The Rules According to Jimmy
Tell us about how you created Amelia. Where did she come from?
I was working on another book, Shades of Gray, and started thinking about other characters or ideas. I liked the idea of a little girl character, so I flipped over the Shades of Gray page I was working on and drew the figure who is now Amelia. I didn’t have any real idea of where I was going to go with this character, but I sort of liked the design.
I turned to my long-suffering girlfriend, who is now my long-suffering wife, and asked what she thought of the character. Then I said, “What should we call her?” and we both said at the same time, “Amelia.” I thought that was a good sign.
When did you start writing and drawing comics?
My mother was really interested in getting me to read at an early age, so when I was 3 years old, she started reading Peanuts comics to me, and I love them. She also made homemade flash cards—a picture of a car with the word car under it, etc. One day, she found me arranging her flashcards along the wall. I had boy, then car, then house—which meant that the boy got into his car and went to his house. So technically, that was my very first comic strip.
I made my first book, Shades of Gray, when I was 15. I sold it out of my locker at school and made enough money to make a second one, and it continued from there. Shades of Gray went on until 1997 and had a nice following.
What inspired you to create a comic series for a young age group?
Simply because I had the idea for the character of Amelia—and she’s a character for a younger age group.
How do you make sure you relate to that age group when you tell these stories? And how do you do it without talking down to your readers?
All I can say is that I have an amazing memory. I not only remember my childhood vividly, but I can feel the emotions and experiences that went along with it. It’s an invaluable thing to have as a writer, and it helps me create the “real” moments in Amelia.
As for not talking down to my readers…I’m not sure how to answer that. It’s just not how I write. I’m telling Amelia’s story and so I’m not preaching to anyone. Amelia makes mistakes, and she also does good things. I’m chronicling her world, not trying to make an after-school-special.
Do you remember your first comic book?
The first comics I remember having were paperback reprints of Peanuts,which I loved. I also remember my dad buying me comics from the newsstand on the corner. I very clearly remember him buying me a three-pack of DC comic books. It contained an issue of Shazam!, an issue of Batman, and an issue of Justice League. This would have been before I was four years old, because we moved when I was four. I still have all of those comics.
What are some of your favorite comics now?
These days, to be honest, I don’t read that many comics, but there are a few that I make sure I follow: Terry Moore’s new book Echo is great, Dave Sim’s Glamourpuss is a really cool look at the story strips of the 1950s. I also enjoy Richard Sala’s work, and of course Love and Rockets is still great.
What are some of your favorite comics from when you were a kid?
Well, if we count teenage years as still being a kid, my favorites were Marvel Tales (reprinting Lee/Ditko Spider-Man), The New Teen Titans, Elfquest, Swamp Thing…but my life changed when I was 14 and went to my first comic book store. There I discovered Cerebus, Love and Rockets, The Spirit, The Rocketeer, Concrete, Watchmen. Those were the books that made me want to do my own comic book…like, IMMEDIATELY!
How did those comics inspire the work you’re doing now?
I’ve learned something from every comic I’ve ever read, but those alternative comics from the ’80s really showed me that there was room for personal artistic vision in comic books.
You began the Amelia series by self-publishing. How difficult was that? What was the experience like?
Did you ever see the Marx Brothers movie where they are on a train, and they run out of fuel, so they start burning the train to keep it going? Self-publishing is a lot like that.
But seriously folks…
I had self-published Shades of Gray, so it wasn’t new to me. Self-publishing is great in a lot of ways—you get to learn everything about the entire industry, creating the book, having it printed (which includes all those little details like choosing paper stock), marketing the book, distribution. And then all the aspects of running a little business—finances, budgets, taxes. It’s really great for a control freak like me!
The downside, of course, is that you have to learn everything about the entire industry—having it printed, learning about paper stock, marketing, distribution. It’s a tremendous amount of work. I really loved doing it in many ways, but there came a point with Amelia when I knew that she was capable of having a larger audience than I was able to facilitate. So I knew the time was right to look for another publisher.
Do you expect anything will change about the series now that you’re working with Atheneum?
The major change is really that the book is no longer being serialized as a regular comic book, so I imagine that will have some effect on how the stories are structured. Beyond that, I’m really looking forward to working with Namrata Tripathi, my editor at Simon & Schuster. My original editor was Ginee Seo, who is amazing. Unfortunately, she left Simon & Schuster before I really got rolling on the new book. But Nami is great as well, and I’m looking forward to getting her input on the new Amelia books.
How long would you like to keep doing the Amelia books?
I’m going to do at least four more books, and I’m just as excited by the series as ever. More excited, actually, as the latest pages I’ve been doing have really moved into an interesting new direction. And as Amelia ages and grows, I always find her interesting and surprising.
What’s next for Amelia? What adventures are you planning for her next?
Next up is The Tweenage Guide to Not Being Unpopular. I just finished this book, and I’m really excited about it. It was great to have a large 190-page canvas to fill. I’ve been working on it for a long time, and I can’t wait to see what Amelia fans think of it. After that—and this is a worldwide exclusive! (Aren’t you lucky!)—comes Volume 6, Tanner Rocks!