Acclaimed novelist and comics writer Greg Rucka has long been a fan of the private eye genre. This week at Comic-Con International in San Diego, it was announced that Rucka would be putting his own stamp on the genre in a new Oni Press series called “Stumptown,” and CBR News sat down with the writer to get some early details.
The first mystery fans get to solve is the identity of the protagonist. Rucka was decidedly tight-lipped about not only the name of the detective in “Stumptown” but also the detective’s gender. He did go so far as to say that the stories in “Stumptown” take place in the same world as his novels.
“The way it works is that Bantam basically leases the novel from me,” Rucka said. “So the characters and their world are in theory all mine, so I can do whatever I want. Fans of the novels will probably be able to pick up on the threads in the second issue.
“It’s a single individual detective, in the honor of all great private-eye novels. As opposed to there being an actual agency, the agency is one person with a desk. And, you know, this is about as realistic as most private eye stories are going to be, which is to say not at all. Because, frankly, actual investigation work is pretty tedious and undramatic.”
The series was inspired in no small part by the P.I. television series of Rucka’s youth, like “Magnum, P.I.,” “Simon and Simon,” and “The Rockford Files.”
“It’s my love letter to ‘The Rockford Files,'” he said. “It’s taking those things that I love in ‘Rockford’ and retooling them for my own purposes for a book set in a world that’s 30 years later. And, you know, I want it to be fun. I want it to have that sense of joy that I got from ‘Rockford.'”
Rucka actually pitched the idea as a TV series around Hollywood before the project made its way to Oni Press.
“And in the end, the way most of these things go in Hollywood, they went, ‘You know, not quite what we’re looking for.'”
The first story arc starts as a traditional missing-persons case.
“Our detective is hired to find a missing woman,” Rucka explained. “And when I say hired, what actually is happening is that the casino is willing to wash the debt that the detective is carrying.”
It was Rucka’s desire to write P.I. novels that led him to start writing in the first place.
“And my first novels, the ‘Kodiak’ novels, started out being private-eye novels about a guy who wasn’t a private eye but instead was a professional protection specialist,” Rucka said. “And the books sort of moved, as they would, away from that, which makes sense, because he wasn’t a P.I.”
As that series of novels progressed, it became increasingly difficult for Rucka to center the plots around a mystery.
“Frankly, even in private-eye novels, the mystery has always been of less interest to me than the character and the story of a character trying to solve the mystery.”
Rucka is currently shooting to produce eight issues of “Stumptown” a year, which should average out to cover about two cases.
“And the world is a continuing world,” he said. “It is a soap opera. So there’s that sense of, ‘Well, this case had these people and these things, and some of these people will show up in later stories and so on and so forth.'”
Rucka had been talking to Oni Press Editor in Chief James Lucas Jones about the project that became “Stumptown” for years.
“We share a love for the same sort of source material on this, and I had known for a really long time that the other series I wanted to do was a P.I. series.” And it was Lucas who found artists Matt Southworth and Stefano Gaudiano for the project. “I saw some of the prelim stuff they did off of the first four pages of the script, and I was floored. I was like, ‘Yes, okay, yes, let’s do it, yes, them, yes!’ So far it’s an example of editorial genius. It’s going to look amazing.”
Rucka wanted a specific look and feel for “Stumptown,” and Southworth and Gaudiano fit the bill.
“There’s that fine line between taking something that is quote-unquote ‘noir,’ and making it so gritty that you have to shower after you read it, you know, just to get the dirt off you,” Rucka explained. “The thing about the shows that I cited earlier is that, they would often have noir elements, but they were not in and of themselves strictly noir. And so, artistically, as much as there’s going to be shadow and darkness, there also needs to be key lighting. Not everything in this world is dirty, not everything in this world is breaking down or inherently corrupt. There are some places that we go in the first issue that are really wholesome locations, and there’s a scene that’s set basically in a lion’s den.”
Rucka is proud of the first issue, which sees the detective punched in the face for no reason.
“There are certain tropes that I feel you have to honor,” he chuckled, and many of the tropes date back to a famous Raymond Chandler essay, “The Simple Art of Murder.”
“It’s essentially Chandler’s thesis of what a private eye novel has to be about, what the book has to be,” Rucka said. “In it, Chandler describes who the detective in the story has to be, and what the crime really ultimately has to be about. There’s the very famous line, ‘Down these mean streets a man must go, who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid.'”
While Rucka acknowledges Chandler didn’t invent the genre, he firmly believes every private-eye story written since has to answer to Chandler’s essay in one way or another.
“Either you have to honor it or you have to refute it, but you can’t ignore it.”
Unlike many modern-day detective shows, “Stumptown” features a P.I. without a gimmick.
“The detective is not obsessive-compulsive, the detective does not talk to dead people, the detective cannot float through walls,” Rucka said. “The detective gets beat up a lot. The detective has a car that’s kinda cool but doesn’t work right. The detective in ‘Stumptown’ is the best person in their world, and a good enough person for any world.”