In March, Archaia will release its first OGN for 2011 with the road trip drama about love, life, and loss, An Elegy For Amelia Johnson. In the pages of this black and white work by writer Andrew Rostan and artists Dave Valeza, and Kate Kasenow, two type A professionals--filmmaker Henry and writer/journalist Jillian--are tasked by their dying friend Amelia with making a video document of her life by talking to her friends, family, and acquaintances as her time draws to a close. In their travels, the prickly duo come to discover different sides to one of their closest friends while also gaining a better understanding of themselves.
In reading the book, its core appears to be about the unexamined life--both the life you're living and the lives of the people you're close to. The two leads are, according to Mr. Mr. Veleza, the type who define themselves according to the achievements in their professional lives while their personal lives falter around them. Jillian has just walked away from another relationship, while Henry is in a rut, putting together artful, but impersonal films. The two characters are in direct contrast to Amelia, a free-spirited poet and painter with a pile of unfinished projects and seemingly no regret.
"[T]he book is about when all those building blocks come tumbling down and [Henry and Jillian] have to face the foundation on which they built everything—what’s at their rawest core, I guess," explains Mr. Veleza. Mr. Rostan adds that when we're younger, we feel like we can conquer the world, and that "there are limitless possibilities out there." But for Amelia and Henry, the conflict--before even being sent on this tremendous favor for Amelia--comes from realizing that they're unable to shape the world in the ways that they expected, and they're not entirely sure they're the people they set out to be.
For Rostan, the work has a more personal connection, springing out of a time of personal difficulty while living in California while struggling to create.
In fact, probably the best passages of it were written in a time when I was really unsure where my future was heading… Amelia became, in a lot of ways, a projection of what I wanted, but more importantly, a goal so many of us in this world should aim for. Amelia is… a happy woman because she chose what she wanted and accomplished it. She chose what she wanted out of her life, what she wanted out of love, and her relationships, and that was the basis for her contentment.
One of the more interesting elements of the book is how Henry and Jillian react to the choices Amelia make in her life--and how each is forming a fuller picture of their friend with elements both good and bad. For Henry, it's moving past the idealized view he had of Amelia, someone it seems he clearly held a torch for--to the extent that some revelations seem to hit him like a betrayal. For Jillian, however, there's an element of, if not jealousy, then long-internalized conflict with her idea of Amelia. For Rostan, this element of the story was something from his own life that he tried to capture in print. For Rostan, the key to the relationship is that "[Henry and Jillian] were always sort of a middle point between Amelia and the rest of the world."
The genesis of the actual project came from a conversation between Archaia Editor-in-Chief Stephen Christy and Rostan during a walk in Santa Monica three and a half years ago. Christy had been after Rostan to write a story for him and Rostan was unsure what he should write about.
[H]e told me he wanted to tell a story about “love and time.” And I walked away thinking about that. Somehow, the first thought that popped into my mind was death. I’m not the kind of person who tells depressing stories by nature, so I didn’t have an ending there, but I wanted to tell a story about death—and love… So you’re writing about death, but you’re also writing about life. And once that struck me, [that] I needed to focus on actual life, everything else about the book just fell into place very quickly.
Rostan notes that the major through-line--the two leads discovering themselves by discovering their friend--was the constant through the whole process of creating the book. [W]hile so much of the plot changed over the course of the draft, the general idea of Henry and Jillian looking through Amelia’s life fell into place. For the story to work, they would have to understand who she is versus the way Amelia presents herself along with Henry and Jillian discovering who they are."
Valeza came to the project as a recent graduate of the Savannah College of Art and Design, where one of his pieces in an annual anthology reached the hands of Christy at Archaia, leading later to a partnership with Rostan. The actual production of the book was completed with the help of artist Kate Kasenow, who both Rostan and Valeza credit with being a life-saver during the final stretch of the book. The combined art style seems to strike a mix of Archie-style cartooning with a high degree of pathos in the expressiveness of the characters.
The book itself appears to have paralleled the very same period of growth for Valeza that Jillian and Henry go through in the story, catching him at the period of entering graduate school and starting to wonder about the next steps in his own life.
[W]hen you’re in grad school, you thinking about similar things to the characters in the book. Henry and Jillian are in their 30’s, and they’re successful, accomplished people, and they have nice apartments, they have accolades, they have credits to their name, but they want to know if that’s their place. Is that their place that they’re supposed to find?
That was one of the things I learned in grad school… Everyone else was [there in grad school] to find something. That’s something I felt like I kept seeing. When you’re 20-something and trying to figure out what your career is going to be, and what the happiness is going to be that you’re going to pursue in life, it can be a little mind-boggling… It’s going to sound cliché, but life’s a journey, and you just keep going.
When asked how they wished to be remembered after everything was said and done the two creators had very different responses, that perhaps present the best contrast between the contemplative Rostan. and the very direct Valeza. For Rostan, it's about leaving a positive mark on the world. "I’d like to be remembered—not so much for anything I did—but as a friend... And I want to be remembered [as someone who] didn’t, consciously or unconsciously, hurt or provoke hurt." However, Valeza would prefer a more deterministic bent to his own legacy. "Thinking about all of these themes of the book, and something I’ve tried to get from the book is trying to do things without thinking of what people think of me… We should all do things for fun and enjoyment and not do them because we want to be remembered."
As for what's next: Valeza is taking a breather after the large-scale production of Amelia, enjoying some time to develop some webcomic projects. Meanwhile, Rostan is diving right back into it, promoting Amelia at the upcoming con in Chicago and later, at SDCC, while working on a couple of projects for Archaia, including a biography mixing fiction and non-fiction. Beyond that, he's also developing a prose novel.
"An Elegy For Amelia Johnson" hits stands in March from Archaia Publishing