Greg Rucka Interview

Greg Rucka is the writer of several novels featuring professional bodyguard Atticus Kodiak, the co-writer of Marvel’s Black Widow: Breakdown, the current writer of DC’s Detective Comics, and the creator/writer of Oni Press’Whiteout. His new series, Queen & Country, debuts this month from Oni. Worlds of Westfield Content Editor Roger Ash recently spoke with Greg about Queen & Country

Westfield: What can you tell us about Queen & Country?

Greg Rucka: It’s an ongoing spy series featuring a British secret agent who was first introduced in Whiteout. The series is kind of like James Bond injected with a healthy dose of realism. That’s it in a nutshell.

Westfield: Do you think this series compares to Whiteout, and will people need to be familiar with Tara Chace’s previous appearance?

Rucka: They’re very different and people won’t need to be familiar with her appearance there at all.

Westfield: What can you tell us about what’s coming up in the series?

Rucka: In the first issue, Tara commits an assassination by like page 7, and then has to spend the rest of the issue getting out of the country. The second, third and fourth issues all deal with the ramifications of what happened in issue 1. One of the things that I wanted to do was, instead of just having spies running around and shooting people, I wanted to show that if you shoot a person, there’s serious repercussions. Licensed to kill or not, there’s serious repercussions to the action. Queen & Country is not a dumb read. This is not, dare I say it, like picking up the latest issue of X-fill-in-the-blank, and you get 22 pages of fist fights and some hyperbolic character development. We’ve got a large cast of characters that are introduced in a very quick sense. Everything is there. We’re not going to cheat the reader, but you gotta pay attention or else you’re gonna be lost, and you’re gonna miss the boat, and then you’re gonna get cranky, and then you’re gonna yell at me, and you’re gonna say it’s my fault when, in point of fact, it isn’t. It was all there to begin with. [laughter] It’s true. We were thinking of actually publishing a little guide in the back of the first issue. We’ve been talking about what we’re going to do with the extra page or two there, and I wanted to write an intro anyway, a “this is why I’m doing this project” sort of thing, then we were going to get artist Steve Rolston to do head shots of like 20 people so you’d be able to know who’s who. But hopefully it will be clear.

Westfield: Do you have any storylines planned past the first one?

Rucka: Past the first four issues, I do, but they’re far more tentative. One of the things I want to do is draw the stories from what I’m reading in the papers so I’m trying to keep it fairly topical in that sense. For example, the first thing that happens in the second issue really happened. I took this event that looks ridiculous out of a newspaper. So consequently, I have ideas for things I want to do, but I’m not pushing it yet because I want to see what’s happening in the world. Things are changing very quickly and for this to have any sense of realism, it’s got to be pertinent at the time it comes out. Ireland and the UK are getting along right now. If, in 6 months they’re fighting again, that changes the issue. We’re trying to be somewhat on the ball.

Steve Rolston, the guy who’s drawing the first four issues, is a newcomer and he’s wonderfully talented. It’s a very different look from what Lieber did in Whiteout. They’re both very good at what they do. Steve Rolston’s is a very open, really hyper-iconic, almost cartoony, style that works surprisingly well given the realistic nature of what we’re doing. I think people are going to be really impressed with him.

Westfield: Do you have any artists lined up for upcoming story arcs?

Rucka: Steve Lieber has expressed interest in doing an arc. Rick Burchett has expressed interest. Darick Robertson. Matthew Clark. There are a fair amount actually. One of the things, from an artistic standpoint, that I wanted to do was be able to work with different artists so I could see what happens when I work with them.

Westfield: You mentioned that there are a lot of characters in the book. Who are some of the characters?

Rucka: You’ve got Tara, who’s our lead, who readers of Whiteout would know as Lily, but that’s not her real name because she was on assignment in Antarctica. Why would she give anybody her real name if she were working as a spy? That’s the reason why she’s not named Lily. You can’t believe how many people have said, “you’ve changed her name!” I didn’t change her name. She never gave her real name. Trust me. So there’s Tara. She’s part of a three-person unit in the British secret service of special operation officers. They’re the ones who run and jump and shoot and dive. All 998 other people in the ministry are the ones who sit there with the intelligence, and do the briefings and read and analyze, but it’s these three who run around and do the ridiculous stuff. There’s Tara, there’s the guy who’s her head of section, Tom Wallace, there’s another guy who’s the third person in the section, she’s the middle, the third person in the section is a guy named Edward Kittering. They are directly ordered, or tasked, by the Director of Operations, Paul Crocker.

; There’s a tree to it. The Director of Operations has an opposite number in the same organization, which is the Director of Intelligence. They’re of equal rank. Above both of them is the Deputy Chief of the Service, Donald Wheldon, he’s a jerk. So’s Crocker. Tara and Tom and Ed are basically the nice people, everybody else is just obsessive compulsive. Above the Deputy Chief is the Head of the Service, C. I don’t know how many names that is and that’s not even half of the characters. A lot of the names don’t really matter. There’s a lot of action that takes place in the operations room, which is the great big scary room where people wander around looking at monitors waiting for things to happen. There are lots of people that are staffed in there, all of them have been named, but their names are only relevant to the story when it comes up.

Westfield: With this series and Whiteout and Black Widow: Breakdown, you’ve been dealing a lot with spies and espionage. Is that an interest of yours?

Rucka: It’s a passion. I love spy stories. Queen & Country, and I’ve said this several times and I’m gonna be saying it again and again, is a rip off. Queen & Country is based on a British television series called The Sandbaggers that ran around ‘79, ‘80 and ‘81 for a total of 20 episodes on Yorkshire Television. It was about the special operations division of SIS. The nickname they used for the agents was Sandbaggers, so you’d have Sandbagger 1, Sandbagger 2 and Sandbagger 3. We’re not doing that. Let me tell you, it’s hard to come up with a good nickname. [laughs] I loved that show. That show was the best espionage I’d ever seen because it was exciting, but it was realistic. It wasn’t the James Bond stuff. You got to see the political ramifications and the political process to lead to every espionage situation and to me, that’s fascinating stuff. And it’s fairly intelligent stuff. It’s very exciting and compelling to begin with, but it requires an effort the part of the reader and the audience. You have to pay attention to it. It’s the difference between reading a Mack Bolan novel and reading a John LeCarre novel. They’re both books, but Mack Bolan is “with three deadly shots of cordite from his 45, the bad guy fell.” With LeCarre, it’s sections about, “terrified, he set down the microfilm.” [laughs] Oh, scary. Microfilm [laughter] But it’s part of the process. There’s an emotional thing that gets overlooked in the Bond stuff. It’s only recently come back in the movies, in fact. This is hard work. This is scary work. It’s stuff where people are pretty much putting their life and liberty at risk daily. They get paid very poorly. They get treated very poorly. Think about it in terms of a scenario such as this; intelligence knows that a terrorist group is planning to kidnap a scientist so they can make a bomb so they can blow up something, something that may be directed at you, by the way. So your boss wants to send you to investigate it, but his boss says that you can’t because the budget won’t allow it. See what I mean? There’s a totally different tension there that you never see, but that’s a legitimate tension. It isn’t as simple as “I’m going to run and jump and drink Dom Perigon.” It’s like, “you know what? There’s a Congressional Oversight Committee that says we can’t do this anymore.” There’s a real drama if that is counterpointed to having Tara in Kosovo, having just put a bullet through a guy’s head, running for her life. While she’s running for her life, her bosses are arguing about whether or not they can afford her funeral if she dies.

Westfield: Have you done a lot of research into espionage?

Rucka: Yeah. I’m 31. I’ve been doing about 20 years worth of research. [laughter]

Westfield: Will Carrie Stetko be appearing in the series or will we be seeing her in another Whiteout mini-series?

Rucka: There’s a potential for another Whiteout. There will be a third and final Whiteout at some point. Carrie’s not going to appear in this simply because going to Antarctica once on a mission is unique. Going twice? That’s silly.

Westfield: Are there any other projects you’re working on you’d like to mention?

Rucka: There is a tentative Oni project that I’ll be doing with a guy named Nunzio DeFilippis, it’s a question of when. That’s way off in the future. So there’s something else with Oni that’s going to be in a different but similar vein. It will be sort of a cat burglar story. There’s Batman stuff. Officer Down is in January and it’s going to be a really, really good storyline. And there are some other projects, but nothing so pressing right now that I think we should devote ink to it.

Westfield: Any closing comments?

Rucka: Just because it’s black and white doesn’t mean it’s bad! [laughter]