For the average citizen of Palisade, inevitably the question will arise, “Which gang of mercenaries do I choose for my thugly needs?” Fear not, average citizen of Palisade, for there are many options. You could go with The Four Daves, if they aren’t too busy cleaning Dave’s beard, or the Brother Ponies, a nice stable bunch. But to get the most gore for your gold, a smart shopper would look no further than the Rat Queens, the four deadliest dames you’ve ever met. Unfortunately, Hannah, Violet, Dee and Betty are a little busy at the moment dodging assassination attempts and saving the town.
After just three issues, writer Kurtis J. Wiebe and artist Roc Upchurch have found a fiercely loyal fan base for their Image Comics series “Rat Queens” and are approaching the next arc. Although the first couple issues were equal parts “Buffy”-esque humor, bloodshed and beards, Wiebe has plans to turn up the pathos. The writer spoke with CBR News about what makes these Queens so tough and what readers can expect from the series’ future.
CBR News: Kurtis, “Rat Queens” is three issues in, with four about to hit stores, and has a continually packed letters column. Is it safe to say that the fan reception of the series has been overwhelmingly positive?
Kurtis J. Wiebe: I think I can safely say that the response has been stronger than anything else I’ve ever encountered. Within a few weeks of the first issued dropping, I started seeing fans putting together Rat Queens costumes and just today I saw someone post a logo tattoo on their heel.
And, truthfully, the fans are a total blast. Roc and I have loved talking with our very vocal readers, both in person at conventions but also during the Rat Queens Social Club, which is an online video chat we do the weekend before a new issue.
Yeah, just a really wonderful experience from the very first day it came out.
As it develops, it’s clear that this is a very character driven story, especially as we see some details from the Queens’ lives outside of adventuring emerge. Will you be showing more of their back-stories as the book continues, or will you be sticking to who these people are in the present?
We’ll definitely be telling the individual stories for each Queen, and we’ve already done a bit of hinting with a few of them. It’ll be a natural part of the progression in the series, but as the story unfolds we’ll be sharing what led them to the place they are in now. Not only that, but revealing some of the smaller hints we’ve made already laid out in the first arc.
I think that’s been a surprise to a lot of people. When issue #3 came out, I saw some pretty funny fan response demanding an explanation for the sudden emotional kick from a book that was meant to amuse them and fulfill their bloodlust. What I’m really happy about is that it was received well and that the fans are already connecting with these women on an emotional level.
How did the Rat Queens come together as a group?
While that is a pretty long story, I can tell you that they met in Palisade and it was at a rather insane party. They came together at the perfect time in their lives, all wandering and looking for purpose. It’s actually a story I’m excited to share with the fans.
I’d like to talk about the ethics of the Rat Queens and the other gangs a bit — after reading issue #4, it seems like all of the mercenary gangs have a strong sense of loyalty, even toward one another, with the exception of Hannah and Tizzie. What are the rules they play by, and how do they work with each other?
The mercenaries for hire live a very dangerous life. They get paid a lot of money to do work no one else in their right mind would even consider. They’re larger than life people with skills far above most people. While there’s stiff competition between them, there’s definitely an unspoken respect that is shared amongst the different gangs. And, despite the fact they beat the living hell out of each other on more than regular occasion, it has to be said that it’s generally because they start out the evening partying together.
I wouldn’t say there are any hard and fast rules, but the best way to avoid trouble would be to never take a job already claimed by another team. Everything else is open for debate.
And as far as Hannah and Tizzie. Haha. Hoo boy. Those two have history.
Although its set in a fantasy world — orcs, dwarves, elves, etc — there are so many other elements in the series that contradict stereotypical fantasy comics. The language is modern, we’re seeing some political intrigue spring up, and the characters themselves aren’t like the archetypical fantasy. How are you blending all of these things together, and what was it about the sword/sorcery world that felt right for “Rat Queens?”
I think it’s really simple. I love fantasy tropes and it’s what I want to read. Isn’t that the old writer’s mantra? Write what you want to read?
The modern edge to the series came about naturally. I adore worlds with magic and monsters, there’s something in it that just sings to my old cold heart. I’ve just grown a bit tired of the old timey language used in so much of the fiction. I have to be honest; a big inspiration for me was my memories of playing Dungeons and Dragons with friends. I cannot count the number of times I would laugh till I couldn’t breathe from a single scene that would go on to live for years and be retold endless times.
I wanted that in a comic. So, I wrote it.
One of the notable things about your book is the humor — the timing of jokes and facial expressions of the characters have such a vivid rhythm. What is the process like between you and Roc?
It’s really wild. Whenever I work with a new artist, there’s always a learning curve as to what they are capable of and I’m surprised every single time. On “Peter Panzerfaust,” Tyler Jenkins is a master of mood, the way he frames the page and his impeccable ink work. It took a few issues to adapt my scripting to really let him loose.
With Roc it was a similar experience. I wrote issue #1 with a lot of dialog that never made it to print and there’s a reason for it. There were two jokes in particular that had additional dialog until I saw the facial expressions on the people in the panel and it was by far funnier than any line I could write. So, knowing just how damn talented Roc is at character design and facial expressions, I keep it in mind when I script.
I suppose the process is pretty straightforward. I write a script I’m happy with and then giggle endlessly as it comes together page after perfect page.
As the first arc closes and the drama and tension ramp up, we’re seeing a picture form of what the Rat Queens are fighting for, and it seems like its more than booze and street meat. What can you tease about what’s next for them?
The first arc was very much an introduction to the Rat Queens. Their attitude, their beliefs and a little taste of their life before they even became the Rat Queens. It’s also an important lesson for them about how their actions affect not just the town, but each other. And, when issue five drops and people see what happens — well, they find out just how much they mean to each other.
I’m sure this is going to be like picking a favorite kid — but who is your favorite? Hannah, Betty, Dee or Violet?
It really is difficult to pick. I like them all for different reasons. Mainly in that there’s a part of them I’d like to see more in myself. For Violet, she stands up for herself and made tough life decisions. For Betty, she’s genuinely empathetic and sees the good in everyone. For Hannah, she tells it exactly as it is and makes no qualms about how she feels or who she is. For Dee, she’s calm and keeps a level head when everything’s going to hell.
There’s an event that happens in issue 5 that reveals something about Dee that is very much a part of who I am, so for that I’d say I connect most with her. But, let’s be honest —
Betty’s a blast to write.
And finally, are the beard championships ever happening?
In my mind, every day is a beard championship.
“Rat Queens” #4 hits stores January 15.
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