Saturday, May 15, 2010

Writing, warrior women, and ‘Whiteout’ (2009)

(Previously unpublished, this exclusive email interview with writer Greg Rucka months ago was in the paper’s lineup but ultimately didn’t make it because of PDI-Super’s space limitations during the time. My thanks to Warner Bros.’ Sionee Lagman and Jay Gonzales for this interview.)

Writing, warrior women, and ‘Whiteout’

Author Greg Rucka talks about approaching characters fairly

By Oliver M. Pulumbarit

Acclaimed novelist and comic book creator Greg Rucka’s body of work can easily be described as diverse. He has written a variety of embattled characters that traverse different worlds, from gritty, realistic thrillers to fantastical superhero sagas.

A pattern is also easily discernible: many of his protagonists are strong-willed women, usually flawed, but resourceful individuals, nonetheless. The American author has handled female characters capably in comic books such as “Wonder Woman,” “Black Widow,” “Felon,” “Queen and Country,” “Supergirl,” and “Gotham Central.”

He also penned the “Whiteout” miniseries, which inspired the new film directed by Dominic Sena. Kate Beckinsale stars as quick-thinking Marshal Carrie Stetko, who is tasked to solve the mystery behind a series of deaths in Antarctica.

Describe a regular work day.

I get up quite early, try to write for a bit, mostly emails, and handle some phone calls. I take my kids to school, and then I go back to my desk and resume working as best as I can until I have to pick them up from school again. Dinner, homework, bedtimes, and then, depending on my deadlines, either back to work, or maybe I can relax a little bit and play a video game or read a book or watch a show on television.

How challenging is it to write strong, independent women?

It's no more challenging than writing any well-realized character. Gender is simply an element of character. If you approach your characters fairly, honestly, then they will be who they are -- if they're men, women, straight, gay, religious, it's all the same. I don't ignore gender, but gender is simply an aspect of character.

You wrote Wonder Woman and Elektra a few years back. How did you approach adding to those comic book icons' mythologies?

Working on Elektra was a challenge, simply because Marvel and I didn't see eye-to-eye about her, and editorial really wanted me to follow their lead, which was their right. I think she's been overused, frankly, but Marvel has a tendency to do that -- they find a character that works, and then they milk him or her for all they're worth.

Wonder Woman was a very different experience, because she was a character that I'd been looking for an opportunity to write for a very long time. When the chance came, then, I was in a pretty good place with regards to what I was thinking about her.

But in both cases, you're dealing with characters you don't own, characters that belong to a larger corporation, and you have to be respectful of that, no matter how much you may disagree with the direction they want to go.

“Whiteout” was written over a decade ago. What factors inspired the creation of Marshal Stetko, and the setting?

That's a hard question to answer, but the quick version is this. Stetko was a character I'd been working with before (artist) Steve Lieber and I ever met up and did Whiteout -- she actually started in a one-act play I wrote back in graduate school. Antarctica, as a setting and character, didn't enter the equation until my agent at the time mentioned, in passing, that he'd heard there was a US Federal Marshal stationed in Antarctica. I immediately wondered how one ended up in that job, and it kind of spun out from there.

As executive producer of the film, what were your duties?

Mostly to nod my head and say "nice job!" Honestly, the exec credit was something that was granted in negotiations. I ended up on the set for three weeks near the end of shooting, and helped with rewrites on several of the scenes, but my influence, and my input, was very limited -- I'm a writer, not a film-maker, and I think it's probably for the best that they kept me at arm's length!

The agent part played by Gabriel Macht was originally a woman. Why was it changed, and was it necessary?

I don't know. This was a change I had no part in making, one that happened very early on in the script stage. My understanding is that there are people who feel that an audience will not pay to see two women in an action/thriller, and that consequently, the part needed to be recast as a man.

You are currently writing Detective Comics, which focuses on two lesbian heroines, Batwoman and Question. How do you keep the characters from being overshadowed by their sexual identities, while still remaining sensitive?

Sexuality is just another element of character, and I'm interested in writing about people, not about issues, not about sensationalism. There are writers -- mostly men -- who get terribly titillated and excited about lesbianism; I'm not really one of them. I just like writing about people, and I try to be honest in how I do it. Not every hero is a white male. Not every bad guy has to have an English accent. The world is a big place, and as a writer, I just try to show different slices of it in my work.

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