The End Of Everything: ‘Amelia Cole’ Creators Say Goodbye After Four-Year Run [Interview]
Adam P. Knave, D.J. Kirkbride and Nick Brokenshire's magical adventure story Amelia Cole was on of the pioneering new series when digital-first publisher Monkeybrain Comics launched, and this week sees the end of everything as they release the final issue in the saga. Caught in a war with the fate of three worlds at stake, Amelia has to rely on her friends now more than ever, and this week's finale sends the cast off to their next adventure in the wake of a personal tragedy.
ComicsAlliance caught up with the entire creative team to talk about how they feel saying goodbye to Amelia, how plans changed over the course of nearly half a decade, and how Comixology's shifting platform influenced the shape of the series.
ComicsAlliance: First off, how are you coping with the end of everything? The final issue has been done for a while now; is everyone holding up okay?
Adam P. Knave: It's strange! This book has been part of our lives for over four years now, so I know I keep thinking, "Oh, what's next?" in terms of Amelia stuff. But even odder is that D.J. and I write a full arc ahead for Nick, so we were done with principal writing (lettering passes and all notwithstanding) six months earlier! We said our first round of good-byes then and had to cope with the strange emotional hit of writing those last pages. Then it became seeing the pages come in and pulling issues together and every one felt like another step on a long march to the end.
So I figured that by now I was braced for the actual, "Here's the release" moment and yet, not really. The thing keeping me going is that the three of us are working together on a new project we can't announce yet. But keeping the team together is helping.
D.J. Kirkbride: Writing that far in advance just meant doubling up on the stages of grief for me. Actually, tripling, as it'll be all new emotions when the issue comes out. Oh! And then there's the trade... egads.
It's bittersweet, in that we had a great time and made a good comic that means a lot to all of us. We also learned so much that we can apply to new stories and, as Adam said, these three amigos are teaming up on currently --- so that cushions the blow a bit. Still, it's going to be odd when the trade wraps and then there's really no more Amelia Cole work to be done. Very odd indeed.
Nick Brokenshire: Even though I'm working on something new, I still feel the presence of Amelia. I've spent the last few years growing more and more attached to these characters. To me they're real so I'm going through feelings of loss. Odd sensation.
CA: To go back to the beginning, how did the three of you come together to create the series?
APK: D.J. has a friend, Tim Simmons, who asked if we needed an artist because he'd seen this guy looking for work. We got in touch with Nick and well, I'll let D.J. take it from there.
DJK: Yeah, Tim was on an artist hunt for a comic called Henchmen, Inc. that eventually also came out from MonkeyBrain, and came across Nick in that process. He knew the kind of art I dug and sent me a link. Adam and I took it from there and chatted the fella up! We really wanted to work on a book with a true collaborator and talked to Nick about what kind of stories he'd like to draw. As I recall, fantasy and a female hero were two things that came up, right?
NB: I had been pottering around making my own goofy stories and I decided I needed to work with writers to try and expand my abilities. I joined Digital Webbing and Pencil Jack. Through one of those sites I came to Adam and D.J.'s attention. They approached me outside of a gig. We split a peanut butter sandwich and the rest is history... If anyone gets that reference, I'll buy them a beer.
APK: And yeah we nailed down the idea of a fantasy story with a female hero first thing, and then the rest fell into place the way stories do.
CA: What is the process of collaboration like between the three of you?
APK: D.J. and I have written together for years, even before Amelia, so we had a system. We break down arcs on the phone, together, and send them to Nick for approval and changes that he might want, things he wants to see happen. Then we trade back and forth.
See, we do what we call a Beat Pass, which is going through, numbering pages and filling out each page with a few sentences describing what needs to happen on that page. Then whomever didn't do the Beat Pass writes a first draft of the script based off that pass. At the end of that, they work on the Beat Pass for the next issue, and the other does the first draft of that issue.
That way we both get to work on every issue and trade back and forth who does what step. Passing scripts back and forth for tweaks and edits after that eventually gets us to a point where we honestly can't remember who did what. And then we send it to Nick. Nick, because of time and trust, sends us inked pages off those scripts. No breakdowns, he's got this. We discuss any possible changes (Nick strays from the script beautifully, and rightly, always enhancing what we sketched in) and we go from there.
NB: We initially concocted vague ideas of what we fancied doing and then I let Adam and D.J. cook up the story. I'd fire various random ideas over at them while I designed stuff and they'd incorporate them if possible. Adam and D.J. generally would have great big swathes of story worked out pretty quickly and would fire a bunch of scripts at me and I'd jump right in. Sometimes making suggestions on the fly.
CA: How has that evolved over thirty issues of Amelia Cole?
APK: D.J. and I have gotten better at not pissing each other off too much. Our notes on drafts have a lot of, "Hey could we keep this line, I really like it," and, "Could we consider this?" because we are endlessly polite in script form. It's in chat windows we will sometimes snark at each other. It's a family affair, this book, and we will happily get into it like we're all family, Nick too, because we are at this point. Working with Nick, we just trust him more and more, and write to his strengths more and more. He's a dream to work with, artistically.
DJK: Oh, we'll argue if we feel strongly about different things. Sometimes one of us need to convince the other about a direction or an idea, though we are usually on the same page. I think I sometimes just get worried if Adam doesn't like an idea of mine, as if I've failed, and that kicks up all this dumb thinking. It used to anyway. As the years have gone on, we've learned how to communicate better. I try to give Adam a moment to settle into an idea, whereas I used to freak out at his initial "unsure" response, which I think has evolved from "no..." to "hmmmm..."
With Nick, unless there is something that really doesn't work for some story reason, we pretty much know he's the talented one in the family and trust him.
NB: We got into a pretty solid rhythm very quickly, which helped us stay the course to the end. Scripts were always done well in advance so that I had time to run visual ideas and changes past the boys. I'm most proud of the fact that for better or for worse we got the book out regularly and stayed the course. We finished what we started.
CA: Amelia Cole takes place in three separate worlds with their own rules, norms and cultures. What was the process like, designing the look and feel of each world?
NB: We wanted the book to be accessible and easily understood by all, so I took a simplistic approach to visuals and colours. The three worlds had to look similar but slightly different. The Unknown World of the first volume is a version our world if history only went up to the 80s. The Magical world was more outlandish and colourful but still roughly the same. The Non Magic world is just our world.
APK: Actually, I remember when we first started discussing the magic world we based it off of Boston, because the architecture is so 200 years ago and perfectly modern mixed. I remember taking hundreds of photos just to give Nick the feel of the town some. Not much of it made it in, but some did. The rest of the worlds were all discussions and Nick.
CA: How detailed did you get into the backstory of each world? Is there a big Amelia Cole series bible out there?
APK: Not an official story bible, no, but we know the history of the worlds, we know the detailed rules of magic and some other stuff that isn't on the page because it's boring. No one wants to read an issue of a comic that is just some talking heads expounding on the intricate rules of a magic system. So we show it to readers and let them work out our consistency and how things work for characters.
DJK: Right. We want to make sure we understand what's happening and can answer questions, but not everything needs to be said in the comics themselves. It's an all-ages story, and we do have plenty of info dumps, made up rules about our version of magic and whatnot, but we also know we have sophisticated readers that can either figure things out or just go along with the wackiness and trust it'll all make sense, or at least have its own internal logic in the end.
NB: It all exists in my head and on scraps of paper stuck to the walls of my cell.
CA: Was the series always planned to end after thirty issues?
APK: Around issue #8 being drawn, which means D.J. and I had already written through #11, we hit on the end of the series, issues #29 and #30, and knew we could end there if we wanted. It was the close of the big story started in issue #1.
DJK: We've been on this road for a long time. After Adam and I hit on the big scene in issue #29, we got excited and wanted to tell Nick. In 2013 we were all at Baltimore Comic-Con, so that was the perfect time. I remember telling him, and I think Ruiz Moreno was there, too, and I got choked up during the obvious moment. The crazy thing is that I also got a lump in my throat when we wrote the actual script a few years later, and again when Nick showed us the art. This comic makes me emotional, guys.
NB: I think we wanted it to go on forever but it needed to end.
CA: How did plans change along the way?
APK: Oh man, so many ways. We didn't plan on the Council at all, until Nick drew them as the background to a teaser image before issue #1 shipped. We saw the designs and realized we had to use them. Then between volumes one and two, Nick drew what would become Omega Company. We had planned to remove Hector from the book, but seeing Omega sparked ideas and D.J. and I quickly shuffled things around and built a much stronger storyline out of them. So things like that --- Nick draws something so awesome that D.J. and I need to use it, and we fold it in. Dragon riders! The dragon riders were just a cover thing, something fun and interesting, until we saw them and knew we had to use them, as well.
DJK: Yeah, Nick's visuals greatly influenced our stories, not just with new characters, but seeing what he's capable of as we were working together. We wrote crazy things in later volumes that we would not have dared try in volume one. Though working together, we all learned what we were capable of and got better, which meant we just had to roam off our path here and there. It was always fine because we always found our way back.
CA: Amelia Cole balances whimsical fun with the highest of stakes, which continue to rise throughout the series. Is that balance important to you?
APK: Critically. We wanted an all ages book that, like the best of them, grew and changed with the reader over time. We knew we had an end point and so we could ramp up right into it. There are actually a few things I miss that we couldn't fit into the final arc because it simply had to move so hard and fast. But it told the story correctly, so no regrets.
DJK: The first issue actually opens with a bit of violence I don't think I would've been comfortable with as we locked on to our tone. But as the stories progressed, we found our way back to the scary and the darker moments. There were plenty of lines we couldn't cross, and I think quite a few constrictions for Nick on the art in terms of the action violence, especially at first. We liked to think our younger readers from the first volumes were growing up as they read, though, so we felt okay cutting loose some at the end. Our characters went through some rough times, but we knew there was light at the end of the tunnel.
NB: It was paramount that the stakes be high. Even though this is an all ages book that you can read to your kids, the danger has to be real, otherwise, who cares?!
CA: Early on in the series you made the decision to forgo the original idea of distinct miniseries and merge everything into one ongoing with distinct arcs. Now that the series is wrapping up, how did that work out?
APK: I will be brutally honest here: We made the choice because of how Comixology dealt with series of mini-series at the time. They wouldn't link back correctly. So if you had Mini 1 and Mini 2 and searched for the common names, you would get two separate miniseries, and couldn't see issues of one from inside the page of the other. That was a huge stumbling block for us. So we shifted last minute to having distinct arc names but constant numbering. It didn't change our plans at all, really, just a rethink on how to present it because of technical realities.
DJK: Yeah, it was a big change mid-stream! Lots of talk within team Amelia as well as MonkeyBrain, Comixology, and IDW. I love how books like Hellboy was a series of distinct mini-series that all added up to one glorious saga, but it became clear we just couldn't do that. It was tricky, and volume two kind of really does end mid-volume, but we adjusted as we went on, and I think it all worked out. I like that the book reads and feels a little different on Comixology, as the series Amelia Cole and then in print as trades with Amelia Cole and The Unknown World, Hidden War, etc. They have different vibes that I like.
NB: Even though it was a struggle, we all knew that we could get there in the end so from that perspective, it worked out fine. From a practical view, it was quite tricky to have to keep things going. Maybe mini series might've given us more time to try stuff out differently but hey, we got there in the end.
CA: Lastly, and I’m sorry to end on a bummer, what are you going to miss most about Amelia Cole?
APK: The characters. D.J., Nick and I will work together again, we are, in fact, so that's all good. But Amelia, Hector, Lemmy, Mike, George --- really all the characters were fun to work with and had growth and change throughout the series and there's a bit of me that would love to keep exploring them.
DJK: If Nick, Adam, and I weren't working on a new project right now, I'd be way sadder. Amelia Cole is a very special series, though. We ultimately told the story we set out to tell, but there's so much more I wish we could do. I tell myself it's better to leave readers (and yours truly) wanting more instead of overstaying our welcome, though. All the characters were fun to write, but I'll miss Amelia and her pal Lemmy most of all. Amelia's optimism and can-do spirit are often lacking for me, personally, so it was often cathartic to write that type of character. I'm going to miss her.
NB: I'm going to miss drawing Lemmy, a lot. I'm going to miss the characters. Amelia is a wonderful and uplifting person and I wish I could meet her in the real world. I'll miss her indomitable spirit.