Greg Rucka has been synonymous with specific genres, but horror is not one of them. His body of work on books like “Queen & Country”, “Gotham Central”, and “Batwoman” are held in high regard as classic examples of titles that are complex examinations of the characters and elevate the comic book medium to another level.
Challenging fans and critics expectations is something that Rucka is currently doing with his first foray into the horror world with “Veil”. The book centers around an amnesiac woman who wakes up naked in an abandoned subway, as she struggles to piece things together in her new surroundings and defend herself from vicious animals that view her as nothing more than prey.
Bloody-Disgusting interrogated Rucka about the mystery that is “Veil”. During our cross-examination Rucka revealed his trepidation about working on a horror book, the confines of being labeled, the overt themes of “Veil”, details about the new “Stumptown” ongoing series from Oni Press, and his thoughts about the upcoming “Gotham” television series.
Bloody-Disgusting: The first issue of “Veil” is out now and this is quite a departure from your previous works. Is this your first time experimenting with the horror genre?
Greg Rucka: It’s funny because I didn’t think of this as a horror book when I was working on it, but then my editor Scott Allie had me on a horror panel at New York Comic Con. I was sitting on the panel thinking to myself, “Why am I here?” Then when I really thought about it, I finally came to the realization that this is essentially a horror book. I get leery of genre labels, and not because I have anything against horror, but rather because I get nervous that there is an expectation that comes with that label. I think if you are looking at this book empirically from a genre standpoint, then yes this is absolutely horror, but working on it I didn’t think of the book as horror nor do I think of myself as a horror writer. When I write a crime story I’m not thinking of it as a crime or espionage book, it’s just the story that I’m telling. If we define horror by horrible things happening to people, in horrible ways, that are frightening and unnatural then yes we can firmly call this a horror.
BD: Defining a book as a horror story can mean so many different things depending on how the person views the genre.
GR: Right; “The Walking Dead” is not H.P. Lovecraft or “Silence of the Lambs”, but they can all be called horror at varying points. I guess it’s somewhat of a slippery label for me.
BD: As a creator you’re always banging the promotional drum for projects, but you also don’t want to reveal too much about the story. Is it hard for you to talk about “Veil”, because so much of the story is shrouded in mystery?
GR: It has been murder (Laughs). You are the first person to ask that, but it has been really difficult to talk about “Veil”, especially prior to this week when the first issue finally hit stores. I don’t feel like I have a vocabulary that I can use to describe the book without giving away the story. There is an element of suspense to the narrative and certainly questions that are mysterious, and if you put it bluntly like Dark Horse did in solicitations, this is a story about a naked woman that wakes up in an abandoned subway and strange shit happens. (Laughs) That isn’t necessarily going to send people running to pick up the book.
BD: Even after reading issue #1 the characters and the plot are still a mystery. It’s not like many other debut issues where everything is spelled out for readers, so they know exactly what they are getting and what to expect.
GR: I don’t dislike books that lay out everything for the reader in the first issue, and there is a kind of storytelling where that is perfectly functional, good, and appropriate for. I think these days I’m in more of a place where I want the audience to ask questions, the most basic of which is, “What’s gonna happen next?” I don’t feel like there is a need in a story like “Veil” to explicate everything. Part of the nature of it being a horror story and a mystery is to make people ask, “Why is this happening?” Those are mystery questions and I think that “Veil” certainly chucks readers into the deep end. At the same time, everything will be answered and I don’t think that it is a particularly complex or mysterious story once we reveal everything. I think once people read issue #2 they will have a much better handle of what’s going on and by issue #3 they will know, but by that time the reader should be asking much different questions. I don’t think this book is inaccessible by any stretch, but you are right by saying there is a lot that readers have to figure out because I’m not telling you yet. (Chuckles)
BD: I don’t think that anyone could read issue #1 of “Veil” and not want to read what comes next. I think good horror books and good comics in general will always make you hungry for more…
GR: Well that’s the nature of any good story right? Especially in comics, because they want you to pick up the next issue. That sequence in the hallway at the end of issue #1 sets the tone for the book, so come along for the ride. I just finished up a big section of the script for issue #4 and if Tony executes it like I imagine it then I think it will be the goriest thing that I’ve ever done. I will say that it is a very inventive death!
BD: You mention working with Tony and this issue looks absolutely gorgeous, especially with the color palette he used for the book.
GR: I think he’s amazing and I couldn’t be happier to be working with him. A lot of the stuff that I was trying to do with this story was sort of slippery for me. It was really hard for me to get a grip on this and get what was in my head onto the page. I can script to my heart’s content but I can’t draw, so when the script goes to the artist, how they interpret that and what they bring to it ideally means we are influencing each other, but I can’t control that. As we have progressed on the book, I have got more and more confident in the things I’m asking him to do and know that he will be able to augment that. He’s really wonderfully talented; he’s penciling, inking and coloring this book. All of the art in this work is his and I think the book feels very unified because of that. This is a very clear vision of a very skewed world.
BD: One of the things that good horror does is showcase human emotions to very frightening situations.
GR: I don’t think that final scene in issue #1 would have worked if he didn’t hit those numbers as cleanly as he does. In that scene you are looking at something that is essentially invisible in a visual medium, so it’s entirely based on the participants in that scene and their reaction. Tony made it work.
BD: You’ve stated that one of the themes of this book is the way that men treat women and I’m interested to know if there was a moment that triggered this story for you?
GR: I think living in the modern world. It’s not a new observation in any shape or form, but I’m predominantly known for writing women and I’ve been asked a number of times over the years, “How do you write such strong female characters?” The question is infuriating to me. I’m interested in questions of gender identity, sexuality, and sexism. We live in a very fucked up culture with how we treat each other and in particular women in first world society. I think that good horror is very literal, but it’s also a form of social commentary. It has elements that talk about our “real world” that upon closer examination can be twisted with very little effort into truly horrific circumstances. Thematically that’s what this book is about is these men, interacting with this woman, and through those interactions what they create. I don’t think it’s giving away too much to say that they create a monster. In that sense it is very much a nature verses nurture story. Veil in issue #1 is a blank slate and you see that with her ability to work language and her absolute innocence. She spends half the issue naked and she doesn’t even notice. That is the primal state right; the Garden of Eden. Don’t eat that apple! You’ll need clothes! (Laughs)
BD: Can you tell us about the inspiration for her rhyming speech pattern without giving anything away? Does it come back to her waking up as blank slate?
GR: The idea for Veil as a character has been around inside my head for about twenty years. I’m not entirely sure why that word salad that she uses in issue #1 sort of came to me as a means of sort conveying that. One of the things I like about it is the word play of it and you get the sense that she is really feeling the words inside her mouth. The words are all there for her, but she has to sort of unlock them. She says some things that are absolutely nonsensical, but they provide an interesting juxtaposition to the action. Look, I’m a writer, so playing with language is always fun for me. I don’t know where it came from but I always sort of dug that idea that she has all the knowledge for these words, but she’s just trying to get them out. I think sub textually she’s labeling everything and even though it doesn’t really mean anything yet.
BD: I’m interested to know what made Dark Horse the perfect partner for this type of book, because you are one of the few writers that works for multiple publishers in an age of exclusive contracts.
GR: I think you get different things from different publishers. One of the things that made Dark Horse appealing for this project was the fact that Scott Allie actively pursued the project. He said you need to do something for Dark Horse and when I pitched him my various ideas, he immediately pounced on “Veil”. It makes sense in the way they market their books, their line of books, and a book like “Veil” makes sense next to “Hellboy”. They are not necessarily the same, but they are of a family that is not out of the expectations for the publisher. When I’m looking at a publisher, I’m looking for someone that is going to work with me to do the best job that they can to bring the project to fruitition. Taking “Veil” to Vertigo would have been a viable option but Dark Horse is more intimate, and I think a book like this needed that sense of intimacy.
Dark Horse has really stepped up to become one of the premiere horror publishers in the comics market with their “Hellboy” line of books, the adaption of Del Toro’s “The Strain”, and books like “Grindhouse: Doors Open at Midnight”. These books might not do phenomenal numbers sales wise, but their damn good horror comics.
GR: If you’ve met Scott Allie at all then you know that he is a fan of the genre. I’m not sure if you have spoken to him before, but I have a feeling that you two would get along like a house on fire. He’s very knowledgeable about the genre as a whole and it has become a passion for him. I was really nervous about this project and being able to feel that I was backed by someone that was informed about what we were doing was comforting. Let’s face it, horror is yet another bastard genre that people ignore and diminish. Working with someone that honors it and understands the power and the depth of it; I needed that. If I didn’t have that I would have felt even more lost in the woods than I did at the start.
BD: Horror is a genre that most people would never expect from you. Is it fun for you to do a project like this and challenge people’s expectations?
GR: It’s fun, but also terrifying. This book is way out outside my comfort zone, and for the last few years I have been reasonably comfortable in what I do. “Veil” and “Lazarus” are big departure books for me. They are very different books and they feel riskier to me. “Veil” in particular has that “strong female character” label which I find incredibly problematic, because it reduces the problem of representation. It also makes it seem like the solution to that problem is to write women that kick ass and take names. No character should ever be just one thing. You mentioned before that the strength in horror comes from the strong emotional response to it and that is one of the key elements here. Veil’s emotional responses needed to be honest and she is not presented as an ass kicker. I was very cognizant of the fact that here is a guy that is proudly a feminist who is writing a book about the male gaze where the female character is naked for half the issue. (Laughs) I can see where this might be problematic. It really was a hard book to write and I’m feeling a lot better about it now. We’ll see at the end what people think. The thing is people have read the first issue of five, and they’ve seen the start but not the end. It’s very difficult to judge any work until you’ve seen it in its entirety. We can talk again in five months and you may have some very different things to say.
BD: I was reading that you worked as an EMT for a number of years and that the experience had a large impact on the way you depict violence when you writer. Can you tell us a bit about how that experience shaped the way you as a writer?
GR: Look, I write action and stories of violence and when you work as an EMT, police officer or paramedic you see violence and the results of it. It is impossible for me to remove that experience from the way that I write violence. Even in the most fantastic of stories I tend to take the violence very seriously and I want to know the exact details of the violence so that I can relate it appropriately. Working as an EMT, you see people when they are hurt and when they’re hurt they are raw. When you respond to a call and there is one guy on the ground whose face looks like hamburger. He’s bleeding, he’s sobbing, and he’s so drunk that his tears aren’t about the pain but the guy that did this to him. That’s very raw, very potent, and good writing has to have an emotional connection to the work. You nailed it when you were talking about the honest emotional reaction. Horror so often takes the fantastic and if you juxtapose it against what we call reality, then the reaction is not honest and it will fail or collapses because people will say that’s just a guy in a mask. When we’re reading or even watching a movie, there is a difference between the acceptance of the absurd, the surreal, or the unusual as normal and the portrayal of those things as abnormal but the reaction is normal. It all comes down to if you believe the emotion of the story and it matters less if you believe a guy could have his head chopped off and go wandering around carrying it in his hand. If that reaction to that guy is honest then you have a story. If people are looking at him and saying, “Hey boss!” then you are writing something else.
BD: We are huge fans of your work at Bloody-Disgusting and we’re excited to see that “Stumptown” is returning as an ongoing series from Oni Press.
GR: Well the idea is to do the book as we originally envisioned doing it way back five years ago. We want to do a case, so you’ll get four or five issues, then take a month or two off and then do another case. In that sense it’s absolutely an ongoing book and hopefully that will allow me to build the world out like I wanted to at the beginning. The first arc is called ‘The Case of the King of Clubs’ and its actually much darker than I thought it would have been. There is a personal element to this case for Dex and there is an act of violence in the first issue that really sets her off and we see a different side of her. In this arc you will see her with a gun in her hand. We’re being coy about who is drawing the book because Matthew Southworth stepped away to pursue other projects, but the artist that I’m working with on this is fantastic. He has his own take and I think it really honors the stuff that Matthew has established. I loved working with Matthew Southworth and I also love working with this unnamed artist. We’re going to be revealing who that artist is at the end of the month at Emerald City Comic Con. We did talk about having Matthew possibly come back for an arc if his schedule allows, but unlike “Queen and Country” which was about rotating artists with every arc, this is a new partnership with a new artist.
The internet has been buzzing about the development of the “Gotham” TV series. Do you think they will be using any of your run on “Gotham Central” as source material for the show?
GR: I’m as excited and interested in the process as anyone else, because I’m not involved so I don’t know what they are doing. That said, I think that they would be foolish not to avail themselves of the work as it exists and I don’t think they are foolish. There is a world of difference between concept and execution, but it’s very clear in the way that DC Entertainment has been so aggressive about mining the comics for movies and television. I will be shocked if there are not elements of “Gotham Central” present in the show. I’m very proud of that book to this day, so we will see…
BD: When “Gotham Central” was being published it wasn’t a big seller for DC Comics and sort of teetered on the verge of cancellation. Now years later, the book continues to sell and attract new readers with the various collected editions that have been put out. Does it feel like your work on the book has been vindicated to all the higher powers that said a book like “Gotham Central” will never work?
GR: That is a series that got legs and I think sold better in trade than it ever did in floppies.
BD: Being a writer that has had some of work adapted into television and movies, is it a strange experience to see something that you have had a hand in writing depicted on the screen?
GR: Yes. (Laughs) I’m not sure what else to say other than that. The few times that I’ve had the chance to see that happen it’s been extraordinary. I don’t draw, but when I write a comic script I can see the pages as I envision them in my mind, but when I get the work back from the artist it will always be different from what I imagined. You get the same thing when you see a version of them on screen that sometime bears resemblance and sometimes bears absolutely no resemblance.
BD: So having a director adapt your writing on screen is similar to handing off a script to an artist that you’ve never worked with and having them bring it to life?
GR: Ya’ that’s a very good analogy for it. You gotta understand that with most entertainment, I’m just not involved. It’s cliché to say this, but it’s very much like, “Well it’s flattering just to have been nominated.”
BD: So you have a number of projects that are currently underway, but is there anything else that you have coming up that you can talk about?
GR: I’m doing “Cyclops” for Marvel and I have three other projects in development at the moment. My new novel “Bravo”, which is the follow-up to “Alpha”, comes out in July. Then I have the web comic “Lady Sabre & the Pirates of the Ineffable Aether” with Rick Burchett, which is another break from tradition for me, as its sort of an all-ages pulp adventure story.