Got You Covered: Superhuman Insurance in Greg Thelen’s ‘Amanda Green, SIA’ [Webcomic Q&A]
How does Gotham City realistically have any architecture that's more than a decade old? Do construction workers comprise the bulk of Marvel's New York workforce? And who pays for the city-wide collateral damage incurred every time aliens invade?
Amanda Green, SIA, a webcomic written by Greg Thelen and illustrated successively by artists Marili Ramirez, MJ Barros, and Amy King, explores what it's like for the civilians in the oft superhuman-besieged city of New Romford, including its titular character, the superhuman insurance agent Amanda Green. ComicsAlliance spoke with Thelen about his story of regular people in a superhero world, the consequences of collateral damage, and sudden dinosaur transformation.
ComicsAlliance: What was the genesis for Amanda Green, SIA? And what genres and inspirations does it build from?
Greg Thelen: I had this idea knocking around in my head for a while in 2010-2011 about what life would be like in Marvel’s New York for an insurance agent. With every new superhero movie, there would inevitably be a lot of destruction, and the more and more I saw this, the more and more I thought, “What happens after that? How do people go to work the next day if their car gets wrecked?” It’s one thing to see this in a comic that fits in your hands, but it’s another to see it on the big screen. So the idea of an insurance agent in that world interested me. How do regular people live in a world full of superheroes, supervillains, monsters, magical beings, galactic warlords, and so on? That fascinated me.
Faith Erin Hicks’s wonderful comic The Adventures of Superhero Girl was a huge inspiration for Amanda Green, SIA. It was a comic that humanized a superhero in a way that I hadn’t really seen before. Superhero Girl doesn’t have the tragic past of a Peter Parker, but she still has the same problems any of us have. It was a different look at superheroes, and it really informed my comic.
CA: What’s it about?
GT: Amanda Green, SIA is about an insurance agent (the title character, Amanda Green) living in a superhero-filled city. Well, that’s how it began. Over time, it’s evolved into a comic about the people superheroes save. The focus is still on Amanda and her coworkers, most of which have lived in the fictional city of New Romford all their lives and know how to deal with being turned into dinosaurs (a thing that actually happens!), but it deals less with insurance now.
It’s also about a newcomer to the big city, Carrie. She is super excited to be around superheroes and has this romanticized view of them that the other characters don’t have. (She turned into a T-Rex!) The comic follows their lives, using superhero tropes to tell stories about regular people.
CA: Could you introduce the different artists you’ve worked with in developing Amanda Green, SIA?
GT: Sure! I pitched the idea for this comic to Marili Ramirez back in 2011. We had met some years before then for a different webcomic that never panned out. I didn’t know a lot of artists back then, so I wasn’t sure if she’d be on board. But she hopped on board right away, and we developed the foundations of Amanda Green, SIA together. Her visual gags and Amanda’s Superman hair curl informed a lot of my stories.
Next, I worked with MJ Barros (sometimes credited as Maria Jose Barros). One day, I got lucky on Twitter when someone retweeted her work. She was looking for work, and I was looking for an artist. MJ’s art is fluid and energetic, due to her animation background.
Now, I’m working with Amy King, who I also found via Twitter when she was looking for work (hint hint, artists). Amy’s work is expressive, charming, and warm, and I can’t wait for everyone to see her pages.
CA: Who is the intended audience, and do you suggest any age restrictions or content warnings?
GT: This is a PG-13 rated comic. There isn’t a lot of swearing, but there will be some in the future. There are a couple panels with half-naked people, but that’s not something that will pop up very often. I don’t really have an intended audience in mind, but it does skew more towards adults. I’m writing stories that I’d be interested reading: fun, goofy, and dramatic slice-of-life stories in a superhero setting.
CA: What were some of the stories and perspectives you were hoping to capture by positioning the story behind an insurance agency?
GT: I wanted to show the lives of regular people who had to live with the consequences of superhero battles, and setting the comic at an insurance agency was key to that. After someone’s house is destroyed and they’ve talked to the police, they talk to their insurance agent. People have to move forward with their lives, and insurance agents are the first step.
Over time, Amanda Green, SIA has moved away from just being about insurance agents and their jobs, but it’s still rooted in that perspective. How do regular people cope with supervillains? The impact of these things linger long after the bad guy has been put in jail. Seasons two and three really delve into that.
CA: How has both your creative approach and the webcomic itself changed since inception?
GT: Hoo boy, both have changed a lot! Initially, I envisioned Amanda Green, SIA to be a gag-of-the-week comic strip. The format of the first 170 pages reflects that, too. It’s a horizontal layout like a comic strip. I planned on writing funny gags about Amanda and her coworkers, keeping it light and fun, but that didn’t last long.
As I started digging into this project, I started to generate stories. I still put gags into my scripts, but my focus shifted to stories that went somewhere and said something. The gag-of-the-week approach went by the wayside, and I just dug into these characters, their lives, their dreams, their failings. I became so much more invested in this comic as time went on, and now I have a decade’s worth of stories rattling around in my head.
In the future, the format will change from a horizontal layout to a traditional vertical layout, and I will update two pages a week as opposed to one. This is to accommodate new artists I work with who naturally have more experience in that layout. Doing this has also changed my approach to writing the scripts. Before I was writing each page to not only advance the story but to be it’s own separate “chapter” in that story. Since I updated one page per week, I wanted each page to feel like a complete idea, so if you read it as it came out, you’d feel like you were getting something substantial. Now, going to two pages a week in February, I have a bit more room to break from that approach to something closer to a print or digital comic.
CA: How would you characterize the series’ different seasons? The website’s front page gives new readers the option to read from the beginning of both the series and the current story arc — are the different arcs and seasons intended to be new reader accessible?
GT: Initially, they weren’t for the reader’s benefit but for mine. I like the structure of television seasons where there’s this overall arc to each season. It really helped to focus my writing, especially starting with season two. I could plot out the themes and progression of the stories and characters if I had an endpoint to work towards. And having distinct stories allows me to pitch artists on a concrete thing, rather than a nebulous amount of pages. While they weren’t intended to be new reader accessible, I think they do make the comic more digestible to new readers.
For the seasons themselves, season one is the most unfocused. We were finding our feet and setting up a bunch of things. I figured out what stories I wanted to tell in season two. The stories become more character-driven and focused on the consequences of supervillains in people’s lives. Season three delved into relationships and how people perceive the same relationships differently. Going forward, the seasons are going to be much bigger and much more personal.
CA: What drew you to webcomics and the platform you currently use?
GT: Webcomics was the only way I knew how to make comics! Amanda Green, SIA was my second webcomic, so I already knew how to make this work. I didn’t know a lot of artists back in 2011, so pitching this to publishers wasn’t even in my periphery. So making a website and updating it once a week was all I really knew, and I knew I could do that.
CA: What’s your process like?
GT: I scribble down ideas in a notebook or an email or Google Doc that come to me, and then I try to form those scribbles into something coherent. Usually, my stories get written and rewritten, plot-wise, several times before I’m ready to begin scripting, and I’ll write down character profiles and story themes to try and make sense of my stories. My notebooks are very messy.
Then I do my best to outline each page of the script. This happens on page one, this happens on page two, and so on. I need to have an outline in order to write, and I’ve gotten pretty good at gauging how much to outline for each page. Then I script. Since Amanda Green, SIA involves many characters from marginalized groups, I will consult with people of those groups as best I can at any stage of the writing process.
Finally, depending on the artist I’m working with, I will do the gray-scaling for each page. And I will letter each page as well.
CA: What’s it been like developing the comic’s world-building outside the actual comic, in the New Romford Free Press and character Twitter accounts?
GT: Incredibly fun and incredibly daunting! I wanted to give the comic’s world the feel of having a history, and that’s hard to do from scratch, especially given the ever-changing nature of superhero comics. Setting up Twitter accounts for Amanda and Carrie were the first step, and those led to writing the New Romford Free Press (NRFP), a fictional news site set in that world. I thought it’d be fun to have Amanda and Carrie post links to news stories from their world like we would.
The NRFP turned into an Onion-like site using superheroes and various tropes from superhero comics, but the idea was this was all real. I wrote some weird jokes for the NRFP, but doing so allowed me to create a bunch of superheroes, and it fleshed out the world for me, bit by bit. Sadly, it became too much work for me, and I recently ended it. There’s a reason why The Onion isn’t written by one person! But I did create a ton of superheroes that I can play with in the future, and I’m still proud of my weird little fictional news site.
CA: Do you think self-publishing this story granted you freedom that you might not have had elsewhere?
GT: Yeah, probably! Amanda Green, SIA, being a brand new property by unknown creators, probably wouldn’t have been picked up or could’ve survived long enough on pre-sales to do the sort of stories I now want to tell. Since I’m self-publishing, I was able to find my feet with this comic. Those first 20-30 pages are not quite representative of what the comic has become, but I didn’t really know what Amanda Green, SIA was until those pages were completed. So self-publishing definitely helped.
CA: Which other webcomics would you recommend to readers who like yours?
GT: Well, The Adventures of Superhero Girl by Faith Erin Hicks was a webcomic, and it’s maybe the most like Amanda Green, SIA. It looks at superheroes from a different perspective, and it’s charming and funny to boot. Honestly, I don’t know very many webcomics that are similar to mine. I’m sure they’re out there! Checking out The New Romford Free Press, noted earlier, is pretty close, though.
And while these aren’t exactly like my comic, I would like to recommend a couple webcomics drawn by my artists. The Order of the Belfry is written by Barbara Perez and drawn by MJ Barros, and it’s about lady knights kissing each other. I think there’s other stuff that happens in it, maybe. The Muse Mentor is written and drawn by Amy King, and it’s about a young woman trying to figure out her life and getting a muse to help her out with that. Actually, those two may have more in common with my comic than I thought!
If you have a webcomic you’d like to suggest for an upcoming Webcomic Q&A, send a tip to jonerikchristianson[at]gmail[dot]com with the subject line “Webcomic Q&A.”