Greg Rucka began his San Francisco Wondercon spotlight panel with a joke that garnered loud laughter from the audience as he realized the auditorium-sized room the convention gave him for the panel, “I’m not Geoff Johns, why is this room so big!?!”
The panel moderator, Laura Hudson from Comics Alliance, started things right off with a question for Greg on how he is able to write strong female characters so well; where does the insight come from? Rucka said it was a twofold answer, one, it’s like a joke Eddie Izzard is known for, “I’m a male lesbian.” He continued, “I’m comfortable with my ‘maleness,’ but I have always female-identified. Socially, I don’t see myself in a male role, but that’s an issue of identity and not writing. Two, I believe, for me, all writing comes from character, which is based on a variety of things, one of which is gender. Just like someone going to public school as opposed to someone going to private school.”
In response to another question from Hudson, the writer elaborated on his writing process for novels. His first Kodiak novel for instance, was something he’d been thinking about for most of his writing career up to that point, something he worked on for practically most of his life. But the second Kodiak book was practically forced out of him, it was the publisher coming to him wanting another book and not him coming up with a book on his own. Thus the book went through many iterations and changes before it was finally published. For instance, in this second book, “Finder,” the S.A.S. didn’t even show up until the third draft. Things were almost forced. The third book in the series, “Smoker,” was another matter. “Smoker” was easier, “Boom! All of the sudden there was a novel.”
As Rucka explained, “I got nervous by how easy it was. The worst thing for a writer to do is to believe their own press.” He wanted to make sure the next book was still a challenge, so he came up with a plan to follow, part of which was to have the next book, “Shooting at Midnight,” broken up into three narratives, with the female character Bridgette Logan telling the story in lieu of the normal narrator, the male Atticus Kodiak. Rucka asked female friends and family for advice and input, and especially wanted them to ask him tough questions, or at least tough questions for a male to answer. One of the questions he was asked by his friends in preparation for the book was, “Does she get cramps?” And while a seemingly ‘simple’ question, it is something that a woman has to deal with regularly every month, and informs a large part of their personality, especially during such an event.
In the end, it is still how he writes any character, male or female. “Just be real.” As a writer, he can run away from an uncomfortable situation, or he can confront it, and make the scene more realistic.
In response to a related question, Greg shared how in “Blackest Night Wonder Woman #1” he wanted to be careful in the Arlington Cemetery scene, as he did not mean any disrespect towards war veterans. An audience member then shared that his grandmother, whose deceased husband served served, read the very same issue, and found it incredibly respectful.
The discussion on Wonder Woman continued as Greg was asked what is the key to writing Wonder Woman well? “Wonder Woman is an incredibly convoluted character,” he said. For Batman and Superman, their moment of conception is perfect and timeless. Bruce Wayne’s parents can be killed ‘tomorrow’ and still grow up to become Batman, similar for Superman, whose rocket ship can crash tomorrow in some idolized farming town. But Wonder Woman is based on an outdated concept of feminism. She wears thigh high boots, a bustier, and carries a whip. “It’s not a lasso!” he laughed. You can either acknowledge it or don’t. Some people hate the concept. Some even try to simplify it, making Wonder Woman into a “Superman with tits,” which Rucka followed with, “No. She’s not.” His obvious fandom for Wonder Woman was revealed further as he said he and Phil Jimenez (writer and artist of “Wonder Woman” before his own run) used to have friendly debates over what it means exactly to be an Amazon.
Moving along to “Detective Comics,” Rucka said that the original editor of the title was Peter Tomasi, and that it was his idea to have J.H. Williams III as the artist on the book. From the start, J.H. had ideas for the design of the book, and the writer didn’t get what he was saying until he started to see pages for the story, and that it then began to inform his writing. “We collaborated on visuals, we worked towards the yin yang scene of Alice versus Kate. And we made sure the faces of Alice and Kate are exact, just hair and makeup different, no tricks.”
Asked about more DC comics work, the writer said he finished his last DC work yesterday, and there is nothing more planned. He feels he needs to step back in general. Although, Rucka still wants to keep working with J.H. And while there is nothing in the works, there is still a five-part Batwoman story that has been broken down, but they were moved off of “Detective” before starting it. “It’s basically Alice’s origin,” showing the kidnapping from her point of view and the years she spent away.”
Rucka loves the character of Batwoman, and he set out to create a character that would endure, with a strong enough origin that anyone could write her. As for the prospect of working with DC again, Greg said he’s been around the industry long enough to know, “Never say never.”
As for what’s coming up, “Stumptown #3” should be out at the beginning of May, followed the next month by #4, then a break for a few months before #5. “The Last Run: A Queen & Country Novel,” will be Tara’s last story, but it sets up a potential “Queen & Country Series 2,” which if it happened, would have to wait until 2011. He promised Nicola Scott she could draw the first arc, and she is DC Comics exclusive until then. The book would feature a new lead character, but with Tara as boss.
There are a lot of stories in flux for the writer, but hopefully by the end of this summer there will be some announcements. But the writer did go through a quick list of possibilities.
He has one idea for a series of graphic novels, each highlighting a different American war, which would feature one family’s lineage taking part throughout. He’d like to have the same artist for every book, a prospect highly unlikely for any artist to take on, and a project that would take years to complete.
Rucka and J.H. are working on one project that was described by the writer as “‘Bladerunner’ meets ‘Blake’s 7.'”
There’s an “Arthurian thing” he’s working on.
Rucka and Nunzio DeFilippis want to do a really scary comic book, true horror.
He and Eric Trautman want to do a fun pulp styled comic, something akin to “Betsy Tomahawk versus Nazi Frogmen From Mars” as an example.
And there is a web comic to keep an eye out for at this year’s Comi-Con International in San Diego .
“I need to start telling the stories I want to tell. Writers need to scare themselves,” Rucka said. And the difference between good and bad writing is, “Good writing makes you feel something, bad writing you just don’t care. Those good moments scared me sometimes. [As in] Am I willing to go there?”
The one thing Rucka would change about mainstream comics was simple, “STOP buying event books!” The jovial response received cheers from the crowd, which he responded to saying, “If you don’t want them, then stop buying them. It’s an escalating event war between Marvel and DC. With that said, some of these events have been really good, so maybe just make them cheaper.”
Another idea Rucka had was, “Take comics out of specialty shops (i.e. comic stores), put them back in Wal-Marts and grocery stores. How the hell can we get more people to read comics? Hope the iPad saves comics, digital distribution? I like my floppies, my hard copy. We don’t bring people in with these events, these events are solely for the audience we already have, and sold in specialty stores, there’s nothing to attract new readers.”
Moving on, Rucka’s reaction to the “Whiteout” film was mixed. “I don’t think it was as bad as the reviews made it out to be.” He felt the reviewers almost seemed to have a vendetta against the actors, especially Kate Beckinsale. “That said, it’s a mediocre film. I didn’t write it thinking it would become a movie, but I would have liked it to be a hit.” In the end though, it was still a great experience for the writer.
The discussion moved back to previous work as the writer revealed the impetus for making Cris Allen the Spectre was Geoff Johns. “Cris was always going to be killed, and Renee was always going to turn in her badge at the end of ‘Gotham Central,’ but Cris becoming the Spectre was a good idea. My first instinct is street level, ‘smaller’ stories, but Geoff is all about superheroes.”
His approach to writing novels and writing comic books is different from one another, “It’s a state of mind. I describe the story to an artist to depict it (in comics), but in a novel, I tell the story to the reader.”
Asked if he was thinking about heading over to Marvel Comics, Greg said, “No.” In theory, he could have written for Marvel the last three years. He just doesn’t want to be exclusive to anyone at the moment.
Greg opened up some more about Wonder Woman in response to a question about redoing the Amazon’s origin. He’d keep the character young, “I’d make her 23.” He would keep Steve Trevor as a major part of the mythology and shared his version of what their first meeting would be like. And if he had stayed on the book, he had at least 12 to 18 months worth of stories dealing with the aftermath of the death of Maxwell lord.
Lastly, Rucka definitely believes there are more stories to tell with Kate/Batwoman, and definitely a tale about her time in the service, and possibly even a return to the armed forces. “Sophie, Kate’s ex-lover, is still in the military, the person who ratted out her sexuality is still out there, lots of potential.”