Love Ain't Easy: David Hopkins Talks "Emily Edison"

Wed, June 14th, 2006 at 12:00am PDT

Comic Books
Arune Singh, Staff Writer

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Sure, we're always hearing about how divorce rates are skyrocketing, infidelity is prospering in this age, and the very definition of marriage is in flux. But it's not till our super powered friends experience marital problems that we can take the problem seriously, right? Meet Emily Edison, a 15-year old girl with super powers, whose parents are getting along so well-what's a girl to do? Writer David Hopkins has the answers in this month's "Emily Edison" full-color OGN (original graphic novel) from Viper Comics, which chronicles the adventures of the titular heroine. Hopkins spoke to CBR news about the series and explained a bit more about the main concept.

"'Emily Edison' is the story of a super-powered 15 year old girl born from an inter-dimensional marriage," he explained. "Her parents divorced when she was young and ever since, Emily's been trying to protect her home world from her semi-evil grandfather. It's funny, because this book deals with almost the exact same themes my last book 'Karma Incorporated' dealt with: personal responsibility and divorce, but the two stories couldn't be more different. Emily Edison is one of Viper's new straight-to-TPBs."

Hopkins has taken care to craft a diverse array of characters to inhabit this graphic novel, hoping that fans will find something to love in each. But he's also made sure that the characters don't fall into easily stereotypical categories, opting to eschew certain norms. "Brock [Rizy, artist on the book] and I spent a lot of time figuring out Emily. Many young girls are these super-sexy temptresses in comics. It's kind of sick, considering the 30 year old men who are creating them. Emily is cute, but she's not a size 1 or showing her cleavage with every outfit she owns. She's a normal kid, and a bit of a spaz. I think she wishes she were more popular, but we don't explore that in this story.

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"Emily's best friend is Molly Sparks. She's the top student, the inevitable Homecoming Queen. Emily and Molly have been friends for the longest time, but Molly's getting a little tired of Emily's immaturity and inter-dimensional antics. Molly's going to play a much larger role in the second volume, if we're so fortunate.

"Emily's dad John Edison is an eccentric appliance repairman who designed the atomic vacuum cleaner that caused a rift in the fabric of reality, where he met Emily's future mom. He's the prototypical single dad from any '80s teen movie. Loving, supportive, and a bit lost.

"We don't know a whole lot about Lucilliana, except she's something of a celebrity in her own world. And she was married previously. Koo is Emily's half-sister. Brock is in love with this character. She's a tough, slightly arrogant girl who is very proud of her family's noble class and their position in the alternate dimension. She constantly gets into fights with Emily, and I think it's because Koo doesn't have any other friends. Koo doesn't really know how to show someone how she feels.

"Grandpa Vigo is our antagonist. He's a loving grandfather who wants to destroy Earth in order to force Emily to live with their side of the family. He's a true mad genius, in love with his own brain."

While most would consider Hopkins' efforts to breath realism into Emily to be admirable, there's always concern that the character could swing too far on the pendulum and become more of a statement than a full fledged, fully round individual. So how does a writer walk this fine line? "The writer needs to have a clear sense of who the character is," replies Hopkins. "That's the most important thing. A well-defined character will sometimes make decisions that go contrary to the intended plot, and it's always exciting to see the story move in an new direction. Emily's done that on a few occasions in this book. It takes time to create a well-rounded character, because they start off as these clunky archetypes. 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer' was filled with stereotypes in season one. But by the second season, the characters came into their own. So much so, that fans felt a degree of ownership over the fictional creations: 'No way! Willow wouldn't do that! That's not Willow! Aaaah!' Heck, 'Citizen Kane' started as a stereotype. But by the end of the movie, you had a beautifully complex portrait of a broken man. I guess I like stories where the characters start off as these generic placeholders, and then they surprise you as they reveal more of themselves. 'The Breakfast Club' is the textbook example of this. I'm not going to come out and say in some caption box: 'Let me tell you all about Emily...' Instead, I'm going to show you Emily. And trust you to figure it out from there."

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While this isn't a deadly serious comic book, allowing for some humor and good old fashioned fun, Hopkins says that the book will deal with serious issues, but in a way appropriate for a wide breadth of readers. "The book is about divorce, but focuses on a child's dilemma and is a little more realistic. Emily having to spend her time between two different dimensions, two different worlds is a fairly obvious metaphor for any child having to divide his or her life between the mother and father. Emily has to defend her home against her other side of the family. Once again, kids deal with that issue. So many parents seem to think that divorce is the end. A family still exists even after divorce, nothing ends, the dynamics change -- and parents need to be more understanding of that fact. If a kid reads it, and Emily Edison helps them cope with their parents' divorce, I'd be so happy -- on the verge of tears happy. But bottom line, I want this to be a fun book. You don't have to beat the message in. Kids are receptive to the subtleties of a good story. By creating real consequences and drama, the stories are more enjoyable, more fun. And a giant monster wrecks havok on the city. That's good stuff."

While "Emily Edison" is an all ages book, and that potentially large audience should be considered a good thing, the term "all ages" always seems to cause some people to cringe. They imagined work that has been dumbed down for younger readers or heavily "sanitized" writing -- neither of which apply to "Emily Edison." "Come on!" exclaims Hoplins. "There's more to a story than whether or not to cuss, and show blood. Heck, I would consider Steve Niles' 'Freaks of the Heartland' to be a children's story in its development and tone, almost like a fairy tale. And it's the best thing he's ever written. The real challenge for an all ages book is to tell a good story, blow their little minds, and not to hold back -- and that sometimes means upsetting the parents. J.K. Rowling has angered a fair share of adults along the way, but all she cares about is her story.

"We need more of that kind of courage with comic book creators. The problem is we've got a whole industry of very creative comic book writers who have no clue or desire to tell a kid's story. That's sad. You've got the exceptions, and god bless them, but many more well meaning people have ruined this medium for kids. We need publishers willing to take a risk. We need school libraries willing to carry our books. We need local retailers to host more kid friendly events like Free Comic Book Day, once a month."

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While some writers and artists prefer to keep their creative duties separate, not stepping on either's toes, that's not the case with the "Emily Edison" team. Hopkins credits Rizy with much of the humor in the OGN and credits his long time friend with helping to make the project as fun as possible. "Brock & I met through some mutual friends living in Arlington [Texas]. He's always been drawing, always, but never published anything. When I started getting my stuff in print, I really wanted to work with him. He was the epitome of undiscovered talent, with an absolutely original style and voice for comics. I think Brock was hesitant, because he had his own ideas and his own projects. But Emily Edison was a pure collaboration; everything in this book is a shared idea where our two sensibilities met in the middle. It the story that only we could've told together."

If fan response warrants it, both men would love to pursue a sequel to "Emily Edison" and have ideas in mind. "We've got some great stuff for the second volume, mostly centered around Emily and Molly. If we're able, Brock is going to also do a Koo one-shot, which he will write and illustrate. And beyond our creator-owned stuff, we have a project we want to do for DC Comics, but I don't think anyone there knows we exist. Hello?"

And for fans of Hopkins' "Karma Incorporated," the wait for a follow-up may not be much longer. "Tom Kurzanski and I are currently talking with Viper Comics about a second series, "Karma Incorporated: Vice and Virtue". It's already written, and Tom's even pencilled a few pages, but we have to work out some details to see if it's doable. At the soonest, we're looking at the first series trade paper back being released in Spring 2007 with "Vice and Virtue" coming out a few months later."

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