Greg Rucka was fired up for his “Lazarus” panel at New York Comic-Con, and not just because more people turned up than he expected. The writer of “Whiteout” and “Gotham Central” went off on a few tangents during the panel hosted by Image Comics’ David Brothers and featuring artist and co-creator Michael Lark. When not talking about the creative process of the book itself, Rucka got fired up about the political climate of the day.
While panel attendees waited for the show to start, Rucka read some of the world’s more depressing and downright outrageous news to the crowd, who listened politely. Soon enough Lark showed up, and the mood turned a little lighter. The artist revealed that his collaborator thought there would only be a handful of people in attendance, to which Rucka responded, “Turns out you guys are kind of amazing.”
Before kicking into full gear, Rucka polled the crowed about whether the people amassed would be interested in reading a prose anthology written by other writers covering the history of the “Lazarus” world, which is set after an economic downfall that has led to a small group of families taking over the world. Anyone not directly associated with the families is referred to as “waste,” and each family has a super-soldier called a Lazarus who keeps them safe and does their bidding. The anthology would feature prose with spot illustrations by Lark, presented as an ebook. The crowd cheered at the suggestion. After the crowd waved to Lark’s girlfriend and sang “Happy Birthday” to Rucka’s wife, the panel officially got under way.
Rucka explained that his “Gotham Central” co-writer Ed Brubaker introduced him to Lark, as the conversation moved to the cover of “Lazarus” #1, which features series star Forever sporting a nasty bullet wound on her forehead. Lark pulled the curtain back, saying he wasn’t sure how it would work until he saw a brief clip of Milla Jovovich in “Resident Evil” during an ad for the Blu-Ray of the film. He went back through the whole thing, found the look and then knew how to approach the cover.
Lark said that, to him, that image helped bring Forever to life. Rucka recounted showing the image around to some trusted female friends, not wanting to do yet another “dead white girl” cover image, but said his sample crowd did not think of it as such. Rucka continued to explain that he wrote a scene that finds Forever getting shot in the head and then dealing with her body as everything comes back online. For now, it’s in a folder to be used at a later time.
“Very few people in a Greg Rucka comic are saying what they mean,” Lark said, noting one of his favorite aspect of his collaborator’s storytelling style. The pair spoke about the composition of a few pages from a recent issue, noting that Lark will often move things around in the drawing process to make the most dramatic tension.
Lark went on to say that he almost completely works from models and reference material when drawing. Later in the panel, he brought up the fact that he needed more details from Rucka when it came to designing the motorcycles and the weapons beyond lines like “badass motorcycle” in the script.
The artist also said at one point that he doesn’t consider himself a great cover artist, but more of a storyteller, to which his partner responded that he usually winds up telling a story in those same images. Rucka then explained the cover creation process, noting that solicits come out three months before the issue, and the solicit text and cover image are needed three weeks before that, so he usually hasn’t written the issue before Lark needs to know what the cover is going to be.
“There’s nothing you can do about that,” Lark said, referring to the fact that sometimes he finds a scene in the finished script that he feels would have made a better cover. “As the story goes, as I’m drawing it, those iconic images come out.”
The conversation then turned to the quieter moments in the book. Rucka said that all of that comes from one scene in John Woo’s “Hard Boiled.” In the middle of this crazy firefight, the two heroes wind up in a morgue, where they reload their weapons and one tells the other he wants to move to Antarctica where the lightness will balance out the darkness of his life. They share a quick moment — in which Rucka says he wants them to just kiss already — and then go right back to the gunfight.
“That scene has given birth to more of my work,” he said. “All of ‘Whiteout’ comes from me sitting there watching that scene and thinking, ‘I’ve never seen a buddy cop movie with two woman with that kind of homoerotic tension.'”
“So many American comics are just white noise,” Lark said, not long after bringing the conversation back to the quiet moments of “Lazarus.” Rucka added that they use the idea of crescendos and valleys when putting their issues together to give the reader a more emotional ride, something that can be seen in many of the fight scenes.
Part of that quietness is the lack of sound effects, which Rucka said he uses sparingly because he doesn’t think he’s very good at them. Lark added that the audience will put in their own sounds ,which will probably be better anyway, so they only us sound effects when it’s necessary.
Rucka went on to talk a bit about the different kinds of Lazari each family has. While Forever was genetically modified and trained, her counterpoint Joaquin has been enhanced with metal parts to the point where he doesn’t actually eat anymore. “She’s thinking, ‘She will never touch me,'” Rucka said of the page that shows off what Joaquin looks like under his skin. Lark responded by saying that he’s not giving Forever enough credit because she’s already emotionally attached. “He’s the only one who gets her,” Lark added.
The writer hinted at other kinds of Lazari, as well as a family that doesn’t have one Lazarus, but instead a pill that can be given to a number of people who will then go do the work of a Lazarus, and either come back or not.
The first bit of political talk came out when Rucka was asked about his Tumblr. His basic point was that people need to speak up when they think they’re being taken advantage of or overlooked by those in power.
When asked about the difference between writing for comics and novels, Rucka said that the biggest one is the level of collaboration. Novelists are gods, essentially doing what they want, while comic writers are working along with an artist to the tell the best story they can.
“The script has one purpose,” Rucka said. “To tell Michael, ‘This is the story as I envisioned it for this issue. These are the beats of that story.’ At which point I desperately want Michael to read it and go, ‘You’re wrong about that, and I can make this better, and this pacing is off.'” Rucka went on to say that he sees comics writing more akin to letter writing because he’s taking his ideas and conveying them to one other person: the artist. He also offered some advice to writers: learn to write short stories and you can write anything but poetry, “because poetry is a short story missing 99 percent of the words.”
Back to the origins of “Lazarus,” Lark revealed that he and Rucka had actually been working on another project when the writer described a scene that was originally in the first issue that the artist absolutely wanted to draw. As it turned out, though, that scene was cut from the first issue’s initial draft. Rucka also remembered Lark not liking the characters in that first draft, which focused more on Forever’s less-likable family members. Lark was also opposed to the amount of incest in that version, for fear that it and the other elements would turn off readers.
Lark continued the collaboration talk by saying that he would never change a word of dialog from one of Rucka’s scripts, but does play with elements to create a better flow. “Greg likes to describe images,” Lark said. “And there are times where I can’t figure it out. And at some point I’ll just draw what I see, and thankfully Greg’s cool enough to let me do that.” His process involves reading the script and sketching out boxes filled with panels for various ways to tackle the layout. From there Lark figures out if parts can or should be moved around for better dramatic effect.
Brothers then revealed some uncolored pages from November’s “Lazarus” #5, which featured Forever going to a rural home for a brief period of time. “They are, as we would call, waste,” Rucka said. “They are rural waste, meaning they are basically peasants working the land. This is the first time we see them.” Lark added that it’s fun for him to draw something so different from what appeared in the first arc.
Speaking of the world, an attendee asked how they built a dystopian future that doesn’t look like all the others. “I’ve never seen an economic apocalypse,” Rucka said. That transitioned into talk of all the background elements and research that goes into the series that fans will probably never see. “You guys don’t see the world building,” he said. They both have put a lot of time and energy into figuring out what elements of current life survive into this future they’ve built and what kind of new technology has been developed.
Another page reveal showed off a bit of Lark’s process, which includes using a pair of assistants who help him build backgrounds, sets and models for elements like the vehicles. For the motorcycle, he sketched out a general idea and also included all kinds of references for various parts. He sends all that information to the assistant and gets back a cohesive design that then gets incorporated into the book.
Lark added that they all work together so well that he doesn’t think a reader could figure out which backgrounds he drew and which ones he didn’t. Without the assistants, Lark estimated it would take him two months to put out one issue, so this process keeps them on a better schedule.
Rucka also brought up Eric Trautmann who helps with much of the “back matter” and also has a background in design. He helps create many of the insignias and logos throughout the series.
As the panel closed, Lark said that the industry is currently experiencing a Golden Age for creator-owned comics. Rucka added that Image deserves a lot of credit, but so does the audience who has decided to branch out from Big Two books and try new things. “If you don’t like what the Big Two are doing, stop buying it,” Rucka said. “It’s okay, you don’t have to have a complete collection. Because they treat you really badly.”