I’ve been talking and tweeting about Greg Rucka’s planned visit to Dallas’ Eisner Award winning Zeus Comics for a couple of weeks. Saturday was the big day.
Rucka signed books and chatted with fans all day. He’s a good natured guy, eager to talk about funny books and all manner of geekery. In fact, he and I discussed iPhone apps for a little bit.
He personalized some of the books for those that came in. One guy asked if he’d sign Detective 854 with “Lesbians kick ass!” I think he eventually signed: “Lesbians are cool.”
For the interview, I caught up with Greg Rucka while he took a few minutes off from signing to grab a quick smoke. It was a hot. 95-degrees on a day that would reach 103 in Dallas. Fortunately, we found a patch of shade so we could settle in for a chat.
Blogger’s note: If you close your eyes, Rucka sounds a great deal like Al Franken. Al Franken talking about Batwoman, that is.
ARON: You’re writing the two biggest superheroes in comics right now – with Detective Comics and Action – but also kind of not, given that Superman is off-planet and, for the first time in sixty years, someone other than Batman is taking the lead in Detective Comics. How do you balance writing for these two iconic characters, and also writing for two of the most iconic monthlies in comics?
RUCKA: Aw, man. I’m not sure I actually do balance them. You do the work. It’s a job and you do the work. If I spent too much time thinking about – wow – this is ACTION COMICS and this is DETECTIVE COMICS, I wouldn’t be able to get a word out. I don’t tend to focus on the title as much as the story I’m trying to tell. I guess that’s the way you balance it. You focus on the story.
ARON: Do you have difficulty switching gears between so very different styles in books?
RUCKA: Not really. There tends to be a lot of pre-work before I actually start typing up a script. So, I’ve been thinking about what I’m gonna write for a very long time and there tends to be now more and more notes. The older I get the more notes I take. The transition isn’t actually as difficult as you might imagine. It’s harder to switch between comics and novels.
ARON: We’ve seen a lot of amazing preview art from J.H. Williams for the upcoming Detective Comics arc starring Batwoman – how did the selection for the artist take place?
RUCKA: That was an editorial decision. It was proposed to me by Peter Tomasi when he was going to bed editing the book. He put J.H. and I together and we got on very well. We had really good conversations about what I wanted to do with the story and what he wanted to do artistically and how we could bring those together. That was Pete Tomasi.
ARON: What’s your process working with the artist?
RUCKA: With Jim, it’s a little different. I tend to break down my story very carefully with my editor. Then I will go from there with my notes at which point I will call up Jim. I’ll say okay so I’m sitting down to write the script, these are the things I’m thinking, these are the scenes we’ll need. How do you want to approach them, what do you want? He’ll come back at me with composition or lay-out design ideas. Almost instantly, he can visualize it in his head the way he wants to do it. He’ll tell me, “I’d try it like this,” and so on. So the scripts for detective tend to be very much scripts that say “this is that thing we talked about.”
He’s done a lot of other books that tend to be far more direct description of the action.
I work with Cully Hamner doing The Question co-feature in Detective. With Cully, there are similar conversations, but he and I feel a little free-er for me to write the script… When he gets that script he knows what I’m saying is that this is the story we are trying to tell. You make the choices that will tell it best.
The greatest pleasure as a writer is to work with artists you trust. I have been real fortunate in that.
ARON: What’s planned for the upcoming Batwoman arc in Detective Comics – will she be meeting the new Batman?
ARON: How far do you have it plotted out?
RUCKA: I’ve got the first 12 to 18 issues plotted. We have 7 written. The sixth is being drawn.
ARON: We shouldn’t be expecting any big crossovers? We can stick with Detective to read the story of Batwoman.
RUCKA: No. We made the decision fairly early on that we wanted to give her what we felt was a good chance to stand on her own after waiting in the wings all this time. We worked very hard to insulate her. Where she’s appearing elsewhere is very limited. By the same token, her interaction with the rest of Gotham is fairly limited. It’ll happen, but we wanted to make sure she was her own person first. Then we can start having her meet up with Red Robin and things like that.
ARON: It really seems like y’all have taken a lot of time and energy to create the best opportunity for her to be an A-list character.
RUCKA: That’s the goal. Nobody ever – I don’t think anybody ever creates a character with the hope that this character will be forgotten in two years! With us, we’ve been very deliberate in many of the choices. The goal is to create a character, and in particular, to create an origin that people are going to be able to pick up in 10 years, 15 years and it’s still going to stand. For that reason, Batman appears in #854. You don’t know if it’s Dick or it’s Bruce. That’s very intentional. You shouldn’t be able to tell. In 10 or 15 years, you shouldn’t have to pick up this first story and know that Battle for the Cowl was going on at the same time. If you do know, it shouldn’t diminish it. But shouldn’t be obligated to it.
ARON: Waaaaaaayyyyy back in 52, it was kind of alluded to that fact Kate Kane wasn’t the first “Katherine Kane” in her family. Is it possible that her origins have anything to do with the multiverse…?
ARON: She’s strictly a New Earth kinda girl?
RUCKA: Yeah. Understand, a lot of what was going on in 52 we were playing fast and loose. We’ve been trying to reconcile it. She’s got a step-mother. Her step-mother’s name is Katherine. Her mother’s full name is Katherine Hamilton-Kane. Her biological mother? You’ll find out more about her as Detective goes on.
And you’ll find out about – as she’s referred to – Katherine The Elder.
The Hamiltons in Gotham are another old monied family much like the Waynes. Except they didn’t make their money off of real estate. They made their money off of guns.
ARON: Obviously, the media attention is primarily on Kate’s sexuality, but she’s also Jewish, which tends to be overlooked. We saw her celebrating Hanukkah in 52 – will we be seeing more of her Jewish heritage in the pages of Detective?
RUCKA: Yeah. You see in #854 there’s Judaica in the apartment where she lives. It’s like her sexual orientation. It’s an element of character. It’s not I think of issue. It would be like saying “her hair’s red” and making that of issue. To me, that’s vaguely absurd.
ARON: So much for my next question.
RUCKA: (laughter) We’re offending all the redheads out there!
ARON: We had some readers ask some questions. Joe asks: What goals are required to be met for Batwoman to continue as the lead in Detective?
RUCKA: I’m not sure how to answer the question. It is a given at some point Batman will resume being the lead in Detective. The question really is only one at what point. My understanding is that there’s an editorial calendar and they have a plan. I am not privy to those days. That’s not because they are being kept from me, it’s because they are irrelevant to me at this time right now.
If the character suddenly crashes and burns and we have created a disaster, she’ll be leaving very soon. I would say it’s safe to guess that she’ll be there at least for a year.
ARON: The goal being that she rolls into her own title when Batman returns?
RUCKA: We’ll see. The first issue is clearly getting a lot of attention. And it’s clearly selling very well. If numbers are still reasonably good by the time we get to like issue 12 or so on… certainly DC is going to look at giving her the opportunity for her own title.
ARON: Reader NinjaFanPier asked: Whatever happened to Cassandra Cain?
RUCKA: I don’t know (laughs). But I’m working on it.
ARON: HardTravelingHero asked: What will make her truly unique and hopefully keep her thriving as a member of such a large fictional universe with such fickle fans?
RUCKA: The thing that makes characters last is that we find a way to connect with them. We find something in them that we can associate with, that we can admire, that we can pursue. It isn’t simply limited to a cool factor, though a cool factor is clearly a part of it. You have to be able to build some kind of emotional connection. If you don’t have that, the reader’s not going to give a rat’s ass.
If we do our jobs well, if we do it the way we want to, then what we’ll end up doing is creating a character people will like.
ARON: How are you working around the more limited options presented by the backups (8 pages), against the usual comic book length?
RUCKA: They are called co-features.
ARON: Sorry, co-features. How does that impact your story pacing?
RUCKA: Writing for comics is like playing a game of chess. You have a limited number of moves. As you spend your pages, you have fewer and fewer. In general, you block out the usage of your pages very carefully. And again, working with J.H.? Very, very carefully. I’ll go to him and he’ll say “this is what I’m thinking and this is the room I’m going to need.” We’ll finagle the script, make sure it fits.
When you have an 8-page co-feature. Or a 10-page co-feature… That changes how you tell the story. You tell a quicker story. It’s much punchier. I can’t spend six pages with people talking.
ARON: You’ve worked on Batman before, with your previous run on Detective during the No Man’s Land saga, the novelization of that event, and of course Gotham Central. How does it feel coming back to Gotham City?
RUCKA: I’d forgotten how much I missed it. That’s the best answer I can give you. I’d forgotten how much I missed being in Gotham.
ARON: Going back a couple of years, you worked on the big Batman: Gotham Knights animated project, writing one of the highlights of the movie, Crossfire. How was writing for an animated version of Gotham different from writing the comics?
RUCKA: I can’t draw. Everything I do in the medium (comics) is collaborative. When you’re writing animation, it’s even more – but less – collaborative. I had no input in how they executed that script at all. I wrote a script. The script was approved. People seemed to like the script. They gave the script to an animation house. A director took it on and animators took it on and they interpreted it as they liked. I had no input in how they did it. It’s odd.
You send it out there and hope that it’s going to execute the way you envisioned it.
ARON: With Superman: World of New Krypton and Action Comics, you’re working in a much different Superman universe than has been seen in quite a while. What’s coming up in Action Comics, and how is it, again, writing these different characters Nighwing and Flamebird?
RUCKA: We’ve got a big crossover starting in August. It starts in World of New Krypton and then it moves through all of the titles, so it goes into Action then Supergirl and the Superman. The crossover is called Codename: Patriot. Everything we’re doing across the board in the Superman books is all related in one way or another. We’re building a foundation for a storyline. It seems to be working.
Writing characters like Flamebird and Nightwing, it’s kind of terrifying. I’m in Action Comics writing characters that aren’t Superman. At the same time, it’s very liberating because I am writing characters that people don’t really know. Consequently, I get to show people here’s who they are, they’ve got interesting stories to me. I hope you find them kind of cool.
Thank you, Brother Rucka for taking the time to chat with us.
Special thanks to Paul and all the readers who contributed questions to this interview, to our friends on twitter who helped get the word out, and especially to Richard Neal at Zeus Comics who provided the copies of Detective Comics 854 for prize support which Mr. Rucka so graciously signed.
Winning autographed copies of Batwoman’s lead debut in our Ask Greg Rucka Contest are:
The winner of our Twitter contest is Jeramy Ware!
Congratulations. We’ll be in touch to coordinate the deets.