After only five issues of their Image Comics series "Rat Queens," writer Kurtis J. Wiebe and artist Roc Upchurch have inspired a devoted fan community, started a social club, launched a body-positive merchandise line, thrown a hugely successful benefit party during Emerald City Comicon and are still ready to conjure up action.
The book's second arc begins this week with issue #6 and picks up the morning after the hilariously debaucherous party in issue #5. At said party the Queens celebrated a hard-earned victory on the battlefield as well as Violet's miraculous recovery from an arrow to the throat. Readers saw Hannah hook up sexy Captain of the Guard Sawyer; Violet finally cave for the luxurious bird-beard of Orc Dave; Betty reunite with ex-girlfriend Faeyri; and Dee -- well, Dee's still a bit of a mystery, isn't she?
Although "Sass & Sorcery" came to a satisfying resolution, it opened up a new world of intrigue -- for instance, how the hell did Hannah turn into a black-eyed berserker and obliterate an entire army? What is up with the mysterious man from Dee's past? Although Palisades is safe for now, trouble is coming and we know the Rat Queens aren't going to back down. Luckily, Wiebe was on hand to talk CBR News through what's next for the Queens, including the aftermath of their drunken revelry, the impact of their growing powers and how the community around the series has personally impacted him.
CBR News: At the close of the first arc, you've shown us some pretty intriguing character moments, from Hannah especially. Let's start by talking about her. Even though she plays aloof, it's clear that her feelings for her fellow Rat Queens run deep, especially after seeing Violet almost die. Hannah is a volatile creature to begin with, but seeing how her emotions informed her powers was very telling -- is this a side of her we're going to see more of?
Kurtis Wiebe: Yes. It's going to be a part of her overall journey in Rat Queens. We're working on the seventh issue right now and there's a pretty big reveal about that power and how it relates to Tizzie. We're always going to be building on it, little bits at a time. Just as with the other characters, we'll give you a glimpse of them slowly over the course of the series. We're treating it like getting to know someone new -- you see them in a very specific light at first but the more time you spend with them, the complexities and the traits that define them bubble to the surface.
We also saw hints, and then evidence, of Hannah's on-again, off-again relationship with Sawyer. Where are they both at emotionally as the next arc begins?
Regret. [Laughs] As with Hannah's history with her dark side, Sawyer is very much a part of her past that we'll be getting into further down the line. It's clear they have been together at some point, which is obvious from the preview that's been posted. Why they are in this state of limbo, what happened before that, it's all tied into Hannah's arc.
While thinking about the Queens' love interests, we also saw the return of Faeyri who previously ended things with Betty. Is she going to be around more in the upcoming story? What keeps drawing her back to Betty in spite of her reservations?
We'll be talking about that soon as well. One of things Faeyri said to Betty was that she was hanging around with some pretty bad people and she didn't want anything to do with that. Her showing up at the party was tied into the idea that the Queens actually stepped in to help save the town, rather than being a constant problem.
Not to just keep talking about romance, but please tell me more about Violet and Orc Dave. Maybe I just have a thing for beards, but so far I ship them so hard. Plus, the Daves having the Rat Queens' backs during the battle was an amazing moment. Did seeing him prove himself on the battlefield do anything to sway Violet's affections?
I know a lot of people loved that those two hooked up. In my mind it was just a 'in the heat of the moment' thing. They'd battled together, he pulled her out of the fire when she was in a bad way and then helped bring her back from the brink of death. And he's a handsome man with birds in his beard.
And I really liked the idea of them just hooking up, having a good time, and it not being weird. Again, something you can see in the preview is the morning after they all just hang out like it's no big thing. Hopefully I'm not breaking any hearts by saying it was just hot casual sex.
Besides the Daves, Braga was a huge help during the battle in issue #4. Will she be making any more appearances?
Oh yes. Braga has a fully fleshed out backstory as well. We hinted at it very subtly in issue #4 when the two orcs recognized her and called her The Bastard. I had hoped to begin that story with Issue #6 but I just didn't have the room with putting in all the other plot pieces.
And Dee. Oh, Dee, you woman of mystery... In issue #6, you give us a tantalizing reveal into her personal life, but I need to know more. As her partners develop relationships and branch their group out a bit, how is she doing? Were the Rat Queens a place of solace and escape for her, and is their expanding circle of allies an adjustment for her?
The end of this issue is something I am really excited for readers to see. For their sake I won't even begin to hint at it. That said, Dee is going to have to face her past that she has clearly run from and not dealt with fully. There's going to be some hard questions asked of her and it's going to put Dee in the spotlight. Something that is not entirely comfortable with, as fans know.
She is going to have a lot of mixed emotions about what happens this issue and, just like things we've gone through in our own lives where our past catches up with us, there's going to be consequences.
In a lot of ways, fans of the book have built their own community of solace and escape. "Rat Queens" has some of the most vocal, engaged fans of any series going right now, including your awesome Social Club, and you guys are both super involved with your fans. Can you talk about that?
It's hard to know where to even begin. It's been this simmering movement that we've actively been a part of since we found out it existed. When we put this series together our biggest hope was that we'd find any audience. If I'm being completely honest, I had some doubts that there was a market for this kind of story. In a lot of ways I felt it was too niche when you combined the facts of it being a fantasy story, featuring an all-female team created by two men.
There were some giants we were up against during our release, particularly "Sex Criminals," which overshadowed us. We were really happy with the reviews but there wasn't a lot of chatter otherwise.
Then, Roc and I noticed a few posts on Tumblr of favorite panels. At the beginning, it was four or five women who were sharing their love of the series and talking to each other about it. I loved seeing that, so we just joined in on the conversation. And we kept at it. And as the months rolled by and more issues came out, the conversation grew. And the number of participants swelled.
That was the origin of the Rat Queens Social Club, we decided to take that conversation to a more personal level and open up an hour of our lives to the fans. That experience was a catalyst for how I marketed the book. And, honestly, it wasn't even marketing; it was simply talking to the people who love what we do.
There's this community growing, stories coming from a shared love of "Rat Queens." If you follow the "Rat Queens" Instagram, or have liked the Facebook page, you can see it. It's a large group of people who, while never having met, know each other, brought together by the series.
And I still haven't been able to wrap my head around that. So, I just keep the conversation going.
The fan response has driven some remarkable actions from you guys, including the launch of your apparel line, which is managed by your lovely fiancee Shannon. How's that going? I bitterly wept after everything sold out when it first launched, and noticed that you guys had an almost total sell out after re-stocking. What's next?
Shannon is continuing to expand the Rat Queens merch brand. She's got new designs and styles coming. She's also planning the first shirt for men. I think a lot of male fans thought we were actively ignoring their requests for merch. The fact was we actually started off with a shirt for both men and women through Image and when we announced it there was a strong response from women asking for shirts that fit their bodies better.
Shannon saw that response and took it on herself to meet that demand. Thing is, there's so much out there for the male comic audience already. There isn't the struggle to find a comfortable shirt for something they really love.
Women have been such a vocal support for "Rat Queens" that we wanted to do something special for them. And it's weird to me that making comic merch for women is even called 'special.'
Tell me, how did it feel to see Felicia Day wearing the shirt!
Surreal. I knew she was a "Rat Queens" fan (had heard through the grapevine) so it was a wonderful moment to show the photo to Shannon and see her reaction. I still don't really understand the size of the fan base a lot of the time. This was a bit of an eye opener, as a lot of the responses to Felicia's twitter photo in the shirt were, "Rat Queens!"
Thinking back to your awareness and appreciation for your fans, are there any aspects of "Rat Queens" that have changed since you started based on fan input or response? Is that something you guys think about?
We're creating this comic as we'd always planned, but there've been one or two changes. The one we've talked about most is the fact that the Four Daves were originally meant to be killed off like the other groups of adventurers. They would've had one more scene, expanding the assassin plot, and then fade out of the series. After issue #1 came out, people started tweeting about them, hashtagging #TeamFourDaves and it was that response that saved them.
It's funny because they were instrumental in the last two issues.
More than anything, the fan response has made it much more personal for me. We've received anonymous messages on Tumblr from fans saying that "Rat Queens" restored their confidence because of how the ladies are of all shapes and sizes.
How can you not be moved by that? Especially as a man person who's struggled with body image my whole life.
Rat Queens means more to me than it did at the outset, it's more personal.
What upcoming parts of the next arc are you the most excited about? The artist crossover with "Peter Panzerfaust" is super awesome -- will there be any other guest artists or similar?
I'm most excited about delving into Dee's history and also furthering Hannah's arc after the reveal of the darkness she can tap into. We'll be seeing Tizzie again and hinting at their past, which has slipped under the radar for the last 5 issues. Which is great. I love seeing Roc illustrate Tizzie and I actually have a lot of love for her.
We have quite a few awesome guest artists doing covers for "Rat Queens." It seems like a lot of artists want to try their hand at our characters.
"Rat Queens" #6 by Kurtis J. Wiebe & Roc Upchurch is on sale now.