The working partnership between Oni Press editor Jamie S Rich and Chynna Clugston-Major, the creator of riotous teen comic BLUE MONDAY, is one of the more high profile double-acts in comics today. Not many editors get to appear in the comics they produce, other than by chipping in with the odd dry caption here or there, but Rich haunts the margins of BLUE MONDAY as a grumpy little 'super-deformed' character, often indulging in snappy repartee with the creator.
Wondering if this playful banter between the pair carries over into real life, Ninth Art met up with both of them at the 2002 Bristol comics festival. Considering that they've known each other since 1994, it came as no surprise to find that they're every bit as droll and chatty in the flesh as they are on the page.
What was the origin of this long-lasting partnership? The seeds were sown by Jamie's introduction to the world of professional comics production, a clear demonstration of the value of making one's presence known to the right people.
"I was a letter writer and a big fan of GRENDEL," says Jamie, "and I went to San Diego when I was a teenager and met Bob Schreck and Diana Schutz and Matt Wagner, and struck up a friendship with them. By the time I got out of college with almost a degree - which was a creative writing degree, so it wasn't like it was actually going to propel me through life - I was casting about for what to do, and Diana offered me a job at Dark Horse as her assistant."
The instance of their meeting back in 1994 is clearly one of the main reasons that the pair have remained working together for so long: both Rich and Clugston-Major were industry newcomers and were pointed in each other's direction by the editorial hierarchy at Dark Horse. "I actually met Chynna almost immediately; one of the first things that happened when I got to Dark Horse was Bob said, 'I met this person at Wondercon - send her some scripts!'"
The circumstances of Clugston-Major's introduction to the world of comics were rather less auspicious, but perhaps this was an early opportunity for her to exercise the rebellious streak that characterises her work. "I thought I was gonna be an animator, so I applied for a summer school session for animation and got rejected, so it was like, 'fuck you guys, I'm gonna do comics,' y' know?" says Clugston-Major. "I used to do minicomics in high school and stuff - kind of pornographic comedy things, but with... what do you call them? An...? Anth...?"
"Anthropomorphic? Funny Animals?" chips in Rich.
"Yeah, one of those big words," continues Clugston-Major, "and I just ended up messing around and finally I got something together to send off."
Despite meeting so early in their careers, it would take them a few years before they finally managed to work together, as Rich explains; "We spent something like three years corresponding and meeting in San Diego, and in ' 97 or so, we did a one pager in Dark Horse Presents and then a six-page story, and that was the beginning of the working relationship.
'Grant Morrison flipped me off. I guess that's the perks of being in comics.' "I knew I was leaving Dark Horse and I knew that her stuff just wasn't going to fly there as it didn't meet the sensibilities of the other editors - to their regret at this point, I would hope! At that point, we sent her stuff to Sarah Dyer and that's when she got into ACTION GIRL, and then as soon as I could at Oni, I stole her back from Sarah."
Rich has continued to be both a mentor and a patron for Clugston-Major and her work ever since. Not just as her editor, either - he has provided her with occasional writing assistance as well. One of the most notable instances of Rich lending a hand was during the creation of the BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER story Clugston-Major wrote, called LOVERS' WALK, about Willow and Tara's relationship.
"[Chynna] wrote the plot and I guess there were problems with the licensor, and so the editor asked me to mess around with it and try and fix those problems," says Rich. "I guess it was kind of difficult for both of them, which I understood, as they were both so close to it and frustrated by the changes that were asked for that it needed a different eye. When we scripted it, it was a total back-and-forth, like I'd write some stuff and send it to her, then she'd add some more stuff and send it back."
Clugston-Major adds; "It was really a fun process, but then we got slaughtered."
"Yeah," says Rich, "a lot of stuff got cut out - we had a lot of good jokes that disappeared." Even editors get edited sometimes, it seems.
When Rich and Clugston-Major get talking in person, however, nothing can stop the jokes from coming, usually at each other's expense. When asked about what they do to take their minds off comics, Clugston-Major answers, quick as a flash:
"Well, Jamie's a chronic masturbator."
And Chynna? According to Rich, for her 'off-duty' is "actually doing the comics, since more time is spent not."
"We probably do the same things that it seems most of our fans do," says Rich. "We watch a lot of movies, listen to a lot of music. I tend to be a bit of a homebody and stick around my apartment a lot, and annoy my cat - who's easily annoyed, as Chynna can testify!"
"Seriously! That cat is bitchy as hell!" she agrees. As for her 'downtime', Clugston-Major reveals that she isn't quite the party animal Rich would have you believe. "I hang out in the library and listen to the homeless people making fart sounds. ... Damn, I made it sound like I don't party at all. I do! I'm not so dull!"
Both Rich and Clugston-Major were remarkably upbeat and energetic considering that he'd just spent a long weekend at Bristol, and she'd spent most of her weekend at the Erlangen convention in Germany. Although Clugston-Major described the German con as "pretty cool" and "very interesting", it didn't pass without incident.
"I got my digital camera stolen," she reveals. "I was right next to it, a few feet away at the most, and my friend and I were dancing to a band, and we turned back around, and all the glasses that were next to it were gone, as well as my camera. We couldn't find it. The thing was that it was actually like a private party where only, like, 400 guests were invited, so they knew just about everybody there, but somebody still fucking stole it."
'Jamie is a chronic masturbator.' Rich and Clugston-Major's experience of Bristol 2002 was rather less traumatic, thankfully, although it still came as something of a culture shock to the Oni editor. "Everyone seemed a little too. normal - they didn't have any Klingons or anything really outlandish, so it was actually a pretty easygoing convention - it went very, very well. For once, I could walk away without any horror stories."
It seems that the only thing that Rich really had to worry about was the antics of unruly British creators. "Throughout the convention, Peter Doherty and I would give each other the finger every time we'd see each other," reveals Rich, "but he trumped me on Saturday night when he got Grant Morrison and his girlfriend to also give me the finger. Shockingly, there were people around me who were really impressed that Grant Morrison would flip me off. I guess that's the perks of being in comics."
"No, it's the perks of being Jamie," replies Clugston-Major.
Clugston-Major is currently putting the finishing touches to the BLUE MONDAY Halloween Special. When pressed for some idea of what fans can expect, she drops the following enigmatic hint: "Bodies... bodies everywhere! And blood. Maybe some goo."
Are there any longer BLUE MONDAY arcs in the pipeline for the future after that?
"Of course! I'll be doing BLUE MONDAY 'til I drop, or get dropped. I'm not saying what's going to happen, though... I sense a lot more angst in the future."
Her other major forthcoming project is the Oni miniseries SCOOTER GIRL. It features many themes familiar to readers of BLUE MONDAY - 'neo-Mod' style and relationship troubles in particular.
"SCOOTER GIRL is basically the tale of a young man who might as well be the grandson of Michael Caine with all of his swinging and hip antics," says Clugston-Major. "His life takes a turn much for the worse when, one day, a very headstrong girl enters his life that is unlike anything he's ever encountered before - and she has a really kick ass Lambretta to boot, of course. It's going to be a very Rumiko Takahashi-inspired sort of thing.
"I don't know how much of a departure it is from BLUE MONDAY, but it's definitely going to be for a mature audience, and different from what people are expecting at this point."
Clugston-Major has already worked with a fairly stellar line-up of creators, including Mike Allred, Jen Van Meter and Brian Bendis. When asked who she'd like to work with in the future, she suggests Jamie Hewlett, Evan Dorkin, and Posy Simmons - at which point Rich tells her if she mentions any other editors, he'll kick her ass, adding, in a mocking falsetto, "I wanna work at Vertigo. I wanna do the fairy version of BLUE MONDAY."
But Clugston-Major makes it clear where her loyalties lie, telling him; "You quit comics, I'll quit comics." And one gets the impression she's not entirely kidding.
This talk of quitting comics thankfully proves to be nothing more than a mild threat, though, as Clugston-Major plans to be making comics for years to come.
Because Rich's schedule is always full for at least the next twelve months, he tends not to look too far forward. He dryly observes that there's a strong chance that in a year's time he'll "probably be in a lunatic asylum, slowly going mad." All because of comics?
"That, and genetics - a family history of insanity."
"That's probably why we work so well together," observes Clugston-Major.
Next week, Ninth Art gets down to business with Jamie S Rich as we talk about Hollywood, the future for Oni, and the final word on the Leandro Fernandez controversy.
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