Writer Greg Rucka is one of the biggest names in comics. Despite rising to stardom on DC's Batman titles, since the end of his "Punisher" run in 2013 he has been primarily focused on his creator-owned titles including "Stumptown" at Oni Press and "Lazarus" at Image Comics. That didn't stop him from making a major splash at Marvel, writing the current "Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens - Shattered Empire" miniseries with art by his "Punisher" collaborator Marco Checchetto.
With plenty already on his plate, last month Rucka added another new creator-owned series to his resume, launching "Black Magick" at Image Comics with artist and co-creator Nicola Scott. While the book rests firmly in the crime and police procedural mold Rucka has covered in his career, it also adds in various supernatural elements the writer has only briefly had the chance to utilize in past stories.
At New York Comic Con, CBR TV's Jonah Weiland welcomed Rucka to the CBR Tiki Room above the show floor to talk about the Michael Lark-drawn "Lazarus," now reaching the end of its fourth arc, what fans can expect from "Black Magick" and Rucka's goals as a storyteller with it, as well as how and why he decided to take on a licensed comic like "Star Wars" at this stage in his career, offering plenty of advice for fellow creators in the process.
In part one of his conversation with CBR TV, Rucka his and Michael Lark's acclaimed Image Comics series "Lazarus." Rucka tees up a major finale to the "Poison" arc before the book takes a brief hiatus, discusses the heartbreaking fight between Forever and Sonia and why the book is a dark, familial crime saga instead of just Forever's story. He also talks about Jonah Carlyle's return in Issue #22, why he's just as important to the story as any other character, and the dangers of sympathizing with your protagonist.
On the "mic drop" that is "Lazarus" #21, the final issue of the "Poison" arc:
Greg Rucka: I gotta tell you, the end of #21's a mic drop. It really is, 'cause then we're off for at least four months because we go into the trade cycle. Image has adjusted, quite logically, the way they're soliciting books, so as to keep us from having... an issue every six weeks or so. So we're gonna take it every seriously, we're gonna get the whole arc in the can before we start soliciting. So we've got a couple things that we'll have right after the trade, we'll be doing a second hardcover, the Volume 2 hardcover and it'll have all the extra backmatter and so on. But yeah, we're going out on the end of the fourth arc ends with, yeah, pretty much a, "Yep, see you later."
On why "Lazarus" is about the entire Carlyle family and this world, not just Forever:
I told [Michael Lark] straight off, "Everything important in this arc happens in this space." We're gonna have the ball is there, we're gonna have the showdown there, and we're gonna have the fight there. I don't know what it was in my head, but there's something to me about fresh blood on the hardwood floor, on the dance floor, that was very resonant to me [Laughs] -- the image is very potent, and maybe a little heavy-handed symbolically. But I think it's representative of so much of what's going on in those books.
It's interesting, too, because you talk about -- and especially in the new arc, in "Poison" -- you get to see the nuance and the layers in the family. And yeah, it's always going to be primarily Forever's story, but with "Poison" we brought back Casey and Michael so you're now starting to see the purpose to their introduction; we're seeing Stephen's struggles with leadership; you're looking at Johanna, and I think the thing that I'm happiest about in the current arc, in "Poison," is that Johanna is finally getting her due because up until now she's very much been, "Ahhh, I'm Lady MacBeth, ahhh!" [Laughs] I this you're gonna finally see it's not just venal and greed, that there's more going on there. She has done awful things but she believes she was right to do them. And I think that's important, too. We talk a lot in writing -- and it's in drama, you can see it's in superhero comics, wherever -- very rarely do you get a villain who goes, "You know what? I'm evil, and I'm going to do evil." The motivation is they are doing the thing they have to do. It may not be the thing that is right, but it's the thing they feel they have to do. There's an imperative to it.
On why we haven't seen the last of Jonah Carlyle:
Jonah jumps off, and if you thought that was the last we were gonna see of him you were an idiot. [Laughter] It would literally be a writer going, "Here's a character I'm going to throw away and never do anything else with," as opposed to going, "This is all setup." So I really, #22 is gonna open with him washing up on the shore in Norway and you're with him. Jonah's story is as important as Forever's in the overall movement of "Lazarus," in the 100, 150 issues that is this thing in its entirety. Jonah's story is crucial. And I think, frankly, redemptive because he starts in a really horrible place. He starts as a really reprehensible person and he's got a long journey back from that. Part of what makes that so compelling is that that's in contrast to, like, Johanna, who like I say when we get to the end of #21, at the end of the current arc, has really sort of arrived into her full power.
On the natural tendency to to sympathize with your protagonist, and why it may not be a good thing:
I was talking to a couple guys who are pretty sharp critics of the book and one of the things that they said, and I think it's important to remember, we naturally want to sympathize with the protagonist. You look at Forever and you go, "She's not..." and she isn't as bad as all that, but we then start to forgive Carlyle, and when you put Carlyle next to Hawk it's easy to do. But yeah, you can never forget that Carlyle made this world, and it's a rotten world. They are the banality of evil in many ways.
In part two, Rucka shifts gears to his newest Image Comics launch, "Black Magick" with artist Nicola Scott. He describes Scott as someone who doesn't suffer fools, their previous collaboration on a Wonder Woman book for DC, and how they united for "Black Magick." He also explains why he has the perfect collaborators on each of his creator-owned projects at the moment and why, while supernatural is relatively new to his writing, it's a not a new impulse for him to want to work on these types of stories.
On why "Black Magick" artist Nicola Scott is not to be trifled with:
She will break you and then she'll floss with your bones. I mean she really will. You mess not with Nicola, and if you've met her husband who's a writer, Andrew Constant -- and he's a very good writer -- Andrew's got like four inches, he's a big, huge guy, and there's no question. It's like if they get into it, he's dead. He's just dead. Hemingway described it as the "built-in, shockproof, bullshit detector," and that is Nicola Scott, period. She's got no tolerance for it, she won't put up with it, and if she don't like it she's gonna fix it or somebody's gonna know why.
On being fortunate to have the right collaborators on the right books:
You talk about "Lazarus" and you talk about "Stumptown" with Justin Greenwood now on it, you talk about "Black Magick," and I am in a incredibly fortunate place. My collaborators on each book right now really are the right collaborators on each b ook. I just, I don't have a better way to put it. "Lazarus" wouldn't be "Lazarus" if Nicola was drawing it; that's Michael. And by the same token, "Black Magick" had been something initially, way back when, I thought Michael and I were gonna do. For a number of reasons that led to us coming up with "Lazarus" and doing it, but if Michael and I had tried to do "Black Magick" it wouldn't -- I don't think it would have been a proper fit. He certainly would have delivered great art, right, but you see what Nicola's done if you've seen the preview pages, they're incredible. They're just -- and they're so right for the story in a way that I certainly would never have been able to articulate, and like I said, I can say the same thing about "Stumptown."
On why he's always wanted to add supernatural twists and why he thinks "Veil" ultimately failed:
I've always wanted to, and I've tried it. I tried it multiple places to varying levels of success. You look at the DC work, a lot of what was coming out, the "Crime Bible" stuff with [Renee] Montoya leading into the "Pipeline" arc, things like that really were me trying to play with some of the really -- there's nothing like when you watch something like "The Omen," you know, there are certain films that deal with that sense of inevitability. And that is a very hard thing to create. I think we see for the most part writers and filmmakers in particular, they can't do it, they don't know how to execute it so what they do is they try to trick you. They go, "Ha! Surprise!" and you're like, "Yeah, that's not the same as inevitability." You should in those final moments see the ending coming and also realize that there was no way to avoid it, that this is what it was driving toward.
So there's that element of storytelling, there are other elements in those kind of stories that I wanted to play with. We did it in "Veil" at Dark Horse, and I think that "Veil" in many ways -- you know I busted my hump on that but I don't think the story ultimately -- we didn't stick the landing. It ultimately, I feel, failed. But that's not gonna keep me from trying again. I think it's important to get out there and fumble every so often. I work better scared, and I work better angry. And then all these things came together -- they fit really well for "Black Magick," what we want to talk about sort of thematically with the book, what we want to do with Rowan as a character, it just seems right. I think we all like stories where there's a question of destiny, you know, and a question of what may be preordained. If something's preordained, can you refuse it? Is there a way out? That's what I'm interested in.
Wrapping up the conversation, things turn to Rucka's work on "Star Wars: Shattered Empire," a prequel comic book series to the upcoming "The Force Awakens" feature film. Rucka shares what drew him to write a "Star Wars" comic when he's had so much success of late with creator-owned material, as well as how he feels creators and publisher should each approach the working relationship when it comes to for-hire material.
On writing a "Star Wars" book and why you have to go into work for-hire with your eyes open:
Look, you know what I mean, it's Star Wars. Any time you enter into work for-hire, be it Marvel, be it DC, be it wherever, if you are not going into that arrangement with your eyes wide open, then more fool you. You are -- look, you're asking for trouble if you take the gig to write Batman and then you get angry when they say, "No, he can't go on a murderous rampage and kill 18 people." And it doesn't matter if you have the best "reason" why he would do it -- "but he was mind-controlled by the Joker" or whatnot -- they have every right to turn around and say, "The character's worth a lot more than you, sir, and you don't get to go out there and break that toy. You can't do it."
I used to feel that, and I feel one of the problems with work for-hire, is that there's a perpetuated sense of, "Oh, you're so lucky to be doing this job for us." And that's not the right relationship. The proper relationship is, "No, you guys are my client. You came to me. So I will deliver to you, but you've gotta arm me properly to do it. You have every right to go in there and say this does not meet the standards of the job. And you have every right [as the writer] to say, 'This is in flux.'" "Episode VII" is as locked as I suppose it's going to be, right, but Lucasfilm has every right to go in to a script and say, "That is very close to something that we are doing. Please change this." I'm not gonna sit there and go "No!" Part of what they're paying me for is the right to call at 3 in the morning and say, "We need it re-written in the next two hours." That said, they're my client and if they do that six times in a row, I have every right to say, "You need to pay me in full again," because comics is the only industry where that wouldn't trigger an automatic payment. If you were writing in Hollywood, you know you get two polishes -- you get a draft, the revision and two polishes, and you come at me after that, that triggers another payment. And I'm more than happy to do it, but like I said, "I don't work for you. You're my client."
I think that that is a very important thing for creators to remember these days, because to the Big 2 I think a lot of us are interchangeable. And that's not necessarily wrong. They've got multi-billion dollar characters and they've got -- the hall is full of people who would happily take on the writing jobs. The question is how many of them who are happy to do it can do it, and can do it well. And you get what you pay for.