• Interviews 

    Jamie S. Rich on the Return of It Girl [Interview]

    By | May 3rd, 2012
    Posted in Interviews | % Comments

    Multiversity loves “Madman” from Mike and Laura Allred. It’s been a favorite of many of ours for some time now, and any time we can get more of a look into Snap City and its denizens, we’re thankful. Now, with Image Comics bringing a new series titled “It Girl and the Atomics” from writer Jamie S. Rich and artist Mike Norton, we’re even more excited.

    Today at Multiversity, we have a chat with Rich about that book, how it came to be, his novel “Bobby Pins and Mary Janes” which is currently being serialized online, and much, much more.

    Before we jump into all the It-Girl and the Atomics business, I wanted to ask about your history with Mike. You’ve been working with him behind the scenes for a while it seems. How’d you first start working with Mike?

    Jamie S. Rich: I started at Dark Horse as an editorial assistant in 1994. Around then, shortly after I got there, it’d only been a couple of months, we were working on the Madman bubble gum cards. The first set. I actually had never read Madman before getting there. I had never gotten in on the ground floor before Dark Horse published it. They needed someone to write the backs of half of those cards, so they asked me if I wanted to do it, and it sounded like a fun project. Mike liked what I did, so he asked if I could write all of them. So I wrote all of the bios on the backs of them.

    And the second set I ended up actually being paid to write them, because Bob Shreck said, “this is freelance work, you should do it as a freelancer.” So that and something I did for Concrete were my first two actual paid writing gigs. It goes back that far between me and Mike. And when Bob Shreck left to go to Oni — he actually just left, Oni wasn’t yet a prospect — I ended up having to take over Mike’s stuff. It was right around the time we did Superman/Madman Hullaballoo and Red Rocket 7. We really bonded over those projects, and that’s when he did the first Gear album, which I’m technically listed as producer on. That was largely just listening to tracks and sending in feedback.

    So once he wanted to do The Atomics on his own, we actually tried to get him to do it at Oni, and he decided he wanted to do it himself. I ended up freelance editing, and have sort of freelance edited him ever since.

    You were the editor of the original “Atomics” series, which makes you a natural fit for writing this new series. This turn sort of feels like a spin-off in the same world that pushes the narrative, like the B.P.R.D. to Madman’s Hellboy, which I guess makes you Allred’s Arcudi. Are you hoping to take this book in a different direction than the previous efforts, or are you staying pretty on path with the way Mike delivered the first series?

    JR: It’s funny that you mention B.P.R.D., because that’s exactly how it came about. We were standing in Floating World Comics and B.P.R.D. was on the racks and I said, “if you ever want to do something like that.” I think I said, “if you ever want to do your own B.P.R.D., remember your pal Jaime.” He was like, “what?! You would do that?!” Of course I would do that. Why wouldn’t I? The idea was, Mignola has done such a smart and interesting with his characters where they are always in play, whether he can sit down and do Hellboy or not.

    That’s kind of what I felt about Mike’s stuff. “You’re doing these other things, so maybe we need to keep Snap City in the public eye. In a way that doesn’t super cut into your master plan.”

    So my goal is probably to stick to the tone and feel of those old Atomics books. I love the tone and feel of those old Atomics. I love that run on that book, for how much fun it is and how much pure Silver Age superhero pleasure there is.

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    Right now, I’ve just been focusing on how to make the It Girl character stand on her own, even though its “and the Atomics.” To push her a little bit away from the team. To me, it seemed natural to not have Frank Einstein in the book. He’s such a dominating presence. Even in the original Atomics run, he was supposed to show up, say hello and disappear. He was in every issue by the end of it.

    I think he and It Girl otherwise dominated that series. I thought, as long as those boys are in space, let’s keep them there. Which is what happened at the last Madman series, Madman Atomic Comics. It’s also to me that Madman is Mike…he should have a very limited role outside of Mike’s control. Even though I can’t do anything that Mike doesn’t approve, but it seems like that is his part of the mythos, much like Hellboy really is Mignola’s.

    So the trajectory of the book probably will start to expand on the basic world. But the main – at least for the first twelve issues, which is what I have outlined – the main thing is It Girl looking at her situation and thinking, “maybe I can be a real superhero crime fighter.” Because a lot of Mike’s stories are just like…these weird things just happen.

    Having her go out and seek the adventures, more so than just sitting around until something goes wrong was how I started to look at it.

    On the previous series, it was “The Atomics.” Now, it’s “It-Girl and the Atomics,” with the first two issues highly focusing on her. What’s the reasoning behind the change in both title and overall emphasis?

    JR: Because half the team is sort of sidelined in space. Mr. Gum and Adam Bomb are also in space. And I just feel like It Girl has a popularity that is there to be exploited. But at the same time, I gravitate mostly towards that character.

    And writing superhero teams is a difficult job — I don’t know if I was quire prepared to do a straightforward…eventually I’ll probably tackle more of a complete adventure with everyone who is available. But that wasn’t something…I don’t know, I didn’t feel ready for that yet. And in my writing style, I naturally gravitate towards point-of-view characters. For me, it was a natural choice to do It Girl.

    The climax of this particular first story arc, which runs five issues, will feature a full team effort. But she definitely leads the charge.

    And you can sense that in the first two issues. When it’s not It Girl, the second POV character is probably The Skunk.

    JR: Yeah.

    It’s a good balance. It’s been a long time since I read The Atomics. I forgot how big of a focus It Girl was. Now that I look back on it, or on Madman Atomic Comics, It Girl was definitely emphasized, especially with Joe being merged with her.

    JR: In the original series, It Girl takes a couple of issues to come into it. But once she does, she pretty quickly takes some of the focus away. You know, we did a one-shot at Oni with Chynna Clugston drawing the issues. The one-shot with her. And that was such a fun thing at the time. I think I just really like It Girl a lot.

    You were talking about how its weird to see someone work on a Madman book that isn’t Mike Allred. Bringing Mike Norton on, it might be my only experience reading a book that takes place in Snap City without Mike Allred. But Mike Norton…there are a lot of Mike’s involved.

    JR: Yes (laughs).

    Mike Norton is pretty damn great. How’d he join in on the fun, and is he a part of the creative team for the foreseeable future?

    JR: Yeah, he is the regular ongoing artist. I looked at I, Zombie at how Mike and Chris Roberson structured that series, of five on, one off. We’re going to do the same thing, so issue 6 will be a standalone adventure. And for those, it will be a different Atomic every time. That will give Mike (Norton) some breaks, because I think he is drawing 500 books right now (laughs).

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    Yeah, I was thinking the same thing. In Image’s FCBD book, he has Revival in there as well. How’s he going to sleep?

    JR: He’s got Battlepug collection happening. He’s got Cursed at Oni collecting his 24-hour comics. He’s doing backgrounds on Defenders. He’s all over the place. I just saw the other day he’s doing some other online comic for some video game related place. He’s a madman himself. (laughs)

    I knew him through Oni. He drew a book for us called Jason & the Argobots, which I think was right after he did The Waiting Place. So I’ve known him for years, and I’ve been really digging Battlepug. And last summer at Comic Con in San Diego, we were across the street at the Trickster event Scott Morse started. Mike Allred and I were part of that, and we did a symposium on collaboration, which was us, Greg Rucka, Larry Marder, Marc Andreyko and Scott Morse.

    And that was such a…after that I was really jazzed about the idea of collaboration, even more so than before. We were all just sitting around outside, drinking and not going into the convention center and talking about what was going on in the industry. There were a lot of artists there who saw such a shift at that point with the New 52 at DC and how things were changing. And Norton, I think, was basically recommitting himself to his own things, and made a comment saying “you know, when are you and I going to work together?”

    Pretty much how the book came together was Mike Allred and Mike Norton just sort of on happenstance managed to mention they wanted to collaborate, and I just so happened to have this thing here that needs an artist. It quickly jelled after that. Even though we’re technically doing work-for-hire, Allred is giving us such free reign and such a stake in what we are doing, it’s just like a creator-owned book. We’re not just hired hands that will be shuffled along the assembly line. We’re really invested.

    And Mike Allred’s been fantastic in how he’s really just opened up the whole thing to us, and given us a fair shake on the back end and all of that. He’s a price of a boss.

    As far as the overall direction of the series, what’s Mike’s involvement? Is he kind of just letting you run free?

    JR: Yeah, I mean, we send him what we’re thinking of and the ideas, but so far he’s been absolutely hands off. He’s enjoying the fun of somebody else…

    Playing in his sandbox.

    JR: Yeah. Somebody else doing it. Particularly when he sees the art and the caliber that Mike and Christopher Crank and Allen Passalagua, they are the entire Battlepug team…he’s just stoked to see people committing that much work to it.

    So I imagine there will be points where he will give us more direction, particularly as I know he has some idea as to where the characters should go. As long as we don’t take him off of his path, he’s just going to let us have fun and worry about other stuff later.

    I like that it’s basically Team Battlepug plus you on this book. Was that Mike Norton’s idea, or was that the idea from the start?

    JR: I was just talking to him and realizing, “I’m going to need a letterer and a colorist. You have these, right? (laughs) You think they’d want to come onboard?” From an editorial standpoint, it was a completely smart decision because everything was all ready to go. They knew how to work together, they knew how to get material back and forth to one another, they already had communication set up. It’s been a breeze. It was such an easy team to pull together. They’re all so good at what they’re doing, it’s made my life easy.

    And we’ve got Mike and Laura Allred doing covers. In some ways, after I’m done writing I can just kick back and wait.

    I’m excited to see what people think. It was foreign at first to see someone besides Allred do art on it, but by the second issue Norton’s art really starts to come together. It fits the vibe and it just has its own personality to it. It’s great.

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    JR: I think it’s some of the best stuff he’s ever done. Battlepug is like that too. He’s always been great. I think when you’re excited to do projects, it raises your game automatically.

    He’s also…I also liken artistic endeavors to be like weight lifting, so at this point he’s working out every day, so he must be huge. (laughs) Working on that many pages in a week. That’s what kills me too — there’s not been a single dip in quality. I don’t know how much he must do a day.

    It’s incredible. And besides Defenders, I think everything he is doing is creator-owned. It seems like that Trickster meeting was really quite the motivation for all of you guys.

    JR: It really was sort of…a focal point where you look and see people really committing to an independent side of the industry and their own endeavors. Steve Niles is a big champion, and he was all in there as well. He and Morse grew more projects with each other out of it, and I’m sure there were other connections. Ideally, in a dream world it would be like how they say every band that saw The Clash formed another band. I’d love to see Trickster become that thing of when people go through it, there’s all of these things we can do with our art and our in to make comics. I think that would be fantastic for the industry.

    That was the first Trickster last year. It seemed like with each passing month, there’s more and more pressing interest in doing creator-owned comics, especially with the year Image is happening. I can’t imagine Trickster year two won’t be even bigger.

    JR: I know they’ve got stuff planned and are setting up a permanent store in San Francisco. A place creators can send their products and be completely creator driven. A little bit like a McSweeney’s model almost.

    Now, I had the chance to read through the first chapter of your prose novel “Bobby Pins and Mary Janes” and I have to say I really dig it. I read through it last night and I was really hooked, especially on the lead character Parker. For those that aren’t fully aware of this effort, can you give us the elevator pitch on the story?

    JR: It’s essentially a workplace literary fiction. It’s been described as “The Devil Wears Prada” in the comic book industry. It’s about a girl named Parker who works for a mid-level indie comic publisher. She’s an assistant editor. It follows her career path over about a year and her relationships, including an affair with one of the cartoonists she works with.

    The idea was, in my prose I like to do basically relationship stories and stories of identity, and I decided to do that in comics because I don’t think anyone has used that world and it has its own unique and interesting tropes. I also wanted to blend my two writing paths. It was intended to have comic book pages within it, because there is a character in there that has a comic called Valerie Flames, which is like a girl adventurer. A 12-year old girl who flies a plane and fights crime and seeks treasure.

    So there are four chapters that are within it. The first one will be the second upload. The sixth. Where you’ll be able to read the script pages. And so the action within the comic runs parallel to the action in her life, and it comments between the two and how they inform one another.

    I’m releasing it all online as a serial. The first 40 pages went up today, and so every Friday I’ll release another section until basically it’s all up there. The book’s been written for a while, and I just hadn’t figured out what I wanted to do with it. I decided I wanted to sample this new thing where you can put yourself out there in whatever fashion you want.

    Previously, you’ve released a couple prose novels, but this is your first stab of doing it online. Why’d you decide to do that, and with the first section releasing today, how do you hope your first brush with online will go?

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    JR: Part of it was I had been sitting on the material for a while. I had a couple deals with literary agents that never panned out. The book suffered as a result, and I decided I just needed to do something with it, but I didn’t want to go back into that arena. Doing it online, beyond the elements of full control, it gave me a committed goal I could work towards. It allowed me to break it into steps, because copy editing your novel is a long and difficult process, and this way I can work on chunks at a time>

    I think I have the first five weeks uploaded, and I’m just waiting on the timer to go out. I just wanted to get it out there and see what people think. Once it’s all said and done, then I can assess from there. Where do I take it next? Do I leave it where it is? I’ll at the very least compile it and get it on iBooks and Kindle.

    More than anything, I wanted to see what reaction it would get. It turned into a big experiment.

    Given your history as an editor for a smaller publisher and, perhaps, your prose writing aspirations, do you see any part of yourself in Parker?

    JR: Absolutely. I see myself in her and a lot of the male characters she encounters. I’m using to a degree lots of…particularly in the stories from her past with relationships that went bad. A lot of those fellas are specific parts of my personality I wanted to dissect. There’s a couple of them from when I was rereading I thought, “oh yeah, I must have been really mad at myself then.” (laughs)

    It’s also full of anecdotes I’ve heard throughout the comics industry, a lot of stuff I’ve made up. It’s almost like an Oliver Stone version of the comics industry where there are composites and obfuscation to make the story work better. The further you get into it, the deeper you will get into seeing how comic book offices sometimes work. There’s a comic book convention section that takes place at what used to be the old Chicago con. It just seemed to me to be a fascinating work environment that people don’t understand or hear very much about ever.

    I thought one thing that was fascinating was, you have those two characters Marc and Ellery who are talking about…they are downplaying the quality of Valerie Flames because it’s by Amanda Fowler but praising this guy Geoff Klein, if only because of gender. In reality, Amanda Fowler is this guy Mario who is hiding his identity in the guise of this woman Amanda.

    I thought it was interesting, with the perception of how women are treated or received in the comic world. How did you decide to do that gender reversal? Was there some sort of commentary you were going for?

    JR: There was…I don’t remember the exact gestation. Actually, I remember the first thing I did. I was sitting in a hotel room in San Diego during Comic Con, and Joelle (Jones) was explaining why there were bobby pins all over the floor. I was listening to her tell this story, and in my head I immediately wrote what is essentially that first paragraph that is still there. It became that thing I couldn’t let go of. Because of the story starting with a girl character, I had her before I had anything else.

    All of the elements came together, particularly with the Mario character. I felt I could play with these notions of identity and roles within the comic book industry and sort of life and literature in general. And there’s particularly a comic book element of, Mario has a secret identity and Parker has a secret life. And throughout the book, there are a lot of characters who are playing different sides and that’s what she is learning to navigate even within herself.

    A lot of that stuff just grew organically out of inventing this stuff. Starting to invent the characters and comics. I had a lot of fun making up the fake comics that exist within the book. There are multiple ones you eventually read about. And then, there’s a few mentions of Paul Pope and Ande Parks and actual people in comics. There’s a Green Lantern discussion that will probably get me in trouble (laughs).

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    And I had seen young guys, the stalwart stereotypical comic fanboy who did find it really weird when girls came around that were into what they were into. Shouldn’t this have been what you were hoping for? (laughs)

    In my experience, going to a local shop, sometimes women are treated like a mythical animal as opposed to just another person.

    JR: Yeah.

    I do find the gender roles in comic reading and creating very interesting.

    JR: And I think if I was writing about a different timeframe. The book is kind of not set right now. I don’t put any specific date on it, but there are elements that are explained that where the industry is right then that’s really several years ago. And I think a lot of that is changing, but I do think there is a whole other world in comics that this story doesn’t even touch on.

    Particularly in these days, with literary publishers like First Second and others that publish people like Hope Larson, Vera Brosgol and Jen Wang who are one whole new school of women comics artists. And there are all of the people doing web comics like Kate Beaton and Meredith Gran that are really changing how comics are perceived in general, and also the makeup of the audience. Web comics has changed the whole game, and I think we’re getting to the point where we no longer call them web comics and just call them comics.

    I think it was the other day that Scott Kurtz commented on people like Mark Waid going and doing heavy digital comics work, and he said web comics are just going to be considered just comics.

    JR: Yeah. You’ve got Mark Waid, you’ve got Greg Rucka. I was actually inspired to do web comics watching the Immonen’s do Moving Pictures online. Even though it wasn’t necessarily the ideal form for reading that particular story, what they were really doing was they worked out a way for Stuart to draw a page a week so they can get this story done while he does everything else.

    I have a book coming out from Oni that sort of began as that. Where I was going to work with a specific artist that I thought could do one or two pages a week, and that was that. She ended up dropping out, but it ended up becoming the book that I am doing with this guy Dan Christenson. I believe some stuff I am doing will end up going online first in the near future.

    I know Faith Erin Hicks did that with Friends with Boys and Top Shelf does that a lot with Top Shelf 2.0 before its released. I think especially for smaller publishers who maybe don’t have as much crossover appeal, it does a lot to draw people in.

    JR: I remember Hope Larson’s Salamander Dream was one of the real first ones where it was all available online and AdHouse was printing it, and people bought it anyway. That’s always been the thing. People want to pay for content. They just want to know where it’s going.

    If they’ve enjoyed it…I think this is what Kickstarter is showing. If they’ve enjoyed it, they are willing to give you money to get it in a comic book fashion. So you’re seeing these web comics wanting to print the comics doing Kickstarter and making tons of money. I think its really going to change the landscape of how things are done and what publishers are giving to creators. What their service will be.

    Oni Press is a full service publisher. They work on every aspect of the book. They have an amazing editorial, marketing and design team that…I love working there. As long as they’ll have me, I’ll be there. But I think a lot more publishers will have to be that strong on the production front to give you a reason to go with them.

    I just like having other people do the work (laughs).

    (laughs) That is nice. I’ve thought about this recently. I’m surprised no one has tried the kind of Radiohead/Louis CK route of “pay this amount, get a DRM free version.” Maybe it’s idealistic of me to think that could work for comics, but it seems like it could be a natural fit.

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    JR: Some of the Kickstarter things are doing that where you get the PDF. I just did one for Cucumber Quest where my pledge gets me a PDF of the book.

    Then you look at what Becky Cloonan is doing with her mini-comics, selling them direct and she’s sold thousands of those. And then went digital. She’s doing that with The Mire too. She’s doing it paper first, and then you can get digital after a certain window of time. There are all sorts of things we can play with.

    To get back to the novel, I have to admit, one part made me laugh and I’m not sure I was supposed to. Parker laments her current reading choice, a “slim volume by a comic book writer who sometimes dabbled in prose.” Were you getting a little meta on us?

    JR: A little bit. (laughs) I was making fun of myself a little bit.

    (laughs) I was reading that and thought “oh that’s funny.” I immediately copy and pasted that into a Word document and made sure I mentioned that.

    JR: (laughs) I think that might be the only poke I take directly at my own work.

    It was amusing. I liked it. The first section is out…is the release schedule going to be every Friday?

    JR: Every Friday. It’s timed to go live just after midnight on the West Coast. Like I said, I have the first five up and preloaded. I almost had the…I realized just before I went live I had uploaded the PDF’s as well, because you can download the PDF every time it goes live, and all someone had to do was realize if you change the number…(laughs) So I quickly had to pull the next sections off the server for download and I’ll have to remember to put them up before they go live. Oops.

    (laughs) Someone would absolutely figure that out.

    JR: Totally.

    So if all goes to plan, when will we see the end of Parker’s misadventures through life and love?

    JR: I think it’s going to be sometime in July. I haven’t specifically broken up the back half yet. I’ve just been…there’s natural breaks where the comic scripts come in. I keep working between those and figuring out, “okay, this is where I should break this part.” So I’m about half way through. And I think it will be early July when we get to the end.

    You mentioned Joelle earlier. I know she joined on for at least character designs. Does she provide anything else?

    JR: At one point the plan was supposed to be she would draw the comic script sections. Because nothing ever became concrete with it, time became a factor. Ideally at some point, I’d love to do that, but she’s so busy and we’re so busy together, that that has always been that backburner project.

    We have a very long project that we are developing together that should be…I don’t know when we’re going to announce it, but we’re working with Oni on a much longer commitment with an idea that Joelle came up with that we’ve now been developing. So we’ll be co-writing and she’ll be drawing. Time is always a factor, as she’s so busy.

    But she’s a machine as well. She’s drawing hundreds of pages that people don’t even realize.

    Yeah, she just adapted The Girl Who Owned a City and she’s working on a Cullen Bunn series for Oni.

    JR: There’s a Vertigo book that they still haven’t announced that she’s done drawing. She finished her parts of Spellcheckers 3. House of Night was just finished as well. She’s been all over the place.

    What is it about her that makes her such a perfect partner for you?

    JR: We just clicked automatically. It helps that we live two blocks apart, and always have, which is the weird kismet part of it. We hang out a lot and we have similar senses of humor and similar tastes in music and movies and comics. So when we first met at a coffee shop down the street for me to look at her samples, I gave her the 12 Reasons Why I Love Her script to see if she liked it, we ended up spending a couple days together talking and we’ve been the best of friends since. So part of it is we just get along so well.

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    She’s never believed this, but it’s true, I felt like I’ve never met or worked with anyone that’s started with so much raw talent. So good to begin with. Where she could go from there has proven me right I feel. And she just gets better and better, and hopefully I don’t become obsolete too soon now that she’s moving into her own ideas. The fact she came to me to work with her on it was an honor, and we’re both really stoked about it.

    Besides all of the things we’ve already talked about, do you have anything else coming down the path?

    JR: I do. I think in the fall Oni is going to be releasing my project with Natalie Nourigat. She and I met at a Stumptown…I don’t know how long ago now, when she was still in college. And we ended up doing a short story for a Speramint anthology for Image together. When she came out of school Oni was interested in working with her on a couple things, but they suggested for her first project she should do a collaboration to take some of the weight off of her.

    And luckily, she asked me to go along with. So we developed this idea together, and it’s basically a futuristic romance. They should be announcing it soon, and these days they don’t let you tell anyone anything. That should be the next thing. And I mentioned I had that book with Dan Christenson, which is sort of a weird supernatural crime. I really seem to be balancing my stuff since You Have Killed Me with crime and romance. Spellcheckers 3 and the book with Joelle will be some time next year, so within the next 12 months, I’m going to have a lot. So if I’ve seemed quite for the last while, it’s because I’ve been working the whole time.

    (laughs) In hiding!

    One last question: you live and work in Portland. How does that massive community of artists and writers help you as a creator?

    JR: I almost never talk to other writers. I just never have been into that mindset. Partially I gravitate to the prose because of the solitary of creation. I think it’s comparable to writing and drawing your own graphic novel. If you’re the single creator, that mindset.

    In terms of just having people, like minded people who are just around and always having something going on, that is fantastic. Like last night with Comics Underground, it’s become a semi-regular event…everybody was there. It’s nice just to have people you can run into and talk to, even if not talking specifics, to say what you’re working on and have people understand what you’re doing. Because I think all of us…I don’t think my family understands how comics are put together and what my life entails. And our non-comic friends assume we don’t live that much…sitting at home. It can be a weird, frustrating life.

    It also helps that we have three publishers here. Oni, Dark Horse and Top Shelf. Brett Warnock is here, so half of it is on this side. So last night, I talked to Sierra Hahn at Dark Horse and we’ve been talking about different stories, pitching stories for different anthologies. It was nice just to run into her and say “I got your notes and I’m going to give you something soon.”

    We actually have a book club, which Mike Allred spilled the beans on in an interview, that’s the Allred’s, Craig Thompson, Matt Wagner, and you know, teenaged me would high five me so hard. “You get to have a book club with Matt Wagner?!” That kind of thing…having that community allows me. Periscope wouldn’t exist anywhere else.

    David Harper

    David Harper mainly focuses on original content, interviews, co-hosting our 4 Color News and Brews video podcast, and being half of the Mignolaversity and Valiant (Re)visions team. He runs Multiversity's Twitter and Facebook pages, and personally tweets (rarely) @slicedfriedgold. By day, he works in an ad agency in Anchorage, Alaska, and he loves his wife, traveling and biscuits & gravy (ordered most to least, which is still a lot).