This month's theme of Love naturally led us to 12 Reasons Why I Love Her by Joëlle Jones and Jamie S. Rich. This graphic novel was named a recommended read in the October 2010 issue, and I recommend it to people whether or not they are comic fans, because the story transcends the format and will snag the hearts of romantics as well as graphic novel enthusiasts. Jamie was kind enough to tell me about the origins of the book:
It all seems so simple now, I can barely believe it. It was a Saturday night, I think in 2003, and I was bored and trying to think of a side project to write during breaks from my second novel, The Everlasting. I am a big fan of good romantic movies, particularly Hollywood classics with Cary Grant or the Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy pairings, and I started to think about the modern equivalent. If it were possible to write a movie like The Apartment or Two for the Road now, how would I do it? I don’t know if I was conscious of the Two for the Road connection at that very moment, but Stanley Donen’s 1966 masterpiece would end up being a real inspiration for what I was about to cook up. In it, Audrey Hepburn and Albert Finney play a married couple who are heading for the rocks, and by criss-crossing several narrative timelines at once, Donen lets us compare and contrast and see how they got from very young love to very old love by drawing ingenious parallels between the jumbled stages of their life together.
I began with my two main characters, Gwen and Evan. I don’t generally talk about this much, but the germ for them both was the casting for this imaginary film. At that time, I couldn’t think of a better pair for a movie than Gwyneth Paltrow and Ewan McGregor. I envisioned the opening scene, a tricky intro that at first glance would look like the first time these two had met. Borrowing the title 12 Reasons Why I Love Her from a song by the British band My Life Story, I quickly began to map out twelve more chapters, setting a gameplan for how I would lay this story out. Chronological order would be jettisoned. I’d start with the first date, but I’d end with the real first meeting. There would be big events, but we would maybe see the fall-out from those events before we actually get there. And there would be abstract sections. I’d have one where Gwen would tell jokes, and maybe one about things she liked, and there would have to be a childhood flashback. Given the title, it would all be Evan’s point of view, and each chapter had to have some rationalization for how he knew what he knew if he wasn’t actually a part of it. The idea was that by timing the flow of information, I could simulate the scattered and disjointed experience of a real relationship, chronicle the good and the bad, and chart the uneven ground that an honest love must traverse to stay alive. The outline came quickly, like tuning in a radio signal and twisting the knobs until I had identified all the frequencies.
The movie idea went away pretty fast, as did the casting. The characters, as they are wont to do, took on a life of their own, and I only had a couple of toes in before I knew I wanted this to be a comic book instead. I fired up my scriptwriting program and banged out the prologue. That first draft is exactly what you see in the first pages of the book. It never changed. Only my first novel, Cut My Hair, arrived as so clear a vision, where I knew right from the start what I wanted to happen. With that book, I wrote the first chapter, and then I wrote the last page, and proceeded from there to fill in the rest. 12 Reasons Why I Love Her was pretty much the same.
12 Reasons, then, was always a book that seem buoyed by fate. Everything happened for a reason, everything came together as it was supposed to. Naturally, the biggest event was finding Joëlle Jones and her agreeing to draw it. Our first meeting was in a coffee shop, and the conversation thankfully resembled more of Gwen and Evan’s second first date rather than their first first date. We became fast friends and remain pals and collaborators now some five years later. Her art took the material in all the right places, expanding on what I had envisioned, and making it all look so elegantly simple.
12 Reasons Why I Love Her is one of those fortunate books that keeps finding new readers, that has a life of its own. Different people find different things in its pages, they react in different ways. I commonly ask new fans what they think happens next. Do Gwen and Evan stay together, or is it over? I know my answer, and I know what feeling I wanted the reader to walk away with, but it’s out of my hands now...and in all of yours.
- Jamie S. Rich