The spotlight panel on writer Greg Rucka -- dubbed "The Enemy of Inertia" -- was the centerpiece event of the Vegas Valley Comic Book Festival, and the theater filled up as the hour went along. Moderator F. Andrew Taylor started by asking Rucka about his earliest writing, and specifically how he began writing comic books.
Rucka said he attended comic conventions since 1993, trying to convince editors to hire him. "I hit up all the editors trying to get work, and they'd point and laugh," he said. It wasn't until he wrote "Whiteout" for Oni Press in 1998 that he was able to attract the attention of mainstream comics publishers. An acquaintance in DC Comics' marketing department put him in touch with writer/editor Denny O'Neil to talk about working on a Batman comic. O'Neil told Rucka to put together a sample Batman script to show what he could do. "On the flight home, I think I drafted it," Rucka said. "It went from zero to 60."
He met O'Neil at the right time, just as a number of writers were exiting the Bat-books. "Unlike now, then it was unheard of for a prose writer to also be doing comics," Rucka said. "Most prose writers are in love with their words. When you write a comic book script, it's not about your words. You can be in love with your prose all you like, but your prose ain't going to show up on the page." While prose writers dabbling in comics is more common these days, Rucka said "they're not very good."
Taylor asked whether Rucka's first love was prose or comics. "That's apples and oranges," Rucka said. "Most people who go into comics go into comics because we love the medium," and the writer admitted he was no different. "Comics were always a passion and a love, but I never considered them as a profession." For his first comics story, "'Whiteout' was always meant to be a comics story, because the strength of that story is that it's a visual story." Following that, the opportunities came rolling in. "The next thing I knew, here was DC Comics offering me the chance to put words in the mouths of characters that had 40, 50, 60-year history." But, he added, "I stayed at DC far too long in my opinion, and it was because I had a very misguided sense of loyalty both to the company and to the characters. I stopped writing 'Wonder Woman' 10 years ago, and it still hurts."
Asked about the shift from writing his own characters to writing company-owned characters, Rucka said, "The fact of the matter is you'd have to be kind of an imbecile or a prima donna not to understand the difference. They're not yours." At the same time, he also expressed frustration with company-mandated events and crossovers, where if "your event has nothing to do with my story, you'd be literally told it doesn't matter." He recalled an event initiated by writer Chuck Dixon, in which Joker gas was released into Gotham City during one particular month. "I was in the middle of an arc," Rucka said. "I remember just busting my hump to incorporate this event, only to discover that I was the only one who'd done it. I remember just being livid. Dixon himself didn't do it, and it was his event." Looking back, "it's one of the things that I don't like about the Big Two. Editorial, for a variety of reasons, has almost no power. They are reduced in almost every instance to being postmen and traffic cops."
Moving back to Rucka's creator-owned work, Taylor asked where the idea for "Whiteout" first came from. Rucka said it was born from a conversation in 1992 or 1993 with his agent, who said he had recently learned there was a U.S. Marshal stationed in Antarctica. Although that story turned out not to be true, it stuck in Rucka's mind. "I couldn't let that go," he said. He thought that instead of a locked-room mystery, "you could do a locked-continent mystery." He also admitted that the story wasn't necessarily the most effective mystery: "You find out in the first 20 pages who's responsible if you're paying attention."
As Taylor started a question with, "You are known for writing...," Rucka somewhat heatedly cut him off, saying, "If you're about to say strong female characters, I'll walk off the stage." He expressed his frustration at being asked that question so often. "No one asks Kelly Sue DeConnick how she writes such masterful men," he said. "A character is not one thing. A character is not a vagina and a pair of breasts."
As for being asked the same thing all the time, "There is a huge problem that what I do with regard to the portrayal of female characters is in any way noteworthy. How do I do it? I treat all of my characters with respect. The question is why aren't more people doing it?"
"I am proud that I write all of my characters well," he added. "I am very proud of the fact that I have represented women well in my work. I do not feel that I have represented men poorly in my work, but I have not been lauded for that." As for the industry as a whole, "Comics are a violently sexist medium," he said. "All you have to do is go down artists' alley [at the Festival] right now and look at the portrayal of women. There are a lot of women who aren't wearing a lot of clothes."
Going back to regret Rucka's expressed at no longer writing Wonder Woman, Taylor asked if there were any characters he wished he'd had the chance to write. "I never got the chance to write Captain America," Rucka said, explaining that he had written a sample for editor Stuart Moore, but that at the time the job of writing "Captain America" had gone to John Ney Rieber instead. "I wish I had gotten that," he said. "I think Cap is a brilliant character. At all times, there is a need for a well-written Captain America. In prosperity, or in whatever we call what we're in now."
Looking ahead, Rucka said the next arc of "Lazarus," titled "Lift," will begin in the fifth issue, on sale November 27. It follows three story threads, one about main character Forever Carlyle in the present, another about a family of peasants in Montana who must travel to Colorado in hopes of being picked as serfs for the Carlyle family, and a third about Forever's childhood. In March, he's launching a Dark Horse series called "Veil," which he said was "very difficult for me to describe." While he ended up on a horror panel at New York Comic-Con, "I was like, I don't write horror." Rucka asked how many people in the audience read horror comics, and how many actually found them scary. Only a few hands went up. "I get leery of calling 'Veil' horror," he said. "Comics are exceptionally ill-suited for horror." Instead, he described the book as "a story about a woman that men are trying to control."
Before wrapping up, Rucka had time for a handful of fan questions. One audience member asked for Rucka's thoughts on Disney owning Marvel. "They are brilliant at what they do," he said. "I have a daughter, and she has been raised by two feminist liberals, and Disney got her anyway. There is no way to defend a female child from the onslaught of the princesses." As for Disney's handling of the Marvel characters, he said, "Are they going to be good custodians to the material? Absolutely. Are you going to see certain changes to the material? Absolutely. Is the bottom line going to be the most important thing? Absolutely."
The final question came from a fan who wanted to know if Rucka's prose character Atticus Kodiak might ever appear in the "Queen & Country" universe. Rucka said that those two worlds are separate, but that Atticus and his Oni series "Stumptown" do exist in the same reality. "It is possible that ['Stumptown' protagonist] Dex Parios and Atticus Kodiak may find themselves in the same place at the same time. I am not holding my breath, though."