In 2006, Oni Press released writer Jamie S. Rich and artist Joëlle Jones’ 12 Reasons Why I Love Her, the tale of one couple told over the course of a graphic novel in 12 vignettes, out of chronological order. It’s an amazing romance comic that set the stage for future Rich/Jones collaborations, including Lady Killer.
Sadly, I missed out on 12 Reasons Why I Love Her when it was first released.
Fortunately, for readers like myself, Oni Press made the wise decision to rerelease the book in a 10th-anniversary hardcover edition. I could go on about the dozen reasons why I love this graphic novel, but to be honest, 12 reasons just aren’t enough. Also, no one wants to hear me yammer on when Rich and Jones were kind enough to chat with AiPT! about their first collaboration, 10 years after its release.
AiPT!: Jamie and Joëlle, it’s clear you two work well together. How did you first meet and decide to collaborate on 12 Reasons Why I Love Her?
Jamie: Happenstance mostly. I was talking to Diana Schutz about her Sexy Chix anthology, and she told me that there was this new girl doing a story in it who was too good to still be bartending, she should be drawing comics, but Diana didn’t have anything to offer her at Dark Horse. It just so happened I was on the hunt for an artist for 12 Reasons, so Diana put us in touch. As the story goes, it turned out we only lived two blocks apart. We met at a coffee shop. I had a script in hand, she had her portfolio, and perhaps more important than the comic itself, we became friends instantly.
Joëlle: That’s pretty much how it happened. I had just dropped out of art school and got a couple of gigs with Dark Horse, and then I met Jamie. We got along straight away and we have been hanging out ever since!
AiPT!: How collaborative was 12 Reasons Why I Love Her?
Jamie: Not as much as we would become. We got more collaborative project to project, but in this case, the script was done. Joëlle still managed to put her stamp on the sequences and made some choices that were slightly different than maybe I had imagined, because her visual storytelling sense has always been better than mine, but the essential story was in place.
Joëlle: He had the script written before we had met so the collaboration on this book was pretty standard.
AiPT!: While reading the vignettes, I couldn’t help but think about past romantic experiences from my own life. How much did your own experiences influence the story or images?
Jamie: I borrowed a couple of small things, fudged with a few facts, for some of the sequences, but mostly it’s all invented. Maybe took a seed from my own life–like falling asleep in a scary movie–and then used that as the springboard for what followed. I think I do that in one other vignette. I find the emotions are more important than what happened, and how we all feel in a relationship is the more universal element, so the memory of certain feelings is what comes through rather than, “It happened to me.” The only “Reason” to be taken almost entirely from my own life was the flashback. I really did get a ticket for crossing the street against the light on my bike when I was in elementary school, and I really stopped when I heard the sirens while my friends took off through a housing complex.
Joëlle: I think past relationships definitely crept in there, influencing the general mood of each chapter I was drawing but mostly I tried to stick to the script and take the emotional prompts that Jamie gave me to drive the overall feeling of the book.
AiPT!: I’m curious about the songs assigned to each vignette. Were these songs you were listening to when creating the pages or did you select tracks after seeing the finished product?
Jamie: Again, these were all my fault. It was a rather pretentious conceit at the time. Coming out of Oni Press and having worked on Blue Monday, and of course loving Paul Pope and Los Bros Hernandez, all of whom put playlists in their books, I was very much in that early ’00s comics/rock-and-roll mindset. There was an intent behind it, to create a shortcut for what each reason was about, to add a mood, so I do think if you listen to them while reading, it does enhance the narrative, but in hindsight it’s hard not to cop to being kind of self-indulgent.
That said, the night I came up with the idea for the book, probably around 2004, and started outlining it, I also wrote the prologue, which always featured “A World Without Love,” so it really was organic to the process at the time. And yes, those were songs that were in rotation for me around then.
AiPT!: Joëlle, the different vignettes allowed you to experiment with art styles and storytelling techniques (Chapter 8 is more realistic, while Chapter 10 is more cartoony). How did the decision to use different styles come about and did you enjoy the chance to show your range?
Joëlle: I think at the time I was still trying to figure out who I was as an artist, being able to play with style for each different chapter was an amazing opportunity for me to kind of learn on the job.
AiPT!: How did you settle on the 12 moments? Are there any “deleted scenes” locked away somewhere that’ll be released when 12 Reasons Why I Love Her turns 50?
Jamie: Surprisingly enough, no. Most of the “Reasons” were settled on that first night. I had the idea and then it all fell together rather quickly, like a puzzle piece. I knew I wanted to show certain things out of order, I knew where I wanted to end. It was clear that a couple of the “Reasons” had to be more abstract. I think I even mapped out the first three, the idea to break the first date with the first anniversary. It all just kind of emerged on the page. It really was kind of a magic project, start to finish.
AiPT!: Jamie, you recently posted a list of movies you’d screen at a 12 Reasons Why I Love Her-themed film festival. Based on your choices, it’s clear you’re a film buff. Would you say any of the movies listed influenced the graphic novel?
Jamie: The main two are Stanley Donen’s Two for the Road and Ingmar Bergman’s full-length Scenes from a Marriage. Both tell a tale of long relationships using short segments, and in Two for the Road, we see Audrey Hepburn and Albert Finney’s love affair and marriage at different stages, with the timelines running concurrently and often criss-crossing. And then there is Lucas Belvaux’s The Trilogy, which are three separate movies that share characters and some plot lines, but how you view different things depends on which movie you’ve seen. The guy you like in the first one might turn out to be totally different when you are looking from the point of view of the third. It’s all how and when information is released to the audience.
That said, I probably learned the most of how to tell comics with knotted narrative structures from Steven T. Seagle and Paul Grist, both of whom are masters at it, and who even teamed up on a Grendel Tales called The Devil in Our Midst that works with time and perception in amazing ways.
AiPT!: Overall, how does it feel to revisit the graphic novel 10 years later?
Jamie: Weird. I’m like, “Who hired these greenhorns?”
Joëlle: Very weird. Sometimes I am uncomfortable looking through it, it feels like an awkward lunch with your high school sweetheart.
AiPT!: It’s been 10 years … so, where do you think Evan and Gwen are today?
Jamie: I have very definite ideas, but I don’t ever answer that question. It’s purposely left to the reader to decide. It’s like a romance Rorschach test, it says something about you whether you think they are together or not. At conventions I always turn the question back to the one asking it.
AiPT!: Jamie, you’re releasing new episodes of your comic creator video series Back to the Gutters, which Joëlle appears on. How did this project come about and why do you think it’s important? And as an artist, Joëlle, how does it feel letting viewers into your creative process?
Jamie: The project came together a couple of years ago, when Ryan McCluskey, our director and executive producer, approached me with the notion of doing an interview show with comic book creators. He and his creative partner at the time had the means to do it, and he saw I had the knowledge and the contacts, so it was a perfect fit. I had always wished there were more venues for more in-depth process discussions that also might expose us a bit more to the personalities behind the comics, which often get lost in the promotional process. I am a big fan of Marc Maron and his WTF podcast, and the idea of a similarly minded outlet for talking to comic book creators appealed to me. And on video, you could actually see the art!
The current cycle of episodes were shot in 2014, and I only do a portion of the season before Benjamin Dewey, artist of The Autumnlands, takes over. The season starts with me interviewing him, and for me, ends when Joëlle flips the tables and interviews me.
Joëlle: I really enjoy discussing process and sharing the tools of the trade and after working in a studio with so many artists around me I tend to not be bothered if someone is looking over my shoulder.
AiPT!: In your day-to-day life, where do you two look for and find creative inspiration?
Jamie: The cheesy but often true answer is wherever you’re not looking for it. It’s the sort of thing that can’t be forced. The work itself sometimes has to be, but even then, it’s pushing yourself to be in a place where things happen, where the story and characters assume a certain control.
I still have music pretty much running constantly, too.
Joëlle: I watch a lot of movies and listen to a ton of books. Mostly, I try to keep my imagination firing however I can!
AiPT!: What projects are each of you working on now that’s have you excited?
Jamie: I’m working on a pretty sweet tan.
Other than that, George Kambadais turned in the last two issues of the first volume of our light-hearted superhero comic The Double Life Miranda Turner, and Monkeybrain Comics will be releasing them through Comixology in March and April. People will be able to get all nine issues, a full graphic novel for under $9. I can’t really say I’m working on them now, though, since I wrote the scripts back in the summer of 2014! I always endeavor to stay well ahead of my artists, as every good writer should.
Joëlle: At the moment I am very busy and I have tons that I can’t wait to talk about! For now though, the second series of Lady Killer coming out is what I am most excited about!
Also Jamie’s tan does need a lot of work.