Interview with Greg Rucka

Zona Negativa (ZN).- On your website you comment how your first recognition as a writer came at 10 years old, when you won a contest for short stories. In several interviews you point your true calling is to tell stories, regardless of the medium in which they are published. But, do you remember the first time you thought about doing it as a comic?

Greg Rucka.- I started reading comics in college, I had a friend and we wanted to do a comic together and I wrote four issues of this comic and he drew one issue and said “I am not doing this anymore” And then, you know, I…there’s no point in writing comics if you can’t draw them or if you don’t have somebody else you can. I cannot draw. And under no circumstances should be allowed to. And finding people who have the ability and the inclination to do that work for free it’s very difficult so I ended up writing novels. I wrote several novels before I had the opportunity to come back in the comics.

ZN: During your stay at the University of Southern California you did a master in writing. In university settings, did they encourage you to try different media and formats, or did they started from a more traditional approach of writing?

Greg Rucka: In the US there’s a degree that’s called MFA (Master of Fine Arts) and that degree is offered in writing. The program in the USC is MPW (Master of Proffesional Writing). The differences being that they claimed that you will able to write in any form. So when I was there, you know, I worked on screenplays, short stories, stage plays, novels, technical writing, etc. It was a little…The best thing I can say about going to a school like that is that they created an environment where I had nothing to do but write and was expected nothing to do but write. So I I could develop my skills but…I don’t know, it was a long time ago, maybe they have a Comic Book Writing Course now, I doubt it. Academically in the United States comics only now are beginning to get some respect as literature and as an art.

Literary influences: Tim O'Brien, David Simon and Douglas Adams.

ZN: Which authors -both in comic, literature or even film and television- were your reference during this period?

Greg Rucka.- There’re a lot. There’s an american writer named Tim O’Brien who I admired greatly, who has written many novels and has a book of short stories called “The things they carried” which is one of the finest collection of short stories. I love his work. There’s a wonderful TV show that’s based on is a wonderful book called “Homicide”, that had a huge influences on me. I love Hemingway, I like Steven Crane, I like Joyce Carol Oates. They’re all american authors. You know, growing up I read Dashiel Hammett, Raymond Chandler, Sherlock Holmes’ stories…but, you know, honestly, when I think about it now and I look back to my comics, I think the biggest influence probably was Douglas Adams, the author of “Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy”. I think I was profoundly affected by Adams, his style of writing, the way he thought, I think he was a genius. I misses his works greatly.

ZN: Over the years you’ve had the opportunity to develop a style that regardless of the scripts are developed in a more or less fantastic way, readers recognize by several distinguishing features: the special care with the dialogues, attention to detail that give realism to the whole, the concern to build three-dimensional characters, with their foibles and virtues. How much of this attention to this details is conscious or unconscious ?

Greg Rucka.- Writers approaches their stories in different ways. I am bad at plot. And I am bad at plot because to me a plot is an idea in the vacuum, it has no worth to me …it only becomes a story when a character…you, know, I’m fond of saying…Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman all of them can respond to the same bank robbery, but because they’re different characters all three of them respond differently. That’s three different stories. The Batman is always going to act the way Batman acts. And as a writer your job is to know who Batman is. My Batman is not Scott Snyder’s Batman, but both of them are Batman and both of them are recognizable, right?. So, it is always for me an issue of a character..the character has to come first. I have to know who the people are.Because if I don’t know who the people are then I don’t know what they’re going to do when I put them under pressure and that’s what a story is. A story is taking a character and put him in a crisis. And a good story is taking a character and put them in an incredible crisis. You never want to make things easier on them, because if you do they’re not heroes. When we talk about comics specifically, we are talking about stories of heroism. For those stories to be worthwhile, the threats must be worthwhile and worthy and their enemies must be worthwhile and worthy. Otherwise is just a bunch of people hitting each other and frankly that’s terrible boring in my opinion.

ZN: Another obvious feature is the predilection for the construction of strong female characters, who tend to monopolize the role of your personal projects. With this in mind, how do you assess the superficial treatment (and often sexist) industry gives to female and sexuality in general?

Greg Rucka.- Well, you know, comics for a very long time were run universally by men for their pleasures, and their depiction of women was designed solely, I think, as a sexual object. Sexism has existed in the industry, it still exists and it’s going to continue to exist because sexism continues in society. And it’s going to continue to exist until people come to their senses.

I like women. In general. Period. So I want to represent that on the page. Add to that just from a dramatic step point. You can take a story that has been told a hundred times before and if you change the gender of who the story is about from male to female the story becomes radically different, if you’re honest, becomes immediately… and powerfully different because the moment you do that you do raise all these issues: sexism, social expectation, etc. You know, if I have a private eye story and I have a femme fatale that’s a different story that that detective was a woman. And it plays with those ideas in a very different way. And it allows you, well it allows me, as a writer to going into different directions. But, if you very strongly want for any piece of literature and/or art to have mirror it must reflect the world. Comics quite reasonably in the United States have failed to do that, because they have excluded not only women, they have excluded people of color, they’ve excluded people of different sexual orientation or religion. For very long time comics were only about white men and protestant white men at that. So being able to open a wider…I feel, I do feel a issue responsibility there.

Characters to power: Tara Chace, Carrie Stetko and Kate Kane.
(click on the images to enlarge)

ZN: You have developed the character of Renee Montoya over many years, first in Detective Comics, Gotham Central and then 52 and finally in The Crime Bible and Final Crisis: Revelations. By now, to say that you’ve given her depth and tridimensionality is an understatement. However, the «jump» to the identity of Question at the time was much discussed, as well as the role of Crispus Allen as Spectro. Do you think the fusion of genres is an intrinsic part of the superhero comics? Is there something that is untouchable?

Greg Rucka.- Well, I think that when you work in the fantasy world that superhero comics are, any time you take something out you need to put it back, you need to replace it and you need to continue to let it grow. So, Renee’s character and Renee’s growth were logical good stories, in the same of Crispus’ story. You know, it made sense. Renee becoming Question…I know there are people who don’t like it, I think they are wrong. I think that the character deserved attention, I think she earned it, I think that we did not diminish anything that came before. But when you’re writing in the DC Universe, the stories are about the people who can fly, and about the people who punch people and some. They’re not about quote / unquote ordinary people. No matter how compelling you make them, it’s a superhero universe and I think that’s a logical extension.
As to the question about what is untouchable…I do think that are things that are untouchable. I think, for example, that Bruce Wayne can not be responsible for his parents death. That changes the character fundamentally. In those kind of changes you have to be very careful, what you don’t ever want to do is break the universe and I think we’ve seen the results of what happens when XXXX (23:56) are made badly. And they do break the universe. And you lose readers, you lose logic, you lose cohesion.

ZN: Without going too much on the issue of cleaning has been done in the continuity of the DC Universe, what you think about the rumors about the new status of Question as a supernatural being? (Note: in the moment of this interview the Free Comic Book Day where this new Question made his debut had not arrived yet)

Greg Rucka: Really? It’s the new 52. What can I comment?  I don’t work for theme anymore. Not my character. They can do whatever they want. I think it would be a shame if they did not use Renee, if the left Renee go away. But I also understand their mentality right now and I understand why they do what they’re doing.

ZN: Your job in the saga of New Krypton and 52 are examples of collaborative work. Do you miss that dynamic at work or is one of the factors that have made that now you prefer to work alone?

Greg Rucka.- I started working in DC because…they were DC!. But my relationship with DC had gone entirely bad and I thought they treated me very poorly. I love to collaborate. A good collaboration is brilliant. 52 was a good collaboration and I think it shows.
New Krypton was not a good collaboration. I like James Robinson a great deal, I think he’s very talented. He and I did not collaborate well, and I think it showed in the book. Never mind the fact there were other things at work which was, you know, Dan Didio was hating what we were doing and kept changing the goals, the root goals, he hept changing the goals. So…but you know, I mean, I love collaborations, it is one of the most rewarding things. When you can collaborate with a group of writers, when you can collaborate well with an artist…the Batwoman run with J.H. Williams III is without a doubt the best collaboration of my professional career.
So, it’s actually the opposite, you know, I mean, the worst thing about having step away of the mainstream is that my opportunities to collaborate are far far fewer. And that’s rather depressing. I miss it. Writers are solitary creatures, and all the work we do, we do it alone, so the opportunity to work with others it’s pretty precious when it comes. Otherwise one can being very lonely and being too lonely ends up, you know, writers that ends up too lonely ends up alcoholic and dead.

It’s true! There’s a whole list of them!

52 and World of New Krypton: opposed collaborations in DC Comics.

ZN: In 2009 opened in theaters the film Whiteout, starring Kate Beckinsale and based on your work. Was satisfactory the experience?

Greg Rucka.- Well, I was not very involved in the movie, despite the fact that I had an executive producer credit. That credit was there so I could get more money. That credit did not translate in having any more authority. I did rewrite a couple of scenes. I think the scenes were improved by my rewrites.
It is a mediocre movie and I think that’s a charitable assessment. But they paid us for the privilege of making a mediocre movie, so I can’t really complain. Would I like to see a better adaptation? Absolutely. Would I like to see a braver adaptation? Oh, yes. One of the things I think is so mediocre is that they didn’t adapt Whiteout. Steve Lieber and I have fun saying that it is as if the people on Hollywood read Whiteout and did not understand that Antarctica was a real place. And they didn’t need to pay us money to set something there. They said they paid us for the privilege to set a mystery on Antarctica. They didn’t need our book to do it.

ZN: And as for Queen & Country…have you been contacted any time to bring the story to television or the movies?

Greg Rucka: Fox, the studio, owns the rights to Queen & Country. And they have had like six drafts of the script done at this point that I know up since 2005 or 2004. And they stopped making it. I was contacted by a director who works in England for the BBC last month asking if the rights were available and I have to tell him “You need to talk with Fox”. Every now and then my agent will tell me that somebody is interested, every now and then FOX surely remembers they have the property and they look at it, and they kind of shake it, sniff it, shake it again and they throw away because they don’t know what to do with it. Or they go: “Oh, oh, we want to do this but, oh no, Angelina Jolie is playing a spy in “Salt” and we can’t have two spies movies with women” Because Hollywood is stupid and sexist.

Whiteout, an unsatisfying movie experience.

ZN: You have worked in areas as diverse as literature, mainstream comics, creator-owned comics, video games and movies. What are the differences in the treatment of authors in each of these areas?

Greg Rucka: Oh, yes. Novels. A novel doesn’t exist without the writer so you’re the engine for that enterprise and you can be treated quite shabbily but nobody ever doubts your importance in the process. In comics it depends who you’re working with, or where you’re working. Sometimes the writer is much more important that the artist, sometimes the writer is insignificant and sometimes, ideally, both seem to have the same authority and respect. I have yet to work in a videogame capacity where the writer was given any respect. Companies exist out there where writers are hold in high steem, I have never work for them. Every time I’ve been asked to work in videogames I have been brought in to fix work that needed to be fixed because they didn’t have a writer at the start. And I in an occasion I’ve been told “We want you to do a story for this game”. And I will take all the other information and I will say “This is the story for you” and then they come back and say “No, no, we can’t do that because we have already designed these levels.” Why the hell did you build sets before It’s got in the script? You know, and then, the director come and say “We are doing Romeo and Juliet” and the set designer say “Great! I made a big vault, the bridge of a spaceship and an animal hospital” That’s great! I need a balcony and a garden! Where’s is my balcony and my garden? “Oh, sorry, you can use this spaceship and the animal hospital” It’s absurd. Very few companies have figured out that actually story needs to drive these things not the other way around.
That said, I absolutely believe that were videogames are going is…we’re very close. It’s going to revolutionize theather and arts. You know, the best movies, the best plays, the best songs, the best novels haunt us, and they move us and they give us a sensation of catharsis. Can you imagine the power of being able to interact in a story and to control yourself in a story and to control the outcome of the story that will provide catharsis? Oh my God. When that happens everything changes. It would be like discovering fire. I’ve been thinking about this a lot, because the ending of Mass Effect 3 which is by the company BioWare, they have wonderful writers, and you can tell. Lot of people were angry with that ending. Because it’s the end of the story, not the end of a game. I found myself thinking about the fact of Stravinsky, the first time the Rise of Spring was performed, there were riots; people rioted, what are you doing to our heads and our ears and our emotions? We don’t understand”. What a blessing had been like to be the first to have heard a song for the first time that move you to tears, the very first song because the voice, some point, somewhere in time, somebody saying and people wept. We are going in a way to the cuspid in videogames.

The Punisher, by Greg Rucka and Mark Checchetto (Via: CBR).

ZN: In The Punisher you have chosen an interesting approach to Frank Castle, making a character of few words, his actions speak for him. Also, the narrative dialogues has been reduced to a minimum, creating an atmosphere of constant bad mood. What led you to focus the series on that way?

Greg Rucka.- Honestly, everybody else have done…everybody else have read Frank from the insides on his head and I did feel I had anything to add. We know who he is and we know why he does what he does. The Punisher is a very elegantly simple character, we know what drives him, we know what he’s going to do, we know how the story is going to end and we know he’s never ever ever going to stop doing it. He’s never going to get married and then raise children. He’s always going to kill people he thinks needs to die. So, seems to me, far more interesting if we look at him through the eyes of others seemingly saw him as the people who have to live with the results of what he does. It was a dramatic decision. He’s talking more know.

ZN: And finally … what can you tell us about your upcoming projects?

Greg Rucka.- Stumptown, I guess this has not been translated in Europe, the second Stumptown arc start in August and it’s called “The case of the baby and the velvet case” and it’s about a stolen guitar. I have a new novel, Alpha that comes out may 22th. I’m working on the next novel. There are a couple comics things that I can’t talk about and I am still working on my webcomic: Lady Sabre and the Pirates of the ineffable aether.

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Antiguo redactor de actualidad de DC Comics. Ahora sólo a tiempo parcial en Zona Negativa, aportando lo que puedo a este proyecto tan ilusionante. El primer tebeo DC que cayó en mis manos fue antes de que supiera leer, literalmente.  Soy ávido coleccionista de Batman en todas sus épocas y encarnaciones. En mi identidad secreta soy Ingeniero Técnico, gestor web, empresario y hasta aquí puedo leer.  Mis cinco series DC preferidas del momento son: Detective Comics, Green Arrow, Swamp Thing, Justice League y Batman.
Licenciado en Derecho por la Universidad de Santiago de Compostela y apasionado por el noveno arte desde que tiene uso de razón, en 2005 comenzó a colaborar en la web colectiva Zona Negativa, centrándose en la preparación de reseñas, entrevistas y crónicas de eventos relacionados con el mundo de la historieta. Estas tareas ocupan buena parte de su tiempo de ocio, junto con la redacción de artículos para las ediciones españolas de DC Comics por encargo de ECC Ediciones.
...nació en 1976 en Tarragona, pero quedó atrapado en el Muro de la Fuente tras la lectura de Crisis en Tierras Infinitas y quedar subyugado por las historias en general. Se las apañó para aprender algo de psicología y algo de informática, y en 2005 fue rescatado por Zona Negativa, para la que analizó hasta los más pequeños detalles del Universo DC. Fanático de los cómics minoritarios, extraños o de lectura compleja, actualmente le encontraréis por las esquinas de ZN opinando sobre cómics de DC.
Redactor de Zona Negativa. Lecturas preferidas actuales: Capitan América: Sam Wilson, Capitán América: Steve Rogers, Squadron Supreme, Totally Awesome Hulk, Scarlet Witch, Uncanny Avengers, New Avengers, Spider-Woman, Vision, Mockingbird, All-New Wolverine, Black Widow, The Mighty Thor, Spiderman/Deadpool, Howard The Duck, Squirrel Girl, Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur, Black Panther, Doctor Strange, Old Man Logan, Deadpool, Star Wars, Darth Vader,
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