In the world of
in the First (Person)
Interview with Greg Rucka
Andrew Goletz and Erich Schoeneweiss
Rucka is leaning back in his chair smiling as Erich and I are laughing
hysterically at one of his stories from the recent San Diego Comic Con
(unfortunately the stories were off the record, so youíll have to get me or
Erich really drunk to get them out of us).
He takes a sip of his Coke. Itís
early on a Sunday afternoon in New York City.
Greg, Erich, and I are the only ones sitting in the Stoned Crow, a pub in
the West Village. We chat for a
while about different creators, trade stories weíve heard about this person or
that person, and talk about bar video games (the old Cyber Ball robot/football
game in particular).
met Greg earlier in the day at mystery bookstore in Greenwich Village called
Partners in Crime. Itís the kind of bookstore that you would think a crime
fiction writer visiting New York would go to. After exchanging pleasantries, we
made the brief trek to Pub while my wife Lisa (and photographer for the
interview) went for a stroll around town.
our walk, Greg spoke briefly about the inspiration that one can take from a city
like New York. ĎThere is just so much going on here,í Greg commented. The
last time I was here this guy was standing on one foot, balancing himself in the
middle of the street divide while standing on a 20 dollar bill. He wasnít
moving. He wasnít saying anything, just standing. I watched this for 20
minutes before I walked away. Fascinating. The man from Oregon spoke of details
only a born and raised New Yorker would know of and made it sound like he was
the only one who knew about this secret world in the city. Thatís how good
Greg Rucka is. His eye for detail and his curiosity about people and how they
behaveÖitís as if nothing escapes him.
Greg is a very open, easy-going
man. He seems to honestly enjoy
sitting and talking with us. Surprising
maybe, considering Greg Rucka is the author of the four Atticus Kodiak novels
(Keeper, Finder, Smoker, and Shooting at Midnight Ė if you can, read them in
that order), chronicling the adventures of a personal security expert.
The novels, while exciting and at times funny, can be dark and disturbing
as they explore assassinations, drug addiction, conspiracy, and loss.
A fifth novel, Critical Space, is due next year.
Rucka has also made a name for himself in the comic book medium with his
gritty style. The two WhiteOut
miniseries for Oni feature US Marshall Carrie Stetko her search for personal
redemption on Antarctica. He took
DC by storm with his brilliant work on Batman through much of No Manís Land
and that continues now in Detective Comics. It seems every time you pick up an
industry news magazine Gregís name is mentioned somewhere.
Greg has kept Erich and I entertained for several minutes now and we turn the
tape recorder on and dive into the interview Ö
Haven: So, based on the stories youíve been telling it seems youíve
established good relationships with some other creators?
Rucka: I love Garth Ennis. You read his stuff and you really expect him to be
like ĎI will kill youí but he is sooo nice. I had a chance to meet the other
Ďcrime writers at a convention this past summer. Wizard even did a story on
us: the Murder. Inc thing. With the exception of Bendis, who was making a funny
face, we all looked the part you know?
Erich and I were discussing this earlier. You guys all look the same.
Well we were telling Brubaker, Ďyou need to shave your head, maní. Garth
writes the nastiest stuff of any of us and he looks like a great big farm boy.
Heís fair-haired and always smiling, and heís like the friendliest guy in
the world. It just doesnít fit.
You can save Brian Bendisí ass if you come up with a reasonable excuse why he
wasnít wearing his wedding ring in the Wizard shoot.
No. A bunch of people on his website pointed it out. I donít think his wife
was pleased (laughter).
I canít help him. I have no idea. Sorry, Brian.
You had a pretty funny story about that Wizard shoot.
We had this big argument during the Wizard thing. They wanted us to wear these
colored t-shirts and Azzarello was like Ďfuck thatí. Brubakerís article
was such bullshit, talking about selling drugs.
Sure you were Ed. Azzarello looks like he will hurt you. Heís a nice
guy, but he has that look like ĎIíve seen a man die in his own vomití.
So anyway, they have all these different colored shirts and Brian and I
pick them out and it turns out we both are wearing black, and then these other
two are like, Ďnooo, weíre not gonna do ití.
Do you get tired of these interviews?
Rucka: Devin Grayson has gone so
far as to create a template document that will have all the answers to these
questions that everyone always asks. I mean, you know that there are going to be
certain set questions that youíll always be asked and you accept that fact,
which is why I prefer to do interviews in person.
(crossing off half the questions on our list) So you can just walk away?
(laughing) No. When youíre on the
phone and want to think about an answer you just get an awkward silence. Here,
thereís still silence, but at least weíre looking at each other, you know?
The interviewer is like, ĎHeís really quiet, but he must be thinking, or I
hope heís thinking.
Or you can take a drag from your cigarette.
Itís all a matter of perspective. Thereís
a great bit in an old Doonesberry where one of the people is interviewing
another and the interviewer is like Ďwhatís wrong, youíre just sitting
thereí and the guy getting interviewed replies, ĎIím tired, weíve been
at this for 14 hrsí and the interview goes Ďwell, what are you thinkingí
and the guy says ĎI was thinking Iím going to probably get another cup of
coffeeí and the thought bubble under the interviewer was Ďhe drinks coffee
the way other people drink Evianí.
You write comics and novels. Is there a different thought process that goes into
the way you take on each?
Yes. One of the reasons that I like comics is that comics are a logic problem.
You know the old saying, Ďthere are only a limited number of games of chess
that can be played?í There are only a finite number of moves you can do, but
there are so many that IBM needs to create this supercomputer to do it.
are like that. Theyíre a finite form. In a monthly book like Detective, you
have 22 pages. Whether itís a two part or a one part or whatever, there are
certain things you need to do within those 22 pages. You need to move the story
from one point to another. If youíre doing it well, it has to be done in a way
thatís engaging to a reader and forces them to turn the page. I want every
issue to have an emotional truth. There has to be a moment where a reader
connects with something thatís going on in the story. Some writers are better
at this than others.
Dixon is a master at getting you to turn the page. You can blow through a Chuck
Dixon book because every page propels you to the next.
There are other writers that will
pull you in on an emotional level. Thatís a finite problem. Paradoxically,
I find that more liberating. With a novel, thereís an issue of structure. I
usually have to write a pretty detailed outline before I start or I get lost. My
second novel, I did not outline completely. Finder is the only novel I had to
rewrite from top to bottom three times and people are always surprised when I
say that. If you read Finder, the SAS werenít in it until the final draft, and
you know theyíre pretty essential to the story.
With Critical Space, which will be out Fall 2001, I outlined the first
half of the book. I got to the end of the outline and wrote the next section and
all the alarms went off and these little voices that I never listened to for the
first 5 or 6 yrs that I was writingÖwell I listened to em: ĎThis isnít
going to end the way I want it toí. One of the reasons Critical Space is so
late is because I had to do a major rethink on it. I took about a month to just
sit back and think what to do. I was able to change around more successfully
because the outline was there. Bantam is fairly forgiving. If they say you need
to give us a 90,000 word novel and I turn in 120,000, theyíre not going to
automatically make me cut 30 thousand words out of it. Thatís a huge
difference. Thereís a character difference. You can spend more times on
a certain difficulty in writing something like Batman. For example, Iíd love
to write more about the cops, but the book is Batman: Detective Comics and
Batman has to be pretty prominent. There are issues where Iíd love it if you
never even saw him. Detective 747 is a good example. Itís about Montoya, but
itís a Batman story and was important to pull him in. I donít think Batman
even speaks in that issue. Bruce does, but Batman doesnít.
Iím writing a Kodiak novel I can do whatever I want. I donít have to worry
about Time Warner coming down on me saying Ďthe hell you willí. My
editorís great. Either that, or I havenít come up with anything so ghastly
that sheís had to come back and tell me to tone it down.
Did you have a lot of freedom in the revamp of Batman after No Manís Land?
Half-way through No Manís Land, Denny knew they were going to do a revamp and
they were going back and forth with ideas for awhile. He said to me,
Ďthis is your book, do what you want within these parametersí. He had
asked who I wanted to draw it and Iíll admit, Iím notoriously weak on
artists. I know what I like, but I donít know who drew it. They selected
Martinbrough on the basis of ĎThe Hillí, and other work he did and he and I
met and we were like, Ďthis is great, thisíll workí, but that was pretty
much the extent of that control. This year has been pretty much the year after
No Manís Land. We were about to get out of the gate and do what we wanted to
do. The problem is the books sold pretty well during NML and there was a drop
off after. Certain books were left behind and a corporation has a vested
interest, so now weíre back to doing certain Ďeventsí.
hate Ďeventsí because you really canít do anything new. You canít break
his back again, you know? So that becomes kind of annoying. The flip side is we
have talented people and the stuff we have coming at the end of the year is
really good, but it has Ďeventí written on it. Officer Down is an
Ďeventí. Itís good. Itís not bullshit, and thatís the thing that
mattered most. But itís still an Ďeventí.
We didnít want to do an event just to sell more books; we wanted to
write a story where weíre doing something.
an important action in the story and the overall scheme of that is very
important to what weíre doing.
From a creatorís point of view, do you get aggravated with news sites and
Previews giving away major plot points of the book or is it just something you
They havenít given it all away. None of us on Officer Down wanted to comment
on it, really. We were sticking to our guns on this, but Michael Doran of
Newsrama kept at it and finally Patty Jeres in marketing sends me an email
saying Ďyou have to talk about ití.
understand why they have to do it because itís marketing. More people will buy
the books if they think something major happens, but at the same time you lose
an element of the storytelling. It should be surprising.
In the 1st issue of OD, Gordon isnít shot until page 22. I
wrote it like that deliberately, so you wouldnít know whatís going on.
Youíre reading and enjoying Ďoh whatís going oní,
Ďoh itís his birthdayí, and then itís like Ďoh my god, heís
been shot!í But now people are
going to read it and flip through it, waiting for it, get to the end and say
Ďoh, page 22, what a rip off!í It changes the nature of how you tell the
story and so on.
second the story broke out, a guy emailed me saying Ďdonít let them kill
Gordoní and put up a site with a petition on it and had people fill it out. He
didnít tell the people filling it out that it was going directly to me. The
day after the story, I received almost 400 emails with these people writing some
fairly nasty stuff, that if they knew I was reading this directly they may not
have said such things. I was pretty
livid about that. I was like Ďdonít do this to my personal email. Donít
barrage my home.í
Yeah, send complaints to DC or whomever, you canít change that crap.
The fans believe they should make the ultimate decisions, but theyíre wrong.
Theyíre not the writers, theyíre readers, and they need to trust that there
are some good writers and they tell good stories and let us do our jobs.
Is it more difficult to write a character like Batman thatís not your own as
opposed to say Carrie Stetko in Whiteout?
Rucka: Different responsibilities.
Batman is for the most part boring. Heís cooler than Jesus, and you can put
him into a situation thatís really cool, but itís hard to be in a position
to say Ďweíre going to do something really different with Batmaní because
most of it has been done. The last different thing done with Batman was by Frank
Miller and now heís undoing it!!! This
is why Iím much more interested in writing about Gordon or Montoya.
Which is why I think people are responding so favorable about Detective Comics.
I love the fact that this just isnít about Batman. For the first time in a
long time, you get a flavor for the rest of the city and who the cops are, etc.
Thatís the thing. The current storyline 751-752 isnít about Batman, itís
about Bruce, and it really isnít even about him, itís about Poison Ivy.
There are occasional stories that will be about Batman, but others that
arenít. 750 wasnít about Bruce, it was about Talia. It wasnít supposed to
be about this great big Batman/Raís fight. If I had my way, Iíd have Talia
go out, get a tattoo or a nose ring and go wild because youíre 25/26 and
youíve been daddyís little girl for so long and your father is The Demonís
Head for crying out loud! There are some serious issues there! Iím working on
something now which is a four issue prestige thing, tentatively titled Death and
the Maiden which will be a very specific story about Bruce and Talia and Raís,
and will ideally change things.
And in your Kodiak novels, you have a little more control.
Yeah, well. If you like the books, youíll really like 5, Critical Mass. It
really changes everything. One thing you can say about me, Iím not afraid to
fuck with my characters.
The Kodiak Novels just scream film franchise.
We optioned it, but nothing happened. It took 8 months before we heard anything.
Itís crazy. I have two agents; a literary agent and one in Hollywood.
Hollywood is very excited about Critical Space. You couldnít make a movie out
of the first one. You couldnít make a movie out of the second one. You could
make one out of the 3rd, but people wouldnít understand the ending.
You canít really do the 4th, but the 5th is viable as a
have said itíd be a great television show, but the problem is the desire to
see it done well. I get an occasional email asking me Ďwho I see in these
partsí and always end up bashing my head against the wall because Iíve never
even cast them because theyíre novels. I have no clue. Iíve heard everything
from Russell Crow, Brendon Frasier, Noah Wyle. I kind of like Wyle because he
can do that physical sort of awkwardness, which is there in Atticus, you know?
There was a bit in ER where Wyle maces himself, goes backwards and flips over
and I thought, Ďthat was an Atticus momentí. I couldnít cast Natalie to
save my life. Iíve never seen Natalie. Natalie is my own problem. Sheís the
type of character that appears over and over in my work. Thereís the evil
variation, the amoral variation, the good variation. Bridgetís another one.
They said Angelina Jolie would be a good one for her. No she wouldnít.
Well you said you based Bridget on a friend.
Well thereís that very specific body type, you know? I didnít base it on her
per se, but just the image. And people are always like, Ďyou made up that
back-storyí and Iím like, Ďno I didnítí. I knew Shooting at Midnight
would be told at some point when she appeared in Keeper and actually if you go
back and read Finder very carefully, thereís a Ďtellí. Atticus mentions a
skin graft, but he doesnít know what it is. He calls it a discoloration, but
there it is. Itís there!
things donít come up again till later. There are things I consider non-issues,
and Atticus shares that. Heís not gonna tell you Daleís gay because he feels
its irrelevant and it should be irrelevant to you, too.
The Question appeared in the Batman/Huntress mini-series. Anything else going on
with the character?
I love The Question. I was a huge fan of OíNeilís run.
Rumors of a backup in Detective Comics?
I can confirm that. They wanted to do an 8 part backup in Detective, but I want
it to be 10-12 parts. Rick Burchett will draw it, and itíll probably be a year
before we get to see it because there are 2 other backups to come before it.
Helena and Tot will be in it. Richard may not be in it. Charlie is going back to
Hub city. The title I was working on is The Question: You Never Asked. At the
end of the series he leaves Hub City and in the Quarterly, Jackie dies, which I
guess shows you the impact it had on me since I forgot about it when I did issue
3 of the mini and wrote Charlie saying, ĎJackieís with her momí and the
implication is what? Myraís dead? I need to figure out a way to deal with
that, but I donít think the death held the impact that Denny would have
Are you going to do a recommended reading list?
No. Dennyís list was related to the story he was telling. My story isnít the
search for self-enlightenment that his was, and I wonít derive the work in the
What do you think of Joe Quesada and his appointment to EIC?
Joe is phenomenal. Heís also an incredible salesman. Iím excited to see the
direction the company is heading in.
Any other projects youíre working on?
Iíve talked to Stuart Moore about doing something more with Yelana (Black
Whatís the fascination with these dark characters?
I donít know. You can spin it around and ask why do people like reading about
it so much? Steven King talks about needing to exorcise the ghosts. I had a
great childhood, itís not like Iím running away from something. After an
interview someone asked me what is it about Ďfathers and daughtersí that I
keep going back to and family in general? Maybe
itís because I know how lucky Iíve been and I want to do something with it.
is a fascination too, that a lot of this stuff is true. People always look at me
strange when I say professional killers exist, but they have to. Logic dictates
they must exist. Do you believe there are people that train their whole lives to
kill? No. Back it up. Do you believe the government kills people? Yes. How do
they do it? They send people. Just anyone? No, specifically trained people. On
the basis of Patriotism? Thatís not going to be enough. You have these trained
killers doing government work and then decide, Ďyou know what, I can be making
a lot of money if I just detach myself from the political and emotional sideí.
I guarantee you there are people that take a lot of money to kill people and we
never hear about it because theyíre very good at what they do. They commit
assassination in a way that you donít know itís assassination. It was a car
crash. He died of AIDS related complications. The heater malfunctioned and it
caused a fire. One of the first times I met Garth Ennis (doing his uncanny Ennis
impersonation) he told me ĎYou canít believe that people like that exist?í
and I told him that I did. So he tells me, ĎIf you wanna kill someone, why not
just blow them up?í Because then everyone knows it. He was fascinated by this.
And from a sadistic point, whereís the challenge?
Now your getting into issues of character and some of thatís in Critical
Space. Why do you do what you do?
Critical Space is the sequel to Smoke and Drama is back.
Where do you find the time to write all this?
I donít know
Well how long does it take you to write, a book like Detective?
It depends. The Montoya issue for instance, I had planned for a long time and
when I sat down to write it, I banged it all out quickly because it was in my
head. Others take a week, maybe a week and a half because itís agony. For the
most part, I can do a comic script in 2-3 days. If Iím lucky, 1 day. With No
Manís Land, the stories were so well plotted that I did it just like that, in
a day. An issue like 752, with the resolution to the current story is like when
most fans will be like, Ďwhatís this aboutí?. I want more punching! I
needed an emotional resonance.
it takes longer if you run out of page room and you have to jettison ideas. You
also want to be fair to the artist. I donít want to give Shawn pages where
there are 12 panels on each page. Heís gonna be like Ďdonít do that
again!í I usually give the artist a rough idea of what I want and leave it up
One of the things that drives me crazy is when a company announces a creative
team and it turns out they only stay for a few issues.
I understand that. The lead time in comics is weird. People were talking a year
ago about me writing Wonder Woman and my first issue wonít come out until
November 2001, if then. Thatís partially the nature of publishing and the
nature of comics. Comics are far more fan interactive, with a lot of info coming
in and out. Itís marketing, too.
You deal with female characters a lot: Huntress, Carrie, Talia, Montoya, Wonder
Woman, Bridget, Natalie. What draws you to them?
Rucka: I just want to do right by
them, you know? A lot of people will say that thereís no difference between
men and women and that women are just guys with tits. I hate that. No theyíre
not. As a guy, you really donít have to worry about being raped. I mean, it
isnít something thatís a major concern of yours. But women have to always be
aware of that risk. A woman walking in NYC alone at 1 in the morning has an
entirely different perspective than a man will. I think itís wrong not to
treat them any differently.
There was a scene in the first
draft of the Whiteout screenplay where it describes Carrie as being outside and
she feels someone is out there and she runs. Excuse me? Runs? Itís Antarctica.
Where is she going to run to? And sheís a federal agent. She isnít going to
run, sheís going to go find the person and take them down. I want to treat
female characters as real people and not just two dimensional stereotypes.
You did a story in NML where Batman and Gordon have a heart to heart and Bruce
is ready to reveal his identity but Gordon stops him. When you write the
characters, do you write them with the belief that Gordon knows Bruce Wayne is
I canít answer that. I really canít.
Big fan of crime dramas in other mediums, like television?
I loved Homicide. I like Law and Order because they are consistently good. NYPD
Blue is like a soap opera now. I canít watch it. There arenít really any
good cop shows.
Have you checked out CSI?
Yeah, CSI. Very realistic (laughter)
Organic or non-organic web shooters?
(looks at us in disbelief)
There is a debate going on about this.
Youíre kidding me?
No. Thereís even a website, www.noorganicwebshooters.com.
Youíre a politically vocal person. Whatís your take on the election?
For me, this election is about the Supreme Court, and the fact that I have a
nine month old son, and the kind of freedoms I want him to have when heís 20.
So Iím voting for Gore. I think that Bush will create a court that will undo
the last 120 yrs of our freedom including a lot of privacy rights. I really do
think that there is a likelihood my son could be denied certain rights or not
get certain things in his life because some corporation will look and say Ďhe
did this when he was 7, etcí. Iím not even talking about things like
abortion or homosexuality, freedom of press. Right now Scalia is talking about
what God would want him to do, and thereís no place for that on the court.
There are a minimum of two and a maximum of 4 Justices that will need to be
replaced. The worst case scenario is that itís a court of 8 conservative
judges for the next 20/30 yrs. The best justice is Souter. Heís follows the
Constitution. A true conservative will follow the Constitution as he should. And
I think everyone should vote. Low turn out means Bush wins.
Whose writing are you a fan of?
Iím fortunate in that Iím a fan of the group Iíve been associated with.
I read Bendis, Brubaker. Love what Bendis does. Garth Ennis never lets me
down. I enjoy what Ellis has been
doing. Alan Moore scares me. Jeff Johnson. Mystery writers: Dennis Lehane, SJ
If you had to spend a time in jail with any criminal, who would it be?
(pauses as if stunned by the question a bit, looks at his friend who has just
joined us) Honestly never thought
of this one. Sigmund Rosenblum aka Sidney Reilly, Reilly Ace of Spies. They did
a series about him on Masterpiece Theater. He got locked up a lot. That would
have been pretty cool. And he escaped a lot, too, so it would have been cool to
hang out with him cause Iíd be able to get out of jail pretty easily.
Finally, why should someone pick up a novel or comic by Greg Rucka?
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