Jamie S. Rich and Megan Levens Deliver Beautiful Horror In Madame Frankenstein

If you're a fan of the old EC stories and that classic form of story telling (and even if you're not, really), then I highly recommend that you pick up Madame Frankenstein, by Jamie S. Rich (author) and Megan Levens (art). The trade paperback edition hits shelves this Wednesday, March 18 via Image Comics

Jamie and Megan took part in a question and answer about their series, but first, I asked each of them to give us insight into who they are, their influences and where they're from.

Jamie S. Rich:

Hometown: Portland, Oregon at this point. My family was rootless when I was young, I've lived here longer than anywhere.
Your favorite artist and why: Dave Stevens was one of the first artists I obsessed over, and his work continues to impress me in the same ways now as it did when I was a teenager, if not more so.
Favorite writer and why: F. Scott Fitzgerald. His prose, his characters, he's the whole package.
One quirky fact about yourself that people may not know or expect: People seem shocked when they hear I run or otherwise exercise 6 days a week. I guess I must look like a real wreck.

Megan Levens:

Hometown: Louisiana, Missouri. No, seriously. That's a place. 
Your favorite artist and why: That's a tough question. The first artists I really remember becoming aware of who weren't the "great masters" or other figures from art history books, were film concept designers, like Ralph McQuarrie and more recently Iain McCaig. In comics, it was Jeff Smith and Terry Moore, who were doing these expressive, kind of out-there indie creator-owned books with beautifully inked black and white artwork. 
Favorite writer and why: This question makes me disproportionately anxious! I think it's because I'm friends with so many very well-read English majors. I really enjoy Christopher Moore. He's very darkly funny, emotionally honest, and (this is the artist in me) visually detailed. I can always picture his scenes very clearly. 
One quirky fact about yourself that people may not know or expect: Anyone who knows me, and then sees my driver's license or credit card is always surprised that Megan is not my first name.



Q. Wow, I absolutely loved Madame Frankenstein. It brought me back to some of the classic EC Stories. Was any of that era an inspiration for either of you when it came to writing, and of course, the overall look in the art?

Jamie: Oh, certainly. I think we both researched different aspects of the story to get the period. Burlesque and carnivals, for instance. Also the general state of economic and other global political factors from that time gave us a lot to work with in terms of the class issues between Vincent and his adopted family. Not to mention, of course, the fact that we wanted to emulate the Universal Monsters movies in style and tone.

Megan: Definitely. A lot of early reviews and comments about the story referenced the relative lack of gore (this was before the final issue!), and that had a lot to do with drawing inspiration from those earlier horror films and comics. A lot of the suspense and horror came from lighting, what you did and didn't see, and even more strongly, from the character's emotions. So it's a nod to the more psychological horror of those works. And the final art being in black and white, of course. 

Q. Jamie, Madame Frankenstein starts out as a love story, but as readers will come to realize, it takes quite the turn. When you first had the idea for this story, did you always know what the ending would be, or did you have multiple ideas of where the story could go?

Jamie: Megan actually brought me the concept of the book, and when she pitched it my way, she told me what she thought the ending should be. So I basically placed that as the finish line and tried to build our story to get there. The core idea was always that Vincent would be building what he perceived as his perfect woman, but the more independent the monster became, the less perfect she'd be. Thus, there was never any question that we were going to upend those romantic expectations. Vincent's vision of love is pretty warped.

Q. Megan, your line work and inks are some of the best I have seen, and your art conveys great emotion from panel to panel. Did you have an idea of how you wanted each character to look or were there numerous designs before you decided on the final looks of the characters?

Megan: Gail was a design I'd created back in college, and she more or less always looked the way she does now. I streamlined her a bit to match my comics style, of course, and when Jamie began writing the script, it became clear that she wasn't going to have a great deal of dialogue. So I exaggerated her features, especially her eyes, to help her emotions read without dialogue. The other characters went through a bit of evolution from start to final design, but not much. There were certain visual cues that instantly came through from the way Jamie wrote them. Linda had to be curvy and in many ways, Gail's physical opposite. Henry had to have a square jaw, broad shoulders, and blond hair. 

Q. How much back and forth did you two have when putting this story together? Was there a fluid sharing of ideas with regard to art and storytelling? 

Jamie: Pretty much. We had established a pattern on our Oni Press book Ares & Aphrodite where we would basically show our work at the end of the day. Particularly in the early stages, it was almost a daily back and forth. As we went further in, the chunks were larger, but we shared every stage and were in constant contact. If I had an idea or was stuck between a couple of options, I'd float them Megan's way and let her have her say. In fact, the end of #6 is a little bit different than intended, because I had sent her a version of the script that had only my notes pondering how to handle that last page. She told me what she thought, I fixed it, and then apparently never sent her the final script!

Megan: Yeah, when we're in project mode, we're always in touch. It was greatly helpful when I thought I had a breakthrough with the art, to snap a picture on my phone and text it to Jamie, and get feedback almost instantly. 

Jamie: It helps that neither of us has lives. There was lots of drunk texting. 

Q. Megan, the main female lead, Gail, starts out as quite the beautiful and stunning woman. How important was it for you to maintain that beauty in her, how shall I put this..."post-life" form?

Q. How much back and forth did you two have when putting this story together? Was there a fluid sharing of ideas with regard to art and storytelling? 

Jamie: Pretty much. We had established a pattern on our Oni Press book Ares & Aphrodite where we would basically show our work at the end of the day. Particularly in the early stages, it was almost a daily back and forth. As we went further in, the chunks were larger, but we shared every stage and were in constant contact. If I had an idea or was stuck between a couple of options, I'd float them Megan's way and let her have her say. In fact, the end of #6 is a little bit different than intended, because I had sent her a version of the script that had only my notes pondering how to handle that last page. She told me what she thought, I fixed it, and then apparently never sent her the final script!

Megan: Yeah, when we're in project mode, we're always in touch. It was greatly helpful when I thought I had a breakthrough with the art, to snap a picture on my phone and text it to Jamie, and get feedback almost instantly. 

Jamie: It helps that neither of us has lives. There was lots of drunk texting. 

Q. Megan, the main female lead, Gail, starts out as quite the beautiful and stunning woman. How important was it for you to maintain that beauty in her, how shall I put this..."post-life" form?

Megan: Well, a lot of Vincent's infatuation with Courtney (Gail's identity in life) had to do with her beauty, so it made sense that would be an aspect of her he would strive to preserve when resurrecting her...perhaps at the expense of other things. By not disfiguring her too much, I actually think we could go a little deeper with the idea of how she was corrupted when she was brought back. You could say that it was just to make the character still appealing to male readers, but I think it highlighted that what was taken from her wasn't just who she was on the surface---it was everything that made her who she was, which is an even deeper violation. 

Jamie: We consistently laugh over a review that accused us of showing her topless so we could pander to teenage boys. Because these days, the only way to see bared breasts if you're 13 is to a buy a black-and-white comic with a drawing of a reanimated corpse. 

Q. Jamie, Dr. Krall definitely has that down on his luck, bullied upbringing. When writing his character, was it a foregone conclusion that yes, he will definitely go down this path or was there ever a chance he could have a shot at redemption?

Jamie: It was basically a foregone conclusion, but I try to never rule out any possibility completely. You never know what ideas will present themselves in the process of writing a story. When you're in it, you might see a different way. Maybe your bad guy can become the hero, who knows? With Madame Frankenstein, I stayed pretty close to the outline we sent Eric Stephenson at Image when we pitched the book. Unlike, say, Ares & Aphrodite, where I started writing without a complete plot and built it chapter by chapter.

Q. Jamie, why the fairies? Was it to demonstrate that hey, maybe our two main characters aren't in their right minds? Or perhaps, yes, these fairies actually do exist?

Jamie: Exactly! Is it a shared psychosis? Could magic be real? In most of the scenes where Vincent sees them, it's also tied to the drugs he's taking. It's meant to be a little mysterious.

Q. Now, Megan, these are definitely not your typical looking fairies. Their nude form certainly gave them an air of intrigue and seduction to their personalities. What brought you to this look and why?

Megan: From the start I definitely did not want pretty, cuddly fairies. So I designed them with distorted limbs, oversized alien-looking eyes, and Burning Man-esque hairstyles...like they were trying to assume human form and weren't quite getting it right. What they represent in the story is open to interpretation, but it has to do with Vincent's drug addiction, or his psychosis, or Gail's very existence, so they were always tied to something sinister and dark. Their look had to reflect that. 

Jamie: Also, teenage boys like naked fairies. A LOT.

Q. Without spoiling the ending, because the story does have a very nice end point. Having said that, could we see another story arc down the road, featuring Dr. Krall and other players we came to know in Madame Frankenstein?

Jamie: I have an idea for a potential sequel, and have sat down and written out a little about what happens to everyone over the next couple of decades, with the idea that we'd pick up somewhere down the line. So, you never know--though there are no plans to revisit the book any time soon, sometimes it's hard to get characters you enjoy working with out of your head.

Megan: If Jamie writes it, I'll draw it. Gail is a character I go back to often, while sketching or warming up. I'm even doing a painting of her to decorate the living room in my new apartment. 

Q. I'd like to thank each of you for taking the time to speak with me about Madame Frankenstein, however, can you give our readers insight into other projects that each of you are working on? Also, which conventions can your fans find you at in 2015? 

Jamie: Well, our book Ares & Aphrodite: Love Wars will be out in April from Oni Press. It's a light romantic comedy, much more bright and cheery than Madame Frankenstein. It's been serialized on Comixology, but the graphic novel will be the first print edition. I'm currently wrapping up the scripting on initial Lady Killer series with Joëlle Jones at Dark Horse. As you know, Joëlle did the Madame Frankenstein covers.

Also, George Kambadais and I are continuing our superhero adventure comic The Double Life of Miranda Turner. It's published digitally by Monkeybrain on Comixology. 

Megan: In addition to Ares & Aphrodite: Love Wars, I'm filling in periodically for Rebekah Isaacs as artist on Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 10. I just finished my first three-issue arc on Buffy, with issues #11 and #12 already out, and #13 arriving in March. 

I also recently finished artwork on one story for IDW's upcoming anthology Elizabeth's Canvas, which highlights stories of cancer survivors and their families. It gets its title from the Elizabeth's Canvas organization, which provides classes in writing, art, dance, and other creative outlets to cancer patients. So I'm very excited about being part of that project as well. 

Jamie: So far, I think I only have Emerald City Comic Con at the end of March confirmed for an appearance. But there should be an east coast show closer to the summer, fingers crossed, that I'll be going to.

Megan: I'll be at Long Beach Comic Expo (before this interview is published), and for sure at Emerald City Comic-Con as well. The rest of my convention year has yet to be planned out as of now.