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An interview with the novelist-turned-comics writer
By Michael Patrick Sullivan
August 23, 2000
To hear Greg Rucka tell it, his career as a writer was an inevitability. 'My mother was a journalist. I have very clear memories of her electric typewriter echoing through the house, sort of a machine gun rattle and that little 'ding' when she hit the end of a line, so writing was something that existed in the house.' Rucka also credits a childhood filled with reading. 'I think if you read a lot, writing is a natural extension.'
While those familiar with Rucka's work might believe his first significant work to be the novel Keeper
, the first in a series of books featuring the 'indescribable' hero Atticus Kodiak, the truth actually goes much further. Back to fourth grade, in fact, when young Greg wrote his first short story. 'It was about how Santa Claus had died and Mrs. Claus had to take over the operation.' For his efforts, Rucka won a prize and was pulled out of school for a day to attend an awards ceremony.
From there, Rucka continued to write off and on, and had even tried his hand at a novel in high school. 'Just because I was so bored by my classes,' says Rucka. 'I would sit in the back of the room and fill up a notebook with prose.' In college, he then completed a novel that, at 250,000 words, he could only describe as 'god awful.' But it had cemented writing as his goal in life.Going Pro
A chain of events lead from college to renown as a writer of crime fiction and eventually as a chronicler of the adventures of Batman in Detective Comics
. 'College lead to graduate school, which lead me to an agent, which lead me to a book deal, and that's how the novels came about.' It was chance though that would play a large part in Rucka working on the Dark Knight.
It happened that the best man at Rucka's wedding worked at DC Comics and introduced him to DC's Director of Marketing, Patty Jeres. 'She and I got to know each other because she had read my novels. She knew I wanted to write comics and she put me in touch with Bob Schreck when it was Bob and Joe Nozemack who were running Oni Press.' That relationship lead to the publication of the Eisner award-winning White-Out
mini-series, a story of murder on the ice of Antarctica.
Jeres then introduced Rucka to the great guru of the Bat-Office, Denny O'Neil. 'Denny had read my first novel,' relates Rucka, 'but hadn't been able to find the second [Finder
]. When he did read it, he said 'Fantastic, I want to work with this guy!''
Rucka was then one of many writers brought in on the 'No Man's Land' event in which a post-earthquake Gotham City is cut-off from the rest of the country. Over the course of the event, he became one of the main architects of the year-long storyline and collaborated with fellow Bat-scribe Devin Grayson on it's tense and dramatic conclusion.
His love for comics is much easier to trace. His first comic? An issue of the Hulk Magazine
'It was the Hulk versus a nuclear power plant.' It would prove to be something more than just a good read, though, as it was a source of bonding between Rucka and his older sister, Brandy, who is mentally retarded. 'She fell in love with the Bill Bixby Incredible Hulk [from the 1980s TV show] and to this day adores that character and that version of the Hulk.'Snow Daze
While Rucka parlayed his success with the Atticus Kodiak novels into comics success, he has no intention of bringing those characters to the four-color world. 'Atticus will stay in the novels. If the stuff sells someday and they give me a truckload of money [for an Atticus movie], I will happily take it. If they do a TV series, I'll take that. But Atticus exists in novels and exists very strongly in novels.'
Rucka does, however, leave open the option of bringing his most famous original comics character, White-Out
's Carrie Stetko, to novels. 'Carrie started out as a novel and struck me as something that would work very well as a comic book because Antarctica is so visual.' Rucka went on to say that he still intends to tell the White-Out
story in novel form, but with the considerable nuance and depth that the form affords. It won't be his first intermingling of the two sides of the publishing world, having written novels based on 'No Man's Land' and Grendel [Past Prime
], the latter carrying illustrations by the character's creator, Matt Wagner.
The tree of White-Out
continues to bear fruit beyond even the possibility of a novel with the recent announcement of an ongoing series from Oni Press based upon the supporting character, international spy Lily Sharpe. 'Her name isn't actually Lily,' reveals Rucka. 'One of the things we'll eventually discover is what her real name is. The book, titled Queen & Country
, he explained will owe a lot to the English television series The Sandbaggers
. 'I love espionage and that show is the perfect blend of LeCarre meets James Bond. It dealt with the political overtones, it had some action and great personal stuff. I knew I wanted Lily to be like that, [that] I wanted to tell those kinds of stories.'White-Out
has also been optioned by Wolfgang (The Perfect Storm
)Petersen's Radiant Films and is moving closer to the silver screen. 'There's been a first draft of the script. Columbia really liked it, which means they returned it with only three or four hundred notes as opposed to three or four thousand.' Rucka, however, is not writing the script, though admits that someday he will, no doubt, move into that arena.
'Gail Katz, Petersen's partner at Radiant, from everything I've heard, is very committed to seeing the film made.' Rucka confesses that the film would differ a great deal from the mini-series, but claims that Sam Dickerman, the executive shepherding Rucka's creation into production is 'fiercely passionate' about preserving the character of Carrie Stetko. 'It's hard,' he concedes, 'because Hollywood has some conceptions of what a strong female character is and I disagree with those conceptions. Sam does too, but the problem is the studio system and there's going to have to be concessions made.' Rucka remains hopeful nonetheless.Dark Knights
There is, of course, much more to Rucka's comics landscape than snow. There's dark skyscrapers and caves with masked crime fighters in them. There's also a police commissioner named Gordon.
Greg Rucka has brought a new kind of depth to the ages-old character of Commissioner James Gordon. The character is as much a centerpiece of Detective Comics
as Batman, and if the book didn't prominently carry the Batman name on the cover, Gordon might even overshadow the Dark Knight Detective himself. In a few months, readers will have an opportunity to see more of Rucka's Gordon in the DC Universe event 'Turning Points.'
The event will examine the growth of the relationship between Batman and Gordon, and Rucka promises it will lay the groundwork for events in 2001 that will have major ramifications for the two characters. Rucka could not be more forthcoming, but did say it would be 'potentially really exciting stuff that I'm looking forward to writing. I have to be kind of oblique about it or else DC will ask for my head on a pike.'
Rucka had previously mentioned at conventions that he had ideas for Gordon that were somewhat at odds with Bat-editor O'Neil's vision of Gordon, Batman, and Gotham. Were these coming events a result of O'Neil's retiring from his position as the grand overseer of the Bat-titles?
'It was in the works before Denny announced he was stepping down,' say Rucka. 'Denny has said that 'if I come back a year from now and things are the same as when I left, then you guys have totally failed.' It should be a new page in the history, because what Denny has given us is an 'epoque'...and it is time for that to end and to do new things.'
Rucka expounded on the subject of shaking up Batman's end of the DCU by saying 'If you look over at the Superman books and look at some of the things they've done in the last couple of years, you'd think they'd never have been able to get away with it and they have. If they can do that over there, then we can do it over on our side of the building.'
If Rucka had his way, one of those changes would be a book centering on the Gotham City Police Department. 'I think there should be a GCPD book,' says Rucka boldly. 'But there're already eleven Bat-books and there doesn't really need to be a twelfth. And that's unfortunate, because I think there's an audience for it and it would be very popular.'
There are lingering questions, which Rucka says he has been constantly intrigued by, that could be answered in such a series. 'What is it like to be a cop in a city where there's a signal on top of your central precinct, and when things get really bad you turn it on and the world's greatest detective shows up and solves it for you? It's one thing for Batman to show up and look at fifteen dead people that the Joker's just gassed, and it's something else entirely to be the cop that shows up for that.' There're some real interesting questions about character and motivation, and about the job. Being a cop is a very difficult job and I'm interested in those questions.'
Rucka confesses that he and newly-minted Batman
writer Ed Brubaker have been tossing proposals back and forth for a mini-series that would explore some of those issues. 'Ideally it would be an ongoing, but I'll take a mini.'The Future
One new mini-series that's for certain is his collaboration with Grayson on her sequel to last year's Black Widow
mini-series for Marvel Comics' Marvel Knights imprint, titled Black Widow II: Breakdowns
. 'I like it because it's an anti-superhero book. Black Widow is a spy. While superheroes live in a world of black and white, spies live in a world of grays.'
There will also be a follow up, not only to his own current Batman/Huntress: Cry For Blood
mini-series, but also to O'Neill's Question
series from the 1980s, in The Question: You Never Asked
. 'It's the story of Vic dealing with the fact that he ran away from Hub City ten years ago and now he's gotta go back.' Rucka promises appearances by the Huntress, Batman, Richard Dragon and supporting characters from the O'Neill series. 'And maybe Shiva,' he adds.'