May 20, 2014

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Interview with Nick Brokenshire of Amelia Cole

It brings me great pleasure today to bring you what I believe is the first interview with Amelia Cole's line artist, Nick Brokenshire, since he became a part of the Amelia Cole team. That's hard to believe, but I did some digging and wasn't able to find any Amelia-related interviews other than those for co-writers Adam P. Knave and D.J. Kirkbride. When Knave asked if I was interested in interviewing Brokenshire, I jumped at the chance.

Amelia Cole is the story of a young woman who was used to splitting her time between a world without magic and one in which it was commonplace. When circumstances try to force Amelia to give up doing what she thinks is right, she's hurled into a new, third universe, where the rules are different and Amelia's talents do not go unnoticed. She's an amazing character, and one of the pillars (along with Edison Rex and Bandette) of the Monkeybrain comics line. The series opened with promise, as I wrote awhile back for Newsarama, and it's only gotten better over time. Two trades are out in paperback from IDW, the new story arc is still in its early stages, and of course all issues are always available digitally via Comixology. It's the perfect time to jump on board one of the stars of Monkeybrain's line--and a character I firmly believe will have a lasting impact on the comics conversation as it relates to successful books with a female lead.

I took some time to interview Brokenshire by e-mail about his own work, the series, and what it's like to be part of a digital--and cultural--new wave. His answers are as entertaining as his pen strokes, and I am pleased to present this to Panel Patter readers.

Rob McMonigal: For those unfamiliar with your work outside of Amelia Cole, tell them a little bit about yourself.

Nick Brokenshire: As well as working as an illustrator for clients such as newspapers, rock bands, clothing designers and music festivals, I am a qualified high school art teacher (although I've stepped away from teaching now).  Before starting the Amelia Cole series, I was chipping away at my own webcomic 'Flick and Barnaby.' I also had work included in the first two 11 O'clock Comics 'Low Concept' books which was fun. As well as Amelia, I’m working on a spooky western story with Ellis Bojar and an unhinged superhero story with Alex Paknadel, but those are future thingies for a different conversation.

McMonigal: Looking forward to seeing those when the arrive, especially the spooky western! Who would you say are your creative influences?

Brokenshire: Well, I'm not sure if these are necessarily visible in my work, but my comics heroes are Moebius, Jack Kirby and Jaime Hernandez. I also have a great love of Cam Kennedy from his Rogue Trooper and Dan Dare days. Druillet had a big impact on me too. Dave Gibbons, Toth, Katsuhiro Otomo, Miyazaki. That's not to mention fine artists and classic illustrators.  So many!  Many current comics types blow my mind at the moment as well. Brandon Graham, Paul Pope, James Stokoe to mention a few.

McMonigal: We've read extensively about co-writer Adam P. Knave and D.J. Kirkbride's descriptions of the Amelia Cole series. How would *you* describe it to a potential reader?

Brokenshire: Amelia Cole is a young woman who does everything in her power to stop bullying.  It just so happens that in her story, the bullying is being done by magical people against regular folks.  Amelia is incapable of standing by and letting this go on and she sometimes runs headlong into situations that she isn't ready to face.  But she has incredible tenacity and a steadfast heart.  She never gives up. Never surrenders.  I like that attitude.

Amelia Cole in Action
McMonigal: What is your favorite moment from the series so far, either overall, or in terms of getting to illustrate it?

Brokenshire: My favourite moment is in the very first five pages where Amelia battles the Persuasion Demon. Everything that happens there really sums Amelia up in a nutshell.  She's powerful, yet very human, fierce yet goofy, and willing to take risks in order to win.  If Buffy Summers married James T Kirk (that sounds a bit unsettling, but I've started this thing now...) their daughter would be Amelia. 

Explosive Action! Note the intricate details on the buildings.
McMonigal: Let's talk about Lemmy for a minute. He's arguably the most iconic part of Amelia Cole after the main character. Can you walk us through the design process for him? What was your inspiration? Are you surprised at all at his popularity?

Lots of Lemmy Looks.
Brokenshire: Visually, Lemmy's changed a fair bit.  He was created from debris on a demolition site, including the rubble from a building, mechanical wreckage and the electrical guts of a house.  There are building site tools in there too.  When I was drawing him originally, more of those constituent bits were visible but as time passed he's become more streamlined.  If you recall, Amelia magically assembled Lemmy very quickly and there was a bit of an explosive element that had an effect on the spell - making Lemmy bigger than she expected him to be.  It seems that Amelia's strain of magic had somehow been affected by the new world she found herself in, giving it a new unexpected 'flavour.'  Soooo, when we first see Lemmy he's a hulking lump, but as we progress through the story, he becomes more well 'put together', cleaner, in a sense.  I put that down to the fact that Amelia has gained better mastery and control over her power and this translates into a better constructed Lemmy. 

As for his popularity... Well, all I know is that I myself feel great affection for Lemmy. When I draw him, I internally have a sense of the way he moves and reacts to things.  I can hear in my mind the sound of the rubble and workings in his body as he moves.  Adam and DJ originally described him as being like a faithful dog but I think he's grown beyond that.  He clearly has a sentience that is beyond that of an animal.  It's odd but I think that we all get a sense of his sweetness and loyalty.  I suppose that's why we all like him.  We know that if he were our friend he would be as loyal as can be and always be there for us.  Who wouldn't want a friend like that?

McMonigal: There are so many versions of magical worlds in prose, comics, and other media. What steps do you take to give Amelia Cole a visual look that sets it apart from what has come before?

Brokenshire: For me, the issue has been how to depict magic in book that is designed to be accessible to all ages.  We couldn't make it too arcane and scary but it had to still be exciting so I came up with this lightning-like representation of focused magic.  There are instances where we see that it isn't just a form of physical energy, for example in the very first issue (again) when the cops are trying to break down the door, there is lightning but we can also see the symbols of the spells at work floating about.  Also we know that it is magic that allows Hector to fly and Lemmy to stay assembled. 

So there are different expressions of our brand of magic. But the most common use that we see is the focused blasts of magic and I imagine it as a fizzy crackly stuff that can be hot or cold depending. I try to get my Kirby inspiration working when doing the magic stuff.  What would he do?  Jack had such cosmic ideas but often used very literal expressions of these ideas.  That's where I'm trying to come from.  I'm not even sure if I explained that too well, but there you go!

McMonigal: No, that makes perfect sense. Speaking more generally, there's a definite team feeling behind Amelia Cole. Describe the creative process of working with Adam, DJ, colorist Ruiz Moreno, and letterer Rachel Deering.

Brokenshire: It’s a very pleasant set up, I must say.  Adam and DJ provide me the script for an entire arcs up front, wind me up, and let me go.  It good because this way because we can plan (or at least try to plan) our schedule months in advance.  Sometimes there are things in an issue that I'll want to try out that may differ from the script, but I tell the lads and they promptly give me the yay or nay after discussing it between themselves.  We all have pretty busy schedules so we all tend to stick to the way everything is worked out.

They trust me enough to not need to see layouts so I tend to just charge ahead from layouts straight through pencils and inking before sending the inked pages to Ruiz for flatting.  Ruiz knows my palate for this book inside-out; leaving me to add the highlights, shadows and any extra icing that the cake might need.  That's why he's more than just a flatter.  He's a colour enabler!  Following this, Pendragon (Adam) and The DJ (DJ) do a script pass to tighten up dialogue and the book is sent to the Mighty Rachel Deering whose skill as a letterer (and writer, of course) is legendary.  Her work pulls the pages together so that they flow.  Before she does her thing, the page is an unlaced boot. When she's done, the boot is laced up to the top and ready to climb a mountain... That's the silliest metaphor ever but I think it works.

McMonigal: Hah! I think that last paragraph wins for most uses of metaphor in one go! You were part of the initial run of Monkeybrain titles. Can you talk a little bit about what that was like? How does it compare, if you have a reference point, to working with a print-first publisher? 

Brokenshire: We'd been working on the book for some months, developing the story and designs when Adam & DJ started a dialogue with Chris Roberson and Allison Baker.  We had toyed with different ideas for getting the book out but then Chris and Allison came along with a framework that allowed us to make the comic we wanted to make and get it out there as smoothly as possible. I can’t thank those guys enough. I look forward to meeting them in person so that I can do just that. It was so exciting because Monkeybrain exploded onto the scene that summer and as part of the first wave, we felt part of something special.  

With hindsight, it's clear that we were part of the Digital revolution that happened in 2012 and 2013. It was very groovy.

McMonigal: Related to that question, is there anything you do differently for Amelia Cole because it's a digital-first comic?

Brokenshire: The idea for the visuals of Amelia Cole was always to keep things simple and readable by anyone, be they a seasoned comics fan or a first time reader.  So, the pages are pretty simply structured.  This translates well digitally so there was no real adjustment to make as far as how the pages are laid out.  The only thing we actively avoid is double page spreads because, well you know why.  They don't translate well to phones or tablets.  In issue 2, I attempted a scene with diagonal panels and a fractured storytelling device, which when seen as a whole page, I think works.  Unfortunately the guided view didn't quite translate the flow of the page so I decided to avoid any more complex things like that in the future. Saying that, I feel that working with these parameters has served to make the storytelling better, more straightforward and easy to follow. I like simplicity in comics.

Here’s that tricky page!

Tricksy Page, You Fools Poor Guided View!

McMonigal: Amelia is a female protagonist in a comics world that still overwhelmingly dominated by male characters. Do you have any thoughts on the gender divide in comics? Can books like Amelia Cole help with this divide?

Brokenshire: I've seen so many conversations about how women are represented in comics and I have to say it drives me crazy because I want to say, 'Look over here!' We have a woman in our comic who isn't a preposterous and insulting sex object.  She's a true hero without having to appeal to anyone's trouser department.  Amelia is a woman you can look up to admire as well as care for her in a humanistic way.  I'm very proud of that and I'm proud of Adam and DJ for having written her so well.  

Other than in autobio comics you don't see a hell of a lot of characters like her around. The Mignolaverse books have a couple but they're not the standout characters.  Captain Marvel and the new Miss Marvel are great in this respect, it must be said.  Pretty Deadly is wonderful too.  So, yeah there are a few great women characters but the balance is off, especially considering that fandom is now comprised by an enormous number of women, I would say this needs to be looked at.  I feel that Amelia Cole is certainly a little step in the right direction and we've seen many wonderful reactions to her from young women and men alike.

Amelia's power radiates in this illustration, with a time-honored credit listing.
As for the controversies we've been seeing in the real world.  Well, I've been baffled though not completely surprised by the recent goings on.  Let's face it, we live in a world where people will get into fist fights over which football team they support.  Prejudice seems to be built into our makeup so equality of any type has to be fought for.  I guess the only thing we can do is keep making a stand.  It's unfortunate and distasteful for those involved directly but I feel that recent controversies at the very least serve to highlight the problem for those that may not be aware of it.  Hopefully it will make some folks reflect on their own attitudes.

McMonigal: Excellent points all around. I completely agree. Now, on to something happier in tone: Baltimore Comic Con in 2013 was, I believe, your first American comics show. Tell us about the experience.

Brokenshire: It was pretty wonderful actually.  I come from a rural area in the North of Scotland and now live in a little working class town in the North of England.  Going to a big city in the States and being thrust into the giant hullabaloo of Baltimore was quite a buzz!   The main thing I remember about the convention was the reaction to Amelia Cole.  We had such a wide cross section of the public showing interest and buying the book that it reinforced our feelings that we were doing a good thing.  Lots of kids were loving it but we had 60 year olds going crazy for it too!  As well as doing my UK shows such as Thought Bubble in Leeds and the Lakes International Comic Festival, I will be travelling over to Portland for Rose City this September.  Can't wait! 

McMonigal: Before we end this, is there anything you can share for Amelia Cole fans about her future that don't spoil anything?

Brokenshire: Ha!  Well, now that the enemy has been unleashed, Amelia's problems have only just begun.  You're going to see her thrust in a very unexpected set of circumstances.  I think you'll all have fun seeing how she deals with what's to come.  We have some surprises for Hector too and as for Lemmy...Well, wait and see.  

McMonigal: Thanks so much for taking the time to do this interview, Nick. I'll see you at Rose City!

Amelia Cole can be found in two trades from IDW at your favorite comic book store or online via Monkeybrain on Comixology. Go try it now. You'll be glad you did!

The New Arc!