Rick Remender Fills Us In On His "Strange Girl"

Several comic book writers I've interviewed in the past bemoan the fact that very few of them are actually adding to the comic book mythos. In other words, they are just writing tales using characters created by others - Batman, Spider-Man, Wolverine, etc.

While many out there would view these as dream gigs, some would argue that this kind of writing doesn't feed the "creator" aspect of a writer's soul. It's hard to match the excitement of bringing new characters and worlds into existence with just your mind and a pen.

One writer who can certainly attest to this fact is writer Rick Remender. In the past few years, he's given readers a diverse group of titles to enjoy: "Fear Agent," "Night Mary," "Sea of Red," "Doll and Creature" and "Strange Girl." And if you're impressed by the number of titles he has put out, the genres he covers in these books is even more amazing. Remender writes everything from outer space adventures with aliens to bloody pirate battles to God's Rapture on earth.

The aforementioned rapture book - "Strange Girl" from Image Comics - is actually having a big week as the series is having a relaunch of sorts (although it is not being renumbered). After a short break, the latest issue hits stands today with a new artist, Nick Stakal; an ashcan is available with art from the new artist; and the series 2nd trade is also arriving in stores today.

For those unfamiliar with the book, here's the CliffsNotes version:

The Rapture has occurred and God has collected all who worship him by any name, leaving a small population of the faithless behind. With the earth now unprotected by God, the demonic citizens of hell flood into our world and enslave the remaining human population. Seven years after the Rapture, a beautiful occultist (Bethany Black) and a runt demon (Bloato) embark on a road trip to the last open gateway to heaven, in hopes of befriending God and escaping hell on earth.

CBR News contacted Remender to find out just how strange things are going to get for the "Strange Girl," and he happily obliged.

Rick, the premises of all your books always hook me from the moment I read their solicitation copy. Where did you get the idea that would eventually evolve into this particular series?

I came up with the basic idea when I was talking with a friend about the Rapture and how crazy it would be if it actually happened. I read up on what the modern Christian believes about the Rapture and realized it was the best set-up for a fantasy story I'd ever heard.

What would you tell readers to encourage them to pick up the trades and try the new relaunch?

For me the heart of the book is our lead Bethany Black. Raised in a world where God has abandoned humanity - and having to endure sharing the Earth with a mass immigration of devils and demons - Bethany has managed to remain a moral creature with a solid set of ethics. Retaining morality against a life of hardship and hopelessness is my definition of a hero.

In the world Bethany inhabits, it's ten years after the Rapture. Many remaining on Earth are left to wonder what they did to earn this fate, though for some they needn't look too far for their answer. For Bethany, it's a puzzle. Could the answer be as simple as her having been unable to accept Christ as her savior? Or perhaps there was another reason for her banishment; something secret and unrevealed? Once Bethany learns of one remaining gateway from earth to heaven, she sets out to get answers to these question and a few others from the "big man" upstairs - that's the gist of things.

As for why someone should pick it up? Well, it's really very good. I also believe the book's utter uniqueness has contributed considerably to its diehard fan base. That, and it also benefits from the fact that it's a very personal story for me. I have my own concerns with religion and often end up straddling the fence on the issue; I use this story as a sounding board to occasionally talk some of these ideas out.

I believe there remains a population of comic readers who want more than just action and drama - they want to investigate some big picture ideas at the same time. In "Strange Girl," I explore many theological questions while keeping the reader embedded in a fast-paced action yarn, neck-deep in a world unlike any they've seen before.

Also, I've been offering a money-back guarantee on the book for months and have yet to have one person take me up on it. I'll make it again: if you buy the first trade or issue #10 and don't love it, email me and I'll send you your money back.

Can you tell me more about the demons in the book? I understand that there are three kinds. Are all three necessarily evil? And how does Bloato fit into this equation?

The demons are broken down into three categories - Red, Blue and Black. They are all distinct: the reds are responsible for torture; the blues are the entertainers (as they are more mischievous and intelligent); and the black shells are the warriors - Lucifer's elite. They are all basically evil, though there are exceptions (Bloato being one of them). They are all creatures that formerly resided in hell and came to earth when God took off.

The issue of "Strange Girl" coming out this week has been referred to as a relaunch. As you are not starting over number-wise, why refer to it this way? And while we are on the subject of the book's earlier issues, how were the sales on those?

The series has never really officially "ceased," it just started to run a bit late. Eric Nguyen [the book's original artist] was offered a gig at Vertigo as soon as they saw his "Strange Girl" work. They kept him very busy on the "Sandman" revival while he was still working on our book, and so we got a bit off schedule. The sales slipped a bit when we began to ship late, but never horribly. And now that we're well ahead of schedule, I expect the numbers will return to their previous state after we ship on time for a couple of months.

You also have an ashcan for the book coming out. What made you decide to do an ashcan, and what's in it? Also, how can readers get a hold of this aschcan?

The ashcan is a basic recap of the first nine issues for folks who want to jump on the series but haven't read the early issues. There is also an exclusive Nick Stakal cover and tons of sketchbook stuff. The ashcan was given away free to retailers; all they had to do was order it. There was a coupon thrown up online for fans to bring in to reserve the thing, but you might be able to get one even if you didn't, depending on your retailer.

Nick Stakal is now doing art for the series, and he has a fairly different style than the previous artist (Eric Nguyen). How come you decided to go in this direction? And how did the two of you meet?

Nick was the find of my long time co-conspirator, (artist) Kieron Dwyer. Kieron and I were looking all over the place for a new artist for a book we are planning to do. He found Nick and showed me his work on the "Silent Hill" comic [from IDW] and it blew me away. When the project Kieron and I were thinking of was put on the backburner, I snatched Nick up for "Strange Girl."

"Strange Girl" has been lucky in regards to artists and colorists. Everyone who's worked on this book is brilliant. I work hard to hunt down top-notch guys on all my books. In my opinion, if you're looking for the next evolution, look to Nick Stakal, Eric Nguyen, Tony Moore, Paul Harmon and Jerome Opena - they represent the next stage of the forward-thinking sequential art movement perpetuated by guys like Kent Williams, Bill Sienkiewicz, Duncan Fegredo, Jamie Hewlett, Frank Miller and a million other awesome guys I'd like to associate my artists' names with. I like to think the stuff we're doing on "Strange Girl" and "Fear Agent" will be looked back on with the same potency as Vertigo in the early 90's or Epic in the mid 80's.

As for the story, where is Bethany at the beginning of the relaunch? Is she still searching for the gateway? Can you give fans a hint about what is going to occur in this arc?

Beth is with her new pal Mouse in New York. She is still focused on getting across the ocean to Europe where she expects to find the last gateway to heaven. However, this proves more difficult than she could have imagined. Things get worse as her former demon lord - Belail - sends dozens of bounty hunters after her and she is forced to take a slight detour to hell, which, as it turns out, is a bad place. This is the darkest chapter of the series; I'm really putting Beth through the paces here.

Bethany has an interesting take on "God" and the afterlife. Do her thoughts reflect your own? Do you use her as a mouthpiece or a sounding board for your readers? Do you belong to any particular religion yourself?

I'm Agnostic. I don't think there is enough information to make any decisions about religion. My Mom's side of the family is very religious. I have many strong feelings about religion and the judgmental, soulless and viscous versions of Christianity, which are more and more prevalent in our culture. It seems as if people are missing the real point of the wonderful philosophies of this and most religions, and prefer to mindlessly following the bible as a rule book, especially if it gives them license to hate their fellow man. This is irritating and fearful behavior, in my eyes.

Bethany Black is a victim of a universe where God operates exactly as modern Christianity believes he will. So, in many ways, she is a symbolic representation of myself and what religious persecution I experienced growing up around some fairly judgmental religious types.

Do you have a long-term plan for "Strange Girl" or a specific ending and ending place in mind?

The ending is some place between issues #23 and 26. It's an ending to the first major story, anyway. If I have the love still, I'll keep it going beyond that.

Most of your comic works are books that you have created yourself. You are almost a production entity unto yourself. What do you feel are the benefits vs. the negatives of working for one of the "Big Two?"

I have built my career on creator-owned books, and I will always spend the majority of my time on them. I have much love for all types of comic books, including superheroes - there are a dozen characters at Marvel and DC I'd love to get a chance at. In fact, I'm getting to take a swing at a good handful of them in my issue of "What if? - Age of Apocalypse…" over at Marvel. Editor Mark Paniccia has been great; we've cooked up some very cool stuff. For me, the perfect career is doing both - creating my own books, as well as getting to write and draw some of the characters that I loved as a kid.

While you seem plenty busy, are there any other upcoming projects you want to mention?

There is the "What if?" issue I mentioned at Marvel [for December] as well as a very cool unannounced book I'm doing at Dynamite. As for creator-owned, I have two new series launching in the next six months - one at Dark Horse and one at Image - and though I wish I could talk them up, I can't. "Fear Agent" is rolling and getting critical acclaim as well as "Sea of Red" which ends at issue #13. We have a "Black Heart Billy" tenth anniversary hardcover edition coming out from Image, as well as a hardcover edition of the entire run of "Sea of Red." No dates on those yet.

Of all of your books, which ones surprised you most in the way readers reacted to it - positively or negatively?

Well, I expected the classic "Battlestar Galactica" comic [from Dynamite Entertainment[ to take a back seat to the contemporary and have been very pleasantly surprised at how many diehard fans there are for the original. I guess the huge outpouring on that was unexpected. To be honest, I think "Night Mary" [IDW Publishing] was the biggest disappointment in the sales department. I think it's Kieron's (Dwyer) best work to date and I could not have been more proud of the script. It's the one thing with the most heat in Hollywood right now though, so once we announce a major film deal, I'm sure the trade paperbacks will get snatched up.

I'll be sure to grab mine now. Thanks Rick!

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