Jamie S. Rich is well-known for his novels, both graphic and prose, about modern romances, including Cut My Hair, Love the Way You Love (with Marc Ellerby), and 12 Reasons Why I Love Her, drawn by Joëlle Jones. He and Jones have teamed up again for You Have Killed Me, just released by Oni Press, a noir mystery that's a departure from his usual subject matter.
"I was thinking it was starting to be time to get away from some of the romance stuff and start to show my ability to do other things," says Rich. "Part of that was Joëlle's suggestion—she wanted to do a crime book—but she's also very perceptive and saw that in some ways I was getting boxed in." Although there's a romantic motive behind the events, the emphasis here is on private eye Antonio Mercer and his loneliness. When Mercer's ex-girlfriend is found missing from a locked room, her sister wants him to investigate, regardless of his feelings.
There's timelessness to the tale. As Rich says, "Men like Mercer are always going to be the same regardless of the era, because there will always be a tendency for others to turn a blind eye. We hear a lot of talk about people not taking personal responsibility anymore, and the primary function of a gumshoe in a story like You Have Killed Me is to make sure those who did wrong accept the consequences of their actions. I think there is a little bit of my journey as a writer wrapped up in the idea that a private detective is often a noble man whose eyes are growing more jaded. It was an aspect of the genre Raymond Chandler was a pioneer in, and he set the way for the kind of man who takes this job."
Although it echoes classic novels, Rich emphasized how this story was always envisioned in the comic format. "I couldn't do You Have Killed Me the same way in prose. The narration, for instance, wouldn't work. The free-form philosophizing would have to be interrupted for descriptions of what is happening. In a comic, I can have the words work on one level and let the pictures do something else. Or the playing with light and darkness, the whole visual design of the climax, that's something a comic book can do that a novel never can."
Jones and Rich's experience together make for a more accomplished work, as the two respect each other's abilities and encourage each other to greater achievement. "I adore Joëlle's drawing, and I want to write to meet her level of craft. It's not a competition, but it definitely is a mutual challenge. We started You Have Killed Me from her suggestion that we do this kind of story, and as I was writing, I was always talking to her, telling her what I was doing, getting feedback. There was a lot more give and take. There was also a lot more trust, I knew what she was capable of, and I could leave things open for her to play with. At the same time, she was more confident and understood that she could say, 'This isn't working, so I am going to take it in another direction.' I like working with her just because I know that, as a writer, there is nothing she can't give me. In particular, she is so good at character work, at the acting and all that entails, the body language and the facial expressions, I know that whatever emotion I need, she can do. I think with You Have Killed Me, people will also see how good she is at action and environments, as well."
The two are working together again on the upcoming project Spell Checkers, an original graphic novel about high school witches who use their powers to rule the school. According to Rich, "It started with a sketch. She had a drawing of three girls, and they all had different styles, one was drinking, one was smoking, and she said, 'We should do something with them. I like them.' Then she promptly forgot until I showed up with the script for the first chapter. It's been wickedly fun to write. Joëlle is doing the covers and flashback sequences, while a French artist named Nicolas Hitori de is drawing the body of the book. I've got two more volumes mapped out, and we hope to make a series out of it." Rich is also working on another crime/romance combination with Mike Holmes and a young adult novel sequel to Love the Way You Love.