Interview: Jamie S. Rich and Mike Norton Spin Madman’s “It Girl And The Atomics” In a Groovy New Direction For Image

Are you ready for Madman’s It Girl to spin-off into her own title? Writer Jamie S. Rich, and artist Mike Norton certainly are… They’ve been working on the book for a loooong time, and now, the first issue of It Girl and The Atomics will finally hit comic book shops on August 8th. In advance of the issue – which is a ton of fun, by the way – we chatted with Norton and Rich about what makes this book different, pleasing Dad – aka, Mike Allred, and why they’ve given up telling people that no, they’re not working on a spin-off from Kick-Ass:

MTV Geek: What’s your take on It Girl here, and why did she deserve to spin off into her own series?

Jamie S. Rich: She’s always been my favorite member of the Atomics, and really, I think she’s been most people’s favorite. As the youngest member of the team, she’s always had an element to her personality where she’s discovering who she is, and stories of identity have a real resonance for me. I want to pick that up and explore the idea of what it is to consciously become a hero.

Plus, she has cool powers. She can touch anything and adopt the properties of that thing, and as a writer, I can go nuts trying to figure out what she can use in any given situation to give herself an advantage. Touching a brick wall and turning to brick, for instance, is a gimme in a fight. But what about when she needs to escape from somewhere? What’s the best substance to turn into when you jump out of a window? 

Mike Norton: Like Jamie said, she’s kinda still finding herself. She’s got personality plus!

Geek: Talk about the opening a bit… It’s a fun, surprising riff on what you’d EXPECT from a superhero comic – so how’d you decide to come at things this way, and why was it important for the rest of the book?

JSR: The opening scene of the book is kind of our take on the modern superhero comic, or maybe what the cliche of that is, what people often imagine a current comic might look like. I think in the script I suggested to Mike Norton that he conjure what a Jim Lee redesign of It Girl might look like. I thought it would be fun to play with readers’ perceptions, challenge what they think they might be getting, and then subvert that.

It Girl and the Atomics has less in common with the overly complicated, event-driven superhero comics that other companies are pushing, and hearkens back to more straightforward capes-and-tights comics that made me fall in love with the medium in the first place. So, I wanted to show who we are by poking a little fun at who we aren’t.

Also, I think it fits into the “anything goes” credo we adopted for It Girl. This comic can go anywhere it wants, break dimensional walls, travel to other galaxies–there are no limits. And, I will say, that sequence could quite possibly have a larger place in the overall story. The first five issues is one complete arc, and nothing happens by accident.

MN: I wanted to trick the reader a little bit. Make ’em think It Girl received the same “re do” that so many comics seem to be getting these days.

Geek: A lot of the Madman work, and other titles almost seem like anti-superhero comics. Here, I do think you veer slightly more into superhero world; so why is that necessary for It Girl, and (I’m guessing) how will you continue to subvert those expectations?

JSR: Hmmmm, I don’t know about anti-superhero. To me Mike Allred’s work has always touched on the fundamental spark of how the genre began. That’s what I’m actually enjoying about working on the book, that we’re very much wearing our superhero influences on our sleeves. Mike Norton and I have a similar background in terms of what we cut our teeth on as young readers, and I’m having a blast dreaming up new villains. Like, we plucked the Skunk out of an older Atomics comic, but we’re giving him new pals: the Hedgehog, the Otter, and the Ferrett. When Norton sent me the character designs, it cracked me up. It was so cool to see some old school whackjob bad guys. 

More than anything, we’re embracing the escapist element of this kind of entertainment. Superhero comics should be fun and colorful and starring characters you generally like. It Girl is someone you’d actually want to take out for coffee after she saves you from muggers. She’s just a good egg.

MN: Yeah, I’ve always seen the Madmanverse as a love letter to superhero comics through a fringe sort of lens. Not necessarily a deconstruction.
 
Geek: Not to be all like, “Let’s talk about your Dad!” but what’s it like picking up from Mike Allred, both in writing and art? What are the challenges and expectations there, particularly as he’s been the sole voice for so long?

JSR: It’s definitely intimidating. In a lot of ways, he’s the main audience we have to please. If he doesn’t like It Girl and the Atomics, there’s no point. For me, what was essential was to define the space we are working in. Basically, I’m approaching the stories as happening between the end of the last series, Madman Atomic Comics, and whatever Allred does when he returns to a longform Madman book. This gives us a lot of room to roam, and so far, Dad has been very cool about letting us run wild. His excitement is infectious. Plus, you know, I’ve been editing Madman since the mid-90s. I know a thing or two about a thing or two in Snap City.

I think our main job is to just carry on the tradition. There is no reason for us to drastically reinvent what came before. No reboot, no radical shift in tone. The Black Crystal isn’t going to lose a hand and replace it with a hook. Solid storytelling and good art, that’s the order of the day. I couldn’t have asked for a better visual partner to work with, either. Norton really gets the vibe of these comics, and his line work has an illustrative flair that Allred fans should dig.

Geek: In a similar way, a lot of Madman seems influenced by the Beat generation of course, but also rock and roll… Does It Girl have the same sources? Or otherwise, what’s the inspiration?

JSR: We haven’t dug into either of those as of yet, though there will be a Mr. Gum issue where we see him getting into trouble in a distant galaxy on a day off from touring with Red Rocket 7 and the band. He’s the most “beat” of the former mutant street beatniks.

I’ve tried a lot of genres in my time. You Have Killed Me was an old-fashioned private detective story, Spell Checkers is a high school comedy with magic, 12 Reasons Why I Love Her was romance. That versatility is going to come in handy, I think. My influences tend to be pretty all over the place. There’s old superhero comics, as we said, but I know going into this I thought about fairy tales and new technology, mad scientist movies, film noir. There’s stuff about being siblings, we see some flashbacks to when It Girl was growing up with her sister, Lava Lass, the sort of thing you see in more typical family dramas, given a tweek for a super-powered, four-color universe.

Geek: How about the other characters in the book? There’s some fun villains, and a bunch of returning supporting characters, too.

JSR: Our main Atomics team is the trio of It Girl, Black Crystal, and the Slug. With Black Crystal and the Slug, they are actually a couple, and their powers work separately and in tandem. Phil can generate crystal formations and use the shards as weapons, and Dorrie can turn into a slug-like creatures with phasing abilities and acidic excretions. They can actually join together and become a fairly invincible unit. I like that idea, of a loving couple who work together as a positive, joint effort. Together, they form It Gir’s core back-up. 

We’re also using the science crew, Dr. Flem and Gail Gale. It Girl is basically Flem’s new guinea pig now that Madman isn’t around. Long-time readers will also appreciate that other characters, like Joe and Mott, will be popping in and out of the comics. 

So far, except for the Skunk, all the bad guys are our own creation. In addition to his animal-themed gang, there’s a shadowy puppet master lurking just out of panel.

Geek: What kind of journey does It Girl need to go on over the course of this series (or first arc)?

JSR: The way I looked at it, things just happened to her and the universe would dump these big events in the laps of all the Atomics. It Girl actually half-jokes in #1 that she thinks Madman is a kind of trouble magnet, because things have been normal and boring since he left for that tour with Red Rocket 7. This pushes her to think about her powers and what she does with them, and to try to be a crimefighter for real, not just by circumstance. Fundamentally, she’s going to learn to stand on her own two feet, and as the book progresses, become more confident in her own abilities.

Geek: I just wanted to mention I almost accidentally wrote “Hit Girl” in that last question, instead of “It Girl.” Any chance of a crossover?

JSR: I have a feeling It Girl would end up being frustrated with her and giving her quite the spanking. Hit Girl is asking for it, really. Some discipline is required! Actually, I’d love to see how John Romita Jr. would draw Mike’s characters. His run on  Uncanny X-Men had a huge impact on me and definitely has inspired some of what we’re doing on It Girl and the Atomics. 

MN: I’d like to make note that every time I mention to somebody I am drawing an It Girl series, they mishear it as “Hit Girl”. “I loved Kick Ass!” – they say. I stopped correcting them.

Geek: Okay, last thing, what’s coming up in the book you can’t wait for fans to see?

JSR: I’ve already written 11 issues and Mike Norton has drawn almost the entire first arc, so there’s a whole lot waiting to knock your socks off. Mike is really doing the best work of his career here, and I can’t wait for comics readers to see how amazing his drafting skills have become. He’s an awesome collaborator, I know he can handle any challenge. I love how he draws Black Crystal.

There’s also this neat storytelling device that we’ve woven into issue #4 to reveal the flashbacks from It Girl’s past and show how she and her sister got along that is just a lot of fun and we’re really keen to see how people react. Plus, we’re working with his entire Battlepug team, so if you know how good Mike Norton artwork looks with Crank! lettering and Allen Passalaqua coloring on top of it, you know how awesome It Girl and the Atomics is going to be.

Let’s see. There’s also that Mr. Gum story I mentioned. It’s our first fill-in, scheduled for #6 and has an amazing guest artist, Chynna Clugston Flores, whom everyone is dying to see draw more comics. There’s also a tribute to Osamu Tezuka in the second story arc that I can’t wait to see Norton draw. And that’s just the tiny pointy end of the iceberg, really. We’re doing a lot of comics here. 24 full pages, full color, covers by Michael and Laura Allred–that’s a triple bang for your three bucks.

MN: I can’t wait for them to see the whole thing. I’ve been working on it so long now already, I wanna see what people like!

It Girl and The Atomics #1 hits comic book stands from Image Comics on August 8th!