Die deutsche Fassung dieses Interviews befindet sich im kürzlich erschienenen Crosscult-Band Whiteout: Melt.
Policeman for a Dime, Cop for a Nickel - An Interview with Greg Rucka
American writer Greg Rucka is every interviewer's dream come true: he is not just extremely communicative in the first place, but also displays a rare and rather impressive amount of self-reflection. Thus our interview, first set to run for half an hour, unsurprisingly clocks in at 90 minutes in the end, during which Greg almost casually offers a plethora of fascinating insights into his work. But however much he likes talking about subtext, he is also quick to insist that his job is, first and foremost, that of a storyteller. For this late descendant of American directors like Howard Hawks and Anthony Mann, "entertainment" is not a dirty word at all. His novels and comic books thrive on this tension between narrative skill and passionate political and moral subtext - and it is not just the work that clearly profits from Rucka's passion for his job, but also our interview.
Jochen Ecke: When the first Whiteout came out in 1998, you had previously written several novels, but Whiteout was your first comics work. I don't mean to be overly flattering, but the book does not feel like a debut, both formally and as far as the story is concerned. What I'm first of all interested in in this respect is what your previous relationship with comics was.
Greg Rucka: I had the benefit of good teachers. I grew up reading the great comics that were published in the 70s and 80s. For example, Frank Miller's work in Batman: Year One and Daredevil: Born Again was a huge influence. Looking at how Alan Moore constructed parallel narratives in Watchmen, Grant Morrison's Animal Man, and Dennis O'Neil's The Question. And then I had the benefit of Steve Lieber. As a collaborator, Steve is very modest when he talks about his input. He will claim that he has input over the visuals. And that’s absolutely true, the visuals are his domain. But Steve is also a true student of the form. I learned a lot working with him. I think the greatest benefit I brought to the original Whiteout was that there were things that I did which I didn’t know I shouldn't do. I was confident enough in my abilities as a novelist that I trusted myself to tell a good story. And I knew just enough about comics to break the rules and not realize I was breaking them.
Jochen Ecke: Which rules are you thinking of?
Greg Rucka: Well, it’s funny, because I reread the first one last year in spring for the first time in several years. I flew up to Montreal to watch the filming of the movie. I had been given a copy of the screenplay which I read on the plane. And then I reread the graphic novel and all I could think then was "Oh my God! This is so bad in so many places!" (laughs) There are mistakes that I make narrative-wise or as a mystery writer. I give the mystery away in the first 15 pages of the first issue.
Jochen Ecke: Actually you do, I noticed that when I reread it. There is this bit…
Greg Rucka: It’s right there. You can see it right there! When he brushes away the fingerprints, from that point on, you know exactly what’s going on.
Jochen Ecke: But I think the way Steve Lieber drew it, it’s very, very subtle. In a film you would have noticed the movement that gives everything away instantly. But in a comic book panel, I didn’t catch it during the first reading.
Greg Rucka: I find this interesting. The way I used pages is a direct result of collaborating with Steve. Most artists say when I want nine panels on a page "Get another artist". And Steve said "I’ll add a few more panels, is that okay?" – and I said "All right"... Steve has a wonderful sense of how to use the visuals. We have so many talented artists in comics who can do beautiful pictures, but who cannot tell a story to save their lives. They cannot add nuance, they cannot capture subtlety, they cannot understand pacing - and Steve is a student of all of those. Frankly, if he was a student back then, he’s a master now.
Jochen Ecke: So when you wrote the scripts, how much was actually Steve's choice when it came to angles and shot sizes and all that?
Greg Rucka: Well, that’s hard for me to quantify. In the first issue, less so, because I had written it before Steve and I had met. I have always scripted comics trying to give the artist… Well, I already said this in other interviews, but the purpose of a script for me is to explain to the artist the emotional movement of a story. Obviously I have to include plot elements, characters and so on. But for the most part, I’m not a visual artist, that’s not what I’m trained to do. And I always thought it would be exceptionally arrogant of me to write in a script, "Draw it this way". Especially if you have the benefit of working with an artist who can look at it and know what you want to accomplish, and there’s a better way to accomplish it. So there are elements of the first script - the first four or five pages are drawn exactly after the script. But by the end of the series, I’m much looser on the visuals. I’m heavy on description, but I’m less insistent on what I want the actual image to be.
Jochen Ecke: So your approach is different from, for example, Alan Moore's, who writes down absolutely everything that should be included in a given panel, and how.
Greg Rucka: What I try to do… I mean, having seen Alan Moore's scripts, I don’t think I have that much time. (laughs) There are certainly artists who look at my scripts and think that I overwrite. What I tend to do is, I try to put in everything that may help the artist. That doesn’t mean I want the artist to put everything on the page. So I’m working with an artist right now, Matthew Southworth. He and I are doing a private investigator story for Oni Press.
Jochen Ecke: That would be Stumptown, wouldn’t it?
Greg Rucka: Yes, Stumptown. He and I were talking just a couple of weeks ago about whether or not we were going to do the book in colour. And at the end of the day I told him that was his decision, not mine. Because that was far more of an artistic choice, visually. And he seemed a little surprised. I said to him again, "Look, I’m gonna trust you to do your job well, just like you trust me to do mine."
From the original Whiteout: The infamous porn-watching scene Greg talks about in the interview.
Jochen Ecke: So you don’t think of yourself as something of the equivalent of the director on a movie set?
Greg Rucka: I don’t. Oftentimes in my scripts, I may ask if we can do this panel as a point of view shot, for example. And in the new Whiteout that we’re doing, Whiteout: Night, there’s a certain amount of point of view shots for a very specific storytelling reason which I don’t want to give away. But again, that was something Steve and I talked about at length before I actually wrote the script. So mostly the panel descriptions are, "Carrie's point of view – Steve, this is what we talked about", as opposed to, "Carrie's point of view looking at XYZ, and we should see this in the bottom left hand of the panel and this in the upper right of the panel. And in the middle ground we have this, in the background that…" Sometimes I will describe a panel like, "This in foreground, this in background…", but I tend to be kind of generic, and anyone who reads my scripts will notice that I use the word "angle" a lot. At the start, it will read, "Angle, Carrie approaching Doug". All that means is "pick an angle". That tends to be my approach.
Jochen Ecke: There must have been reasons why you started writing comics. There must be some itches that you can scratch as a comic book writer as opposed to a novel writer.
Greg Rucka: Well, of course I love the form, I have for years. And I think that the most important thing about transitioning mediums when one comes from novels, or movies or whatever to comics is to understand the different strengths of the different forms. A comic allows you to do things with time that no other form of storytelling can. I can compress a moment that would take 1/100 of a second into two pages. Can you name another form where you can deftly jump two million years within the space of a panel? And I also like the interactivity of comics. A comic requires a different kind of input from the reader than any other entertainment source. I really feel that in that I’m allying… Let’s talk about the giveaway in the original Whiteout - that information is there. While you can argue pretty persuasively that it’s rather subtle, I can argue just as persuasively that it is not. You can look at Furry's expression, you look at his eyes, it’s very clear that this is very suspicious behaviour. So that falls into the reader's hands in a way that I don’t think any other form really does. Novels are wonderful for exploring internal life. I think that comics are not really well suited for long character analysis. However, I think you can do a lot of great character work for instance by juxtaposing a first person narrative with what are always going to be third person visuals. If we talk about things like voice, which is something that always interests me when I’m writing novels, that’s why most of my novels are written in the first person: "I did this, I saw that, I said that…" To a lesser extent, I write in a limited third person style: "Chace moved quickly, her gun at her side." A comic can marry these two things uniquely.
Jochen Ecke: That’s something I think too few writers are actually exploring. There are so many exciting possibilities in the form and not enough is done with this.
Greg Rucka: Voice in comics is something that… Well, in literature, there are rules surrounding voice. And they get broken quite frequently, so for instance if I’m writing in a limited third person and I’m following Chace, in the middle of a scene were Chace is present, it is considered violating point of view if I suddenly jumped into somebody else's head. And I personally think it's problematic because I find it jarring and you lose the reader. In comics - for example, let’s take Brad Meltzer's Justice League run recently - where they had to colour-code everybody's captions because he had eleven first person narratives running through a single page. And to me, that’s not good! That’s confusing and it slows down the story. And it requires… I won’t say too much effort, but it requires interpretive effort that I believe detracts from the enjoyment of the story; it removes you from the story if you’re trying to figure out, "Okay, whose caption is the light green one? Is that Green Arrow or is that the Green Lantern?"
Jochen Ecke: And it’s a Justice League comic… Not some very arty thing.
Greg Rucka: No! But I think the rules should still apply. I mean we can write any sort of entertainment but when I'm writing Batman, I’m not going to bring… It’s not that Whiteout only gets my best work and everybody else gets second best. As a writer, I’d like to think that we’re always striving to bring our best work forward and we should always be trying to improve the medium. But oftentimes I think we don’t see the results of that. I think choosing voice and point of view is one of these things. I think point of view is a very difficult thing to master in comics. And that’s another one of these things in Whiteout that I would change. We go through three issues with Carrie's point of view, but in the middle of the series, we spend an issue on Lily's.
Jochen Ecke: Which I didn’t think was too jarring.
Greg Rucka: I’ve gotten more particular about how I use the first person in the intervening ten years. I get a little weary of… Well, the best way to put it is like this: I have years of experience now. When I read a comic, I’m far more aware of what the artist can do. And I want to see the story told as elegantly and efficiently as possible. A lot of the time, if a first person narrative isn’t going to provide some sort of juxtaposition or reveal something new, then there's no reason for it. Getting into Lily's head isn’t that important and I’m not sure how well it serves the story. I think it’s an interesting question how Whiteout would have worked if we had never known what was going on in Lily's head. You could point out that the reason why we’re in Lily's head is that we are in a Lily POV issue. We follow her more than we follow Carrie in that issue. That was the justification for me at the time, but I’m not sure I would do that again.
Jochen Ecke: So you would stay with Carrie or stay in that third person mode?
Greg Rucka: With Carrie, I would have stayed in a first person narrative, simply for one reason – Whiteout is a private eye story. It is a specific type of genre story and one of the traditions of that type of story is the first person narrative. And I think Carrie's narrative is one of the things that make Whiteout work. So I wouldn’t jettison that. But I would have been more cautious in making that change. And it’s funny because I’m still working on the third one right now and I'm going to… I know this is coming as early as the script of issue two - I’m going to make a shift in the point of view. And I suspect the point of view shift I’m going to do will be another first person. I’m arguing with myself whether I should do it or not. I feel that there are some compelling reasons to do it. I’ll be introducing a new character who is going to be very important for the story, and a lot of tension in the story is going to come from the interaction between Carrie and that other person. But at the same time, I’m wondering if I should take this soapbox away from Carrie.
From Whiteout: Melt: Rucka's and Lieber's approach to telling Carrie's story melds fact and fiction seamlessly. There is always space enough for a fascinating digression on the Arctic's history.
Jochen Ecke: You were talking about a certain elegance in storytelling. To me, that has always been a feature of your work, a sort of no-nonsense-attitude. Your work has always been characterized by a certain kind of authorial discretion or tactfulness. You never make yourself explicitly felt with, for example, fancy visual angles, and there's none of that clever metafictional approach that your British colleagues might display from time to time.
Greg Rucka: (laughs)
Jochen Ecke: To me you’re more like the Anthony Mann or Howard Hawks of comics.
Greg Rucka: (more laughter)
Jochen Ecke: Does this paring down to the essentials come naturally to you? Do you even have a choice in that as a writer?
Greg Rucka: I think at this point, it is instinctive, but it’s instinctive out of training. My literary heroes are writers like Hemingway and Crane. There’s an American writer, Tim O'Brien… I don’t tend to like florid prose for the sake of florid prose. I can appreciate the beauty of elegant writing, but I think fairly early on, I made a decision about the kind of writer I wanted to be in relation to the kind of story I wanted to tell. And the stories I wanted to tell are stories that ideally engage, that ideally entertain and ideally have emotional resonance, that will leave the reader feeling something when it’s over. Ideally, they should not be feeling outrage that I wasted their time. And for my purposes the best way to do that was to get out of the way. This is my problem with what I feel is florid prose: if writing is the act of picking the right word, then you shouldn’t need 50 more.
Jochen Ecke: The old idea of, "Sorry I wrote you such a long a short letter, I didn’t have the time for a short one."
Greg Rucka: It’s funny you said that, because that’s exactly what I was going to say. That’s a Thomas Jefferson quote. "Sorry this letter was so long, if I had had more time, it would have been shorter." I think there is something to that. There’s also a wonderful quote by Mark Twain who said, "I never use 'policeman' for a dime when I can get 'cop' for a nickel." I think there’s something to that too. There are artists who can make that work [i.e., florid prose]. Well, I can’t. I've tried, but I don’t have the patience for it and I honestly feel that it’s a little disingenuous. I want you to pick up some comic or novel and be engaged by the story, engaged by the characters and most of all I want you to share the emotion of their story. This empathy is crucial to me.
Jochen Ecke: There is a quote by the Swiss writer Friedrich Dürrenmatt. Apart from a lot of highbrow stuff, he also wrote some crime fiction. I’m paraphrasing here… He said, this was sometime in the 1950s, that to achieve what literature is actually meant to achieve, that is, to take a look at the human condition from a surprisingly new angle, might mean to look at crime fiction as a vehicle for this kind of exploration. He thought so because to him all the old forms of highbrow literature were exhausted. So is writing crime or genre fiction also a kind of vehicle for you?
Greg Rucka: Absolutely. I think the genre itself is an exceptionally useful genre. I think that it is tailor-made to talk about society. It is a genre that talks about crime. Crime indicates a flaw in the society. Something is wrong, we have a dysfunction. Most of these crimes are murder. Raymond Chandler argued that the only crime worth writing about was murder. And if you have a society that allows for an individual to take the life of another individual in such a fashion, then this is a flaw in the society, there’s something wrong, it’s broken. And the narrator of that story then becomes fascinating, a very mutable lens to examine society. For example, it has no bearing on the murder itself in the original Whiteout, but sexism is a huge element there. The engine of that story is that there’s an unspoken threat throughout that whole first series that somebody is going to try to rape Carrie. And it’s implicit in her being one woman amongst 400 men. And that’s just one example [of a use] of the genre. Carrie's point of view is a unique point of view. A woman surrounded by men in this environment, with her [emotional/psychological] damage. So one of the things that she is wrestling with is her emotional isolation. There’s the question of her guilt for having killed a man whom she shouldn’t have killed. You can justify it however you like, but she shouldn’t have done it. That point of view creates that story. And that’s again why I get a little worried when I’m jumping around between different points of view. If I had told the whole narrative from Lily’s point of view, you would have had a very different lens, you would have seen and been talking about different things. Quite frankly, Lily is much less concerned with gender issues. She really doesn’t care and you can see it. She never really responds. When we first meet her, she’s reading a book in a room where a bunch of men are watching pornography. That’s a room Carrie would never have willingly put herself in.
Jochen Ecke: I didn’t catch that particular point actually, but of course that's the kind of subtext that is running through every panel of the graphic novel.
Greg Rucka: There is another element in the original Whiteout. I had been watching a lot of buddy cop movies prior to writing it. Movies directed by John Woo which have so much homoeroticism… Look at the heroes of movies like The Killer and Hardboiled. I asked myself, "Why has no one ever done a buddy cop story with homoeroticism between two women?" And that was one of the things Steve and I talked about by way of subtext. Steve bumped it up, it comes out a lot more in the visuals, and there are some visual in-jokes. Carrie is drinking coffee from a mug which references a comic strip called Dykes to watch out for. Readers caught that and that’s something I wish we had toned down, because I think for those readers it was a distraction. They thought, "Oh, oh, oh, are we going to see two women having sex?", and that was never the intention. The intention all along was to juxtapose what you would have had with two men and to just recast it with two women. But again, this element seeped into the whole subtext of the gender portrayal and that particular engine in the story. It was interesting, because when the second Whiteout came out, we had some criticism because some people had thought she was gay. But we never said she was. Homoeroticism does not require homosexuality.
Jochen Ecke: Thinking about Carrie and your other female protagonists, there is this odd thing going on which is only a paradox at first glance. They seem to be very much in control and powerless at the same time. To give an example: in Whiteout, there is a scene at the beginning of the second chapter where Carrie is telling us about life in the arctic while she is obviously in really intense pain. The thing about your characters is, they never wallow in self-pity. Would you describe this rather existentialist response to an arbitrary world also as your own attitude?
Greg Rucka: I don’t know, I tend to complain a lot… (laughs) I’m not somebody who suffers in silence very well. And I have been known for getting in trouble for not holding my tongue on occasion. But I think there is an element of heroism that always comes from understatement. And I think that yes, it is an existential conflict. I mean I’m an American. I suffered under a President I didn’t vote for and who has broken more laws than my arm is long. And what’s my recourse? My recourse is to vote. And that’s a powerful recourse, but I have to wait four years. And in the interim, all I can do is hope that the damage done is not irreversible. How is that different from anybody else? One of the things that we’re talking of in Whiteout in particular is that Antarctica doesn’t care. And the idea of the continent as a character – and I like Antarctica as a character, I have a fascination with humanity's insistence on going places we really shouldn’t, just to see if we can, and I understand the nobility of the explorer's spirit. I’m not saying we shouldn’t do it. But there’s something to be said about recognizing that when you’re in Antarctica, you’re really suffering. The continent is suffering you to be there. And you will suffer for it. It’s capricious, it doesn’t care about you, you don’t matter. In that sense, I suppose there's almost a Lovecraftian philosophy at work, that we are in the scheme of the universe ultimately terribly insignificant. But at the same time, in the scheme of our lives, our interactions with one another, we’re profoundly significant. My relationship with my children is, together with my relationship with my wife, honestly the most important relationship in my life. And my son, who is about to turn ten years old and is playing a videogame right now, he cannot tell you… Well, he’s certainly not able to articulate it right now, but if you ask him in four years, he will tell you that his relationship with me was one of the most important in his life. And that’s well and good, but it doesn’t matter in the scheme of the universe. So guess what, the sun's still going out in another four billion years, we’re not changing that.
From Queen & Country: Published in German by Eidalon, Rucka's long-running spy series is not just a skilfully-wrought thriller, but also one of the most passionate commentaries on international politics in any medium these days.
Jochen Ecke: Going back to the notion of going to places you’re not supposed to go… To me, there’s an element of Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness to it, you know, going to a place where society and its rules become irrelevant.
Greg Rucka: I think it’s even more acute in the second than in the first one. One can also argue that there’s a certain William Golding, Lord of the Flies element at work. Certainly in the first one, ostensibly, you have these four researchers who are all fine, upstanding citizens and find themselves in this lawless place alone and they succumb to a temptation that leads them to kill each other. And it is corrupting, it leaves their little encampment and infects other people. It infects Carrie, it infects Haden, and it grows and it grows. In the second one, in Melt, there are elements like the continent itself which doesn’t care about the lives of human beings. One of the subtextual things we’re working with is Carrie's relationship with the ice. It’s her most personal relationship. She is in many ways in love with Antarctica. And she knows that Antarctica doesn’t love her back. But as a result, she is a little more aware of what the continent does. And in a very morality play fashion, a lot of the actions in Melt happen because these men come and commit murder on the ice and as a result, the ice kills them. By the time Carrie catches up with this group, they’ve been whittled down to four from something like eight at the story's start. And that’s Antarctica; Carrie has nothing to do with it. So she’s there and watches and they begin to fracture, they begin to fall apart. I think when you talk about Heart of Darkness, that is an element of it. But I would say conversely that the scene in the ice shelter, when the storm comes down, the sex scene is another example of social rules that have been aborted. I mean, that’s not proper behaviour. "How long have I known you? You may be trying to kill me. Want to have sex?" – "EXCUSE ME?! I’m sorry, what was that last part?" Well, the last part was, "We may die, and what does it matter what society thinks about our behaviour?" And again, this goes full circle, because again there were reactions to that. "I can’t believe Carrie would do that, she’s just as prone to succumbing to it as anybody else." And we can call it temptation, but for her at that moment, it’s freedom. It’s liberty. For others it becomes a temptation to indulge their demons.
Jochen Ecke: We’ve touched upon the gender issue already, but to get into this a little more thoroughly: to me, you seem to be re-appraising a noir universe from a female perspective. Can you talk a little about your motivations for that?
Greg Rucka: This is not a short answer – like all of the answers I’ve given so far. There are a couple of things at work here. The first is… If we’re talking about literary forms that have been exhausted and need to be re-examined, I find that by recasting traditionally male stories with female protagonists, you get enormous dividends. So from a dramatic point of view I like that. I like being able to mine territories that have been turned over in a new way. I have since I was very young, and it’s a surprise to most people when I say this, self-identified female a lot more than I have self-identified male. That is despite the fact that most of the guys and girls I know will tell you I’m probably the butchest guy they’ve ever met. And it’s not that I have any overt questions about my gender, I know what I am, and I have to me figured out what it is to be a Man in capital M, what it means to behave properly and with honour. I’m not really interested in exploring that any further. Every time I’m sitting around, I sit around with women because I enjoy their company and I enjoy a new perspective. And far more than talking about issues of race, or religion, or culture, half of the planet – split right down in the middle – has a different approach. And very early on, there were all sorts of gender issues that affected me, that I became very aware of. I remember with some degree of shock realizing that my experience of walking down a street at two in the morning alone and my wife's experience walking down a street alone, that there's a radically different experience. And that’s societal – that’s a societal problem! It’s a behaviour that society allows to persist. It’s not a fault of gender, it’s not her fault she’s female. There’s something screwed up in a society that says "She’s female, she’s a viable target."
Jochen Ecke: I remember seeing subway cars specifically for women when I went to Tokyo. That really gave me that perspective too.
Greg Rucka: And should we applaud it, that they’re providing a service? I mean that’s great, except it’s a band-aid. That doesn’t solve the problem. All it does is make sure she gets home tonight. I think I’ve been writing predominantly female characters, because for me, that is an ongoing process of discovery. And I do find myself going back and learning things over and over again. That serves something for me. I’m not trying to change the world. At the end of the day, I think of my job. As a storyteller, my job is to entertain you. If I can entertain you and then leave you with something that haunts you, for good or for ill, that can leave you with something that you can take with you, then I’m very happy.
Jochen Ecke: You said it’s also a process of self-exploration for you in a certain sense.
Greg Rucka: Well, every writer, whether they admit it or not, is putting his personal bullshit on the table. There’s a reason why every P. D. James novel for a ten year period has the misled communist revolutionary and the evil doctor because she can’t let go of these issues. When you look at my novels, there’s a reason why you will get a streak where you will always see characters struggling with nature versus nurture issues. These issues are arising either because of parental or professional circumstances or whatever. But it’s all nature versus nurture. And I don’t know why I’m writing about nature versus nurture, I don’t know what compels me to ask these questions again and again, whether or not we can change our stripes. When you look at the Kodiac books, I introduced Elena, who is this professional killer, who was raised from the age of eight to do nothing but kill people. And then she goes off and does it freelance. She doesn’t even do it for her government, she does it for money. And that’s the most morally bankrupt thing you can imagine. I asked over and over again, can she be redeemed? Can she change her spots? Is she always going to be this killer that she was nurtured into being or is that her nature, and they just spotted it and drew it out? She is the most obvious example, but if you look at somebody like Chace, the question is there as well. With Sasha, it’s comic book overt, she’s now half machine. Talk about nature versus nurture. What’s her nature? Well, that wasn’t it. But her nurture has turned her into this… Well, she thinks of herself as a used car! And I think for Carrie, it’s very similar. We see that as well. But I think for her, it tends to be less broadly drawn.
Jochen Ecke: When I was writing a review of the German edition of Whiteout, I was really having a hard time coming to grasp with all the different themes and motifs at work in the books. I think that’s really a great quality of any work, be it novel, or comic book or any other piece of art, if the work does not allow you to stick to clichés and received notions in your criticism.
Greg Rucka: I think a lot of that comes out of the fact that we’re talking about a comic that more than anything else was influenced by two people. Steve and I have, in spite of all our differences, a very good communication. And it allows us to put a lot of different ideas into the work. We talked about the visuals in contrast to what the actual dialogue is saying. These are elements for him and for me that we were very successful at and I think I was very fortunate that he was my collaborator on that. It goes without saying that with any other artist, it would have been a very different work. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that with any other artist, it would have been work that nobody would have noticed. I really think that the wrong artist on this would have killed it. Especially in black and white. Just think about that. You’re fine when you’re working for a big publisher like Marvel or DC. [At those big publishing houses] there are many more chefs stirring the stew. And you cannot therefore have the same quality control over which ingredients go in. Add to that deadline pressures, because the big houses really don’t care if it's good, they just care that it comes out monthly. You might end up with something very different. There is something I’m working on right now, something at DC, where the quality control is much, much higher. It will come out this fall and I’m not allowed to talk about it yet, but the artist with whom I’m working on it at this time is another artist who, like Steve, his pencil doesn’t hit the pages without several hours of prior thought. This guy is not sketching it out, and the discussions we had about what we’re doing visually and stylistically in this story… I’m actually of two minds. The people who will notice it will be delighted by it, but I think a large amount of the audience is not even going to register it, they’re just going to gloss over it. The texture is different, the way these pages are panelled and bordered is radically different. And that kinda breaks my heart. But of course you can never control how the material is consumed.
Apart from the creator-orwned series Whiteout and Queen & Country, Rucka has worked on numerous DC and Marvel Comics properties. Many of his runs can already be considered modern classics.
Jochen Ecke: The problem with comics to me is… What we don’t have in comics at the moment is good criticism.
Greg Rucka: I really do feel that’s a huge problem. In the same way that we don’t have a standardized format for scripting, we don’t have any baseline for comics criticism. And instead, we have a community of people who have a web connection and the ability to string fifteen words together. And instead of trying to provide insight, they spend their fifteen words with the cruellest insults.
Jochen Ecke: And these are people who have no idea how much thought and work went even into the most dismal kind of comic you can imagine. What we’re lacking is the kind of criticism that would form opinion in a positive kind of way. We’re still lacking our Godard or our Truffaut.
Greg Rucka: It’s funny, because from the American perspective, there’s this fantasy that the European approach to comics is much more tolerant and willing to give it its artistic due.
Jochen Ecke: Well, not in Germany. In France, maybe.
Greg Rucka: Okay… It’s interesting to me because I always thought that’s an American problem. I never thought of it as much of a global problem. But it seems to me it clearly is.
Jochen Ecke: It’s certainly a German problem as well. I mean, in Germany, comic books are an even more minor form of popular culture than they might be in America.
Greg Rucka: How do superhero movies do in Germany?
Jochen Ecke: That depends actually. Superman Returns didn’t work at all in Germany, but in general, the kind of stuff that’s huge in America is huge in Germany too. Spider-Man, Batman…
Greg Rucka: Superman didn’t do too well in America either.
Jochen Ecke: Yes, but it at least worked to a certain extent. It made some 180 million Dollars at the American box office, whereas in Germany literally nobody went to see it.
Greg Rucka: I think that’s also the political timing. Three years ago, if I had been a German citizen and somebody had asked me, "Do you want to see this American icon?", I would have said, "No, I would rather chew off my own leg". I think that’s ironic. Superman should embody the best ideals of what America is, what America should be. It’s a sad state of affairs when that doesn’t carry forth. But I think that’s indicative of the movie. I mean they made a movie where Superman was an absentee dad. If that’s not a Pax Americana commentary, I don’t know what is.
Jochen Ecke: To talk a little about Melt: your approach to the sequel seems to have been decidedly different, in that you opened up the claustrophobic world of Whiteout, leaving the stations behind. The change is also reflected formally by, to use the Warren Ellis term, the widescreen, Cinemascope approach to the visuals. Can you go a little into your motivations behind this change?
Greg Rucka: Steve and I, we said we wanted to do something different. We did the murder mystery with the first one and we said, let’s do the action movie with the second one. We sort of started from there. At first, it would appear like the big action blockbuster and then it would subvert itself as it continued because you wouldn’t see big action set pieces; you would see the weather and the continent. One of the other things that we were both really on the same page about was that, much more than the first one, we wanted the second one to be about the ice. We really wanted to show a lot of the stuff that we had learned in research and a lot of the stuff that had manifested that we weren’t able to use in the first one. We had wanted a crevasse falling in the first one, but there was just no way to do it. There is another thing that we’re going to do in the third one: we were never able to do a fire. And a fire in Antarctica is incredibly dangerous. It’s almost a paradox – you’re in the highest and driest continent and a fire can spread so quickly, it can kill incredibly quickly in Antarctica. The plot idea [for Melt] came to me while doing research - something from the Cold War. I read a biography from some Soviet, an intelligence officer who talked about pocket nukes.
Jochen Ecke: Finally, to touch upon the upcoming Whiteout movie at least a little: Dominic Sena, the director, has not exactly been known for his no-nonsense approach to storytelling…
Greg Rucka: No, but he is known for his visuals. He does beautiful visuals. The film's supposed to come out in the fall of 2008 right now. It is not, you know, the original graphic novel, and it shouldn't be. Because, as we discussed at the beginning of this, if they had filmed the graphic novel, you would know right at the start who did it. (laughs)
Jochen Ecke: Usually, straight adaptations aren't all that interesting either.
Greg Rucka: Right. And if I had wanted Whiteout to be a movie, I would have written a screenplay. But I wrote a comic book, Steve drew a comic book, and someone said, I think this would make a good movie. But anyone going to the movies expecting to see the original graphic novel is, I think, being wilfully naïve. That would be just boring. Also, there is great validity to different interpretations of a work. And when you think about it like that, how can you not be flattered by the fact that we created something that somebody wanted to interpret for the screen? It may be a great interpretation, it may be a flawed interpretation, you know, I'm not going to be the judge of that.
Rucka's novels, mostly starring bodyguard Atticus Kodiak, have unfortunately not been translated into German yet, with one notable exception: A Gentleman's Game, the first Queen & Country novel, was released under the rather lurid title Dschihad by dtv.
Jochen Ecke: I read in an interview that, now that you're not exclusive to DC anymore, you are going to branch out in your writing a little, and that you will try your hand at a screenplay. Can you imagine yourself as a full-time or at least an occasional screenwriter?
Greg Rucka: The answer to this goes back to the question of, "Why comics?" I don't see myself ever not doing comics or long form prose. But I wanted to try my hand at screenwriting, and I think it would be foolish of me not to take the opportunity. I've had an idea for a movie for a long time that would work very well in that format, in a way that it cannot work as a comic. For example, it's very hard to convey magic, as in magician, as in stage magic, in a comic. You can't do it. By the same token, how do I show you a card trick in a novel? You're not going to be impressed by, "Bob held out a deck of cards and said, Pick one! And Ted picked one, and Bob said, Is it the Ace of Spade? And Ted said, Wow!" That is as undramatic as you're going to get. But showing it, that works. That’s what it's about, finding the right place to tell the story you want to tell.
Jochen Ecke: Thank you very much for taking the time!
Interview with David Lloyd
Interview with Charlie Adlard
Interview with Colleen Coover
Review: Whiteout (German)
Text Copyright Jochen Ecke 2007
Pctures Copyright Crosscult / Oni Press/ DC Comics, Greg Rucka and Steve Lieber