When the Eisner Award nominations came out earlier this week, many comics observers were shocked to see — among comics kingpins like Joss Whedon and Brian K. Vaughan — writer-artist Jimmy Gownley, who received an impressive four nominations for his charming kids' comic series Amelia Rules!. This weekend's Comic-Con is shining a spotlight on comics for kids, with a panel devoted to the topic and an increased population of tots underfoot — even this afternoon, when the expo floor is only open to industry and media. We sat down with Gownley in his booth, tucked into the small-press section of the show floor, to talk to him about Amelia's origins, raising his own Amelias, and why he's about to give up on comic books.
How did a guy your age start drawing a comic about a 10-year-old girl?
I'd been doing a comic since I was 15 called Shades of Gray — it was your typical nineties teen-drama comic, drawn in black-and-white, you know. One day I flipped a page over and drew a little girl off the top of my head. I showed her to my wife — then my girlfriend — and she and I both said, out loud, at the same time, "Her name's Amelia."
What's it been like drawing a comic for kids?
When we started in 2001, no one was thinking about kids, especially not little girls. No one was doing comics with literary quality — there was Archie, and that was about it. But now, people have realized the desire out there. Scholastic and other kids' publishers have their own graphic-novel lines. And we do less than 25 percent of our sales in comic-book stores now — it's all at Borders and Barnes & Noble, where they now have graphic-novel sections for kids.
Do you see your sales dropping for the monthly comics and rising for the trade collections?
The comics have sold the same for three years. The collections now sell 20 or 30 times as many copies as the individual pamphlets. My guess is very soon we will stop doing individual comics and just publish collections.
Do you see Amelia in your own kids?
No, not so much! I have two 4½-year-old daughters. I'm sort of hesitant to use them if they do something cute — I've heard horror stories of what happened to Dennis the Menace.
So if you don't use your own kids, had you ever had experience writing about children before?
Nope, none! But not having any experience never stopped me before. It turns out enthusiasm is a great replacement for experience, or talent.