New York Comic Con has come and gone but some people are still reaping the rewards of that annual ritual in which thousands of devoted followers gather to pay homage to their interests and conduct a secular black mass. Greg Rucka is somebody that certainly understands the importance of ritual as a well-documented supporter of the MLS team the Portland Timbers. The writer is gearing up to launch a new comic series at Image Comics, Black Magick, with artist and co-creator Nicola Scott. Debuting a few days before Halloween, the series follows witch Detective Rowan Black as a mystery presents itself to her. Mr. Rucka and I met just off the New York Comic Con grounds before opening on Saturday so we could have a quiet sit-down to discuss the origins and craft of his new book as well as the role his research plays into the writing of it and his other Image book Lazarus.
Mark Stack for Comics Bulletin: I just read Black Magick #1 recently. I was really interested in it because you always do these great narratives with women, but you’re doing this narrative that involves witchcraft. And there’s a history of femininity being associated with witchcraft in history and pop culture. What drew you to that?
Rucka: What drew me to witchcraft as the subject?
Rucka: It’s interesting. I’ve been asked similar questions. I guess it comes back to I like writing female characters. My preferred protagonist at this point in my career is a woman. I don’t think we have time to unpack all the reasons as to why that is. I knew this was an idea that I have been playing with since 2009. I knew back then that the main character was a woman. That was very deliberate because I had just left DC. I was looking at what I wanted to do next. I was looking at characters that I really enjoyed writing. I was thinking a lot about the character Renee Montoya. I was like, “I would like to write another cop. I would like to write a cop and I would like her to be a woman.” So I think that wasn’t big math for me.
CB: That was an easy leap.
Rucka: Yeah. The problem is enough time has passed that I do not know what it was that said, “Hey, you know what? Witchcraft!” I must have had a conversation with somebody. I must have been talking with somebody and the idea of what’s called a trad witch as opposed to a Gardnerian witch. Too many witches. Which comes out of sort of mid-twentieth century Gardnerian, sort of Wicca. Wicca is, as presented by [Gerald] Gardner, a relatively modern sort of adaptation of this belief system. But so much about what Gardner is doing is frankly speculative. The idea of the trad witch, the traditional witch, was that this is the same sort of legacy that gives you an old great-great-grandmother in a village in Ecuador with a folk remedy that she doesn’t know the origin of. That has come back hundreds to thousands of years.
So when we talk about trad witchcraft, we are talking about a legacy that Gardnerian Wicca certainly touches on and certainly draws from, but in theory spans thousands and thousands of years. You are talking about a belief system and a legacy that predates the birth of Christ by thousands of years. I was really intrigued by that. With that, there are elements of reincarnation, past life access, and things like that when you start really digging into the occult more. I was like, “That’s pretty cool. You could really take that to the races.” So somewhere, somehow, it’s like, “Here’s all this stuff and here’s the detective. Let’s glue them together.”
CB: Yeah, you’ve got your chocolate and your peanut butter. And then you got Nicola Scott to draw it. How did you guys start working together on this?
Rucka: Well, Nic and I have known each other a really long time. When I went on my Wonder Woman run way back when, she was actually the first artist I proposed. At that point, she was fairly new on the scene and was trying to get work. The editor on the book, not unreasonably, was like, “She’s really raw and I am not sure she is ready for primetime yet.” So we ended up going with Drew Johnson on that run. Nicola kept getting better and starting doing a lot of work with Gail.
This is true in just about any field; you spend all the time you can trying to educate yourself however you like, but ultimately getting out there and having to do it on the street is going to be the quickest teacher. You can look at Nic’s learning curve. She learned fast. So by the time I left DC, she and I were friends. We had been talking about wanting to work together. I think it was 2010-2011, she had said, “What are you working on?” I said, “Well, I got this idea.” She was like, “I would be interested in that,” to which I was like, “Well, you have to stop working for DC first. You are under exclusive.” So she got out in 2013. We had a conversation and it was pretty much, “Is this still available?” I was like, “It’s waiting for you.”
CB: It’s nice the timing finally worked out.
Rucka: Yeah, it did. I have done this long enough now that the collaborative marriage between writer and artist, and even extending to the rest of the team if there is an inker, colorist, letterer, editor, designer… For most of us, comics are not something easily made by just one person. They are not even made by two people. There’s seven people on Black Magick. There is Jeanine Schaefer, who is editing. There is Chiara Arena, who is doing colors. There is Nicola. There is Eric Trautmann, who is doing all our design work. There is Jodie Winn, who is doing our lettering and a whole bunch basically of other support work on the work. And then me.
So what is that? That’s six people on this thing. And that’s not counting interfacing with Image. So I have reached the point where getting the right people together on the book is like putting together a sports team. There’s an element of organic sort of right place, right time, right moment. And there’s an element of really calculated choice. Are we going to be able to work with this? Is this going to serve? So there is an odd sense of… Well, I had the idea in 2009. I had written the first two scripts before the end of 2009. Here we are in 2015 and the book is going to come out at the end of the month. So there was a five year gap between writing issue two and issue three.
CB: The coloring is actually something that really stood out to me because it is done in that grayscale. How would you describe that?
Rucka: Have you read the whole issue?
CB: I have and that decision paid off really well with what happens in the book.
Rucka: Color is always a storytelling element in a color comic in how it is used. But most of the time we don’t tend to use it as a storytelling device. It tends to be used as an aid in the comic. It tends to be used as an aid in the comic because it is viewed as-
Rucka: Yeah and very much wisdom (and I use that word advisedly) that says, “Color books sell better than black and white and so on.” I think Nic very early realized she wanted to paint the book and wanted to play with the tonalities of gray that she was going to get out of the this sort of water color process. You look at the pages as they are printed and they are gorgeous. You see her original art pages and they are amazing. They are so lush. Grayscale in and of itself… We were just sticking with that. That would be technically falling into a non-color spectrum. But we are using color to emphasize certain storytelling elements and to actually tell parts of the story. Things that trigger color are significant. As the series progresses, there are issues where there is only one bit of spot color, where you’ll flip the page and you’ll be like, “That’s really subtle. Am I seeing that? Why is that there?” If it is there, it is there deliberately.
CB: It’s one of my favorite techniques that Spielberg has used in a film. He used that in Schindler’s List quite effectively. So when I noticed that in this book, I was like, “Oh, this is something different. This is something cool and they are actually using color to tell the story.”
Rucka: Yeah, and we’ve actually had some very interesting conversations about it because the color now means something, right? So when it is applied in the book, it has to be consistent. If the color is being used in relation to, say, this character has done, we are using a certain palette. If the color is being used in relation to something that this other person has done, it is a different palette.
CB: Oh, that’s cool.
Rucka: So there are moments where, like I said in issue two, there is one bit. And it is tiny. In issue three, there are two different bits. One of them is fairly subtle and one is pretty big. One of them is like the action on the page. So hopefully people will be reading it and get it and dig it. I don’t tend to worry too much. I think about response to things like that. I trust that readers that find the book are going to dig it. If they don’t dig it, they’ll put the book down and they won’t pick it up again. I am reasonably confident. Well actually, that’s not even true. It’s the choice we made; this is the way we are telling the story.
CB: Yeah, you are putting your art out there. If they don’t respond, then they don’t.
Rucka: Then they don’t. We are not going to change it come issue six if we are like, “Well, we’d get more readers if we were in color.” Maybe we would, but we sure as hell aren’t going to do it. This is part of the world and part of the way we are telling the narrative.
CB: I dig that. I want to pivot a little bit to Lazarus. I worked in a comic shop for about six months and it was right next to a college. One of the easiest ways for me to sell comics to other students was to say, “Hey, this is Lazarus.”
Rucka: Lazarus and Saga.
CB: “It’s a little political. You are going to read some stuff in the backmatter of these issues that is going to blow your mind! Like, all the research he puts into this.” So are you still doing all that research for the book?
CB: What kind of stuff are you looking at on the daily?
Rucka: It’s been really busy the last couple months. I mean crazy busy. But I still have my email searches. I have Google alerts. I get a digest every day on all these search terms that I’ve set up about stem cell use, IDS cell, genetic modification, and so on. So at least once a day I am getting something where I get a list of, “Here’s a new thing. Here’s something we discovered today. Here’s something that was released today.” It’s still pretty damn cool.
There’s some really neat stuff. There is, I believe, a stem cell constructed proto-brain now that they are using in a lab. The initial application is basically to observe drug interactions in the brain without having to take somebody who has got a fully developed brain and mess with that. You can take this brain that is apparently an organic network to see the interaction. That raises all sorts of interesting questions to me.
CB: Yeah, there’s ethical questions that come up.
Rucka: Exactly. Where is consciousness?
CB: I feel like I am going to read this in an issue of Lazarus.
Rucka: God only knows. I was in Australia about two weeks ago. The woman who was responsible for sort of wrangling the comics area turns out to be a doctoral student at basically the Australian equivalent of MIT. She had been terrific. We had been chatting. The last day of the show we are taking the ferry back across Sydney Harbor. I am with Andrew Constant, who is a writer in comics, a really talented writer. He knows Kate. And he’s like, “Yeah, Dr. Kate.” He precedes to tell me that she studies neurological interaction in the endocrine system. I am like, “Ok, wait a minute. That sounds really interesting. So we are talking about brain work?” She’s like, “No, actually I am studying the gut.” I was like, “Wait, neurological activity in the intestinal system?” She said yeah. I am sure she’ll read this and she’ll be like, “That’s not what I said. You heard the wrong thing!” I came away from the conversation, the long of the short, is that she was saying the gut is a second brain.
Apparently in fetal development, your neuron development between the brain and the stomach is… I think the stomach starts with more neurons. So when you talk about thinking with your gut, when you talk about gut reactions, that’s your second brain, which is fascinating to me. That is fascinating. Clearly that’s an autonomic system. How that interacts with “the primary brain” or higher brain, I have no clue. We know what happens if we damage the thing in our skull. Now I am very intrigued to go, “What are we saying when soldiers are getting gut wounds? How is that changing their personality?” Never mind the trauma of the injury and so on. What more is going on there? That’s fascinating to me.
But of course, the next thought is, “Oh, Christ! I’ve got to figure out how to incorporate this into Lazarus. I’ve got to figure out how, if, and what those are effects I need to address with Forever. It’s always active. Trautmann, who does all the fake ads and design work… There’s a monitor on a page of Lazarus if there is a tech read out or something, that was Lark and Trautmann putting it together. It is mostly Lark telling Eric, “I need this.” And Eric goes, “Alright.” And he puts it together. So I get an email from him once or twice a day where he’s found stuff on his own web crawls. He tends to find more tech stuff.
CB: Yeah, because he’s got to draw that.
Rucka: And I think it is also more germane to his interests. He’s the guy who goes, “This is a really cool device. Take a look at this absurdly expensive one million dollar mobile phone that is the size of a 747 or what not.” You look at it and you are like, “Oh, my Christ, ostentatious wealth!” And then you go… And things like that.
CB: There’s something that I have been told by teachers and professors… They say research creates story.
CB: The more you learn about something, the more you can write.
Rucka: I absolutely agree with that one hundred percent. The trick is to not become so enslaved to the reality that the narrative-
CB: Takes a backseat?
Rucka: Yeah, I mean we are telling fiction, right? We are clear about the purpose of the fiction and the direction. So if we do everything right, research that we are producing helps tell that story better. But the trick is you can go down that rabbit hole and never come out. You have to have, I think, on some gut level an understanding of what you want to do with the story to know what is enough. One of the other things I love about research is if you do your research well, you don’t actually have to put very much of it on the page.
CB: It informs what you write.
Rucka: And it is about picking the right detail, right? If I give you the right detail, then I don’t need the 99 other details that got me there. I’ve always been a research fan. I have always been very, very devoted to that process.