Thee Comic Column #123: Meeting Amelia Cole

Amelia_Cole_04.inddIf you read this column regularly you will no doubt have heard my mantra, born of both practicality and frustration: You can’t read everything.

You’ll also know I commonly follow that up with, “But you can try!”

That said, whenever we book a guest for Drinking with Comics whose work I am unfamiliar with I dig in and familiarize myself. This was especially true when my co-host Mike Wellman booked writer D.J. Kirkbride for this coming Monday, March 23rd. I’d read or heard about Mr. Kirkbride’s work for some time, yet up until last week had remained largely unfamiliar with it. Mike helped me out of that one.

Back in August I’d read about Kirkbride’s most recent series, the IDW-published The Bigger Bang. The heavy cosmic theme meant it immediately went on my “Must Read” list. However, several months later when it hit the stands in November The Bigger Bang was lost to me in a frenzy of holiday gift buying (graphic novels for everybody!). My error remained obscured until I noticed issue #3 on the stand  a couple months later at my beloved Comic Bug. Now, I’m in the middle of a similar conundrum with two other books at the moment, missing early issues in a limited series, and I’ve subsequently  adopted a “You miss #1 you wait for the trade” policy. Luckily, The Bigger Bang trade hits on May 26th, so I don’t have too much longer to wait. In the meantime however I asked Mike for some suggestions and he sent me away with Never Ending and the first three trades of the Amelia Cole series. Both of these series are co-written with Adam P. Knave and both are fantastic, however today I want to specifically talk about Amelia Cole because, well, I’m really enjoying it and I firmly believe it has the ability to reach a much wider audience. 

A two second comparison? Harry Potter meets Alan Moore and J. H. Williams, III’s Promethea. Amelia’s story is not as hardcore literary as Promethea, which as I talked about recently is really something more akin to a magickal grimoire disguised as a serialized supe… ahem… science hero story. No, it has a much more approachable angle to the story. However, it’s the magical flare to Mr. Brokenshire’s* art that sets the tonal comparison to Promethea; practical, yet packed with decorative flourish that includes easter eggs, symbols and a color palette that is both vibrant and at times psychedelic, partially thanks to color assistant Ruiz Moreno. Add to this Rachel Deering‘s superb lettering and visually we have something that feels magical, not just a story about magic.

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What Kirkbride, Knave, artist Nick Brokenshire have done with Amelia Cole is craft a superbly blue collar magical hero who is as heroic as any of the big two’s flagship characters but for infinitely more relatable reasons. Amelia’s story is strange and wonderful – raised by her Aunt Dani in the world of magic she traffics just as easily in the non-magical world (read: Earth as we know it). However, at the beginning of the first volume of the story, Amelia Cole and the Unknown World, Amelia’s little family unit meets with tragedy and she is whisked off to a third, unknown world where magic fulfills the societal functionality that science does in our world. Here she finds that the law, as decree by a Magistrate who harbors some seriously mysterious political liaisons, forbids magical folk, or Mages, from helping non-magical folks. Enforcing the Magistrate’s law is a cloaked figure known only as The Protector, and as Amelia soon learns, this schism at the heart of the third world’s population creates some intricately sticky situations, situations Amelia’s caring, helpful nature puts her smack dab in the middle of, but on the wrong side of the law.

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Oh, and Amelia has something of a protector of her own – an enormous golem named Lemmy who she makes out of junk! He is AWESOME!

The truly endearing thing about Amelia Cole’s story, besides Lemmy, and besides the original and refreshing take on the ‘magic’ paradigm we’ve seen become something of a sub genre in modern fiction, is the superb characterizations the creators instill in their heroine. Amelia is so friendly, so motivated, so down to Earth that she feels like the character with the most approachable motivation in a fantastical comic maybe ever. When she arrives in the third world she stumbles into several friendships and a job as the superintendent of an apartment building simply based on the way she treats and talks to the people around her. She’s as worried about practical things like room and board, an income so she can eat and meeting people so she can attain some semblance of an ordinary life as she is about where she is and what the ‘lay of the land’ is, so to speak. Part of this is because despite being unfamiliar with this unknown world, Amelia is used to the idea of multiple dimensions, so these everyday concerns would hold a lot of water with her character as its already been established in just a few short pages, even in the face of such an amazing relocation. The fact that we get to this point so quickly in the story really shows how well conceived and expertly written the character is.

Speaking to this concise characterization even further, Amelia’s easy going but responsible demeanor plays out laterally through the different events we follow her through, from the altercations she has with various ‘evil’ forces to handling problems at work. Fictional characters’ motivations are often merely the motivations of their story arcs; Amelia Cole’s story – from where I am three arcs in – does not feel that way at all. Instead it feels like the organic path through a rather complicated life that a real person with her personality would take. And whereas more organic approaches to characters can sometimes manifest as drier stories high on wit but shorter on the standards of genre – action, intrigue and fantastical elements – Kirkbride and Knave avoid this by adding separate characters on divergent but eventually intersecting arcs to twist around and strengthen the world they’ve built for Amelia. And this makes the book an absolute pleasure to read; light-hearted but as engaging as many of the ‘darker’ stories out there on the stands.

The Amelia Cole series is part of indie digital comic company Monkey Brain Comics‘ all-digital line (via comixology) and the trades are published by IDW, so it’s accessible enough that if you’d like to heed my recommendation, you can actually start reading it pretty much right now! Viva the modern age, eh?

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* Mr. Brokenshire has an online comic I absolutely love called Day of the Dog. Read it here.

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Can’t find a comic shop? You can always use old reliable Comic Shop Locator at 1-800-COMIC-BOOK. Or you can take some of my recommendations. If you live in the greater Chicagoland area I recommend any of the wonderful four locations of Amazing Fantasy Books. In Los Angeles it’s The Comic Bug. Las Vegas it’s Alternate Reality Comics. San Francisco? Try the Isotope Comic Lounge and if you happen to venture a little further North I’d say you have to visit The Escapist Comic Book Store in Berkley (with the wonderful Dark Carnival Books next door and owned by the same folks). Read on!!!

Shawn C Baker

Shawn C Baker

Shawn lives in Los Angeles where he co-hosts Drinking w/ Comics, writes screenplays and fiction and has been known to drink quite a bit of beer. Good beer.

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