NYCC, Day 1: "Whiteout" Returns! Rucka & Lieber Talk

Fri, February 23rd, 2007 at 12:00am PST

Comic Books
Jonah Weiland, Executive Producer/Publisher

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In 1998, novelist Greg Rucka debuted on the comics scene with the four issue mini-series "Whiteout" from Oni Press. With artist Steve Lieber handling the visuals, the series which followed U.S. Marshall Carrie Stetko investigating a murder at the McMurdo Station in Antarctica, was an instant hit, garnering four Eisner Nominations. Not content to rest on their laurels, the duo revisited the life of Carrie in this rather harsh environment two years later with "Whiteout: Melt" in which the tough as nails Marshall is called back to Antarctica to investigate the explosion of a Russian science depot. Things got worse from there for Carrie, as she soon discovered an illicit cache of nuclear warheads and evidence that some were missing. This series likewise was an Eisner, but this it took home the trophy for Best Limited Series.

Since then, little has been heard from Carrie, but that all changes in the fourth quarter of 2007 as Rucka and Lieber reunite for the third chapter of Carrie's story, "Whiteout: Thaw," once again from Oni Press. Like the two previous series, "Thaw" will likely debut as a four issue mini-series (Rucka, Lieber and company are still finalizing their plans) in black and white once again.

CBR News caught up with Rucka and Lieber to learn more about what they have in store for Carrie, how this series has evolved since the original two books were published, and why the long delay between "Melt" and "Thaw."

Let's start with the long delay here between "Melt" and now "Thaw." What was holding things up?

Steve Lieber: Greg and I first started talking about a third book back when we were working on the second. A bunch of stuff got in the way, both personal and professional. Greg's taken on enough work to fill two and a half careers. He's an insanely busy mainstream comics writer and a prolific prose novelist. Add in his commitments to "Queen and Country" and the demands of a growing family, and he'd have had to dictate the book during r.e.m. sleep just to find any time to write it.

Me, I've been building a second career as an advertising and commercial artist, in addition to my work as a comics illustrator. Between those commitments, I've had no time to take on any other work. There's a wonderful "Flytrap" script Sara Ryan wrote that sat in my inbox forever. It's finally getting drawn by Ron Chan, artist of "A Dummy's Guide to Danger," and it'll probably be available as a small-batch comic by the time this interview goes live.

CBR: Greg, here we are, seven years after the last "Whiteout" series. What can you tell us about reuniting with Steve and returning to Carrie's world?

Greg Rucka: It's odd because it's not so much the story, but it's a project that Steve and I have talked about doing for years. Literally for years. And during that time we've known a couple of things about it and the circumstances under which we would be willing to do it. Those circumstances have now come to pass.

The shorthand he and I have always used for this new series, and he's never drawn it to my knowledge, but he and I had a conversation at one point about how when you die on Antarctica, they use these industrial, kind of galvanized coffins to move you off the ice. It was always this image of watching one of these things loaded into the back of a C140 and the slug I told the guys at Oni was, "Carrie's leaving the ice – the only question is how." That's all I can say what the story is going to be. Steve and I have known we were going to tell this one for a long time and it was going to be Carrie's last Antarctica story. Whether or not that's her last story is a separate issue – well, no, it's not, it's related! [laughs]

CBR: Obviously it's not an issue you can get into now.

GR: Yeah. Obviously one of the tensions is whether or not she's going to live through it and if I say, "Well, yeah, she dies," that ruins the tension! [laughs]

CBR: Absolutely. Now, you mentioned certain circumstances had to come to pass for you to get back to Carrie's story. What were those circumstances?

GR: We had jokingly said we'd do it if they decide they're actually going to make the movie. And then they did! [laughs!] So, we were, "Shit, they're making the movie! Who knew!" [laughs]

CBR: Yeah, there's been a lot of noise around the movie just recently. While "Whiteout" as a movie has been something discussed for years, for a long time it just looked like it was never going to get made. But, here we are today with a production going forward.

GR: Steve and I had both reconciled ourselves, quite cheerfully so, to the fact that every couple of years somebody would come along and want to pay us money for the right to not make the movie! [laughs] It had happened twice already and we were quite content. This is kind of crucial. This is the first comic work I ever did, really. Certainly the first published work. So, when Steve and I first met, we jokingly talked about how this thing or that thing could happen and I think Steve was far more forward thinking than I was about the potential of Hollywood involvement. But, neither he nor I did the project with any eye to selling it anywhere in any form other than as a 24 page black and white comic. Frankly, personally, I'm of the opinion that that's the only way you should make a comic. I think if you go out there and you make a comic as your cheap ass excuse to sell something to Hollywood, you deserve to be run over by a truck several times because you're bastardizing our medium and art form. This is why they're going to make a movie called "Whiteout" with a character named Carrie Stetko in it and probably most of the similarities to the comic that Steve and I did are going to end there and you know what? I'm fine with that, because it's a movie, it's not a four-issue mini-series and if you mistake the two you'll get what you deserve.

CBR: This is something that has been talked about in the industry quite a bit – people setting out to make a comic with the main focus being to sell it to Hollywood. Now, if I recall correctly, of the films that do get made based off comic properties, most of them were designed only as a comic without Hollywood necessarily in mind. That "creating with the mindset of selling it to Hollywood" thinking doesn't seem to get a movie actually made. It's the more pure comic books, like "Whiteout," that end up going into production.

GR: That's been my experience. It comes back to the same core and that is you want to be true to the story. Steve and I always knew there was at least one more Carrie story to tell, but we didn't know when we would be able to tell it. So, the starting gun, rather arbitrarily, has always been if something happens in Hollywood, we'll get on it. I think that if the movie hadn't been greenlit, we probably would have returned to it in another five years or so. Just because of the way his and my careers were moving. Now, sure, we never wrote "Whiteout" with the intention of selling it to Hollywood, but we'd be idiots not to capitalize on the attention the film will bring to this and I don't think the two are mutually exclusive. So, logically, Oni is going to sit up and think, "Oh, they're making a movie? Maybe we need to get back to this thing!" No one's going to look at them and say, "You mercenary bastards." [laughs]

CBR: Absolutely not. Now, I understand why you really don't want to go into the story right now, but I have to ask you some specific questions about the story before we move on. First off, will we see any other familiar faces outside of Carrie?

GR: Probably not. I'm still debating that. There's some analogue questions like Lilly is to Tara from "Queen & Country" as ice is to cube, so, yeah, Tara was certainly born out of Lilly in "Whiteout" and way back in my nave youth I thought it would not be of issue to take one character and move that character into something else – notice I said it was my nave youth. I am not inclined to bring back Lilly.

CBR: That does make some sense because in pretty much every way "Whiteout" really is Carrie's store.

GR: Yes, and more to the point I always felt each story is about a particular relationship and that relationship has always been Carrie's relationship with Antarctica and Antarctica's relationship with Carrie. A lot of people who read "Melt" gave Steve and I lot of flak for the love scene because people thought it was a love scene, but no, it wasn't, it was a sex scene and there's a difference. It wasn't Carrie being in love, it was two people nearly dying and the sort of base human instinct taking over, but more to the point the love story has never been between Carrie and anyone else, it's always been a love story between Carrie and Antarctica. It's always been about her relationship with the ice and consequently this final story has to be about how that relationship ends.

CBR: We've talked about her relationship with the ice and it's been a long time since I've read "Whiteout" and "Whiteout: Melt," so please forgive me if I'm forgetting something as I ask this next question.

GR: That's OK. It's been a long time since I wrote it! [laughs]

CBR: Whew! OK, now, one of the hot button subjects politically these days is global warming and global climate change. Does that play in "Thaw" in some way?

GR: Absolutely. I can't watch footage of huge pieces of the Ross Ice Shelf caving off into the sea and not go, "Uhh, yeah…"

CBR: No, you can't ignore that.

GR: You really can't. The issues of global warming and global climate change, it's all related. I don't know if you've ever seen any of the footage, but it's terrifying how quickly this stuff is escalating. The realization that we're coming up real quick on a point of no return and, once we flip it, and it's not a question of who's responsible, it's a question of what's going to happen, once that point flips, you don't go back. All the ice goes and that's that. You can't undo it.

SL: There's so much about Antarctica that's changed since we did the first two books. Like Greg said, the Ross Ice Shelf is shrinking like crazy, Raytheon's outsourcing the support jobs. Bases are installing windmills to increase their self-reliance and decrease their reliance on imported diesel. Morgan Freeman's running around bothering penguins. [laughs] But what hasn't changed is The Ice and its essential barren mystery. It's still the starkest and most hostile environment on earth. The coldest, windiest, and driest place we have, and our story will be about Carrie's relationship to that stark, white world.

GR: Exactly. My fascination for Antarctica remains undiminished. I still find the mere idea that we have people living down there is staggering to me. This horribly hostile, incredible beautiful and miraculous place. And I do think this goes to Carrie's character.

CBR: Maybe this question is sort of moot considering there is a film production now, but do either of you have any concern that the long, seven year delay, will hurt interest in the new series, at least from the core comics community.

GR: No, because I don't think that's how it'll be viewed. You should be able to read "Melt" without having read the original and the intent is that people should be able to read "Thaw" without having read the previous two. For the people who know the whole canon, for lack of a better phrase, the goal is to provide another story that will be rewarding and build on what has come before. But, by the same token, you don't want to write something that will alienate people who don't have that background.

"Thaw" will be a different work simply by bent that Steve and I are now very different people. When Steve did the original "Whiteout," he was covered head to toe in zippotone and he had razor blade cuts because he would literally slash the pages with razors and there was whiteout – the liquid – everywhere! These days he makes his own zippotone and he'll be working on a Mac. His style and his technique has improved because he's had ten years to improve since the first book.

SL: I'm thrilled about using everything I've learned since finishing "Melt." I've got a whole new set of tools to incorporate into the process of telling Greg's story and helping our readers get lost in a frozen world. I can't wait to bring them to the page.

GR: Likewise, I have learned a whole lot about writing a comic book that I did not know when I started. I look at "Whiteout" now and there are things I just cringe at. I think, "I must have been high when I wrote this!" [laughs] I never would have done certain things had I known back then what I know now. Of course, I'm sure there's someone reading this who will say, "Well, yeah, you were good back then!" [laughs] We change and I can not write "Thaw" the way I wrote "Whiteout."

CBR: Steve, what's gone through your head in getting reacquainted with these characters on the art board? Has it been Challenging to return to Carrie in any way?

SL: Thanks to the many great readers who commission convention sketches, I've been drawing Carrie regularly since the first issue came out. She's always fresh in my mind.

CBR: That makes you life a bit easier. Now, both of you have seven years since "Melt." Greg, will Carrie have seven years as well?

GR: I am undecided and I was actually thinking of leaving it somewhat vague because that's a long, long time to stay down there. It's like writing a "Queen & Country" story – you have to balance what's realistic versus what is realism. It's not realistic that somebody lives down there seven years, or in fact, it would be longer than that since "Whiteout" came out in 1998, so we're coming up on 10 years. I can't really say she's been down there for 10 years, I don't think anybody stays that long without leaving.

CBR: Yeah, you'd likely go pretty insane by that point.

GR: Yeah, I'm not sure you're allowed! [laughs] They say, "No no, you're going home now!" [laughs]

CBR: Steve, where are you in terms of production on "Thaw?"

SL: Just getting started.

CBR: Greg, let's talk a bit about the film before we close this out. There's been a lot of news about the film lately – we have a star in Kate Beckinsale, we have a director in Dominic Sena and we have screenwriters working on the screenplay. As I understand it, a script has been written. Is it a final script?

GR: The script I'm to see this week is supposed to be "the final script." To imply there would be no changes between that and what happens when they're shooting in Winnipeg freezing their asses off, would be silly. I think at that point it'll be fairly subtle changes versus major structural changes.

CBR: Do you have final script approval?

GR: Oh, absolutely not. And that's not a problem. I have never wanted to write this and I never tried to. At this stage, if they asked me to come and take a look or put pen to paper, I'd be happy to assist, because at this point they have something where they made the decisions, but I've always felt there are few things I've created that I've wanted to adapt because there are very things I've created that I felt I was capable of adapting well. I tend to be very close to the material I create and if I wrote a novel, I wrote a novel, not a screenplay, and I'm not sure I'm the best guy to take that novel and turn it into a screenplay. Same thing here. Ironically, if tomorrow they asked me to adapt "Whiteout," I probably could do it because I've got ten years on it and that's a fair amount of distance.

Frankly, I shouldn't have approval because I don't make movies. I make comics and novels.

CBR: Originally Reese Witherspoon was attached to this film. What happened there? Was this just a matter of the rights changing hands?

GR: Yup.

CBR: Wrapping up here, Greg, what does it mean to you that almost 10 years later there's still all this interest in "Whiteout?"

GR: I'm stunned. [laughs] I have no idea why.

CBR: Well, this is the book that launched your comics career.

GR: Right. This is the thing that started things out. "Whiteout" leads to DC which leads to "No Man's Land" which leads to me in this cage at DC! [laughs]

CBR: Oh, they let you out every once in a while.

GR: Sooner than you think! [laughs]

CBR: Are you saying your jumping ship?

GR: No, I'm not signing with anyone else. I'm under exclusive until the end of July. This isn't a mystery – more me citing my own fatigue and my desire to get out of doing so much unrelenting comic work.

CBR: Fair enough.

GR: But, yeah, this was my first work and it's odd in that sense because one always looks back on it and asks, "That's what I was doing them and what am I doing now?" Like I said, I read it fairly recently and was cringing at some of the decisions that I made, however other things I looked at I felt really held up. I still think Steve did some phenomenal work and I think he's doing even better work today. He's getting better and better with every passing year. I'm excited about "Thaw" simply for that, to get the chance to sit down with him knowing what I know about writing comics and knowing what he can do. Seeing where we can go with this will be a hell of a lot of fun.

CBR: Thanks for talking with us today.

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