Kyle Scher: Hello everyone this is Kyle Scher from The Daily Fandom. This past week I was able to attend Thought Bubble in Leeds in the United Kingdom which is a comics festival slash Comic-Con celebrating comics from all over the world and its history and what unique art form it is.
Greg Rucka was there and I approached him to do an interview and he was more than willing to do an interview and he… a matter of fact gave me an hour and forty minutes of his time which I thought was wonderful. And due to his busy schedule, we actually had to break it up into two sessions and you’ll hear the changeover during the second half. We have… It was seven hours later he was quite tired but he was still more than willing to give this interview and I thought that was very nice of him so please enjoy.
Greg Rucka: So it’s a lovely morning Leeds meaning it’s overcast and chilly. We’re sitting outside of the Café Nero just off the Headrow.
Kyle Scher: Alright so, to start of this interview I was going to start out rather light… I guess like for you…for, I’m the massive fan of The Question.
Greg Rucka: I can tell.
Kyle Scher: Yeah.
Greg Rucka: I love your shirt.
Kyle Scher: And I had you sign several Question comics yesterday.
Greg Rucka: Yeah.
Kyle Scher: So you have mentioned that the Dennis O’Neil run on The Question is very underappreciated.
Greg Rucka: Yeah, I think the Dennis/Denys run is often overlooked because I think that…I think that run is deserving of one of those big massive oversized hardcover ultimate editions.
Kyle Scher: Yeah.
Greg Rucka: I think that in particular, the first twenty-four issues are a remarkable piece of comics writing. You know everybody overlooks it because at the same time that Dennis was doing Question… you know we had Watchman, we had…in particular we had Sandman. It was Gaiman and everybody was going oh look at what Neil is doing, he so profound and just speaking personally I think one of the things that really building about the writing. Was that you know Dennis is…Well, Dennis is a master.
Kyle Scher: Yes.
Greg Rucka: That’s period. But, he was writing something that was both intensely personal and I think incredibly subtle. I just… I think it’s an amazing as an analysis of madness and the nature of sanity and how society defines what is acceptable behavior and what isn’t?
Kyle Scher: Yeah.
Greg Rucka: It’s a remarkable piece of work.
Kyle Scher: I absolutely agree. I’ve been doing sort of a very rough analysis of it on the website and I’ve just been going issue by issue and I read it a good twenty times over the years. But I was going back and I’m seeing so much more…
Greg Rucka: Never mind just the sheer craft I mean and there is the technical… the technical skill of the series is remarkable. That’s one of the best first issues of any comic you’re going to read, it’s an unbelievable first issue.
Kyle Scher: The sheer audacity to kill the main character.
Greg Rucka: Yeah, exactly I’m going to say that this is how we’re starting. But it sets the whole tone of the series you know what does it mean to have a second chance at life? What does it mean to remake yourself?
Kyle Scher: Yep.
Greg Rucka: And Charlie’s journey through the series is a very sincere journey. You know his questions are real.
Kyle Scher: So, I wanted to know what… what drew you to the book initially. Uh, to The Question and sort of how did it impact you when you first read it?
Greg Rucka: Uhmm, I found the book when I was in college. I went to Vaster and there was a comic book store about six blocks from campus on the corner and I had a couple of friends that would go when we had money. And I picked it up and one of my friends who to this day is one of my best friends was a psych student and it was he who pointed out the Szasz connection. Because he’d been reading, Szasz, they’d been reading the Myth of Mental Illness.
So it’s sort of… you know I thought it was cool like I said I read that first issue and I was like this is amazing and also we can spend hours just talking about how remarkable Shiva is as a character. But I remember my friend’s name is Anzio and when he pointed this out I kind of went back through it and I reread it. And then I realized all this other stuff is active in the text. You know all this there and it wasn’t as if it was this revelation that oh, comics can be these very deep works.
You know Maus had happened you know things… we were… I was aware. But, I had yet to read something like and honestly, the Watchman I appreciate the Watchman for what it is, the Watchman is a slog, the Watchman is not a fun comic, alright. You don’t read the Watchman and go well, that was a great time. You don’t, you just don’t. You come out of the Watchman and go like wow, what a bleak nihilistic view in the universe. I’ve always responded to media and art that can be two things at once. To answering the question…
Kyle Scher: Also nice pun!
Greg Rucka: Yeah. Pretty much how I sign all my Question books these days. Look all entertainment is art whether it wants to be or not, it could be Three’s Company, it can be Money Python you know it can be Shakespeare. But, however, we value the art right, it is or the entertainment, the entertainment has a message and it always does. And the presumption that for the entertainment to have value it has to be grim and serious and grave, is fallacious. I can entertain and still try to say something of merit. Now, my ability to succeed at that is its own thing, right? I may not be successful but I can sure as hell try.
I think one of the things that Dennis and Denys did so well is you know The Question is entertaining. It’s absolutely entertaining, it is compelling, it’s exciting, and the suspense in the book is excellent. The approach to depicting martial arts was unique, I mean you’d never seen, you really hadn’t seen hand to hand fighting in a comic that was so clearly visual. Like you could follow move to move in a way that I think was kind of revelatory and I think frankly, has changed the industry since then. I think you see a lot of people trying to emulate it and they don’t even know that they do that now.
Something the book was a hell of a lot of fun and yet in the middle of this book that was a hell of a lot of fun there’s Dennis talking about some pretty deep stuff. So, that you know that’s my bailiwick, you know that was right up my alley. I loved it.
Kyle Scher: As a follow up…
Greg Rucka: Yeah.
Kyle Scher: What issue do you think encapsulates what that series is all about?
Greg Rucka: I don’t remember the issue number but it’s the American flag face.
Kyle Scher: Issue fourteen.
Greg Rucka: It’s issue fourteen.
Kyle Scher: Yeah.
Greg Rucka: I think unquestionably – again another pun – but I think that that is a remarkable… Again a remarkable piece of writing you know what Dennis did in that issue was brave as hell.
Kyle Scher: Yes.
Greg Rucka: He literally took the main character and buried him up to his neck. The guy never moves. And what’s the battle in that issue right?
Kyle Scher: Yeah.
Greg Rucka: That’s an entirely internal conflict that Charlie wins without fighting. And I think that is extraordinary.
Kyle Scher: Yeah, one thing that always stood out to me for that issue was the playing with gender stereotypes. Because you have Vic fighting against toxic masculinity with the you have to fight through the pain. You’ve got to accept the pain so he can’t be the tough guy you know the toxic masculinity ideal thing and then you’ve got Myra who is being marginalized in the political field for being a woman and having a child out of wedlock. And…
Greg Rucka: At a time when that was far more scandalous. Yeah, I mean the book is you know we… it’s almost what thirty years old, I mean we are…and it’s hard to remember the historical moment of these things. And as you know Dennis is a pinko, you know he is as liberal as they come. And…
Kyle Scher: I think both of us are.
Greg Rucka: Well… but he you know the thing is he was unafraid. You know so I just yeah… but that issue in particular and you’re right and that was the other thing that was going on. Is that every…and now that I think about it I kind of realize that I stole this with both hands when we approach 52.
I think the thing that sort of elevates Dennis’s Question is that the book was built around a thematic question. It wasn’t built around a plot question or a character question. Both plot and character answered in service of the initial thematic and as a result, almost every issue in the series is an issue that posed a thematic question. And then… and never did so… Never did so in it’s an after-school special sort of way.
Kyle Scher: Yeah.
Greg Rucka: You know it allowed it to be subtle, and sometimes it wasn’t even overt. But it always… it was always present.
Kyle Scher: Uhmm, so continuing on with The Question thing and we…us talking about Dennis.
Greg Rucka: More questions about Question.
Kyle Scher: Yeah, there’s only a few more like that. So we don’t have to get to all the questions so, what was it like working with Dennis on Question #37, the Blackest Night thing?
Greg Rucka: It was a little strange. Because frankly Dennis had been pretty marginalized by DC prior to that and had been pretty bruised and I had really unwittingly been a bad actor in that. I was really young when I came in and Dennis was my rabbi and when he left and the new guy came in with the bat group and so on. There were a lot of politics at work that I was oblivious to, I just didn’t know I was living in Oregon and I was believing what people were telling me and I wasn’t hearing from Dennis.
And what I have come to learn far too late is that Dennis was treated remarkably shabbily. So when we had this opportunity to do this story and you know, it’s Blackest Night and Blackest Night is… You know Blackest Night is straight down the rail is Geoff Johns. It’s how can I do something that will please the most people you know, that’s what he writes. He doesn’t… he…his events are designed to please and Blackest Night was very much that.
Kyle Scher: I always saw it as a sort of fan-servicey way to resurrect a bunch of characters before they did the big reboot. Because it was like a year or two out from The New 52.
Greg Rucka: Yeah and I suspect they knew that they were headed towards The New 52 and you have to understand that for me was not a great time at DC either. That you know that issue was one of the last things I did before going I am done with you people. So, I think that there was enough distance for Dennis that he was sort of like I’m not sure how I feel about this and I think our excitement around it like everybody who was working on it… I think he was a little tired, I think he was like whatever I’m not even sure I understand this event and you know wait a minute you know Charlie’s dead.
The this and that, it was interesting because he had never…he… And it’s funny you experience this the older you get in the industry when you’re young and you come in and you’re desperate to make your mark and one of the ways that you make your mark. And you do it without really thinking of it is you take what other people have done and you change it and sometimes you change it in ways that it was never meant to be changed. And sometimes you break it and I think for Dennis, he at that point, I remember one of the things he’d said was that if he had had the chance to go back and do The Question over again he wouldn’t change the character the way he did.
And you do it without really thinking of it is you take what other people have done and you change it and sometimes you change it in ways that it was never meant to be changed. And sometimes you break it and I think for Dennis, he at that point, I remember one of the things he’d said was that if he had had the chance to go back and do The Question over again he wouldn’t change the character the way he did.
But that said mainstream comics is an integrative form, the characters are not owned by the creators, they’re owned by the company and one of the jobs when you work from Marvel or a DC is to engage and sort of reinvent and to re-contextualize these things. So it was weird, it was a little mixed honestly I mean it’s a fun issue. I don’t think it’s particularly profound, it was very much sort of like a… it’s a reunion episode if anything.
Kyle Scher: Yeah.
Greg Rucka: And for those of us who they say you know worship at the Dennis/Denys altar it was a big deal, I think for Dennis himself he was kind of like yeah alright I’ll do it.
Kyle Scher: Yeah.
Greg Rucka: You know. I love him you know he is one of the… not even talking about technical skills you know I’m not talking about him as a writer or you know as an editor. He’s genuinely one of the best people I’ve ever met. Like I said there’s… I have a lot of regret, I really wish I had known what was going on back in those days because I like to think I would have acted very differently.
Kyle Scher: So interestingly, we were going from one of the last things you did to one of the first things you did. You end up writing… one of the first things you wrote was a short story for the Batman Chronicles anthology.
Greg Rucka: Was actually the second thing I wrote for DC…
Kyle Scher: Yeah.
Greg Rucka: But it was the first thing published.
Kyle Scher: And that issue, I go back to a lot. I absolutely love it.
Greg Rucka: Really?
Kyle Scher: Yeah, I think it’s a very interesting take on this character who had been introduced in an animated series. And hadn’t really had a lot of character development and then all of a sudden you come in with such a unique voice for her and I was interested in where did you as a writer… When did you come in with the connection to her and Harvey?
Greg Rucka: We’re talking about Renee?
Kyle Scher: Yeah, Renee.
Greg Rucka: So that’s for purposes of interview, just to be clear.
Kyle Scher: I figured it was contextual.
Greg Rucka: It is, it absolutely is. I had graduated college and gotten into grad school at USC in a writing program and my wife is also a writer Jennifer Van Meter. And I had moved basically from New York to California and then in California, we’d end up in LA. And we were in married student housing, we had literally gotten married to get the married student housing. Like we knew we would get married but I was like let’s do it really quickly, let’s have a JP service so we’ll actually be able to get married student housing.
And, so we end up at USC its ‘91, it’s… and we’re just dirt poor. So entertainment for us was an old ratty VCR and a really crappy television and playing a lot of Scrabble. And the Batman Animated Series had just started and we were really both taken by it so we were recording and watching the episodes.
And when Renee was introduced in the series and again, it seems so dumb to talk about this in 2018, she hadn’t been seen. You had not seen on television in the main and certainly not in an animated series you know Gargoyles plays with this as well. But here’s this Latina cop and she’s in uniform and she’s not throw away and she had a name and she had a presence and I was really taken by… I was taken by the choice that Dini and Burnett you know and Timm had made to…
And I don’t even know if they did it intentionally you know to put these you know boots on the ground because Harvey was really the focus, right? Harvey Bullock was really the focus there. But it made Renee… Renee was us and in that, you can probably see the first seeds of Gotham Central.
Kyle Scher: Yes, absolutely.
Greg Rucka: And I responded to that really strongly. And I spent a lot of time thinking about her and then you know they introduced her into the comics and Dixon wrote her you know a few times and she was showing up. And the more I sort of found about her the more… and I don’t know why. I realize certain things about the character to me, it was very clear to me well she’s gay.
Kyle Scher: Yeah.
Greg Rucka: She’s in the closet and it wasn’t then… I guarantee you I put that on her, I know I put that on her.
Kyle Scher: In the series bible for the Batman Animated Series they’d actually listed she had a husband and I look back on it now and go huh.
Greg Rucka: Well you…nowhere in there does it tell you that.
Kyle Scher: Yeah.
Greg Rucka: I remember being told once early it’s like when you see she goes on dates and so on and I said yes, it’s called beard dating.
Kyle Scher: Yeah.
Greg Rucka: You know. I mean it means nothing.
Kyle Scher: And I think in her first appearance in a Batman comic she expresses attraction to Commissioner Gordon.
Greg Rucka: Yeah, something like and it’s like okay and if you think about that and again, you think about the period well of course she does, right. Because if I’m a closeted lesbian and I don’t want anybody to know and we always have to assume, you always have to operate from the premise that the Gotham City Police Department is the worst, right?
Kyle Scher: Yeah.
Greg Rucka: Which means the people in it 95% of them are the worst right. They’re going to be homophobic, prejudice, racist, horrible people. They are all corrupt because if the department works you don’t need a Batman, okay. So the first principle of the GCPD is it sucks alright, so if you take a character right who’s trying to be a good cop who knows this about herself. Well, she sure as hell isn’t going to let anybody else know that so what do you do. You look at the one guy who is absolutely unattainable, absolutely unattainable and okay, well now everybody goes alright she’s straight but she’s stupid.
Kyle Scher: Yeah.
Greg Rucka: Right, if that’s if that’s who she’s carrying a torch for right now we know that’s a signal to stay off limits, it’s kind of a clever hiding move right it’s good camouflage.
So I had written I think my third novel was coming out and I had a friend who worked at DC whose boss had read my books, I had been at Wonder Con back when it was in Oakland, California. And at BarCon and they had just had a bloodletting in the Bat-office and I was talking to this woman, she was at the show Patty Jerris and she said if I thought you had any interest in it, I would suggest you write Batman.
And I remember blinking and looking at her and saying, of course, I want to write Batman. I was writing effectively PI fiction that was my first love, I think he’s the ultimate private eye how would I… who in the world would not want to do that? And she said well next time you’re in New York let me know and I’ll get you in to see Dennis.
So the way she tells it is you know I was going out to see my publisher and I’ve told this story many times, this is not a new story but I was going out to see my publisher and I said I’m going to be out there I would love to meet Dennis, Dennis O’Neil. And as Patty tells it she walked into Dennis’s office and she had a copy of my first novel Keeper and she had a copy of the second novel Finder. And she walks in and she says so there’s this writer and Dennis points at the second one and says where did you get that? And she says I just picked it up and he said I read the first one and I love it, I didn’t know there was a second. And she said well, he’s going to be here.
So Dennis and I met and we went for lunch and I fawned all over to The Question run and we had a really good lunch and he basically said I’ll tell you what why don’t you write me a story and we’ll see if…we’ll see if you can actually do this. Because writing comics is not writing prose, at all! They are entirely different animals.
Kyle Scher: I uh…at university I learned how to write both because I took a degree in creative writing and it’s a different skill.
Greg Rucka: It’s absolutely… it’s an entirely different skill set and to say that writing comics is more like writing a screenplay is actually fallacious as well.
Kyle Scher: Correct.
Greg Rucka: It is its own form and so you know I’m like absolutely I had an idea for this story. I’m like great I’ve got this story, I’ve got this great… I’ve got an idea for a story and he had pitched to me what was going on. He had said you know we’ve had… we’re doing this earthquake thing. So on the plane back to Oregon I actually drafted that Two Down short story. And you know typed it up and sent it and pretty much the next thing I knew DC was throwing work at me you know, Dennis and Jordan Gorfinkel and you know all the editors there and Jill Elledge was editing at that time, all of a sudden I’m getting, you know, they’re like write this, write this, write this.
So I wrote Two Down and then they said we’re doing Batman Chronicles do you have anything for that? And I was still in this Renee mode right, I had done this first story that struck me you know like I said, I really like the idea of the Harvey/Renee relationship. Like at that point to me if everybody in the DC Universe has a special ability or superpower Renee’s ability was she could get both Harvey and Two-Face to listen to her.
That was always the way that I approached it. And pretty much when I’d finished Two Down I knew well, if she can reach both of them then that’s… she’s the one thing both of them can agree on. They like her and if they both like her then that makes sense that they’re both going to fall for her. And if they both fall for her, there is a story where that creates a problem because she doesn’t go that way.
So I wrote Two Down and by the time I was done with two down I knew the Half a Life arc, I knew where that was going. So yeah, I wrote the short story just because I was really in her head but oddly for me, it’s the Benny story and I had wanted to give her this family. Because I think having sort of realized slash resolve that she was queer then it became a question of why is she not…? What are the tensions there? What’s going on?
And it was clear to me that she was from a, you know, she’s a second generation immigrant clearly somewhere in Latin America so I think I decided the Dominican Republic. Which led very naturally to Catholicism, which led very naturally to them ain’t no way her parents are going to be down with that. Which also led to then she’s not an only child she’s got a sibling, which led to Benny.
So that was sort of the gestation of that story and then the story itself was based on a story, and it was a story it turns out, but on a fiction that have been shared with me by somebody else, that’s how you get it.
Kyle Scher: Interesting.
Greg Rucka: Yeah, mostly that… and that’s mostly DC you know that was Denny or Gorf basically saying we… can you do a short story because we don’t have time to have this thing drawn but we could do some spot illos. And I was like Oh yeah, hell because I was also young so I didn’t need to sleep and I was writing fast then.
I’m much slower these days and in those days they could literally say to me we need the script by tomorrow and I could give them a twenty-two-page script by tomorrow that wouldn’t suck. So they liked me because I was quick, I was competent and occasionally I was good. And yeah… and they had all these balls in the air you know I mean No Man’s Land started and I think from their perspective and again this is not to pat me on the head.
But I think from their perspective they’re like thank God this guy showed up when he did you know we got just in the nick of time we have this voice. And that sort of set the tone really for my relationship with DC for a very long time because I was a utility player there for a very long time.
Kyle Svher: Sort of bounding off of mentioning Half a Life.
Greg Rucka: Yeah.
Kyle Scher: I absolutely adore that story arc.
Greg Rucka: So do I. I’m still really proud of it.
Kyle Scher: And yesterday, during your paneling you were talking about the small character moments and the ending of that where she just breaks down and cries to Dee is just so heartbreaking.
So Gotham Central is an absolutely phenomenal comic.
Greg Rucka: Thank you.
Kyle Scher: And I recommend it to anyone.
Greg Rucka: It’s a really good book for people who are like I don’t like comics, I don’t like superheroes and being able to put Central in front of them and say you might dig this then.
Kyle Scher: Yeah, I ran my university’s comic book society for two years and I had a lot of people that were brand new in the comics and stuff and I’m like Ed Brubaker and Greg Rucka’s Gotham Central, read it. Because they were like I’m not really sure about superheroes. Read it and then get back to me and they would always go oh my god, I’m in love with you know this character and this character. And I’m like well if you love Renee here is about fifty more.
Greg Rucka: Here’s…There’s a lot of Renee!
Kyle Scher: So, it seems like such a gamble for DC to take a book focused on the cops…
Greg Rucka: Yep!
Kyle Scher: with barely any Batman in it.
Greg Rucka: Yep.
Kyle Scher: What was it like pitching to them that book?
Greg Rucka: We…okay so, Ed and I met at a writers retreat during the changeover between Dennis and Bob Schreck and it was at Dennis’s home in Upper Nyack. And I hadn’t met Ed and I had been carrying around and I talked about this too, I had been carrying around a page of Wizard Magazine that I’d torn out where they’d done a pie chart poll of what Batman character deserves his own book? And the hands-down winner was Gordon.
And Ed and I was standing outside and I forget how it came up but we were both all of a sudden talking about how we wanted to write about the cops. And here’s this pie chart and we got this idea for this book. And Ed had worked with Michael Lark so Ed brought Michael in and we had… it actually took heavy lifting. We uhmm… there was a separate retreat, I want to say like six months later or a meeting this was in Manhattan. I remember being in a conference room it was Carlin was still editor in chief because he was in the room and we had all like the bat editors and all the writers and so on.
And Ed and I kept pushing for this book. And Carlin kept saying it’s got to have Batman in it, we do superhero comics and we were like no the whole point of this is that you never see him. He’s like barely in it and I don’t know how we managed to push it across the line. Jenette was still publisher because I remember she came into the meeting to check on it and Ed and I pounced like we literally…
We were kind of assholes because we jumped Carlin and we said so, we want to do this book and we want to call it Gotham Central. And the argument had been you’ve got to call it Batman: Gotham Central, it had to have Batman in the title and we were we want to call it…and Jenette was like no that sounds great. And we were like and I remember Carlin being like you shits, you know. You two shits.
Kyle Scher: I remember you having a similar problem, reading an interview you talking about a similar problem with Batman/Huntress: Cry for Blood. You wanted to call it Question/Huntress: Cry for Blood. And the editors were like no, you got to call it Batman.
Greg Rucka: You’ve got to call it Batman, but it’s like but he’s not in it. You know like oh no, you got to… they know what sells you know you can’t knock it. So like that and it was the tension all the way through Central all the way through Central. The tension was put more Batman in it, put more Batman in it, put more Batman in it. And we were always going at the point is he’s not there and when he does show up it’s a big damn deal. When he shows up its Moses coming down from the mountain and it fucks everything up.
And one of the things that makes Central work in my opinion and I maintain this is there’s very little new you can say about Batman. There’s very little we know how he’s going to react in almost every situation, we’ve seen him over and over again. Batman becomes really interesting to me when you look at him from the outside. When you think you know, here I am in Gotham City and this thing moved. You know I don’t think anybody in Gotham just goes da da da duh, flutter and they go, oh, it’s Batman that’s not the conceit of the book.
The conceit of the book is he’s scary and even you know even if you want to take the piss and you want to say you know here’s the… he dresses as a…he’s a grown man dressing up as a giant bat, fine but in the context of the book it works. And he is what he says he is, we accept certain things in comics. We accept that Superman flies, as Dennis used to say we accept the Batmobile never gets caught in traffic, right. Archie Goodwin used to say the entire DC Universe is an inverted pyramid built on the fact that this is a viable disguise.
And you have to accept those things, if you don’t accept those things why are you there, right? If you’re going to fight them then you’re not going to have fun it’s literally like going to see a Star Wars movie and saying oh, I can accept everything here but the Force. Or I can accept everything here but blasters it’s like why that thing? You know all you’re doing is saying I don’t want to play.
So, yeah we had heavy lifting and you can tell there are certain stories where you know editorial would come down and it would be like Carlin saying guys have to do a story with Batman in it. So that’s how you get stories like Soft Targets and so on where did…Ed and I and Matt Idelson and Nachie Castro, who were the editors of the book, would have these phone calls where they would be like alright so how do we do this in a Central way. And the way we do it in a Central way is we make Joker really, really scary and again, you barely ever get to see Batman.
And what are the things that I really like about Half a Life frankly, is that when Batman shows up in it like the first time he shows up. He’s doing a Batman impersonation thing, you don’t see him you know it’s just a realization you know it’s Chris’ realization that’s like oh, shit I’ve been rooked, right? And then he shows up at the end and quite literally he does what he does but again, from Renee’s perspective which is he isn’t there then all the sudden he is there then all the sudden it’s over, right?
Kyle Scher: Yeah.
Greg Rucka: He’s there boom, boom, boom Harvey is down. And Batman’s response is right we’re finished. And Renee’s outraged that this isn’t finished, you’re done this is not done for me. Again, struck me as is really real and really human and again you… we didn’t those are moments we didn’t see. We always got to see Batman come in and he would save the day and off he would go. But we never would spend some time with the people who he had just come in and rescued or caught or whatnot. And like I say those moments, those human moments are the moments that I find exceptionally compelling so.
Kyle Scher: What I loved best is like you said, the human moments, the moments of taking something so grandiose in a superhero universe and grounding it and looking at it from a different angle. So I forget the issue name but the one where it ties into I think it was the apocalypse or whatever the one where Spectre kills Shazam. And you got…it’s a crazy you know magicy story that you have Chris, Chris Allen, just running around dealing with the physical embodiment of the sins running around in Gotham. And it’s ultimately just a story about a guy trying to get back to his family.
Greg Rucka: Yeah, that’s all he wants to do, get home.
Kyle Scher: Yeah. And he was just such a unique take.
Greg Rucka: It was always a challenge when the events would come down and be like well what’s the Central version of it? And I think that frankly, one of the things that makes…One of the things that I think was the merit of the series and I think Ed was in particular very good at calling us out, was again the echoes you know that by being on the ground it made… It makes the glory of the DC Universe that much more glorious.
We forget… if you spend all your time with Superman, you can forget how amazing the concept of the character is right. If you are spending all your time with Wonder Woman you forget what it would be like to actually meet her and having a book that kind of reminded the DC Universe not to take this for granted. It was I would like to think had you know some sort of subtle effect on reading the other books if you were reading both so.
Kyle Scher: Yesterday, during the panel you were talking about in 52 that you got rid of the cliffhangers. What was…?
Greg Rucka: Well, we got rid of a kind of cliffhanger.
Kyle Scher: What was it like writing on that book because it seems like such a challenge?
Greg Rucka: It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in the industry. it was eighteen months of pretty pure stress. It was funny because when we started all these people were taking bets that we wouldn’t be able to hit it.
Kyle Scher: Yeah.
Greg Rucka: And we knew we’d hit it, there was never a question I think for any of us may be on sort of the editorial production side there were like it’s going to be tight but I don’t think any of us in the core ever doubted that we would be able to accomplish it. We would get to the fifty-two issues in every week they would be there, it was are we going to be able to do it in a way that the story actually works? Will there be something coherent all the way through? Will it be able to resolve?
And as I have said elsewhere, it’s harder to write small that it’s right large, if you give me twenty-two pages we all knew how to write a twenty-two-page comic. We didn’t know what to do when we had only two pages in week seven to forward this story and that was… it was intense, it was very intense. It was also a terrific learning experience because I was working with you know really four other writers. Because you always have to…
Keith gets forgotten in this but Giffen was vital. You know, I learned so much, I learned so much. There is a bit in I think week fifty-two, that I remember Waid just having fits over trying to figure out how am I going to resolve this beat. And it was the moment and it was a brilliant solution you came up with you know Sobek is wearing the crocodile boots.
Kyle Scher: Yes.
Greg Rucka: That was genius, that’s a stroke of genius that’s one panel that tells a whole story. And I think it’s indicative like I said that we can get to the end of that run literally the last week I was still learning stuff.
Kyle Scher: The final Question question before we move on to other topics. Like I said we don’t have to get to every question.
Greg Rucka: It’s alright.
Kyle Scher: You mentioned in a previous interview I think it was on vicsage.com actually.
Greg Rucka: Ah, yeah, Eric Newsom’s site.
Kyle Scher: Where you mentioned that at one point you kind of had a sort of a crisis about killing off Charlie.
Greg Rucka: Yeah, we had a huge one.
Kyle Scher: I was wondering as a writer what was your feelings writing that scene? Killing off a character that you loved?
Greg Rucka: Well, I mean look we knew we were going to do it. And I talked about this is well you know Keith, Keith lost both his father and his father in law to lung cancer so a lot of that arc was the two of us talking about how do we do this properly and fairly. You know I don’t actually remember what it was like the moments of writing it. And again, you know the intensity of that 52 crucible was such that you didn’t actually have a whole hell of a lot of time for introspection.
But it was…we had known from the start that that was where we were going. You know, I mean we knew at the beginning of 52 this is where we’re going to end up. That one of the things thematic that we wanted to do was talk about legacy and passing you know the passing of the torch in the DC Universe and the way that works. So, I suppose there was an odd sense of you know an odd sense of completion to that step of the journey. But it wasn’t the completion of the story because we know you know I mean I think that happens in week forty or something like that and you know there are still twelve more to go.
And at that point in the writing just the overall process we knew that we were… at that point everything was starting to reach their resolutions right. We go from that into Renee having to take on the mask into the conclusion of her story. And that was going on… that’s going on throughout the series, everything’s reaching in…Every storyline was reaching its culmination.
So it’s wasn’t so much a sense of like profound accomplishment as such as it was like alright we hit it and I know that I wanted it to break people’s hearts. And we didn’t want it to be clean you know, one of the things we want to is…we wanted it to be wretched. It needed to be unfair, it needed to be because that’s what it is. That’s really what it is.
Kyle Scher: Just in case I don’t get to it, I will go ahead and asked my co-worker’s question and then I’ll get back to my questions. She wanted to know – her name’s Claudia. Hello if you’re listening.
Greg Rucka: Hi, Claudia.
Kyle Scher: Was as a writer of Wonder Woman both before The New 52 and after…
Greg Rucka: and after it.
Kyle Scher: Yeah! How do you feel about the change to Diana’s backstory that made Zeus her father, as opposed to having her made out of clay?
Greg Rucka: I don’t like it, I think it’s a bad change. I think it’s a change that fundamentally alters the core intention of the character. I have spent some time figuring out…I’m trying to figure out a way to reconcile it but I think that the logic behind it is flawed. There is a Hollywood belief… it’s a change that happened entirely to make the movie stuff easier and I don’t like it. I just… I don’t know what else to say, I don’t like it. I would like it…. you know I would like an editorial fiat that says we’re undoing it.
But I think that in the same way, I don’t think you need Jason either, I think that the introduction of a twin brother is silly and again, fundamentally alters the… what the character is at her core. And I suspect that the introduction of Jason was done to hopefully create a character that would be exploited in future movies and I think that that’s transparent and foolish so… You know when you take something away from a character and you add something to a character it has to be done with great deliberation you can’t…
And you can’t suddenly turn around and say Batman’s parents were gunned down because they were actually laundering money for the mob. If you do that you are changing something core and it may look like you’re not right, it may… you may go okay, from that you can still get a Batman who wants to fight crime and etcetera, etcetera. But what you will remove is the element of randomness and injustice inherent in the universe right because all of a sudden you have an argument that says well it was kind of their fault.
And one of the things you need for Batman is that this eight-year-old kid suffers a blameless crime. You know he suffers a crime that society has made and if you then change it to say no he’s suffering a crime that his parents made. He’s being punished for his parents’ behavior you have a whole other problem there.
Kyle Scher: Yeah.
Greg Rucka: So yeah, I’m not a fan at all.
Kyle Scher: And as a final note from Claudia, she did want to mention she loved your short-lived Cyclops run.
Greg Rucka: Oh, thank you.
Kyle Scher: And so going back to my questions. We only have a couple more Big Two questions and then if we have time we can continue to creator-owned stuff.
Greg Rucka: Yeah.
Kyle Scher: So, I thought your take on Punisher was absolutely fascinating.
Greg Rucka: Thank you.
Kyle Scher: And…
Greg Rucka: That was a book I really had no clue about. Steve Wacker was at Marvel at the time and he was fairly aggressive about me trying to take it on and I was like I am not… I’m not the guy to write Punisher and he was saying no, no, no I really think you are. You know, so I mean at his urging I did some reading and I did some looking and now it’s kind of like, alright, there’s something here.
The concept of that sort of murder monk you know that he is this resolute you know the thing about Frank that’s so fascinating to me is he has no special powers at all. So everything he’s got to do… his focus has to be insane.
Kyle Scher: Yeah.
Greg Rucka: He’s the John Wick of the Marvel Universe you know what I mean he’s pure will. And then once I got that I was sort of like okay, well that’s a whole take right there. Who is this guy, you know I mean?
Kyle Scher: I absolutely loved how he was the man of action. That he didn’t talk a whole lot but when he did talk it was full of gravitas and it was so powerful and it always had this special meaning when he spoke.
Greg Rucka: Yeah, he’s not a guy who has a lot to say to people.
Kyle Scher: The speech he gives to Rachel when… I think right after the big crossover with Daredevil. I absolutely adore, I think it’s like the perfect sort of synopsis of who the Punisher is as a character. The dead don’t sleep, the dead don’t music.
Greg Rucka: Yeah, you’re dead now.
Kyle Scher: Yeah.
Greg Rucka: Yeah, this is all we are and this is all we do and that was it, it was like so you don’t get color, you don’t get taste, you don’t…you get the mission that’s it. This is what you are going to be, this is how you survive because he can’t be like oh, I’m going to go to the movies tonight. There’s no joy to be found in the movies for him you know that’s a waste of time, every time he’s at the movie somebody else is living that needs to be punished so.
Kyle Scher: You’ve talked at length about the problems at Marvel at the time and why that run got cut short. So, obviously, I don’t want to mention that for any bad blood or whatever. But you mentioned that your plan for where Frank was going in that run. What was your plan for Rachel?
Greg Rucka: I had actually wanted to sort of separate her out. And let her go off and punish somewhere else because I wanted… And I suppose in a way it was sort of like a different iteration of the Batwoman idea that you know having been anointed into this you know or inducted into this priesthood. She would carry forth the word in a different place so it had always seemed to me like you know Rachael Cole-Alves murdering people in LA would have been a reasonable trajectory for her.
And then you know they would eventually have come back together, they were never going to be lovers. They were never going to be friends and there was never going to be any intimacy between them but they were always going to be bound by what they did.
Kyle Scher: The writer right after you actually picked up on that and made her the only person Frank could trust him at one point and I thought that was an interesting continuation of it. Where it’s not necessarily he’s like oh, I’m friends with you it’s I have no one else to turn to.
Greg Rucka: So exactly and that’s you know and that to me strikes me as entirely right because you don’t have to like everybody in your unit you know when you’re in combat. But you sure as hell have to trust them and if there’s one person that… if there’s one person that at the end of the… my run Frank knows is now all in, it’s Rachel. Because he tried to get her out and she wouldn’t go.
Kyle Scher: That bit in issue sixteen where she’s like I want to be like you and he turns to her and goes you should never be like me, no one should be. And I…
Greg Rucka: This is not a thing to be, yeah.
Kyle Scher: Yeah.
Greg Rucka: And he does, he really tries to set her free and she can’t do it you know and it’s at that moment where he’s like then you’re dead. You have decided it, so yeah.
Kyle Scher: I don’t know how much time we have left but I will move into creator-owned stuff. So starting off with Lazarus, big fan of that. In my personal opinion, Lazarus is the best comic coming out considering the political…
Greg Rucka: Thank you!
Kyle Scher: Sort of political climate we’re in right now.
Greg Rucka: Yeah, you know I say this a lot but Lark is fond of saying that when we started it was dystopian sci-fi and now it’s a documentary so.
Kyle Scher: Some of your thought processes is into deciding this is where you wanted to go with the world and the 16 families, sort of the genesis that idea. I understand this may be a long one.
Greg Rucka: Yeah, so the quick version is there’s…okay, the really quick version is. I was looking at a lot of the economic crises that had come out of the late end of the second Bush administration and all of that rigmarole. And I had had the realization that we had narrowly avoided an economic apocalypse and then I had encountered the Oxfam…
The Oxfam does an annual report on basically global wealth distribution and at that time it was something like 84 individuals controlled something like ninety-odd percent of the world’s money. Like all the world’s wealth was… Almost all of it was in the hands of just 84 people and if you think about that that’s crazy. And that number was consistently getting smaller, right it was falling. And so the idea that it would eventually end up in the hands of 16 people seemed not only plausible but inevitable. So from there it sort of extrapolated into Okay, well if wealth becomes that concentrated then what else have?
You know what is end-stage capitalism when you’ve bought everything there is to buy what’s left? And you end up with families, you end up with these very small concentrations of wealth who are above all going to be working to maintain their wealth, right? The worst thing in the world now would be for them to lose it. So – sorry I’m still somewhat set up here – and that was basically the start of it and then once you get that you go okay, so if all the wealth belongs there then they by definition also will control the technology. They will also control the science and you know like I said I had an idea for Forever as a character.
But I didn’t know how to manifest the ability for her and I talked to Warren Ellis and he had said oh, I’d look at you know iPS cells. And looking at that immediately he was like okay, well that’s going to be wealth based, right and if you don’t have the money and you see it in the world today, right? If you want proper treatment for whatever your illness maybe you need to pay for it especially in the U.S… They ain’t going to share that, alright so there you go. That’s sort of how I got there.
Kyle Scher: Yeah, it’s an interesting sort of gradually looking at the real world and seeing the potential fallouts are. I think that’s absolutely fascinating as a writer myself.
Greg Rucka: Yeah, it’s become…I don’t know like you said I mean it was sort of the inevitable end stage, you know of our self-destructive capitalism. And then it was again asking logical questions, if they own everything then the situation becomes feudal. Its neo-feudal and we’re already living in a neo-feudal society, so.
Let’s pause there and maybe we can pick up some more later today? Part two.
Kyle Scher: Yes, part two so…
Greg Rucka: Which we will do with I suspect a little more dispatch.
Kyle Scher: Yes, seven hours of signings.
Greg Rucka: There was a lot of signing today and not a whole lot of me left. Right, so what are we on?
Kyle Scher: We were previously talking about Lazarus and sort of your worldbuilding process and how you were inspired by what was…well what you saw was going on with the real world.
Greg Rucka: Yeah, the Oxfam list and so on, yeah.
Kyle Scher: Bouncing off of that, the back manner material and it does a great job towards world building stuff and it… and you’ve always been a big fan of back matter. In The Question: Crime Bible which was later renamed Five Books of Blood.
Greg Rucka: Five Books of Blood, yeah.
Kyle Scher: You actually gave out the physical Renee journal.
Greg Rucka: Yeah, though that was a different… that was actually an attempt to try to generate some buzz around the book and do something different to sort of engage retailers and the audience. And it worked to a certain extent and we certainly had a pretty passionate online following for it. But yeah, that was… you know I like that matter and floppies in particular because otherwise why buy the floppy? You know just wait for the trade.
And by the same token when we did the Lazarus hardcovers and when we do the eventual Black Magick hardcover, there has to be value-added content, there has to be stuff in those books that you can’t get anywhere else. Otherwise, all you’re doing is asking for people to pay for the same thing again and that’s not fair. You know what I mean there’s got to be more.
Kyle Scher: I’m just wondering a couple things about it. First how exactly is the back matter planned? You know, what’s the genesis of the back matter?
Greg Rucka: Well it depends what you’re… What you mean when you say back matter, are you talking about with regards to Lazarus are you talking about the letters? Are you talking about my conclusion? Are you talking about now I’m doing you know my reading list the stuff that I’m reading? Are you talking about like in the hardcover when we did the timeline and things like that?
Kyle Scher: I was referring to the ads, the fake ads, the Naughty Natasha.
Greg Rucka: Right, the naughty Natasha in particular. I was a little worried about that one actually. I was a little worried they were going to have to bag the comic.
Kyle Scher: I remember seeing it on the back cover and going, umm, my parents are going to question this.
Greg Rucka: Yeah, we had some racier versions of that as well. I actually ran that past Stephenson and saying are we okay with that and he was like yeah, we’re fine. So for stuff like that, that tends to be very directly me engaging Eric like he will have looked at the issue and read the issue and then he’ll suggest something, he’ll say you know I think we should do… this would be a good war propaganda piece or something because we wanted to be in some way related to something you read and saw it.
So, Naughty Natasha was logical coming out of that issue and then there was some thought put in and that was Richard Howe, it’s H-O-W-E. You know he came in, Richard started working with Eric on Lazarus 27 so…and you can see the artifacts in 27 and 28 actually look even more polished if at all costly. Because for all of Eric’s prodigious skill, Richard is pretty much a master at that sort of work.
So it tends to be thematically tied you know we will decide that for this arc, for instance, we’re going to show the ads of certain family. Or for this arc, we’re going to be focusing on the war propaganda or things like that so…
Kyle Scher: When you decided to do the timeline and also in the very first I believe it was the very first issues or maybe the first hardcover – my memory is fuzzy on that – when you did the brief synopsis of each family.
Greg Rucka: Yeah, that’s the first hardcover has the brief family entries.
Kyle Scher: Like did you… was that just copy and pasting from your research or..?
Greg Rucka: No, a lot of it I… well no about half of them I had notes on. And half of them I had to go dig down and do my research and figure out what’s an appropriate name for the family. Regionally, culturally what would the original economic base have been regionally, culturally? And then extrapolating from that and then within it building a family and bearing in mind that almost all of those entries talk about initial family verses you get the currents, right.
But then you’re talking about the origins of the family and trying to fit them all into the timeline so some of them you know Carlyle I had an idea obviously. Hock I had an idea, Bittner I had an idea and Nkosi and Martins both came out of a heavy research. Vassalovka could gave me fits but only once I cracked it and Meyers-Qasimi was the really challenging one actually. Because Trautmann and I had talked about it and a lot of those where done, you know, Eric and I would have these discussions.
And I would say I’m trying to come up with this, I avoided Meyers-Qasimi for a really long time because I was like I don’t…I have no idea what the Middle East looks like. No idea what the Middle East looks like and there was a big part of me that was just like I’m just going to turn the whole region into a crater of glass. But that’s not in keeping with Lazarus, keeping with Lazarus is greed always wins. And the second I looked at that and I was like oh yeah, of course, there would be. And it’s the same way, it’s how it works in the world today if you study human trafficking.
Kyle Scher: What a lovely subject that is.
Greg Rucka: Well, but if you study human trafficking, all these groups who in theory hate each other’s guts and would never talk to each other and want each other lying face down in puddles of their own blood, will happily put down their weapons to sell people to each other. Greed trumps everything.
And the realization that all Malcolm needed to do and one of the things that Malcolm was very good at was find the two people that he could get to talk to each other. Who could say this would be a mutually beneficial relationship and this is the hat we will wear and this is the way we will resolve regional, cultural and religious strife.
And the way we will resolve it is we’ll kill you if you make an issue and not only will we kill you, we’ll kill you and your families and anybody you’ve spoken to. And eventually you know what you’re going to learn to get along or you’re all going to be dead.
Kyle Scher: I gave a…in my society that I ran at my university we have like a presentation day where we would break down like characters of worlds. And I did a breakdown of Lazarus for everybody and when I got to Meyers-Qasimi… I’m hoping I’m not but butchering that…
Greg Rucka: Yeah, Meyers… Meyers-Qasimi.
Kyle Scher: Meyers-Qasimi, yeah. I always butcher pronunciations all the time. Is…everybody was questioning you know it’s the Middle East you know religious tensions are high there. How can one family control it? I’m like well they killed everyone.
Greg Rucka: Yeah, it’s basically they say you set off a bomb at the western wall we will kill everybody you’ve ever spoke to and eventually there’s either nobody left or it’s so punitive. And you can do punitive when you have authoritarian states and these are all authoritarian states, they may dress themselves up as otherwise, you know Carlyle certainly presents itself as we’re not so bad. No, they’re awful, they’re bad, and they’re just not as bad as Vassalovka where people actually keep slaves.
Kyle Scher: Yeah.
Greg Rucka: They’re not as bad as Hock where you are literally doped to the gills. You know and I’ve got one of my friends in Australia maintains that Hock system is actually the best system. Look his people are happy, they are, and they don’t know to not be. Okay, so now we get into a very American thing I think, which is what’s more important? Your freedom to be miserable or you know you could be totally happy, you have everything you need.
Kyle Scher: I was talking to a friend of mine, he grew up in Atlanta and that would have been in Hock territory and I’m from Oklahoma City so that’s in Carlyle territory. And we were talking about which one of us would have the better life and I’m like I don’t think any of us would have a good life.
Greg Rucka: No, it would genuinely suck for both of you and it really is a question how lucky you might have gotten at what moment in your life? But the bliss of Hock is that you don’t know better. You know if you are a citizen then you really are taken care of, you just sacrifice all individuality, you know all personal liberty, all personal desire.
You know the concept in Hock that you don’t get married. You know that people are you and you will not have children and then those children will go down to Florida to be raised in the crèches. And that a privilege in Hock society is to be able to know your child. That’s absolutely antithetical to almost every human being you meet. You know that idea, but it makes a bizarre sense.
Kyle Scher: Really quick back to the back matter before, because we got on a tangent. It was an awesome tangent but…
Greg Rucka: Like I said I’m an easy interview, man.
Kyle Scher: Yeah. I completely understand if you can’t, but because the transition to the new format change we’re getting a lot more back matter.
Greg Rucka: Yes.
Kyle Scher: Could you give us some preview of what the back matter is going to be?
Greg Rucka: Lilah Sturges is going to read a short story, she and I have to talk about it once I get home actually. She sent me the pitch finally and it looks really good, I need to read it again there’s one thing that maybe might throw me, I’m not sure. But it’s nothing insoluble, we’re going to expand. Well, it’s interesting because we actually are getting fewer letters these days because most of the people who are inclined to write letters have already written them.
Kyle Scher: Yeah.
Greg Rucka: I’ll expand the reading. But one of the things we’re going to see definitely more artifacts and then in support of the RPG because Green Ronin is doing The World of Lazarus Sourcebook for their Modern Age game.
Kyle Scher: I’ve been looking forward to that.
Greg Rucka: And that game and I think I don’t know if I said this earlier but the sourcebook is canon. Everything in the sourcebook that was written by the guys who do the sourcebooks for the comic I went through all of it, there’s nothing in there I haven’t approved. So, if you’re wondering what it’s like in Yemen that book will tell you. So one of the things we’re planning on doing is there will be a section in support of the role-playing game where we’re going to have you know this NPC appeared we have stated them out. This technology appeared we will stat it out so it can be used in the game.
Michael and I discussed, though he is resolutely against and I understand why, we discussed doing backups like getting in you know letting other people write an eight-page Lazarus story set in the universe and bringing in a guest artist or whatnot. Michael is very reticent to let anybody else draw within the main book and I understand that, it’s his place. And…But we will see how that sustains so you know but we’re going to expand the hell out of it. I suspect we’re going to actually be able to do more than one piece of fiction and I really want to have some fun with the artifacts. I want to see what sort of things we can come up with and really try to make them related.
So you know issue 29 brings us to the beginning of X + 68 and things have changed and it’s the start of the Fracture arc. And Fracture is actually going to be two arcs, Fracture I and Fracture II and with the end of Cull, we sort of closed out the first act and we’re moving into the second act. Things are going to start happening really quickly in the series, the issues may not come out quickly but in the series now events are going to start really ticking along. So, I suspect one of the things that the back matter may become is further supplements to the immediate story as well. There’s all sorts of material you can put in there. We can put in intelligence intercepts, we can put in wanted posters, and I mean all sorts of stuff.
Kyle Scher: Yeah, it sounds great. I’m actually really looking forward to that because I love popping open the back matter and just seeing the additions to the world.
Greg Rucka: I get a huge kick out of it. You know I mean that’s the nerd in me and that’s the gaming geek in me, I want more about the world in the same way that you know we did the Lazarus challenge coins. I like the artifacts, I like things that you can hold and it’s part of the world, it’s part of the story and when you hold it in your hand then you get to be part of the story too.
Kyle Scher: Yeah.
Greg Rucka: And I enjoy that quite a lot.
Kyle Scher: And it’s also just nice to see the story from a different point of view because Lazarus is very much a Forever’s story.
Greg Rucka: Yeah.
Kyle Scher: But what I loved about like X+66 was we got to see from different perspectives and the back matter allows us to see it through a non-subjective point of view or nonobjective. Moving on because I know that you’re pretty tired is one question was invalidated due to the panel yesterday.
Greg Rucka: It’s okay.
Kyle Scher: Which was about when we expect volume 5 of Stumptown which was…
Greg Rucka: I’m hoping by the end of 2019.
Kyle Scher: Yeah. So Stumptown, what’s so great about it was that one moment you could be laughing your ass off and the next minute crying like hell. It seems like such a blast to write. So I was wondering…
Greg Rucka: It is because… but that’s because it’s a great big love letter to my childhood. I’ve talked about in other interviews as being you know seven years old, eight years old and sprinting from school because if I could make it in time I could get through the front door and get TV on in time to catch the rerun of The Rockford Files as it began so I can hear the answering machine message. And Stumptown is just a great big wet kiss on the lips of the private eye genre that I grew up with and it’s Rockford and its Magnum and its Simon and Simon. It’s all that together so being able to tell those stories is me going back to my first love.
Kyle Scher: Was the genesis of that series… sort of just you’re love to the PI genre?
Greg Rucka: Yeah, initially you know when I began writing my intention was to write private eye stories and I didn’t. I went into sort of the protection stuff with Kodiak because the private eye story was being done everywhere and I was like well how am I going to do my take that’s different and new? But that was my field of academic study when I was in college that was what I thought my senior thesis was going to be on. It is a genre that I have always been drawn to and have given far too much thought to so you know finally doing my own PI story.
You know that was like Dex got to be the PI that I wanted to make. Because the private investigator is very much a totem of their time you know and we don’t have a PI for… We don’t have a PI yet for this millennium, I haven’t found them so that’s what Dex was you know. And Dex in many ways is representative of who we are, she’s constantly filled with a vague anxiety, she can’t tell you she’s straight or queer you know, she can barely keep her finances in order. She wants to do right and she is passionately loyal to the people she loves. So there’s certain universals in the genre and there’s some things that I think again, reflective of the moment that Dex is meant to be a PI of our moment.
Kyle Scher: One more brief note about Stumptown. The car chase in volume two Baby in Velvet, what was the genesis of that car chase because it was so visceral?
Greg Rucka: Matthew and I had a long conversation about how do you do a good car chase in a comic book? Because a comic is in the same way that a comic is antithetical to prose, comics kind of antithetical to a car chase. You can’t do a car chase in a novel either because there’s just no visceral sense of it, you can’t write it in a way that will ever give you the feeling of running along this street at 100 miles an hour, and narrowly avoiding death at every turn.
And so the question was How can you do that in the graphic novel format? And I think it was Southworth who liked the idea of actually having to turn the book as a wheel. Because we knew you know we were doing like I said it’s Rockford and if you watch Rockford there’s every episode there’s a car chase.
Kyle Scher: Yeah.
Greg Rucka: And sometimes they’re interminable. You know in the 70’s you probably would have been like a seven-minute car chase and now you watch it and you’re like Jesus Christ enough. You know seven minutes of this, we can stop padding it out.
So yeah that’s where it came from, we wanted to do the car chase, and it was a trope of the genre so how do you do it? And I believe it was Southworth. So we actually drove that route through Portland. James, Lucas Jones and I and I drove along taking pictures and filming it and then we had all the reference for Mathew and he went from there.
Kyle Scher: That’s pretty awesome. We’re going to go more into industry questions.
Greg Rucka: Industry questions.
Kyle Scher: Yeah, because I do want to speed this up so you can go away, you know so you can actually get some sleep or whatever. So you’ve mentioned before that you’re a big fan of like writer-artist collaboration.
Greg Rucka: Yes.
Kyle Scher: And how important it is. What was it like when you started at DC when that was not the case where you were stuck behind a middleman?
Greg Rucka: I didn’t know any better. You know there were… I understand there were reasons in place and you have to understand it was an era when again, you couldn’t email a page, right? You wrote the script, you FedEx the script, the script was copied and sent to the artist, the artist would draw the pages, the artist would FedEx the pages back to the publisher, right there was no digital delivery mechanism. So anything that could conceivably have held up the process on a book that had to come out monthly, it had to be blocked and that meant that you couldn’t have an artist and a writer at each other’s throats.
You always had to interface with the editor and the result of that was that in many cases you had no idea who you were working with. You would be told well, this person is going to draw it but you never talk to them and even if you asked would you have a way for me to get it, I would like to get on the phone and they’d say well, we’d rather you didn’t. Or we’ll talk to them what do you want me to tell them?
And that fundamentally impaired the work because look Michael and I are in constant communication, Nicola and I are not in constant communication. But it’s very rare that I write a Black Magick script where she and I do not actually discuss it before she gets to work, right. I’ll call her on Skype, and she and I will talk and I’ll tell her this is what’s coming but I won’t tell her everything because…and then I do the same thing to Michael, I don’t want them to know everything. I want them to get… I want them to be surprised, I want them to have a moment with this script where they go I didn’t see that coming. I want them to have a moment that excites them.
But you get… I firmly believe and you know it took a long time for me to figure this out the better part of twenty years in the industry to realize wow, you get better work if you’re talking to your collaborators.
Kyle Scher: Yeah.
Greg Rucka: And I also think it’s important because it’s an industry like any artistic industry where ego can get out of control and you see it and we’ve all heard the stories of particularly arrogant creators. And if you’re not a writer-artist, if you’re not doing it all yourself, you can’t afford that arrogance, you can’t. There has to be…it is a collaborative medium and this is why I make a point of referring to Leo and to Nic and to Michael as my co-creators, as my collaborators.
They don’t work for me and I don’t work for them, we’re making a thing together and that means you know Simon Boland is part of it, it means that Santi Arcas is part of it, it means that Trautmann is part of it, it means that Alejandro Arbona is part of it, everybody is aboard. And I think it does a disservice to the act of creation if you cut out anybody in that process. I’ve never written anything that could have benefit from another set of eyes, you know.
Kyle Scher: I’ve watched interviews where you’ve given advice on writing in general. But do you have any advice on writing comics especially because it’s such a collaborative artform like you were saying?
Greg Rucka: Yeah, I mean the best advice I have is if you can find out who it is you’re writing for do so. But a lot, in particular a lot of beginning writers will script and they’ll have a very specific image in their mind. And then they’ll get the pages and it won’t be what was in their minds eye and they won’t be able to see past the fact that just because it’s not what was in their minds eye, it doesn’t mean it’s not better, or it doesn’t mean it’s just as good.
But they tend to react and say well, that’s not what I wrote. And it doesn’t need to be what you wrote, it needs to be what you meant, so writing for intention is very important and I think one of the most important things a writer can do when engaging with their collaborator is to say this is what we’re trying to accomplish. These are my ideas on how to do it and at the end of the day it’s my say right, I’m going to tell you this is the story we’re telling that’s why I’m the writer. But having said that if you’ve got a better way to accomplish it then, by all means, do so.
Now, that requires all the collaborators to buy in, it requires the collaborators not to be lazy, it requires collaborators who are not worried about how much I’m going to be able to sell the page for. But are instead going how well do I tell the story? And there are artist out there who don’t concern themselves with that, they are more concerned with I want to sell this page. So you may have asked for this thing but I’m going to put a big shot of Batman in the middle anyway. It’s going to be like don’t do that.
I did an issue of Checkmate once and I very clearly you know at the end of the issue was a reveal of Batman. And I wanted him in the shadow, I mean I think he was talking to Sasha so it was a big emotional moment and the reveal needed to just be that Batman coming out of the shadows. Just the faintest silhouette of the ears and the page we got was this fully rendered and bright light that you could count every rib on his abs. And the muscle contours on his triceps and it was absolutely not what I wanted, it was not what the story needed, it served nothing but the artist being able to turn around and sell that page. He had a page with a great big Batman on it and he was going to sell it.
And there was a writer when I first came into the industry who was notorious for beginning his scripts to creators… to his collaborators saying I know there’s some talking in this issue but I promise you’re going to have a couple DPS’ that you’ll be able to sell for a lot of money. And okay, I’m not interested in that everybody’s getting paid, everybody’s making enough and you sell something for extra that’s fantastic.
But there are people out there who will buy a page that’s meaningful in the story. And I guarantee you Michael sold the Marisol eight-page for a fine chunk of change. It doesn’t have Forever on it, it doesn’t have anybody getting stabbed, one of the most powerful moments in the series. And somebody bought it because it was a powerful moment! So yeah, that’s my advice know the intent that you’re in it together and as a writer never believe that you know, your way is the only way.
Kyle Scher: I know we brought this up previously actually where you got in via someone showing Dennis O’Neil your books. But do you have any tips for people looking to break in?
Greg Rucka: It’s very different now you know when I got in there was no such thing as a webcomic. When I got into it was exceptionally difficult to print your own and these days you can make your own comics. There’s nothing really stopping you in the broad sense, in the detail sense, you need to find the people to work with and so on. But if you can find people who’ll buy into the process with you then there should be nothing keeping you from creating a work and being able to put it out there and once you do that you’re halfway there.
Because now you’ve got something that you can take the conventions that you can send to an editor and the best way to show somebody that you can work in comics is to work in comics. And the best way to work in comics is by completing a comic. And a big mistake that a lot of beginners make is they sit down and they go well, I need to do a twenty-two page comic, don’t. Find somebody and do a six-pager, do an eight-pager, do three or four eight pagers and now you’ve got three or four complete stories, you’ve got thirty-three pages of work.
And now you can show somebody look, I can tell a complete story in this medium, I know how to do it and if you can write small, you can write large and I’ve said this before you know. If you tell a story in six pages then you definitely can tell one in eight and if you can tell it in eight then you’ll have no problem telling it in twenty-two.
But a lot of people want to start by saying well, I want to do it like I’m getting at the comic book store and that’s a different beast. But when you’re starting out do it in a small manageable size do it so you can finish it and then having finished it you can share it. And that’s honestly the best way to do it, you put it online and you make it available as a PDF.
You hand it out at cons you know and you make sure your contact information is in it, so if somebody finds it you know but you don’t ever want to… And especially conventions you know approaching editors is always dicey because they tend to be overworked and they tend to be… it’s coming at them from all directions. But if what you can do is you can say you know is there…do you have any contact information? I know you’re really busy now but I was wondering if you know after the show I could email you a PDF of my book or whatnot.
They are more likely to go, yeah and then the other thing is you know you don’t wait, you finish one thing and you get on to the next thing. Because if you’re not working you’re not getting better and you can always get better. Art is not a terminal profession, it is meaning that you don’t hit a point where there’s nothing else to learn. You are always trying to get better at what you’re doing, you’re always trying to find… you’re always learning. So if you’re not writing then you’re not getting better.
Kyle Scher: Yeah. Actually bounding off that, that’s actually a perfect segue. I have loved everything you’ve ever written. So, I was wondering if you had anything that you felt like you blundered or you didn’t do well.
Greg Rucka: Oh yeah, plenty of things. Yeah, I think Veil still feels to me like it didn’t quite stick the landing I wanted it to stick and that’s my fault, that’s nobody else’s fault, that’s a failing in the writing. There’s a long list of these things, there’s a long list of work that I wish I could have done better, and there are things that I wish I knew then that I know now.
I look at Whiteout and I can barely read it, to me, it is so… Whiteout is an example of knowing so little that I didn’t know what I was doing wrong and getting so lucky in working with Steve Lieber. Because Steve made me look like I knew what I was doing and I didn’t.
Yeah, I mean you know I look at the Adventures of Superman, Flamebird and Nightwing stuff, I look at the Planet Krypton stuff and they’re really flawed works. A lot of the original Wonder Woman run suffered from compromises having to be made because of art things. That to this day makes me unhappy, it’s very rare that I’ve done a book where I look at it and I’ll be like perfect it’s everything I wanted it to be.
One of the things that I’ve gotten better about as I’ve gotten older is I don’t carry it around as much as I used to. I used to carry stuff around a lot and these days now I’m like it’ll do. There’s a wonderful John Rogers quote and I’m sure he picked it up somewhere else but it’s:
Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good.John Rogers
You know if you’re always chasing perfect then you’re never going to settle for good and the corollary to that is nothing is finished, it’s only abandoned. A writer will hold on to their manuscript forever you know because it’s not right yet, but eventually, you’ve got to be like it’s close enough. It’s the best I can do right now.
Kyle Scher: The kill your darlings mindset.
Greg Rucka: Yeah and recognize it’s okay, it doesn’t have to be perfect.
Kyle Scher: So moving on to the final bits, we only got a couple more. Is what is one comic you think everyone should read and why?
Greg Rucka: I think everyone should read Bitch Planet because I think it’s brilliant and I think it’s hilarious and I think a lot of people don’t see that it’s hilarious. I think… I really I do adore that book I think it’s just phenomenal. What’s another one? Let’s try to think of another one that I really adored. I mean I’ve got to be honest and say I haven’t been reading a lot of current stuff.
Kyle Scher: It doesn’t have to be current.
Greg Rucka: I still love to this day Matt Wagner’s Mage: The Hero Awakens. The first one I think is wonderful. I still think the Miller/Mazzucchelli Born Again is a tour de force. And at the risk of shilling for my wife, I still think Hopeless Savages is just wonderful and I thought the most recent one was in particularly really good. Break. Hopeless Savages: Break I thought was really terrific. So yeah, I mean you know it’s all over the place. It depends on what you looking for and why it’s very hard to answer that so…
Kyle Scher: The final bit here has to do with the adaptations kind of thing. Obviously, Whiteout got an adaptation which was less than stellar.
Greg Rucka: Yes, a crap adaptation.
Kyle Scher: Less than stellar.
Greg Rucka: Oh, it was horrible.
Kyle Scher: But you got Amazon Prime doing Lazarus which I know you probably can’t talk about at all.
Greg Rucka: We’re in development still.
Kyle Scher: Yeah and then The Old Guard recently got a director announced. I’m forgetting her name.
Greg Rucka: Yes, Gina Prince-Bythewood. Yes, who is terrific. She is fantastic.
Kyle Scher: If I’m not mistaken your slated to actually write the script?
Greg Rucka: I wrote it. It’s written…
Kyle Scher: What was that like translating that story from comics to film?
Greg Rucka: It was amazing, it was an excellent experience. You know I did it at Skydance and the people I worked with at Skydance were amazing and the notes I got from them were unerringly spot on excellent. And I wrote a screenplay I am really, really proud of and I think surprised them how much they liked it, I think they were like we don’t know what we’re getting from this guy. And I think we’re all really happy with it and it, you know, and it got us a phenomenal director who is entirely bought in and gets it. And I think she’s going to do an amazing job so, yeah it’s moving forward.
Kyle Scher: Awesome. That was every question I had.
Greg Rucka: There you go.
Kyle Scher: Thank you for being a wonderful interviewer.
Greg Rucka: Oh, no, I wish you the best with it, sir!
Kyle Scher: Thank you. And there you go, ladies and gentleman, that was the interview with Greg Rucka as I said recorded over two different sessions in the same day. But he was more than willing to provide his time to answer my questions and he was wonderful to be around and he was always intelligent and kind and he was just such a wonderful guest to be able to interview. So, I just want to throw a special shutout and a thank you to you, Mr. Rucka, and hopefully be able to interview you again sometime in the future. Have a nice day.