It's been a while since readers were invited into the pulpier side of Portland, Oregon in the pages of writer Greg Rucka's "Stumptown." That long wait will be rewarded this fall when the the second volume of Rucka's Eisner-nominated crime series hit the shelves September 12 from Oni Press.
Again featuring art by Matthew Southworth, the second story arc, "The Case of the Baby in the Velvet Case," picks up a couple weeks after the conclusion of "Stumptown's" first arc, "The Case of the Girl Who Took Her Shampoo but Left Her Mini." CBR News spoke with Rucka about what readers can expect from the new story, the art of character building, and the role of Portland, OR as a living, breathing character.
"Stumptown" takes place within the continuity of Rucka's Atticus Kodiak novels and "A Fistful of Rain," featuring shared characters and history. This second arc of the series features Mim Bracca, a character established in the pages of "A Fistful of Rain." Mim contacts Private Investigator Dex Parios hoping for help locating her stolen guitar.
"'Fistful' was her story, it was her novel," said Rucka. "This is the healthier, no longer alcoholic -- well, no longer drinking, I should say -- Mim, who has sort of gotten her life back in order, and then this thing happens. And, of course, ostensibly it looks like one thing at the start: 'My guitar was stolen, I want it back,' and then, as it progresses, it becomes quite something else."
Rucka is known for writing characters that exhibit depth and complicated, human personalities. It becomes clear, in speaking about the people populating the pages of "Stumptown," they are very close to being alive, playing out their lives on the page in ways that perhaps defy even Rucka's will.
"Characters, if they're well done, are people, and you cannot define people by one set of traits," said Rucka. "They can be an angel one day, and can turn around and be a devil the next. It just depends on who they're dealing with and what the situation is."
Rucka speaks of Mim, the rockstar client in the second arc of "Stumptown," as if she is an old and dear friend. "I'm very fond of [Mim] as a character," said Rucka, "because she's so not like any of the other characters I've ever written in any of my other novels. In any of the novels, if somebody came at a character with a gun, they knew what to do. Mim plays guitar, in a rock band! She's still not quite sure how she got there. She's still not quite sure how she became rich, and she still has no idea exactly of her level of fame. One of [the] things I've always loved about Mim is she's always been in a little over her head. She kind of lives in a bubble of -- she's a little myopic; I guess that's the best way to put it. Not that she's selfish, because she's absolutely not, and its not that she's vain -- it's just that she's always looking at the ground, she's always looking at where her feet are going, she's never really taking in the scenery around her.
"Very early on, Dex says 'How much is [the guitar] worth?'" continued Rucka. "Her response is, 'You know, probably a couple thousand dollars, that's how much it was when my foster dad bought it for me,' and Dex says, 'OK, and because the guitar is yours?' and her response is 'Oh, yeah, well, probably more than that then.' She just has no frame of reference for it."
Many of the characters that populate "Stumptown" have been with the writer for some time now, growing and establishing themselves in an evolving world. Some, like the title's protagonist Dex, began life as marginal supporting characters in other stories.
"Some characters, they come really very whole," said Rucka. "Dex began life over a decade ago as a character who was designed to fill a role in a completely different story that I never ended up writing. But I liked what I had come up with enough that she never went away -- Dex stayed, Dex's history stayed; why she's named Dex, how she was educated and how she came to be. Sometimes you can go into a work really with an ill-defined sense of who these people are, just knowing a couple things about them, and as you journey forward with them you discover more. Sometimes, you have a whole person. I find that if the idea is good and the character is strong they will manifest themselves very quickly and very wholly -- I'm less concerned with plotlines, I'm concerned with what a character's going to do in any given situation."
One of the characters that factors heavily into the series is Stumptown itself: Portland, OR.
"I love this town," said Rucka. "I love this town's character. I love this town's absurdities; I love this town's sincerity -- you always hear statistics about Portland. These are the statistics: we have per capita the most bowling alleys and brewpubs of anywhere in the United States, and the most churches... and strip clubs. Put those things together, that's Portland -- Portland has a lot of sordid, in its back-story -- in where it came from, and much of it continues. I don't think that's any more so or less so than most major American cities, but I find Portland's very compelling. It's in the name, you know: we are a port city, that's how it started. It's in the nickname: Stumptown. This was a logging community -- I don't know if it's so much that Portland says, 'You gotta tell noir,' as much as it is that I'm going to tell a PI story and set it in Portland, and it so happens that it works very well. At the end of the day, you ask 'Why Portland?' and my response is going to be 'Because I love it here.'
"I love this town," Rucka added, "and frankly one of the reasons I really wanted to do a car chase is because we have draw bridges! How could you be in a town that has drawbridges and not have a car chase!?"
Rucka has nothing but praise for the work artist Matthew Southworth has been putting into the series, and for the artist's contributions to the story they are telling together.
"I think he's done some beautiful, beautiful work on this," Rucka told CBR. "Matt has continued to refine what he has been doing, and he continues to explore and try new things. It's an even better looking book than the first one -- he approaches everything so cinematically. The most important thing I find, in any comic book I put out, is you want the storytelling to be clear. Matthew Southworth is a great, great storyteller."
In the first arc of "Stumptown," Rucka and Southworth put Dex through the wringer. She faced down death several times and somehow managed to scrape by. She may not have to take quite so many hard punches, at least for a while.
"We did a story that was sort of heavier on her in the first arc," said Rucka. "This one is a little lighter -- You know, it's a stolen guitar that Mim calls 'Baby.' You can only go so serious, go so dark with this one. One of the things we wanted was for this to be a little more fun, I think; at least I wanted it to be. The next story that I've got in mind is going to push her a little more.
"This is a beautiful Indian summer when this story is set," Rucka said. "Weather will factor soon, trust me. You can't have Portland and not have puddles."
"Stumptown" Vol. 2 debuts September 12.