover of ODESSA STEPS MAGAZINE, by Joelle Jones, done for this interview)

In honor of "You Have Killed Me" debuting next week at San Diego, here's a long-delayed interview with the book's writer, former Dark Horse and Oni editor Jamie S. Rich. This interview was originally conducted via email in summer 2008.

Q: What's the current status of You Have Killed Me?

A: About half of the art is completed. It's been a painstaking process
for Joëlle, who set a high standard for herself at the start and has
been a champion maintaining it. The downside of a high standard is
that it's been taking longer than we hoped. She's doing the tones by
hand, using Japanese zip-a-tone that isn't as easy to come by as it
once was, but it's giving the book a real classic appeal. We both
loved the Dark Horse reprint of It Rhymes With Lust, and the tones
look a lot like that. I haven't really seen anyone use this process
since Guy Davis on The Marquis. Even Steve Lieber has gone digital for
the third Whiteout series. Joëlle is very exacting, cutting even
individual bricks for brick walls. Though, amusingly, every time she
does a sign by hand, she misspells the name. So, we have clubs and
hotels and things that will need some fixing.

I think we've missed at least two publication dates at this point, but
we've been managing ourselves, whereas her work for Minx had a much
more concrete schedule, and eventually an unmovable deadline demanded
that her book Token get done first. The plus side of all the delays,
though, is that Oni has done some mass market hardcovers in the
interim and has had success with them, and it means that now You Have
Killed Me will be a hardcover comic book.

Q: I know there have been mini-collections of Love The Way You Love. Is there going to a big book collecting all six issues?

A: Not at this point. Oni actually suggested doing that at one point, but
I wrote the six issues to be split down the middle when collected. My
ultimate goal was to have it be a very manga-like series and so I was
thinking in terms of how I wanted people to read them over time. The
first book, Side A, is the courtship, and Side B is about a couple
making sure they really know what they want, and I like having that
pause between. I am not sure if there will be more stories in our
future, so the point may be moot as far as this being a big series
thing, but you never know.

Q: Is there a particular skill set you need to translate manga?

A: I don't actually translate, I do the English rewrite--or as some call
it, adaptation. I think a fundamental understanding of manga helps,
and an ability to not be precious about your own work. With each
project I have to find a style that fits the tone of the book, and in
general I am in service to that more than I am my own ego. I don't
look at it as my own writing, but more like I am taking a trip in
someone else's car and I can't abuse their machine the way I would
something I hold the pink slip to. I also have to be adaptable to
different situations, because I don't always work in the same genre
and since the CLAMP books changed publishers, I haven't worked on many
series that have had repeat creative teams. In the end, I think it
ends up being good work for me to do as it challenges me to think
about the ways I approach dialogue, how to toss words around and make
decisions about how to best get the meaning of a sentence across.

Q: Do you ever miss being a full-time editor?

A: Not even for one single second. It was never something I was meant to
do, and it warped me as a person by the end. I was like a piece of ice
struggling against the sun, and the sun was winning.

Q: As of this writing [Summer 2008], what's the best Criterion you've watched lately?

A: I had a weekend where I watched Yukio Mishima's Patriotism and then
Mishima, Paul Schrader's biopic of the Japanese author, back to back.
In terms of packaging and content, both were excellent, and though I'd
had some limited contact with Mishima in years past, these films made
me realize I probably should delve deeper into his library. As a
person and as a writer, he had a lot of similar concerns to what shows
up in my work, including a romantic yearning to stand against the tide
and to, essentially, stand for something rather than caving in to
modernity. He was also preoccupied with suicide, as are many of my
characters. If you watch Patriotism, which he wrote, directed, and
starred in, and you see him playing a Japanese solider disemboweling
himself, it's quite powerful, particularly when you chase it with the
Schrader picture and all the extras that come with it and hear about
how he ended his own life the same way. It's easy to see why his widow
demanded the movie be buried while she was alive. The scene in
Patriotism where he slices his belly open is gruesome, and not just by
1960s standards, but any standards.

Q: Here's the obligatory Desert Island question. What five Criterions would you take with you? Feel free to cheat and name box sets as one entry.

A: In the Mood For Love, dir. Wong Kar-Wai
The Cranes are Flying, dir. Mikhail Kalatozov
Days of Heaven, dir. Terrence Malick
Contempt, dir. Jean-Luc Godard
Sullivan's Travels, dir. Preston Sturges

The first three are pretty rock solid. Godard would also always take
the fourth slot, though there are a couple of others I might debate
over. I'd also be able to change the last slot a million times before
walking out the door, but I figure I needed a comedy in there.

Q: Can a boatload of cool extras on a DVD make an average movie worth watching/renting/buying?

A: Not really. I'm pretty sick of most DVD extras, particularly on studio
releases. If you watch bonus features on those, it's like an endless
parade of perfect people making perfect choices. Every decision made
on the movie was always the exact right decision, no one hated each
other, the world is a golden paradise. It's all bullshit. I'm also
sick of this endless compulsion to have everything explained to us,
and so most commentaries are painful for me. I think it's infecting
everything, this demand that there be extras. You see it in comics
even, where a trade paperback collection has to have bonus material
and now even some single issues are sticking things in the back, too.
What just happened to getting what you get and enjoying it and
figuring out what it means for yourself? I've seen people complain
that a DVD has no extras, completely oblivious to what that word
means. It's extra, it's no compulsory. The movie should be enough.

Now, granted, there are exceptions. I like documentaries about the
people involved in a production when the movie has aged. Something
like the recent Bonnie & Clyde reissue, for instance, where we got
reminiscences from the cast and crew as well as supplements about
Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, the real people. That film is also 40
years old, and so there is some perspective to be had. We've got
commentaries being recorded now before a movie even hits theatres, by
participants who have sometimes not even seen the finished, final edit
yet. What insight am I going to be getting from that? One exception
would be the tricked-out editions of Judd Apatow-produced movies,
because the nature of how he makes those, the improvisation and the
boundless creativity that even inspires his troupe to make fake DVD
documentaries, really adds something.

And I can say there is one DVD in my collection that I own for the
extras even though I didn't really care for the movie. One From the
Heart, the Francis Ford Coppola musical, has a really great
documentary about his Zoetrope Studios experiment that made me respect
him and what he tried to do with the movie a lot more.

Q: Are the stories in 12 Reasons in that order for a particular reason?All the times I've read it, I've never really seen a pattern.

A: I wouldn't say there is a pattern so much as just trying to time howinformation is unveiled, like slow-release capsules that give the medicinewhen it's required. It's mildly haphazard, but also planned so that anyrepetitive kinds of anecdotes weren't right next to each other, things likethe shorter and more esoteric pieces dropped in between the longer ones. Idefinitely wanted there to be some levity surrounding the heavier chapters,and the final chapter was completely by design. My main concern was just how to tell a conventional story in anunconventional way, to examine it differently in order to make the readersview it differently. There is a false tension in most romantic stories."Will they or won't they?" isn't really an honest fear in yourstraightforward lovefest, people have assumptions about how they will go.Whereas from reactions I have received, in *12 Reasons*, the audience reallydoes wonder how these two end up. There is a choice the reader can makeabout how the pieces are fit together. For some, it's even not "Will they orwon't they?" but "How *could *they?" As an author, I've been fascinated tohear how some people are very unforgiving with Evan. Men in particular.Maybe the mirror reflects too much, I don't know.

Q: After Love the Way You Love, are there going to be more "jamie-verse" stories (which is what I've always called things in the Cut My Hair universe)?

A: Not immediately. I have one novel in the can that we're about to shoparound, and I purposely made sure to steer it out of those waters, justbecause I felt it was necessary to do. Part of it was that it's my firstagented fiction, and I wanted it to be free and clear to be its own thing.More important, though, was that at some point, I needed to flex thosemuscles and show that I could work in prose and have it be separate fromthis larger personal mythology I've created. It's important to me to keepchallenging myself and not fall into easy currents. I probably won't combover the past too much anymore, not unless I do more *Love the Way You Love*.I think anything I do with those characters, it will be more present day. And by those characters, I really mean Lance, he'll be the lynchpin for thatuniverse, and I've always seen him as the character I would return to. He'slike Rabbit for John Updike or Zuckerman for Philip Roth. There's a goodchance I'll be checking in with him very soon.

Q: How did you and Joelle [Jones] originally start working together?

A: We met through Diana Schutz at Dark Horse, when the early promotion on *SexyChix *with the photo cover had started circulating. Joëlle's was the onlyface I didn't recognize, and so I asked Diana, who was my old boss and wasediting the anthology. She had nothing but good things to say about Joëlle,and I needed an artist, so I asked her for Joëlle's contact. I hadn't seen aline she had drawn at that point, but I just hoped that she would be good.Something about the look in her eyes in that photo, I don't know, I had agood feeling going to meet her, but I was also really scared that she'd showup and the portfolio would suck and I'd have to make a hasty exit. As it turns out, we live only two blocks apart on the same street, so we metat a coffee shop in our neighborhood. I was immediately wowed by her work,and we were instant friends. We spent that whole day hanging out andtalking, and I sent her home with the script for *12 Reasons*. I said thatshe had to consider it as much of an audition for me as I had considered itfor her, and so there were a few really nervous days of hoping she'd likethe script and say yes. I just knew that she was the right one for the job. Thankfully, she lowered herself to my level, and it's been smooth sailing ever since.