This week, fans of "Rat Queens" can rejoice as the series returns with the much-anticipated special, "Braga: The Once Prince, Now Bastard." Before getting back to the pillaging already in progress courtesy of Hannah, Dee, Betty and Violet, writer Kurtis Wiebe takes a slight detour to spend time with Braga, the fierce leader of the Peaches.
So far, we've seen the orc turn from enemy to ally, but there's more to her than meets the eye. Illustrated by Tess Fowler, the Image Comics one-shot shares the story of Braga's origins as the prince of her people, and the personal, emotional journey that led to her self-discovery.
Wiebe spoke with CBR News, filling us in on the connection he has with the orc warrior, what he has in store for the Queens and his upcoming Crononberg-esque horror series with an awesome new collaborator.
CBR News: Kurtis! I love, love, love the one shot you've done with Tess. What inspired you to do an issue focused on Braga?
Kurtis Wiebe: Braga has always been my favorite secondary character ever since she first made an appearance in Issue #2. Like a lot of the side characters, she was going to make a small appearance and then disappear on the sidelines -- but after seeing them come to life, I wanted to use them again.
What makes her special to you?
There are parts of her story that are part of my own. Especially when it comes to thinking differently than those you love and how that can set you apart in a way that feels alienating.
Did you always know her backstory? Or was this something that progressed as you wrote "Rat Queens? "
It was something that came up after her much larger appearance in the massive battle during Issue #4. Particularly, when she and Human Dave are flirting a bit after the battle was won. I started to realize she was becoming a favorite character of mine, and that if I ever had the chance, I would like to do something with her. She was always a trans character in my head, but I didn't have a real story to her for the first few issues.
I didn't get down to the finer details until outlining this issue, actually.
Trans characters have been underrepresented in media for so long -- who are some of your favorite examples in comics?
You know, I think it proves your point, because I don't know that I've ever read a series with a trans character before.
I don't want to spoil the issue for readers -- but you handle Braga's transitions in an incredibly respectful way. How did you go about editing which parts of her development to include versus exclude?
In the original outline for the issue, I had included her transition as part of the story, not only about why she left, but what set her apart from her family. I thought about it for a long time, taking into consideration the conversations I've had with the trans people in my life. The conversations that stuck with me was the journey leading to the decision, how their life was before they made this massive choice for their life. I also kept reminding myself that most of my conversations with transgender friends were simply that: a conversation. Life, love, work, hobbies. Yes, being trans is part of who they are, but it doesn't define them.
It helped focus the series for me. I wanted to tell Braga's story, about the time in her life when she was called Broog, and how being different from her people and leaving that life behind helped her along on the journey to truly discovering herself.
You and I have talked before about your own transformation in terms of personal beliefs, and how you've dedicated a lot of time as an adult to try and make up for some former beliefs that were hurtful to others. This seems like a very personal story for you -- defying expectations, making your own path, following what you know to be right. Does this feel like a moment of closure for you?
I think those feelings have simply changed. I felt a lot of guilt about the way I once regarded the LGBT community. Looking back, I've never really considered being raised Christian an excuse for the narrow-minded views I once held. Life has worked out in an interesting way. I've met and become friends with so many queer and trans people.
I still remember my first encounter with a gay couple, quite a long time ago in Australia. I must've been twenty, still very much afraid of what I didn't understand. I had an absolute blast over wine and dinner, and after the night was over, I very clearly remember thinking, "Huh, they're just people."
It feels so offensive to even type that, but it's true. It was a huge moment for me.
So, when I say that things have changed, it's less coming from a place of guilt and more from a sense of purpose. The LGBT community are faced with so many battles, I want to pitch in and help where I can.
How did you and Tess come together on this?
We'd actually been working on a pitch of our own since spring of 2014. I absolutely loved working with her -- we share story and life sensibilities, so there was a real collaborative gelling happening as we created "Broken Bones" (which we're still trying to make happen). "Rat Queens" had been suffering from a really sporadic schedule, and I was thinking of putting together a few one shots to fill in space between arcs so we'd always have new issues coming out. I mentioned it in passing to Tess and, being a fan of the series, she was interested. I sent her the summary of Braga's story, and she fell in love with her.
What were the conversations like about character design? We see quite a lot of Braga in this, and the nudity was handled beautifully. What was important to you about showing the various aspects of her character?
I really have to hand all of this to Roc Upchurch and Tess Fowler. I'm pretty sure in the script I simply referred to Braga as the 'large, ripped and sexy lady orc' of the Peaches. When I saw her for the first time, I loved her. It's a big reason she became much more important in the overall story. With this issue in particular, I gave Tess full creative freedom to create Broog and all the other characters. My notes were minimal to non-existent. She did a fantastic job of bring Broog to life. I love how he has the same tough as nails exterior but a gentleness in the way he carries himself outside of battle. Even timidity. It's wonderful.
Let's catch up on the series a bit -- issue #9 comes out on 2/25 and we're heading into Dee's storyline. Where are all of our Queens at as the next arc begins?
We're picking up right where we left off in a sort of smash-up between issue #7 and issue #8. There's going to be a pretty fun reveal about the nature of Violet's flashback, which we hint at in the final page and how that is connected to the finale of the previous issue. A few things I can promise:
- All four Rat Queens, and a lot of them.
- Orc Dave
- Giant flying squids
- Sexy times
A small bit, yes. The snippet I teased is also connected to Violet's flashback. I know that makes no sense right now, but it will. Trust me.
You've had a change to the creative team, with Stjepan Sejic coming on as the series artist. How did you guys decide to team up?
I've been aware of Stjepan's work since "Death Vigil" came out. His art caught my eye immediately. Actually, truth be told, I was secretly worried that "Death Vigil" would be direct competition for "Rat Queens." I'm an insecure baby.
Anyway, I'd looked at a lot of people's portfolios. I knew he was already doing "Death Vigil," plus a stack of other Top Cow books, so I didn't bother approaching him at first. I kept coming back to his work and thinking that he was on a very short list of artists who would not only understand the style of "Rat Queens" but also its heart and humor. If you've read "Death Vigil," you'll know what I mean. I laughed out loud so many times reading it.
I just bit the bullet and sent him a message.
What are you most looking forward to with the future of "Rat Queens?"
Our new arc, which I just wrote the solicitation for yesterday, called "Demons." It's about Hannah, her parents and her past at Mage University.
I'm also excited to have "Rat Queens" come out consistently. I know it's been hard for the fans to have to wait 2-3 months between issues, and that all changes in 2015. We will have an issue out every month from now until September. (Except April, for the Volume 2 TPB release)
It will be a monthly comic again.
What else is going on with you? Any other exciting news?
I have a new series with Johnnie Christmas coming out in April, a return to horror for me. It's a science fiction body horror series, heavily inspired by my recent addiction to '70s and '80s Cronenberg. I'm very excited about it, not just the story itself but also to be working with Johnnie. We've been talking about this series since early 2013, so it's been a long time in the coming.
"Braga: The Once Prince, Now Bastard" storms into action today.