Rucka & Greenwood Explain the New Dynamics of "Stumptown"

Today marks the release of "Stumptown" #2, in which Greg Rucka has partnered with artist Justin Greenwood to make the Oni Press series a new ongoing entity. While still early in the creators' run, the writer and artist made it clear in this new interview how much they enjoy the collaborative dynamics of this project.

This current arc is one that Rucka has been eager to tell since early in the development of private investigator Dex Parios' adventures in Portland. The duo's collaborative dynamics seem like a perfect fit -- and they are both on the same page in terms of wanting to service the story to the best of their respective narrative skills.

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Rucka's explains how his own sister's Down Syndrome helps to inform his approach toward Dex's brother, Ansel; and Greenwood opens up to CBR News about how stepping in to take the artistic reins from Chris Mitten on "Wasteland" helped to give him the confidence to take on "Stumptown" after Matthew Southworth's run.

CBR News: While only one issue has been released, as a writer and artist team, the two of you have already completed at least two to three additional issues -- how long did it take for the two of you to feel like you've fashioned a collaborative rapport to some degree?

Justin Greenwood: To Greg's credit, he went out of his way to make me feel really comfortable right from the outset, and that I should treat the material as my own and be willing to do what I think is best with the art. That kind of faith goes a long way with me and I think that openness to new ideas is what makes both collaborations fun and for a better final product. I probably spent the first couple issues really working on trying to get it as visually true to the spirit of the book as possible, but you can definitely see me loosening up and playing more with later issues.

I think genuine collaborations are like any other relationship -- they grow and change as you get to know and understand each other better, and while it's still pretty early for us we've been finding our way pretty well. I feel like I pretty much have free reign with the art, so long as what I'm doing serves the story and goal of that panel/page/issue. Creatively, that's a great place to be and it makes things feel fresh and fun.

Greg Rucka: I don't feel it took terribly long, but that's probably due more to Justin's skill as a collaborator than with anything I did or didn't do, I'm sorry to say. We talked at the start about how important it was that he not feel beholden to what had come before as much as inspired, or motivated, perhaps, by it. I think we both were a little hesitant at the start, simply because we didn't know each other very well, though that changed very quickly.

In setting the tone for "Stumptown" as a new ongoing, did the two of you struggle in terms of deciding what story should be the first arc?

Greenwood: Y'know, the story for the first arc was pretty well decided previous to my coming aboard but I would guess that Greg and [Oni Press Editor-in-Chief] James [Lucas Jones] probably talked about that a bit.

Rucka: Uh, no. This was a story I've been wanting to tell for years, now, for quite a long while. I think I chucked Justin into the deep end with all the soccer and Timbers Army stuff, and I know he was a little nervous with the amount of reference I was throwing at him. Fortunately, the stadium action is really confined to the first issue, so there was more latitude for him following. But this story, the Case of the King of Clubs, yeah -- I knew I was going to tell this one for a while. It's a good story for Dex, for where we're taking the series, as well, I think -- less of a miniseries, more of a "first story arc."

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After Dex, can both of you discuss one or two of your favorite cast members in Stumptown?

Greenwood: [Laughs] It's hard to not make Dex your favorite! Hmmm... I think because I've gotten to develop and draw her so much, CK has become one of my favorites to draw in this arc although she's really duking it out with Ansel, who has a pretty active role in this arc and gets some really funny and expressive moments to draw.

Rucka: Definitely CK. Ansel is always a favorite, but, yeah... CK kinda burst to life in a really wonderful way. She's a great foil for Dex.

How vital is colorist Ryan Hill to the look of "Stumptown?"

Greenwood: I think Ryan is a huge part of the look of this book and we're lucky to have him. I like a fair amount of breathing room in page design and it sometimes makes for open space that Ryan is really great at utilizing and bringing to life. He adds a texture and grit that the book needs and would lack without him.

Rucka: Absolutely agree with Justin on this. It's not simply a matter of color, that sense of texture is crucial -- Ryan does a wonderful job of making everything, everyone come alive in not only a very vibrant sense, how he uses the palette, but also in a wonderfully tactile one.

Were you intimidated at all stepping into the role that Matthew Southworth once had on this series?

Greenwood: Yeah, it's definitely intimidating following Matthew on a book that I read on the regular as a fan, and particularly enjoyed what he was doing with the art and layout. But fortunately it's not my first time coming aboard a well-established comic and picking up the reigns. I had the same experience with "Wasteland," where I had to pick up the story after Chris Mitten had been working on it for years and our styles are also pretty distinctly different. But in both cases, the trick is in appreciating and respecting what came before you without letting it direct your own sensibility and how you tell a story. It would be a discredit to what came before you to just try and ape that style, and doesn't really serve anybody well.

It gets back to your question about collaboration. It was equally as intimidating to submit my first round of page comps to Greg because I think there is something very personal in how you tell a story and if it doesn't click with your collaborator, the project is going to be an uphill battle for the duration. And especially one like "Stumptown" (and specifically this arc), as it feels very genuine and personal. Thankfully we share that sensibility and it's made working with Greg very easy, and in turn empowered me to be comfortable telling the story however I see it.

How did you go about deciding what kind of look you wanted to give the "Stumptown" series -- and would you say your art style on this project differs from your work on "The Fuse?"

Greenwood: I don't know if I spent a lot of time thinking about "the look" I wanted to give "Stumptown" so much as trying to boil it down to what makes it unique and instinctively responding to that. It is quite a bit different than "The Fuse," where most of the environments are man-made and often times is set in inorganic settings. I've joked about it on panels but "Stumptown" was the first opportunity I've had in years to work on a monthly book set in reality where I could draw crazy things like... trees and bushes. It's been fun to pull reference and draw places that actually exist and a much different challenge to make that feel authentic rather than just make it up.

And honestly, despite both being built on a "whodunnit" style framing, the books are pretty different from each other at the core and what they are getting at. That core intention is probably what informs the style and type of storytelling the most and so they have a different feel as a result.

After getting an advance look at the first three issues of this arc -- it is interesting how Greg gave you some ambitious scenes without any dialogue. How much of an ego boost was it to have him trust you so much with these types of scenes?

Greenwood: There are a couple of those coming up that were a lot of fun to draw. That's interesting though, I hadn't considered it an ego boost or an act of trust but I guess it does take a certain faith in your collaborator to be comfortable you will pull that off. But I don't find that stuff nearly as challenging as some of the much quieter moments, like intimacy as an example, or a solitary panel of Dex internally raging. That's the stuff that seems to take faith for me and is way more difficult to nail down.

In issue #1, it's engaging how the crowd chants at the game were portrayed and permeated your scenes (making the reader feel like they were in the stadium -- even during a scene in the stadium bathroom). Can you talk about how you approached creating the crowd ambiance in those scenes? Also, did you have to do some research to choreograph the soccer play in the manner you did (particularly when Dex was playing early in that first issue)?

Greenwood: Thanks, man! We did talk about that a bit and how to approach it visually. There was some big drawn-in lyrics to a song in a previous arc and I felt like a similar thing would make a nice parallel. With the chanting, it captures so much of the energy of actually going to a game that we wanted to integrate it into the art so that it became part of the experience visually. And we decided on white because it made it stand out nicely during the crowd scenes but started to fall into the background while Dex and CK were in the bathroom, much like when you are actually at a game and you only hear bits and pieces of the crowd when you're in the restroom.

With regard to the choreography, I did watch a bunch of clips and had some coaching from Greg (pun intended). [Laughs] It's not that different from using reference of locations for drawing -- it's never going to be 100% accurate but it does need to feel right. As the arc progresses, there is one issue in particular that takes us on a tour of many different bars and local haunts, and it was important to me to pull enough reference to really nail the vibe of each place and make them recognizable.

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A critical character to the cast is Dex's brother, Ansel. Greg, as the sibling of a sister with Down syndrome, how satisfying was it to cast someone with a unique condition that sets them apart from so-called traditional characters -- but in a realistic manner with depth. Not to belabor the point, but it is not stunt casting on your part, in the day-to-day life (as occurs in a future issue) Dex has a date in the evening and has to ensure someone can stay with Ansel. Also striking was in the first issue, where some lout mouths off in the crowd and spoils Ansel's excitement. Dex retrieves the offender and makes him apologize to Ansel. What I respect is how Ansel accepts the apology with an air of indignation. In that moment, his sister's defense of him seemingly served to empower him on some level.

Rucka: I write a lot of Ansel from my own observations and experiences of my sister, obviously. Down... I don't know, I've seen it represented in a variety of different ways in different mediums, and I'm still struggling to get it right with Ansel in "Stumptown." It's never just one thing, and no two people with Down are the same -- what may be easy or comprehensible or understandable to one can be pure frustration and misery for another. One of the things that I've always seen -- again, only in my experience, mind you -- is that there's a purity of intention with people who have Down. There is very little artifice, very little subtext, per se. They say what they mean. They show how they feel. They don't dodge, they don't hide. Dex's devotion to Ansel is as absolute as his devotion to her.

I don't think Dex sets out to empower Ansel, per se, as much as to try and make an injury right. That moment, actually, is taken from real life, something I experienced, though I wish I'd had Dex's stones in that moment. Truth is, however, if I'd tried what she does, it'd have not ended as well.

Can you discuss the cultural importance of soccer in Portland and Seattle? Does your love of soccer inform your portrayal of it, or did you have to do some research for the story? Also, did you always know you wanted to broach the impact of hooliganism (real vs perceived) as part of this story?

Rucka: Oh, my love of soccer is an absolute bias here, no question. It's one of the only -- if not the only -- sport I care about at all. Portland is a big soccer town, and it always has been, even prior to the Major League Soccer era. It's part of the culture here, or at least a significant part of the subculture. The rivalry with Seattle is a long-standing one, it stretches back to 1974 if not, I suppose, earlier. Both towns, along with Vancouver, BC, consider themselves part of "Cascadia," our own Pacific Northwest country within our nations. There's actually a Cascadia secessionist movement. It binds the cities together in interesting, adversarial, pseudo-sibling-esque ways, I think.

I didn't really have to do too much research. I got some help from a friend of mine, Kat, in Seattle, for some of the Sounders stuff, but in the main, I'm squarely in Portland, and thus didn't have to reach too far to get what I needed. Initially, I'd wanted to work the case to cover the entirety of the Cascadia rivalry, but the story went in a different direction. I imagine, one day, another arc, perhaps, we'll be visiting an away game or two...

The hooliganism question is a different thing altogether. The American game lives in fear of seeing that kind of behavior, the behavior we see overseas, taking root here. MLS is quite literally -- and not unreasonably -- terrified of it. Security at high-rivalry games, like Timbers/Sounders, for instance, is extreme. The story isn't really about hooliganism at all, to be perfectly -- and somewhat spoiler-ry -- honest. That was a different story, and not one I really had any interest in telling, if for no other reason than I love the game and I wouldn't want to reflect poorly on it, or even on the clubs involved.

Was there one or several deciding factors that prompted you to bring Justin into the "Stumptown" creative family?

Rucka: It doesn't hurt that he's damn good, man. That was a huge plus! But, to be perfectly honest, it's as much to me about finding a creative partner as it is about someone who can tell the story. The latter is crucial, of course, but it was clear to me from the get-go that Justin was a smart, engaged creator, that he would bring himself to the book, that he would engage, that he would participate and push for what he wanted, for what he thought would work. I crave that. I don't want to be in a vacuum, you know? This is a collaborative medium, as I have said again and again and again to anyone who will listen. That Justin is talented is a given. That he is a talented collaborator, that was what sealed the deal.

Am I right in that Dex is a character who counts many folks as friends, yet relishes conflict/confrontation to a certain unhealthy degree?

Rucka: Huh. I don't actually think she has many friends, to be honest. She has lots of people she knows, but she lives in a kind of isolation that, I think, is part of the genre. The PI is traditionally depicted as a lone wolf, though obviously her relationship with her brother, his presence in the story, mitigates that. I'm not sure she enjoys conflict as much as she finds herself, over and over again, in situations of conflict, and it's either to her credit or detriment -- or both -- that she refuses, more often than not, to back down. Most people, in my experience, don't seek out confrontation, but part of what makes Dex tick is that she's not afraid of it, and she will never, ever back down on something she believes in, on an injustice she feels she must address or even make right.

"Stumptown" #2 is on sale now from Oni Press.

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