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Good Luck: J. Torres and Jinx

She's been around since the '40s, but it's taken this long for Lil Jinx to reach high school! Now writer J. Torres is tackling the newly revamped teen series and taking on the big issues of teen life today, from love and homework to dealing with parents, bullying, sexism, and more. It's a broad-reaching series with great ambitions, and we talked to Torres about what makes Jinx such a good-luck charm.

How did you get involved in the Jinx relauch?
I was already doing some stuff for Archie at the time, about a year and a half ago. They were looking for somebody to help them with this revival of Jinx. The idea originated with John Goldwater, I think, and then editor Suzannah Rowntree put together a pitch laying the groundwork for the series. Then they went looking for a creative team, and they asked me if I was interested in writing it.
Jinx has been around for decades as L’il Jinx. Were you pretty familiar with her?
Oh, yeah. I’ve been reading Archie comics since I was a kid and I always remembered Jinx as the sort of the Dennis the Menace of the Archie universe. Her one-page strips were in the digests that I used to read as a kid. So when they told me about her relaunch, I knew what they were talking about for sure.
What did you like about her?
Well, she’s kind of—and again, the comparisons to characters like Dennis the Menace and even Bart Simpson are inevitable; she’s sort of like a female version of that. I always thought she was funny, particularly when she butted heads with her dad. I always thought those were the most fun of the strips. She’s the kind of character that butts heads and crosses swords with everybody in her world, including her best friend, so I always thought it was a fun comic-strip concept. Bringing that to a modern audience, I thought, would be an interesting project.
How has she been modernized? How would you describe her and the rest of the cast now?
We look at the series overall as a cross between Degrassi: The Next Generation and something like iCarly. So it’s about teenagers, but not the sort of squeaky clean, wholesome approach that Archie is generally known for and not necessarily too serious and dramatic the way the Degrassi series is known for. So somewhere in the middle. It’s supposed to be funny and a little crude and a little over the top at times, but we’re tackling more relevant issues to teenagers today than you might see in a typical Archie comic book.
How so? What are some of the issues?
The first thing that we decided to tackle was just how boys and girls are sort of segregated whether intentionally or not once they start high school. Jinx, or should I say L’il Jinx, is a very sporty girl and she’s used to playing sports with the boys, including Little League baseball, and when it comes time, when she starts freshman year, she discovers that not only is there a baseball team only for boys, but the girls only have a softball team. So that segregation of the sexes then extends to the way male-female relationships are just looked at differently. Her best friend is a boy named Greg. Once she gets into high school, people start to question if they dating, is there a romantic thing going on there? They can’t just be friends, of course; that’s the assumption by a lot of kids. They can’t just hang out anymore. So we’re looking at gender roles and gender politics in the series. Of course, not too seriously, not too heavy handedly, because we want it to be fun, but at the same time we want it to tell some stories that people relate to. The interesting thing is that Suzannah Rowntree, the editor, and I talk about these things and our experiences growing up and going to high school and how that changed us. We both had similar experiences with athletics and with our male-female relationships and with cliques breaking up and people that you hung out with in grade school finding other interests and finding other people to hang out with and that breaks up the old gang, and how does that affect you? Just different rules, you know? You start high school and you’re given a whole new set of rules, for school, for academics, for behavior, that sort of thing. And then there are the social rules and the things that quietly govern the way we look at boys and girls and how they’re supposed to interact with each other.
Are there limits to how far you can go, what you can portray as you attempt to appeal to a teen audience?
There’s nothing really in place, but as we go along, we discuss how far to push certain things. For example, let’s just say there are certain things that I want to do with certain characters—you know, we talk about teenagers and sexuality, and just boys and girls learning about the birds and the bees. How far can we go there? Also, the relationship issues between mom and dad. In the story, Jinx’s parents are separated and we didn’t know how far to delve into that because that then becomes the focus. And of course we want this to be focused on Jinx as much as possible. And also, how heavy the drama can get versus keeping it lighthearted and fun. We’re sort of learning as we go along. And also we’re very conscious of the fact that we’re not only trying to appeal to the kids but the people who are sort of our first line of sales and marketing, which is the librarians and the educators and the parents, who tend to buy the material for the kids and put it in their hands. While on the one hand I have my own sensibilities, there’s also the Archie sensibility to consider and what would appeal to kids and what we’re quote-unquote “allowed” to do that would be okay with librarians and them shopping the books, and parents and them picking up the books for their kids. It’s a very interesting time for Archie, with [gay character] Kevin Keller, with Married Life, and them sort of pushing the envelope, and not only pushing the envelope for Archie, but pushing the envelope period. You don’t see any of the other major comic book companies having a gay character as the lead of his own book. So it’s a very interesting time and the tween market has a more modern or more realistic sensibility that is also new to Archie. They’re very used to telling these, for lack of a better word, wholesome goofy stories about dating. Up until The Married Life, you never really discussed whether Archie, Betty, and Veronica were sexually active. With something like Jinx, we’re probably going to get into that at some point. I mean, they’re still freshmen right now, but it’s inevitable that we get to that eventually. There are no rules in place right now, but we’re going to find out how far we can push things over the next volume or two.
Over the next couple volumes, will they be aging into sophomore year and beyond?
The plan from the beginning, the way I pitched the story I wanted to tell, was to do a graphic novel per semester. So in a four-year high school, we would do eight in total, and that would take place over about eight years in terms of publishing time. Right now this book tells a story that’s set in first semester of freshman year. The book I’m working on right now tells a story that takes place over second semester of freshman year. So it’ll go like that over the following six volumes. We’ve also discussed if the books do well enough we might slide a summer vacation or spring break volume in there, just to tell more stories.
You mentioned the librarians and teachers who put the books into the readers’ hands. What kind of interaction do you have with them and how do you bring up possible controversial themes that might be worked into the series?
From my standpoint, I have very little direct contact with them. Now of course the editors and the marketing people and the publicity department at Archie, they have more interaction with them. They do a lot of seminars and conventions and that kind of thing where they talk with the librarians about how their books are doing and especially the stuff that’s a little more controversial. The way I like to do it is I just try to tell the story that I want to tell and tell it in the most honest and best way possible, and then there’s sort of a trial and error thing to see how people come back to us with feedback. Now, we did ALA Midwinter a couple of months ago and we distributed a bunch of ARCs and the feedback we got from librarians there was overwhelmingly positive, so I think we’re on the right track. We’ll see. So far, no negative feedback and everybody seems to like the kind of story we’re trying to tell.
Archie has modernized throughout their line the past few years, adapting to the readership of now.
It’s a very interesting time to be working at Archie. They’re doing stuff that is very bold, but from the old-school comic book standpoint of things, it seems very radical and very controversial. As far as the big three or four comic book publishers out there, it’s very surprising and almost ironic that Archie is the one that is getting the attention for doing the controversial stuff. It’s interesting and it’s exciting and so far the reaction has been pretty good. Of course you’ve got naysayers and the people boycotting or whatever. But for the most part, I think the reception has been positive.
Speaking of old school comics, how cool is it that you have Terry Austin doing the inks on this book?
I can’t even begin to tell you how surreal that is! As a teenager, around Jinx’s age, freshman year, I was reading mostly X-Men and Marvel comics, superhero comics, and Terry Austin was probably the first inker whose name I committed to memory. The fact that I’m sharing a credit box with him is incredible. I wish I could look up some friends I knew in high school who I’ve lost touch with—who were all into comics, especially the whole Chris Claremont, John Byrne, Terry Austin Uncanny X-Men—if I told them I was working with Terry Austin, it would almost be like I told them I was playing hockey with Guy Lafleur. It’s that level for us. And the interesting thing about the look of the books is I just love Rick Burchett’s art. If you look at what Rick is doing right now, he’s working on three different projects. One is the new Batman: The Brave and the Bold, which of course has the style of the cartoon. Then there’s the webcomic he’s doing with Greg Rucka called Lady Sabre, which is a more realistic style and it’s a swashbuckling steampunk adventure. And then you look at Jinx, which is about a bunch of high school students. These are all drawn by the same guy and it’s so diverse and it looks so great. It’s a marvel to see how many styles he can juggle at the same time.
What do you have planned with the supporting cast’s storylines?
The thing we’re trying to do with everybody, including the supporting cast, is take what they were in the original strips and evolve them in a logical fashion. But at the same time trying something different and new. So you’ve got a character like, say, Charlie, who’s kind of a bit of a bully, but he was also the fat kid and the butt of a lot of jokes. So in thinking about him and his character and his personality, we brought him forward to freshman year, and he’s using his size to his advantage in I think a funny way. One of the lines he says in the book is “You can tease me all you want about my size, but I’m using it to up my stock in the school by joining the football team and hanging out with the jocks,” which is something he probably couldn’t do if he wasn’t as big as he was, so we’re trying to flip those stereotypes around a little bit and still make it fun but still do something a little unexpected. We could have kept him as a bully, but I decided I wanted to try something a little different. But at the same time, he still is kind of mean and he picks on Jinx. The thing for me, the logical step from that pigtail-pulling kid was that he had a crush on her, which seems to be part of the psychology. The guy who’s pulling on a girl’s pigtails is probably crushing on her in a way that he can’t explain as a kid, but in high school it comes out as a full-blown crush. We’re trying to take those little character moments and quirks and personalities that they had in the original strip and see what would this be like if they grew up and this was for real? And then when I get that answer, I try to flip it a little bit just so I do something a little unexpected.
Anything coming up in the second semester you want to tease?
One of the most asked question we’re getting already is where’s Jinx’s mom? She was pretty absent from the original comics. We decided to make the parents separated, so we’re going to get into that a little bit and why and how it affects Jinx and how it makes her the ornery, kind of spunky person that she is. So more about mom and of course the different mommy issues that come with that. Everyone can relate to that on some level. And also in the first book, Jinx is trying to find her place at school in terms of athletics. We start to find her carve a niche out for herself, and that arc is going to continue throughout the whole series.