I’ve come to describe the Rose Madder project as my deconstructionist romance comic (kinda, sorta).  I think that makes for a good soundbite, but the truth of it is a little more complex and has traveled a fair distance to end up being the story presented here.

I started writing portions of this story and its sequel (more on that later) well over 17 years ago, when I was still living a past life in Berkeley, California and working as a live-in assistant to a quadriplegic UC researcher (similarities to characters in this webcomic are purely coincidental–joking;  actually, I’m all of these characters, to a point).  I had a few minor comics gigs happening at the time, mostly at that point for Caliber Press.  Kurt Cobain was still alive.  That’s how long ago it was.

The story, which was then set in a fictional California town called Vanderdeck (which would have been a rather thinly-veiled alias for Berkeley), was pretty much always conceived as a hybrid of  indie and genre conventions.  It was more of a mystery story, with a healthy political subtext, and, just as now, a slight mystical/paranormal bent.  Tarpit was the protagonist, as was a character named Marta who has since been pretty much downgraded into the character of Lisa in Rose Madder.

I definitely remember there was a point where I started describing it as a cross between Archie and The X-Files.  Don’t ask.

Then I moved to Market Street in San Francisco for a few years, and then to the Los Angeles area to start a brand spanking new life as an animation artist.  Some career-building and a couple failed relationships later, I took the story idea out of mothballs, this time to try to develop it as a pitch for an animated series–before I quickly realized that NO ONE in Hollywood would EVER be interested in Rose Madder the Series.  Still, it was at this point where the “dysfunctional relationship” aspect of the story was developed, as was the idea of Rose and Tarpit being online pals who get dangerously close despite having never met each other IRL.  Hey, it was the early 2000s.  The concept was still sort-of novel.

Then, along came TOKYOPOP and a little contest called Rising Stars of Manga.

By 2003, after a several-year hiatus from comics work to focus on animation (pays a LOT better), I started itching for the chance to do more comics again.  Because, as difficult as it is to make comics financially viable, there is nothing like being able to create, from whole cloth, a story that you have total control over.  So I decided to condense my basic idea for Rose Madder into a 20-page story for the Rising Stars competition.  Knowing the target audience of TOKYOPOP’s manga collections was mostly teenaged girls, I thought it might be the perfect venue for my little romance/anti-romance story.  As a concession to my perceived audience, I introduced the historical romance/ancient Egypt reincarnation motif just to put a point on my basic theme of an eternal dysfunctional romance.  Which is a concept I find both extremely funny and highly relevant to my own little, paltry existence on this earth.

The story I submitted, “Ozymandias”, placed in the 2003 competition and was published in 2004 in Rising Stars of Manga Volume 3.  You can buy it!

Everything here on this website basically came out of the foundation laid down by “Ozymandias”.  Although the present-day story of Rose and Tarpit was always meant to be the one I was most interested in telling, writing “Ozymandias” allows me the opportunity to play with the idea of reintroducing a historical context.  So the past, present and future of these characters are all on the table to explore here.

This webcomic, Rose Madder, is a serialized graphic novel.  It is a finite story and will have an ending.  As of this writing (November 2011, about a year and a half since the webcomic’s debut) I see the story lasting at least for another couple of years, given my present output of one page a week (updated Mondays!), with a few weeks of extra, supplemental material between each chapter.  This is a long-form project that will hopefully be extra-rewarding to readers who stick it out for the long haul, although it’s also my hope that there’s enough to keep you interested week after week, even if the basic plot may seem to be moving at a snail’s pace at times.

(Although it’s probably apparent to anyone by now that I’m probably more concerned with characterization and embarrassing musical allusions than in anything resembling a plot-driven machine.)

And oh, yeah, there’s a sequel.  More on that later.

For more about the development of Rose Madder, read the introductory essays I wrote for my artblog:

A History of Rose Madder, Part 1: A Love-Gone-Wrong Song
A History of Rose Madder, Part 2: Rising Stars Of Manga

(Apologies to Roy Lichtenstein and the poor unnamed comics artist he stole this image from.)