Interview: Greg Rucka
Eisner Award-winning author Greg Rucka is know for his gritty noir-influenced style, his critically acclaimed runs on mainstream titles like The Punisher and Batwoman and for his proclivity to write multi-faceted, bad-ass female protagonists
We recently sat down with Rucka as he ends a decade-long collaboration with Marvel and DC and throws himself full force into his creator owned projects, including Queen and Country and LAZARUS.
Who or what were your influences as a writer?
That’s not a short-answer question. There are honestly too many to count. I can go from Joyce Carol Oates to Raymond Chandler, Hemingway to Douglas Adams, and they’re all valid. Stephen Crane had a huge influence on me with regards to the portrayal of violence. Hawthorne always inspires me. Amongst my contemporaries, writers like Dennis Lehane and Michael Koryta have been influential.
Why choose comic books? What drew you to this particular medium as a creator?
I love the medium, it’s really as simple as that. Once I got into writing comics, I began to see more clearly how the medium could be used to tell some stories better than, say, novels or short stories or movies or plays. But, like all writers who work in comics, we’re here because we love them. It’s not a mystery. Comics are incredibly powerful, and they engage the reader in a truly unique way, requiring a participation that almost no other storytelling form can claim. I provide only half of the action in any given story – the reader provides the rest, supplies what’s missing in between the panels.
The characters in Gotham Central seem so grounded in reality, how hard was it to work in the more fantastic elements of the world of Batman?
Not as hard as you might think. I come from a place where good writing, regardless of its setting, is contingent on being emotionally honest with your characters and your story. That honesty is what makes Central work, I think; the people may not be in the most believable situations, but their reactions, their words, their emotions, those are genuine. So, I suppose, I should say it wasn’t difficult for me to be true to the characters, and I don’t think it was a problem for Ed, either. Other writers… them, I’m not so sure about.
How do you feel about how DC “repurposed” Renee Montoya and Crispus Allen as mainstream superheroes after Gotham Central came to an end?
I don’t think they did repurpose them. The DC universe is a super-hero universe. Renee’s journey out of darkness and into becoming the Question was, for me, a very organic one. Crispus’ growth/change was much more problematic, for a variety of reasons. His ending was very fixed, and the idea of him becoming the Spectre was problematic as hell to me, for a variety of reasons.
How does getting to play in the established DC and Marvel universes differ from when you write independent comics?
When you write for Marvel or DC, you’re using someone else’s very, very expensive toys. They get to dictate what you do with them, where they go, where they can’t. Working creator-owned, I’m my own master, and I can do as I see fit with my story and my people. That’s the biggest difference. It’s called work-for-hire for a reason, you know? Sometimes, it can be a bitter pill to be told you can’t do X, or you must participate in Y, and it will compromise the story you’re trying to tell, absolutely. The flip-side, however, is that you’re getting to write Batman or Superman or Wonder Woman, and that’s a chance to add to a legacy that only continues to grow.
You are reteaming with Michael Lark on LAZARUS. Tell me about the book.
LAZARUS is a hard sci-fi story set in a dystopian future, kind of like Children of Men meets The Godfather. The world’s economy has collapsed, and wealth now rests in the hands of a very, very small portion of the populace, amongst certain Families that will do almost anything to protect what they have. The rest of the population has been reduced to servitude or destitution.
Forever Carlyle is the genetically modified daughter of the Carlyle family, their Lazarus, and her job is to protect the family from all threats, be them from other Families or from the Waste population that is always threatening to rise up.
It’s… pretty darn dark, actually.
Lazarus, Stumptown, Batwoman, Rachel Alves, Renee Montoya: You have a reputation for creating strong female characters that resonate with audiences. What draws you to create women leads so often?
I have answered this question so many times it’s hard for me not to repeat myself. The simple answer is, I like writing about women. A deeper answer is that these are traditionally male-dominated and male-agencied stories, and that by changing the gender of the protagonist, one can cast very old tropes in a new light. Sometimes, the story can be radically altered, sometimes now.
But, honestly, it simply comes down to this – I like women, I like women as heroes, I enjoy writing about them.
I’m intrigued by Lady Sabre & the Pirates of the Ineffable Aether. The Web would appear to be a great equalizer, as it puts the power of publishing in the hands of the creators, but not too many people are able to make money with it yet. Do you see it as a game changer? How do you monetize your work online or is that a concern for you at this point?
I’ve no idea how to successfully monetize, honestly, and frankly, if you figure it out, let me know. Right now, we’re looking to launch a kickstarter to fund our first trade collection, and hopefully that’ll help us recoup some of what we’ve invested.
That said, the web is the great publishing unknown. On it, you’re free to tell whatever story you like, to take it wherever you wish. In the traditional publishing windows, it’s very difficult to get your work out if it doesn’t fit into certain pigeon-holes, holes that the publishers perceive but that, in the main, aren’t really there. So the playing field for, at least, getting the material out there is more level. The downside is obviously that we all need to make a living, and you can only run at the web for so long before the money runs out.
I really enjoyed your run on The Punisher, and I was more than a little dismayed that Marvel undid the brilliant premise you left them with in less than a month. Do they have any plans to use Rachel Alvez? Are they even going to bother explaining how Frank got out of Tony’s super-prison?
I’ve no idea. I highly doubt they’ll use her again other than to kill her off at some point. And no, I don’t think they’ll ever explain how Frank got out of prison.
You broke pretty publicly with Marvel after they took you off The Punisher. Have the big two gotten worse to work for? Or are some creators just wising up to the limitations of work for hire?
Did I? It certainly didn’t seem that way to me at the time, I guess. My relationship with the Big Two is always changing, and I try very hard to never say never. I think Marvel and DC both are in very dire straits at the moment, honestly; they’re fighting to remain relevant as publishing houses rather than, say, IP farms, and neither are doing a very good job of it, in my opinion.
Working WFH is always a challenge, and I do think that we’re seeing more outlets for creators aside from Marvel and DC. Image has been very good to Michael and myself, and Dark Horse has been making great strides in the same way. But I think the one has led to the other – that the difficulties in working in the mainstream has forced creators to pursue other avenues.