The Complete Greg Rucka Wondercon Panel Transcript [Wondercon]
At his Wondercon spotlight panel over the weekend, writer Greg Rucka made a series of surprising announcements, most notably that he had finished his work at DC Comics and would not be writing the previously discussed “Batwoman” comic. Beyond those bombshells, he also talked about a whole score of upcoming projects he has in the works, from the comic he describes as “Blade Runner meets Blake’s 7″ to the webcomic he plans to announce in July, to the “Queen and Country” comic he hopes to relaunch.
For fans of his work on “Detective Comics” and “Wonder Woman” Rucka also delved deep into his approach to writing female characters — and Wonder Woman in particular — as well as his collaboration with J.H. Williams III, why it was so hard to walk away, why fear is essential to writing, and what he would change about mainstream comics if here were emperor. Behold, the complete panel transcript:
Laura Hudson: So I guess my first question for you, Greg, is what’s it like to be a man in comics?
Greg Rucka: It’s great! I’m surrounded by other men all the time. And it makes me secure in my masculinity, by just writing about men who wear tight clothes and hit other men, and do so repeatedly, never having to express their feelings in any other fashion than just with violence. I think that it’s frankly the way all men should relate to one another.
LH: You’re known as a writer who writes a lot of strong women, and who writes women very well. In my mind, I think you’re one of the bigger name writers who really gets it… What gives you that kind of insight into writing female characters?
GR: It’s a long answer.
LH: We’ve got some time.GR: It’s two-fold. I’ve said this before and people don’t actually take me seriously when I say it – there’s that joke about being a male lesbian, but I female-identify, and I always have since I was very young. I am not transgendered; I’m not looking for gender reassignment. I clearly have more testosterone flowing through me than most men need, and you can tell just by looking at me. I’m comfortable with my maleness, but for whatever reason the way I’m wired, I have always female-identified. Now, that does not equate to writing women well.
LH: What do you mean by “female-identify”?
GR: I tend to see – socially, I don’t tend to be myself in a male role. I don’t know any other way to put it. Now that being a separate issue, because that’s not an issue of writing, that is an issue of identity… And I think people, we identify however we identify. I’m a Caucasian American Jew. These are all things that make up who I am. That goes to the second half of the question, which is — I believe, for me, all writing comes from character. Character is made up of a variety of different things. One of those elements is gender. We live in a gendered society, and all you have to do is ask any woman here what her experience walking down a empty street at 3 in the morning is like, and then ask any guy. And you’re gonna get different responses. There’s a different implicit threat. That’s a societal problem. In the same way that – what’s your education? Well, those of you who were brought up in Catholic school have a different world experience than people who went to an inner city public school or a rich suburban [or] middle class public school. These are all elements of character.
There was a very specific point – it was actually after writing “Whiteout” – when a whole bunch of things happened around the same time. I was working on my fourth [Kodiak] novel, which was called “Shooting at Midnight.” … I’d written “Keeper,” I’d written “Finder” and I’d written “Smoker.” And “Smoker” wrote like a dream… And this is going to sound potentially very self-serving, but I got nervous, because it had become easy. And I sat down for the next one and said, I have to make sure I’m challenging myself. The worst thing that can happen for a writer is for a writer to start believing their own press. I think the industry and the comics industry in particular is littered with the bodies of writers who believed their own press. And you can see the moment they did, and then the work nosedives.
I sat down to do [my fourth novel] “Shooting at Midnight,” and I wanted to write a Bridget book. If you know the Kodiak books, Atticus is a male protagonist who looks a lot like I used to look… Bridget is a Roman Catholic Bronx girl, and she’s a former junkie. So I was like, that’s about as hard – maybe I could set it in Pakistan, that would make it more difficult. [laughs]
But when I sat down to do the book, I did what I set out to do: I scared myself. I wrote a list of rules that I put up over my workspace… and number one was “be honest.” I spent a lot of time while writing the book and in pre-writing for the book basically talking to all the women I knew. And saying to them rather warningly, I want to write a first-person narrative from Bridget’s point of view. I’m not a woman. I’m not sure what I need to be aware of. And it got to a point – I remember sitting in my living room with my wife Jen [Van Meter] and one of our very good friends, Daria… And Daria looked at me said, “Does she get cramps? I get cramps so bad that at least once a month I want to kill myself, flat on my back in agony. Does she get cramps?” And it sounds kinda silly, but that was very revelatory to me, because it was such an element of character… All these things are elements of character: Preference, first kiss, favorite book. You don’t have to know the answer to every one of them, but you have to be able to answer them if asked if that makes any sense.
I suppose if that answers the question, it’s how I write anybody. I just try to be fair. I’ll give you guys an example of that honesty issue… If you’ve read “Shooting at Midnight”… In the third section, there is this one fellow in the book who has been treating her horribly, who is a sexist motherf-ker… There’s a bit where when she shows up they think she has a wire and she’s searched. And I remember sitting there and writing the sequence, and knowing that this guy’s going to search her, and he’s got her in a position of vulnerability, so he’s gonna cop a feel. This is a hateful, rotten guy; this is what he’s going to do. And I remember debating with myself, was I willing to do this? Was I going to do this to this character? …It’s subtle, but it’s pretty clear that this guy puts a finger inside her. I don’t make a big moment out of it. It’s from Bridget’s point of view, and she’s not going to make a big moment out of it. But the decision to do that was kind of a watershed moment. It was the question of, am I going to run away from it, or am I going to try to be honest?
There’s a moment in the last part of the new “Queen and Country” novel that comes out in the end of October, and there’s a similar moment of vulnerability for Tara. It’s not in the same way… but if you viewed it cinematically, it could be either honesty or exploitative.
LH: Where is that line between being exploitative and being honest with the narrative and letting women take their lumps like everybody else?
GR: Again, I can only talk about my stuff. And this is my liberal arts background showing – you cannot tell a story and have it not be art, no matter how hard you try. You may not want it be; you may not think of it as art. But if it can read, it can be interpreted. If the art can be perceived, it can be interpreted. You look at “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” and it’s a rip-roaring yarn about fighting Nazis. Or, it’s two guys fighting for the soul
of one woman. And the wrong guy wins, in my opinion. Look at the first shot of “Raiders,” and the reveal of Indy. He’s in shadow. Belloq wears white. These [things] are significant, and they’re not there accidentally.
Now, there are some writers who go out there and they don’t give a rat’s ass. They just write the story as an entertainment. I can’t do that. I think about what I do. So inherently, I ascribe a responsibility to myself. At the end of the day, I’m not attempting to – the goal has never been to sit down and write Art, per se. The goal is to write stories that will entertain. But if I can write a story that will entertain and that you guys then take with you afterwards and maybe think about it a couple days or a couple weeks…
I had wonderful moment when I was signing [at Wondercon]. If you’ve read “Blackest Night: Wonder Woman” #1, there’s that fight in Arlington [Cemetery], and I was real careful about that. Because of all the Batwoman stuff, I know a lot of people who are in service right now. I want to be very respectful to the armed forces. Regardless of the stance on any particular conflict at any time, there’s an enormous sacrifice involved. So setting a sequence in Arlington and saying there are going to be a whole bunch of zombies rising, I was aware of what I was doing there. I know there was flak on the internet, about [how] it was so disrespectful. But I had this guy come up to me and say to me that his grandmother read that issue before she died. Her husband had served. And she found it incredibly respectful… and that means the world to me.
That’s what I wanted; I wanted the crime that Max was committing to be heinous so that the dignity and the honor of those guards, the soldiers who tend the Tomb of the Unknown [Soldier], and Diana’s reverence for them — that mattered to me. I wanted that to be something that we carried forth. Words have power. It’s a cliched thing, but if I’m going to write a story, there’s power in that story. It may be a miniscule amount of power, but I’ve got to take responsibility for that.
LH: You mentioned Wonder Woman, and I’m of the opinion that you’re one of the few writers who has really gotten Wonder Woman right. Which isn’t a hit on most of the people who have written Wonder Woman. She’s a challenging character–
GR: She’s incredibly difficult.
LH: What’s the key to Wonder Woman, to writing that character well?
GR: I think there are multiple roadblocks. The first is that she’s an incredibly convoluted character, and if anyone’s heard me speak before, they’re heard this hoary old chestnut, but if you look at characters like Batman or Superman, their moment of inception is perfect. It doesn’t matter. Bruce Wayne could watch his parents be murdered tomorrow and all you have to do is add zeroes to the Wayne fortune, and you’ll still get Batman. Superman, if Kal can crash to Earth tomorrow, as long as he lands in a mythical American Midwest where is found by two people who embody the finest traits of this country, and raise this child with that, you’re going to get Superman.
Diana’s moment of conception is based in a period of feminism that is absurd in 2010. It’s absurd to look at Wonder Woman from 1950 and say, “That’s feminist.” It’s not! Feminism, because of the societal things we’ve talked about, is an evolving concept. Diana’s tied to that, and part of the problem is because that is so knotty a problem, most writers run away from it. They don’t even want to touch it. They say, she’s not political. She’s supposed to be political! She wears thigh-high bondage boots, a bustier, and that’s not a lasso – that’s a whip. It’s not a lasso, guys! And these are called the manacles of submission. Talk about loading a character with as many problematic things as you can. So you either run away from it, or you run towards it. You either acknowledge it, or you don’t. I think that’s number one.
I think number two is that a lot of the guys who have written her don’t like her; they just want to f–k her.
LH: Do you think that’s different from a lot of other female characters in comics?
GR: Yes, I do. And I’m not sure why. Diana – there are people who hate her. I mean, they just hate the concept of a Wonder Woman. They really do. You’ve seen – I don’t even want to call it “fan-based art” – but I’m sure everybody’s seen the various images out there. That speaks to something going on. Somebody is real scared of her. He’s really afraid of her. And I don’t know why. I don’t understand where that comes from. So there’s that.
And people want to simplify her, so they go, she’s Superman with tits. Well, no. She’s not. It’s a completely different background. I spent three years thinking about how I would write Diana before I actually typed my first words. And I spent a lot of time going, What does it mean to be an Amazon? Phil Jimenez and I – we were at Wondercon back when it was in Oakland, and we were sitting in the bar and we went 15 rounds about Amazons…
“We’re isolationists, and if you mess with us, we’ll kill you.” You come out of that culture, you’re gonna be pretty self-assured. But there are benefits to that culture… you can actually rise to an ideological level and an idealistic level that you can’t in contemporary society. There’s a gold mine in there. One of the problems I had with DC is they hated the fact that I kept using myth. They did not like the fact that I’d have Athena, and then Zeus. But these are characters in her world. Tell me another [DC] hero who can call up a god. Superman can’t.
LH: You’d mentioned the origin stories of these core characters like Superman or Batwo– Batman, and –
GR: Did you just tip your hand?
LH: I did. I think it was a pretty big undertaking to write the origin story of Batwoman. How did you approach the idea of writing the backstory for such an iconic character?
GR: Actually — this is going to sound awful — there were certain things that I knew going in. The editor on “Detective [Comics]” is Michael Siglain, but the editor who put J.H. [Williams III] and I together and actually started the ball rolling was Peter Tomasi, before Peter stopped editing and became a full-time writer at DC. And one of the first conversations I had with him, I said I have this scene in my head where she’s at West Point, and she’s asked if she’s queer. And she will not lie. So I knew that.
To wear the bat — and these are the things you ask yourself — why do you wear a bat in Gotham? You wear a bat in Gotham because you’ve had a horrible childhood trauma. No, you do. There is a flowchart. The flowchart is: warm happy life up until eight years old. At eight, horrible thing happens. Horrible thing causes you to redirect focus of life, until you reach inspiration point and put on silly costume to beat people up. This is a Gotham origin…
I had the luxury of going, she’s really a third generation Batman hero. You’ve got Batman — dad — and you have Robin — son — but she’s sort of like the second cousin. She never actually has to encounter any of them to put on the bat. Because at that point, the symbol of what that means in Gotham already exists. I wanted to play that angle too. I wanted to have a character who did not need Batman’s approval to put on the bat. That mattered a great to me… Frankly, I was tried of Batman always having the say-so. I’m kinda tired of the Batman who says, [Batman voice] “It’s my city!” It’
s a big city, dude.
I’m old enough to remember when the Tim Burton “Batman” movie came out. Even then I remember there being all this stuff about how Batman and Joker were mirrors of each other, and Batman is as crazy as Joker. And I hate that. He’s supposed to be a hero. If somebody really did these things in real life, yes, they’d be insane. But this isn’t real life, and he’s a hero. And if he’s a hero he can’t be crazy. It defeats the heroism. That goes hand in hand with one of the things that I find really beautiful about Batman. I like pathos. I want characters to have pathos. I like Batman to have pathos. I love the fact that every night he goes out saying, “what happened to me is never going to happen to any other kid.” And every night he fails. It’s a big city. He can’t be everywhere. But every night he will do it, just to save one more life. If that’s my Batman, then why would he have a problem with someone else trying to do the same as long as they did it within the parameters, i.e. I’m not going to shoot people…
It was very carefully constructed. Jim and Mike and I spent hours talking about these things. I’d call Jim and say this is the issue, this is the sequence, this is what needs to happen. And he’d come back and say I have an idea for a design and a visual here. If you see the script it’ll say pages 4 and 5, and it’ll just say, “Jim, this is as we discussed — this is that thing with the lightning bolts.” Batwoman has been the most collaborative project I’ve ever done.
LH: So things like the lightning bolts and the paneling — that’s something you came up with collaboratively?
GR: Jim’s design sense is incredible. It is quite literally the act of somebody trying to describe a picture to you. So I wrote that first script, and he said, I’ve got these ideas and it wasn’t until the pages started coming in that I got it. And once I started seeing pages, it changed the dialogue… Once I saw the pages I was able to say, ok, let’s roll up the sleeves and really make this work. So by the time you hit 755, you’re looking at design elements where he says this is how I want to handle it, or, I have an idea, can you write to this? The American flag banner in the first part of “Go,” where Jacob is in the poppy field, and the transition with the American flag in the background — that was one where he said, “I have an idea!” And then said, “I went with a different idea,” and I went, holy crap!
The ying-yang image in that final Kate/Alice confrontation, that was one that he and I had of course been working on the entire time. There were some visual we couldn’t do. We really wanted to do a page where you would have Kate on page left and then when you did your page turn… it would be Alice in the the exact same pose, and you would see the overlay. You would see that they have exactly the same face. We never cheated, by the way. Not once. If you go and you look, it is always the same person. he never draws Alice differently than Kate; it’s just the makeup and the hair. So, we dealt with you straight. None of this “ooh, I changed it at the last minute because you figured it out” bulls–t.
LH: I solicited questions from Twitter, and they overwhelmingly asked the same question: What’s happening with “Batwoman”?
GR: I don’t know. I finished my last of my DC work yesterday, and I’m not currently doing anything for DC right now. I love the character; I would love to continue working with the character, but at the same time I’m sort of needing to step back from my DC work in general. I suspect that we’ll come back to her at some point. I don’t know if that’s going to be something that Jim and I do together. I am not sure what Jim’s plans are. I want to keep working with him, and I believe that’s mutual. There is more to tell. There’s a whole five-part story broken down that is really the last of — “Elegy” was supposed to be four issues; there were supposed to be three issues that were “Go,” and then there was a five-part story that Jim and I had, but because of a variety of things in-house at DC, we were moved out of “Detecitve [Comics]” and we couldn’t tell the story there. So there’s a concluding story that’s basically Alice’s origin story. It’s what happened to Elizabeth. I don’t know if we’ll ever get to do it. I have been around in this industry long enough to never say never.
The goal when we set out writing Kate was to create a character that would endure. We really didn’t want a flash in the pan. We wanted to make sure that she had a strong origin and that anybody anywhere who read those seven issues would then be able to write her, and would be able to write her “properly.” There was a transition in the industry in the ’80s, and it was Frank Miller who did it… The result of Miller coming in and doing “Batman: Year One” and the Daredevil “Born Again” arc, and “Dark Knight [Returns]” was that writer went from being people who serviced the characters to Writers of Books! There was a time… when you could have three different writers over three different issues [of a book], and the characters would be the same. And then we entered into what in film is very much auteur territory: “this is my take.” Everybody wants to do their take on fill-in-the-blank. And I think that is laudable in certain cases; certain characters need to reinvigorated. In other cases, it’s unnecessary. You shouldn’t sit there going, “this Spider-Man is different from that Spider-Man.” It’s Spider-Man! It should be consistent. So if we’ve done our job well, somebody will be able to pick up Kate and you’ll know that’s Batwoman.
LH: When you put that kind of work into a character, particularly in such a formative way, is it tough to –
GR: It’s agonizing. To walk away? It’s the single most difficult thing.
LH: Because you’re leaving the character? Because other people are going to use the character now?
GR: It’s all of it. Denny O’Neill told me a story that I’m probably going to wrong, but when he first gave me “Detective [Comics]” way back when after “No Man’s Land,” he told a story about when he finished his run on the book. And I think it Archie Goodwin who turned to him and said, “How are you? Are you ok with this?” And Denny was like, “I’m fine, I’m fine, I’m fine.” He turned in his last stories, and then he said, “I found myself running by the reservoir in Central Park at 3 o’ clock in the morning, and that was when it hit me that maybe it wasn’t fine.” I’ve been doing this a lot lately. Look, I love these characters. I feel very strongly that passion for the characters translates to the work, and I feel that you cannot write well if you’re not passionate. I love Kate, and I love her identity. I think she is a wonderful, multi-faceted, deeply layered character, and I am — God, this sounds so hokey, but I’m honored to be able to serve that. To walk away from it is very hard.
But I think also there’s an arrogance to imply that I’m the only one who can provide that service for this character, in the same way as saying that if I don’t write Renee Montoya anymore that Renee Montoya will be lessened. These are characters that have been around for years. Superman doesn’t need me. He’s going to be fine without me. Batman doesn’t need me. Even Wonder Woman, who I think of the “holy trinity” is the weakest position because people don’t know how to get a handle on her, so they always try to take her and reinvent — she’s going to endure. So I try to remind myself that you don’t want to overthink your own importance. That said, we’ll see what happens. And the fact that you guys are out there — if you don’t like the way something is going, you’re not shy about it. You never have been, and the interwebs guarantee that you won’t be. DC will know in short order if you feel they have stepped wrong, perhaps.
LH: Well, personally, I’m sad that you won’t be continuing, although I think the work you’ve done on the character is tremendous, and I appreciate it a great deal.
GR: Well, thank you. I’ve got a fairly long career in the industry at this point, and the work with Jim on “Detective [Comics]” is high point. it’s up there with “Half a Life” [from "Gotham Central"] with [Michael] Lark. It’s up there with the “[Spider-Man] Tangled Web” story I did with [Eduardo] Risso. It’s up there with my all-time favorites. I’m immensely proud of it. I’m perhaps unduly proud of it. I may even be prideful about it! [laughs]
LH: It sounds like you’re starting a new chapter in your career, so what’s next for you now, moving forward?
GR: I’m still doing “Stumptown” with Oni, and issue three should be out the end of April, beginning of May. Matthew Southworth and I are continuing on that. That arc ends with issue four, and we’ll take a couple of months off and be back with issue 5. And ideally, on a more consistent shipping schedule. I’ve got like five separately projects all in different stages of development.
LH: Are any of them “Queen and Country”? Twitter would also like to know that.
GR: I saw Twitter ask me that. Twitter should know that the new novel is called “The Last Run,” on October 26th. It is a “Queen and Country” novel [about] Tara’s last job in the field. The book exists — well, also as a story — but it also sets up a potential “Queen and Country” [comic book] series 2. If there is going to be a “Queen and Country” series 2 — and I don’t know for sure if there will be — that will not happen until 2011. That is due in no small part that Nicola Scott made me promise her that she would get to draw the first arc. Except Nicola’s exclusive to DC. Which means she can’t. So I have to wait till she’s out of exclusive, and then get in there before she maybe signs another exclusive. I would like to do it. I think I’ve said in other interviews that the conceit for series two would be [Tara] Chase as D-Ops, and it would follow the adventures of the woman with the worst boss in the world. I.e. the poor woman who is told, “you, you get to be the new Minder-3… Everything I did? Backwards, high heels. You, better than me.” You do that job for a day and I think you go home and start looking at detergent as a reasonable drink. That’ll be interesting.
LH: Do you have anything coming up soon?
GR: Um, not a lot. There’s a lot of stuff in flux right now. I’m hoping that by the end of the summer that we’ll be announcing some more stuff. But right now, I’ve got — I can tease things. Part of the reason I’m stepping back from DC is that I haven’t been able to work on a lot of the projects that I’ve wanted to do. Another thing I wanted to do is called “Americ
an Soldier.” I’m still doing research on this. The idea is… it starts in 1750, follows the service of a man, probably from Pennsylvania, in the Revolutionary War. That’s the first volume. The second volume is the War of 1812, and it’s sister’s grandson. And then, say, the Civil War, and then the Spanish-American War. To take this family’s tree as described by their service to their country all the way up the present. That’s a ten-year project! So I don’t know if I’m even going to get that thing off the ground, let alone find some poor son of a bitch willing to publish it. Or worse, who wants to be the guy or gal who has to draw that? Because I’d love to have the same artist all the way through. That would be so cool!
There’s that. There’s a thing Jim and I have been discussing that’s sort of “Blade Runner” meets a really cheesy British sci-fi show called “Blake’s 7.” There’s an Arthurian thing I want to do… And I want to make a really, really scary ghost story in comics, as opposed to gross. Something that makes you go, “I’m not sure I want to turn the page!” I would like to see horror as opposed to splatter. Eric Chapman and I have been talking, and he loves the pulps. I love the pulps. Apparently no one else loves the pulps. They say they love the pulps, but then they never go see things like “Sky Commander.” We would love to do something where it’s Betsy Tomahawk versus the Nazi Fireman from Mars. That would be fun. I would actually love to do that as an anthology. I have a webcomic idea that I cannot talk about yet, but if all goes well, we will announce around San Diego, including the artist.
So there’s a lot of stuff going right now, but it’s — I’ve been out of exclusive to DC for three years, but I’ve been exclusive to DC, you know what I mean? And part of that was because Batwoman took a really long time to get going, and part of it was that I became very comfortable there, and it was very easy to go, oh, where do you want me? I will go to over to Superman now and we will do Superman. Oh, now I will go back to Gotham City, because I know Gotham very well. And Jen kinda slapped me upside the head a couple weeks ago, and said, “dude, you’re making yourself miserable.” And she was right. And I had a moment where I was like, I need to start telling the stories I want to tell again.
LH: Earlier, when you were talking about having to step out of your comfort zone in order to move forward as a storyteller — do you see this as another step like that?
GR: Absolutely. I’m very glad you say that, because you’re actually reminding me. I think writers need to scare themselves. I think you need to have a moment when you’re a writer where you’re typing and you go, “Oh my god, I don’t know if this is going to work.” Or, “oh my god, did I really to do this?” Or, “oh my god, I can’t believe I did that.” I had moments like that with Kate.
LH: What was the most scared you ever were with Kate?
GR: Honestly? It was probably Part 1 of “Go.” And it was that whole issue, really, but it crystallizes in the black page where you don’t see anything, you just have the sound effects. You would think a page like that is easy to write; I spent days on the page. And Jim and I talked about that too, cause he’s not drawing anything per se. If you’ve seen the page, pay attention to how the panels work. If panel borders run off the page, that indicates a large amount of time elapsing. If the panel are closed, it is a discrete moment. It was like, how in one page do we describe an indefinite period of absolute hell? Of misery. Of that fear. And there was a piece of me that was like, especially when you look at the bottom of the page, and you get the sound effects coming in of Jacob and the rest of the squad arriving — I remember writing that and thinking, oh my god, if this doesn’t work, the reader’s going think it’s the dumbest thing in the world. And needing it to work, to build to that moment where Jacob’s saying, don’t look, look at me, keep your eyes on me… I knew Jim was gonna execute it; there was no question about Jim’s ability to do it. The question was, could I get us to that moment where you were like, “oh my god, no wonder she puts on the bat and kicks people in the face. “
There’s a similar moment in the next issue, the drunk dialing moment. I didn’t want to diminish it. It’s hard just in the mechanics of the comic. Over the course of three or four pages, I needed to convince you that she meets Renee, they fall in love, they’re happy together, and it goes to hell in a handbasket. And then, the Batman moment. If I lose them here, they’re never going to believe her. And it mattered. I wanted you to believe in her. You had to believe — it has to be emotionally resonant. This is the thing for me that separates good writing from bad writing. Good writing makes you feel something. Bad writing, you don’t care. I can make you feel something, preferably not revulsion about the job I’m doing, if I make you feel for the character, I’ve got you. And those moments scare you. But it’s a been a while since I’ve sat down and said, oh my god, am I willing to go there? Like I said, you can’t get complacent. If you get complacent, you’re in trouble.
LH: Obviously, you’re taking a step back right now from DC, so I’m curious: If you could change one thing about mainstream comics, what would it be?
GR: [laughs] Stop buying event books. Event books keep happening because you guys keep buying them. They do. You guys are eating your own tail. You don’t get to then say, “I hate events” and then buy them. And there’s this war now of escalating events now between Marvel and DC… and there’s a part of me that kind of longs for the day when you could have a run of 12 issues of “The Flash” and have it just be 12 issues of “The Flash.”
And I know that’ll go out on the internet and somebody’ll think, “He’s attacking Geoff [Johns]!” I am not. What Geoff does, he does so well. And I cannot in a million years write that way. I’m not that writer. What Geoff Johns does which I am quite jealous of is that Geoff has never lost the 8-year-old comic book reader in him. He’s never lost it… And he appeals to that in all of us. There’s just a part of me that remembers when you could have six issues in a row, and the world wasn’t always ending. That you could spend time with the characters, in a way. But that said, some of these events have been really good.
So what would I change about it? I don’t know. I’d make [comics] cheaper. And actually, no — you know what the real answer is? I’d get them out of specialty stores. I’d put comics back in the spinner racks and 7-Elevens and grocery stores and Walmart. That’s what’s killing us. I was talking to Dan DiDio today — the best-selling Marvel or DC book today is going to sell a quarter of a million. That’s nothing, guys. That’s nothing. If a TV show has a quarter of a million people watching it, it would not make it through the second episode. It might not even make it through it’s first broadcast. I’m serious. I’m not joking.
Look at manga — it has millions of readers. Europeans comics, in the millions. What the hell is going on in this country with our comics that we can’t break out? I mean, “Stumptown” is considered a success because 10,000 people bought it. I’m proud that 10,000 people picked it up, and I’m proud that it went to a second printing. But 10,000? That’s awful! How the hell do we get more people to read? And a part of me hopes that the iPad is the panacea. Marvel was right there. Marvel announced their reader — I actually think that may be how we do it. The ability to digitally get a comic may be the thing that saves our baby.
That said, I like my floppy; I like my periodical format. But god, we’ve gotta get more people reading these things, or we’re gonna die. This is the difference, 20 years ago, 30 years ago, if there was an event in the books, it was an exclusive event. It brought people in. Now, it is an event for the established audience. You see the difference there? We don’t bring people in with these things. And that’s not done with malice aforethought, but it’s done because that’s our audience now… You have to go to your specialty store… You cannot trip over these things anymore. My first comic was a Lee/Kirby “Incredible Hulk” reprint in the digest black and white size that I got in a supermarket in Selinas, California, and I begged my mom for it. I begged her. And I read that thing eight times in a sitting, and the binding fell apart. I loved that thing. Now if you’re in a supermarket you see “Archie” and “Jughead,” and let me tell you, that is a different thing. It is not the same. It’s not a entry drug. That “Incredible Hulk” was an entry drug. I wanted to read more Hulk. So, that’s what I would change if I were emperor. This is all going to get posted, and I’m going to be paying for this for weeks to come. [laughs]