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Interview: October 1, 2004

October 1, 2004

Joe Hartlaub, Wiley Saichek and Sean Doorly interview Greg Rucka, whose latest book A GENTLEMAN'S GAME is based on his graphic novel series QUEEN & COUNTRY. Rucka talks about his inspiration for the creation of female assassin Tara Chace and his decision to use the British intelligence service as a basis for the story. He also shares his thoughts on writing graphic novels vs. conventional novels and how it feels to be associated with such iconic characters as Wonder Woman, Batman and Superman. A GENTLEMAN'S GAME is based upon your ongoing graphic novel series, QUEEN & COUNTRY. What are some of the similarities and differences between writing a graphic novel --- a story told through the medium of sequential art --- and a conventional novel, where you are relying entirely upon the printed word to tell your story? Do you have a preference for writing one or the other?

Greg Rucka: I get asked this question all the time. The differences are huge, as are the similarities.

I'm not a visual artist in the strictest sense; I'm a writer, though I'm a very visual writer. Working in comics, I have to rely on my artist to bring to the page those images I'm imagining, but that's the extent of it --- I can't control how or what he or she draws. And comics, as a result, are a far more collaborative medium; it takes, in most instances, more than just a single creative force to make a comic come to life.

In a novel, it's pretty much all mine, and lives or dies on that fact, as a result. If the images aren't clear, if the story isn't clear, if the characters are muddy, I have to own that. That's both empowering and humbling, because there's no one to take the credit if it succeeds and no one to hide behind if it fails.

At this point, I actually have no preference for one over the other simply because they're vastly different art forms to me. If I had a gun held to my head and had to choose, I'd say the novels are ultimately more rewarding, for the reasons given, as well as for the fact that nothing but nothing can replace the sheer joy of writing for me, of disappearing for hours at a time into the world I'm crafting, only to surface again to find a couple thousand words written. That's unique to novel writing for me, and not something comics come close to replicating.

BRC: What inspired you to do a QUEEN & COUNTRY novel? And do you plan to do any further Tara Chace novels?

GR: I'm working on the next Chace novel now, which is pretty much a direct sequel to A GENTLEMAN'S GAME, and will resolve several of the unanswered questions from the first book, while plunging Tara headfirst into another espionage nightmare.

From the moment I started writing about Tara in comics, I knew I wanted to write a novel about her. There was just so much that I couldn't adequately explore in the comics that I knew had to wait for a prose work, and that was the major impetus behind writing the first novel. Well, that and my agent and editor both encouraged me to do so.

BRC: Could you share some background on QUEEN & COUNTRY for readers who may be unfamiliar with the storylines?

GR: Well, one of the things about A GENTLEMAN'S GAME that I tried very hard to maintain was that a reader could come to it blind, knowing nothing about the comics --- even unaware that there were comics, for that matter --- and still find a compelling narrative that was easy to embrace. The novel is meant to be read by everyone, not only those with prior familiarity with the characters.

QUEEN & COUNTRY is an ongoing comic series, published by Oni Press. This isn't a superhero comic or a four-color punch-fest, but rather, in tone and delivery, much like the novel in many ways. The series follows Tara Chace, a Special Operations Officer for Her Majesty's Secret Intelligence Service. There are a maximum of three of these officers at any given time, code-named "Minders." For much of the series, Chace was Minder Two, but just before the events of the novel she's promoted to Head of Section, Minder One.

The Minders handle those missions that are considered high-risk and politically sensitive, those missions that require a quick and decisive response by HMG. These are the people who stage the kidnappings, who steal the documents, who nab the defector. Most of them don't last very long.

BRC: Tara Chace, the protagonist of A GENTLEMAN'S GAME, seems a contemporary incarnation of characters like Emma Peel, Nikita, and James Bond, with a bit of Mac Bolan thrown in as well. Yet her total persona is unlike any of them. Who was your original inspiration for Chace?

GR: I suppose one could argue that all of those sources are inspirations in their own way, though when I look back, she seems very much grown from whole cloth to my eyes. She's a character --- or a type of character --- that I've returned to again and again in my fiction over the years, and in many ways represents a variation on a theme. There's some Bridgett Logan in her (the character from SHOOTING AT MIDNIGHT), and some Alena Cizkova aka Drama (from CRITICAL SPACE). I also like to think there's a touch of Alec Lemas from le Carre's THE SPY WHO CAME IN FROM THE COLD there, as well. The James Bond characterization is the only one I might take issue with, because for all the surface similarities, they are vastly different creatures. And Tara would kick Bond's ass.

The name of the character, though, comes from a lovely young lady named Tara Chace, who I went to high school with and who, throughout those years of hormonal torment, was one of my dearest friends. It was with Tara that I discovered a love for espionage --- not the over-the-top James Bond variety, but rather the le Carre subtlety found in the George Smiley stories. So when the time came to name the character, Tara Chace seemed the obvious choice.

BRC: Given your American origins, why did you choose to use the British intelligence service as a basis for A GENTLEMAN'S GAME?

GR: Several reasons, not the least of which being that the true inspiration for QUEEN & COUNTRY was a British television show from the late '70s called "The Sandbaggers," created by a man named Ian Mackintosh. I've made no bones about the inspiration Mackintosh has been to me, both as a writer and as a creative force. I worked, essentially, from his model in creating QUEEN & COUNTRY, and that was a British model. That's one.

Another reason is that, like mysteries, espionage stories are stories of social commentary, albeit on a larger scale. To be an American writing about America from the inside slanted the view; to write about America's place and influence in the world from an outside perspective provides a better observation post, in many ways.

Additionally, the CIA, to me, just doesn't have the sex appeal of SIS. I like the sense of history, as well as the literary pedigree, that comes with writing a British Spy.

BRC: A GENTLEMAN'S GAME has a strong ring of truth to it, with branches of the intelligence services often fighting among themselves and with agencies of allied nations, while ostensibly working toward the same goals. What sources do you rely on for your information about the way in which that world operates?

GR: I'm a voracious reader, first and foremost, and I do a lot of research for works such as this. All it takes is reading a couple of newspapers to see the depth and breadth of inter-departmental infighting that takes place in Government. Just take a look at the 9-11 Commission testimony from the FBI and the CIA, from the State Department and the Pentagon, and you'll see what I mean.

And I use primary sources whenever I can. I interview those people who are willing to talk --- and a lot of them are, surprisingly. And they all assert the same basic fact: government work is just like any other job, with the same petty people and petty squabbles surviving alongside the loftier goals and aspirations to the greater good.

BRC: You've written about some iconic characters --- Batman, Wonder Woman and Elektra, to name a few. How does it feel to write about characters you didn't create?

GR: It's odd, at times, not so much because I didn't create them as much as because I can't control their destinies. These are corporately owned characters and are commodities to their publishers, so they have to be protected as investments. In cases such as Elektra, that can be very limiting.

With characters like Wonder Woman, Batman and Superman, though, there's an incredible sense of pride in just being able to be associated with them. These are characters that are truly iconic, that have survived for decades, and will likely survive for decades after I'm long gone. To just touch that legacy is humbling. As a result, I try to bring as much respect to my work with those creations as I can, while still trying to offer my own interpretation and voice in their stories.

BRC: The film rights to A GENTLEMAN'S GAME were sold even before the novel was published. Who would you like to see cast in the roles of the primary characters?

GR: Haven't got a clue. The people I see in my mind's eye aren't actors who no one has ever seen but me, and then only in my dreams. I wouldn't even know where to start.

BRC: You've had a variety of jobs in your life (house painter, busboy, emergency medical technician, security guard, fight choreographer), which we're sure had an impact on your writing. Is there any other job that you wish you had done in your past that would be useful in your writing today?

GR: If there's one job I wish I'd had, it would be as a chef. I'd like to know more about cooking, honestly.

I wish I'd been a better student of languages and that I'd traveled more when I had the opportunity to do so. That's my greatest regret now that my life and career has become as busy as it is --- I wish I'd worked harder acquiring more languages, and I wish I'd seen more of the world. Now I'll have to wait until the kids are in college.

I'd like to go back to school, actually. Take some night courses in Physics and the like.

BRC: What are you working on now and when can readers expect to see it?

GR: I'm working on the next novel as we speak, actually. Hopefully it'll see print in fall/winter of 2005, if all goes well and the world doesn't radically change on me in the next sixty days. And I'll be continuing my work in comics, on the QUEEN & COUNTRY series, as well as with Wonder Woman and others.