For his latest creator-owned comic series, writer Greg Rucka is attempting a kind of story he's never done before, and the mysterious tale of a woman whose identity can prove deadly in "Veil" will come from a new publishing home in Dark Horse Comics.
But beyond those basic facts, the writer stressed that the with artist Toni Fejzula may wear some imagery in common with horror comics, but ultimately, the final genre of the piece will be up to readers' perceptions.
"There's a strong horror current -- though it's not outright horror -- to 'Veil,'" Rucka told CBR News in the exclusive first interview about "Veil." "Oddly or not, I've never found that as a label that appeals to me. There are plenty of stories I love that I would never refer to as horror stories... I sort of fall backwards into the genre label. It's presented as a horror piece, but I don't think of it as a horror piece in the same way I don't think of 'Stumptown' as a noir. It's just, 'This is the story.' And 'Veil' is as much of a mystery as it is anything that's supernatural fictiony. I get weary of the labels, and I get worried as these things get around because I think we may be setting an expectation that we're not trying to meet. By the same token, I've never read 'Hellboy' and said, 'This is horror.' But there are many people who would say that it absolutely is horror. It's a very slippery word."
What can easily be seen is the thematic and social issues Rucka wants to engage with the piece. With promotional materials that refer to the series' main character by saying, "When men try to hurt her... they wind up dead," a sharp focus on men and women comes into light. "There's clearly a lot of gender stuff in this right from the start," the writer explained, but the focus shifts significantly from the more action-oriented women of Rucka's previous comics. "It's interesting because to tell this story, she has to be a female character. There's no way to tell the story I want to tell with a guy. You can argue that 'Queen & Country' or 'Whiteout' are very driven by active decisions of character. That's how the characters have always appeared. In this one, the fact that she's a woman is crucial to the story in a way that it just isn't in the rest of my work."
When readers meet the lead of "Veil," they'll be seeing a woman amnesiac living alone in the subway. But don't let that idea lead you to assumptions, Rucka stressed. "You're perceiving a vulnerability in that image, but I would not assume that," he laughed, saying that from the title down, the comic is all about how you view things. "Think about what a veil does physically. It obstructs vision. It plays with gaze. Depending on the type of veil, it can be all but transparent or it can be entirely opaque. It is significant that that is the word we're using for the series. We are really playing with the subjective versus the objective camera that you can do in a comic. A lot of the panels that Toni is drawing are very calculated pieces. We're working very hard to determine at what point we're seeing a subjective view versus an objective view of what's going on and of how we look at characters -- how we see them. All of that feeds back into the word. What are you seeing through? How much of your vision is clear versus obstructed? And why is it obstructed?
"I also think that this is a far more thematically built piece as opposed to a plot built piece," he added of his process. "I tend to have a stronger sense of plot generally and themes then follow. It's weird to have a story where the themes are leading me. There's a lot of unspoken material that I'm trying to figure out how to negotiate just with this woman's story. That said, it's interesting because I don't think she's very relatable at all. As the series progresses, I think people will see that."
The origins of "Veil" come thanks to Dark Horse Editor-in-Chief Scott Allie who recruited Rucka heavily to work at the publisher. "I've only actually ever done two things with Dark Horse. I did 'Grendel: Past Prime' which was done very specifically at Matt Wagner's request, and I did a short story in a Hellboy collection years and years ago. But for the most part, I haven't done a lot with Dark Horse for a variety of reasons -- not the least of which was scheduling. But Scott Allie started e-mailing me and saying, 'Look, we need to do something with you. Do you want to get together? Let's at least have coffee and talk.' So I said okay, and as we were talking, Scott was very persuasive and very enthusiastic. As we were throwing around ideas, he asked if there was anything I've had in mind that I've never done before. I mentioned like two or three other things, but when I essentially mentioned the idea for 'Veil,' his eyes lit up, and he said, 'That's perfect!'
"This all came together fairly quickly as Scott started sending me sample art. He sent me some work by Toni, and I thought it was beautiful. I said, 'I have no idea who this guy is. I have never heard of him, but is there any chance that we can get him?' He's got such a lovely, almost a cartooning style, but there is a real gravitas to it at the same time," Rucka said of his collaborator. "A lot of what we're playing with in 'Veil' are issues of perception. It's all about how people perceive the character. I thought his art would be a perfect compliment to what I wanted to do. It's weird because this feels more experimental than anything I've wanted to do in a long time. Even with 'Lazarus' with [Michael] Lark, I had no fear that people wouldn't come for Michael if not me. And as complicated as the idea may be in places, it's not that complex. But it feels with 'Veil' that I'm kind of juggling fire sticks. We're going to go out and see if we can pull this off."
While "Veil" isn't necessarily a horror story, there are some specific elements of the genre that Rucka is using to his advantage which may at first seem out of place. "But horror encompasses so much. The horror of a 'Texas Chainsaw Massacre' is not the horror of 'The Call of Cthulu.' I'm not sure I'm capable of writing effective 'Ahhhh!' scares. I'm not trying to get anybody to scream while reading this book, and I'm not going to try. That was never the goal here. If we're looking at a spectrum of horror, this is more on the disquiet than on the terrified.
"With that in mind, I can rely on pacing a bit more. I can tease things out. I can let things go and let the ideas percolate. If there's any true horror in this, it's going to come from those ideas rather than from someone getting disemboweled."
Overall, Rucka hopes that readers will follow him into a gamble of a different kind of series, even as he plays his cards close to the vest on its specifics. "This is hard for me to talk about because one of the things Scott and I resolved to do was give away as little as we could about the series before it came out," he said. "One of the benefits of working with Toni is that his art is the kind where you can receive the narrative and examine it. And as this series progresses, there's more to look at as the details become evident."
"Veil" arrives in March from Dark Horse Comics.