Yesterday, I went to Emerald City ComiCon with some friends. I brought with me a friend’s copy of Elektra & Wolverine: The Redeemer to get it signed by the author, Greg Rucka. I had borrowed it after reading my friend’s awesome review at favoritethingEVER.com, but never got around to reading it because my TBR pile constantly rages out of control.
Greg Rucka was incredibly nice and friendly and wrote “BELIEVE IN HER” in my friend’s Wonder Woman comic. I was won over, and this morning I sat down and read the book. It’s just as awesome as the review said, but I think the part I love the most was actually the author interview at the back of the book. It’s about writing comics in an emotionally resonant way, but I think it applies to writing any genre fiction, including romance.
JL [Jennifer Lee]: Right. So how do you build the characters convincingly, especially in a story setting like modern New York, where there are constant signposts reminding you of the real world?
GR: It’s a two-part answer, but the first part is that you have to be emotionally honest. I believe that all art lives or dies at its emotional connection with its audience. If the connection is not there it’s worthless. For any story to work there has to be a level of connection. You have to be able to, if not sympathize, at least empathize with what is going on. And consequently you can take the most ridiculous character (and by ridiculous I meet unrealistic) and make it believable. Take Wolverine: If you look at him, on his face he’s just ludicrous. He’s a short little guy who now is apparently over 100 years old, who has claws that pop out of his body, which he can control and retract, and he smokes cigars, and he may have been a Canadian secret agent, and he’s a samurai, and has a mutant healing factor… If you look at that from a realistic abstract sense, you go “Oh my god, what a load of garbage!” but everybody believes that he’s been cold. Cold is something we’ve all felt. Everybody’s been cold. Everybody’s been lonely. Everybody’s been lost. Almost everybody has felt love. Those are real things. Those are honest, true things. We all share them. So you take a character like Wolverine and you give him that. Kiefer insults him. We’ve all been insulted, and we all know that frustration of really wanting to belt someone in the mouth but not being able to. How many of us have had employers we’ve wanted to do that to, for instance? So, I really do think that that’s the key. And if you do it right, you can, in theory, take any background, any story, and make it resonate.
Aside from the emotional connection, the other part is making it realistic is that I think you have to be unapologetic. Comics suffer from this a lot because comics, in many ways, is embarrassed of itself. There are lots of fans who have been looked at like “Oh, you’re reading super heroes” and super heroes is so derogatory. In the narrative, it is really important to just be straightforward and honest. You don’t nod and wink and go haha mutant healing factor hahaha. It’s matter of fact. That’s the nature of the world. The cab is yellow, the street is dirty, the sleet is cold, and the healing factor is active, and all of those go together. The narrative refuses to make them extraordinary outside the narrative. In that universe, that extraordinary event makes sense, so that the logic of the universe is consistent, and it maintains the realism of that world. And I think that’s the key. It’s not saying it’s New York, but it’s not really New York. We say this is New York. Take it or leave it, it’s New York, and take it or leave it, the woman is a ninja. And if you don’t like it, don’t read it. But we’re not going to sit there and apologize for it, and we’re not going to say, okay this is where it gets cool. It just needs to be what it is. The characters are real in their world so the world needs to be real for those characters.