Kurtis J. Wiebe is the brains behind some phenomenal comic book series and a big favorite among staff at the Mighty All-Comic. We’re very lucky to speak with Mr. Wiebe about his latest hit and one of the absolute best books out there right now, Rat Queens!
Roc Upchurch is the incredible talent behind the terrific visuals of Rat Queens. Mr. Upchurch handles all of the art duties for the book including both illustrations and coloring, quickly making a big impression on readers everywhere.
All-Comic.com: Mr. Wiebe, thanks so much for taking the time to chat with us. First off, let’s get to the inevitable opening question: How did you get started writing comic books? What was your first big project?
Kurtis Wiebe: Through a long, painful slog of pitching, rejections and whiskey. I’ve had conversations with aspiring comic writers and they always seem surprised when I tell them that I probably had a good 40 rejections or total no replies to submissions across 6-7 different pitches. It was never easy, but I learned that little bit with every failure and kept at it.
My first publication was with Red 5 Comics and it was called Beautiful Creatures. Interestingly enough, now that I look back, I can see that it was a small taste of what I wanted to do with Rat Queens but I didn’t have the chops for it. There are parts I’m happy with in that series, but it’s pretty rough around the edges. Really rough, actually.
Mr. Upchurch, thanks for joining our Rat Queens chat! How did you break into the comic book industry and where did you start?
Roc Upchurch: I got my start on a book called Deep Blue with an indie company called Mythos comics. Maybe 7 years ago now. I was a concept artist for video games at the time but I always wanted to do comics. I always loved sequential story telling as an art form. So I started creating my own and posting them online. Bragi Schut, a screen writer out in LA, took notice and that’s how I got my first gig.
Rat Queens has been quite a success so far, and with damn good reason! Did you expect the book to do as well as it has? What has the fan response been like overall?
Kurtis Wiebe: The fans have honestly made Rat Queens as I see it today. I mean, we’re still doing the book exactly as we’d always set out to do, but I think what it means to me on a personal level has changed. We’ve received lots of praise from fans and critics, but there’s been this small piece of the puzzle that has made us realize that by bringing the women of the series to life, we’ve in a small way, helped the fans.
While those pieces are personal to the people who’ve sent them, I can say that it was an emotional moment to hear that we’ve raised another person’s spirit. Made them feel good about who they are because of something I wrote.
I guess the honest answer is that at this stage, I’ve stopped paying attention to the success others would call it and let it be a success in my own eyes.
Roleplaying games like Dungeons & Dragons have clearly had an influence on Rat Queens. What made you want to incorporate this aspect in the series? Are you still an active gamer?
Kurtis Wiebe: I am an active gamer. Try to run a game every week when I have the time. To be honest, I’ve tried to keep the influence subtle because I don’t want people to assume it’s a book just for gamers. It is. But it’s also for all kinds of readers. Even when I write the referential jokes, I try to do so in a way that even a non-gamer would find it amusing.
I mean, there’s the obvious ones, like bonuses to roll references, but I think that’s the most I’ll ever really do with that style of comedy. I believe the jokes have to stand on their own, influenced by the characters and situations they find themselves in.
Are you a tabletop gamer as well, Mr. Upchurch?
Roc Upchurch: Nope. Well, not yet. I’m sure Kurt will get me into it eventually.
The story of Rat Queens is very character driven, and every character that shows up is fantastic. Of course, nobody out-cools the ladies themselves. How did you first create the Rat Queens? Are there any real-life influences on their personalities?
Kurtis Wiebe: They came together pretty organically in collaboration with Roc. I wrote out a paragraph of their history and personalities, as well as their names and then Roc did the design. He nailed it the first try.
As far as their personalities, there’s a small part of myself in each of them. A bigger part in Dee, but it’s also very much inspired by the women in my life. My fiancée, who says some of the most shocking things I’ve ever heard and can make me laugh like no one else, my mother who’s tenderness and endless support has brought me to where I am now, my sisters who’ve both endured hardship but never lost their positive outlook and compassion.
I’ve been incredibly fortunate to know some amazing people, men and women, and I like to think that all my experiences with them have influenced what I write, regardless of the style of story I’m telling.
The artwork in this series is also incredible! How did you end up working with the talented Roc Upchurch?
Kurtis Wiebe: We met at NYCC 2011 while he was still working on Vescell. We stayed in touch after the show and when he wrapped that project I pitched him a few ideas and we’ve been working together in some capacity since.
What is it about Rat Queens that really caught your interest in the beginning, Roc?
Roc Upchurch: I just really wanted to work with Kurtis. Rat Queens was an idea we came up with together as something we both wanted to do. Kurt’s initial pitch for the idea was “sex in the city meets lord of the rings”. With an idea so out of the ordinary how could I not be excited to tackle it?
How do you typically work for Rat Queens? Pen and paper, digital, both?
Roc Upchurch: Both. I start with small digital thumbnails then I pencil it out on 11×17 bristol. Next I scan that in and paint it digitally in Photoshop.
Is there collaboration in terms of writing the story, or does the fate of the Queens’ world rest in your hands?
Kurtis Wiebe: We discuss the character arcs so that we’re both on board for where I go with each character, main or side. The scripting is all me, but again, it’s informed by decisions we’ve come to long before the scripting stage. And then Roc brings the art into play and it’s that chemistry between my words and his camera that elevates them from their singular parts.
The jokes aren’t funny without the characterization that Roc has perfected.
It was recently announced that the release schedule for Rat Queens would slow down a bit more to allow Mr. Upchurch the time to complete the crazy amount of work he’s undertaken in doing all aspects of the art in the book. How has the response been to the schedule change? Was there any major pressure to maintain a monthly release schedule?
Kurtis Wiebe: I think people are understanding of the change. It’s not something we decided on lightly, but it was a necessity for us at the moment. There was never any pressure, from publisher or fan, to go any one direction. We want to take the time we need to ensure the quality stays high and that we enjoy the process. Burnout can be the death of a comic series.
What can we expect for the future of the Rat Queens? Will they branch out from their not-so-quiet little town into the wider world?
Kurtis Wiebe: Yes. The first 15 issues will likely be focused around Palisade but from there we’re going to move away from the small city and out to the world at large. We have a few characters that, while not obvious, have been drawn into backgrounds that come from other places and have stories that will collide with the Rat Queens.
Do you have any plans to delve deeper into the respective backstories of the main protagonists?
Kurtis Wiebe: Of course. We’ve already hinted at a few pieces of each of their pasts, but as the series progresses, there will always be more revealed. Just like with getting to know a new person, it takes time to uncover who they are. We want the reader to feel that way as they discover little pieces of each character with each issue.
It’s tough to choose a favorite among such an amazing group of characters, but Betty is probably one of the most popular smidgens around! Do you have a favorite character to write in this series?
Kurtis Wiebe: Betty is probably the most fun to write, but I find Dee the most rewarding. My personal story is very much like hers and, while that makes it hard to write, it also is by far the one I feel best about when it’s all said and done.
And Roc, do you have a personal favorite character in the series? Is there one character in particular whom you enjoy illustrating most?
Roc Upchurch: My favorite character is Violet. And it’s for purely aesthetic reasons. I love her design the most. Her shape, her armor, her movements… and she’s a ginger with freckles. (Mostly just that last part.)
The visuals in this series really help carry the wonderful story very well and the action in particular is quite spectacular. Do you typically get full scripts to work from or do you illustrate based on general ideas for each scene?
Roc Upchurch: I always get full scripts, which is exactly what you want when you’re working with Wiebe. Most of the fight scenes I choreograph myself but otherwise, full script.
Will Gary ever shut the f*@% up?
Kurtis Wiebe: Not if I can help it.
Are there any other projects you have in the works that you’re able to discuss?
Roc Upchurch: Just focusing on Rat Queens right now.
Kurtis, do you have any other upcoming projects you’ve been working on, or do hit titles like Rat Queens and Peter Panzerfaust keep you busy enough?
Kurtis Wiebe: I’m pitching new projects when I have the time. There are two in particular that are really awesome and I’m hoping that they get to see the light of day. I know my fans will love them.
Once again, thanks very much for speaking with us about this phenomenal series. We’re all anxiously awaiting the next issue and we hope for many more to come!
Roc Upchurch: Thanks for having me!
If you haven’t already gotten on board with the incredible Rat Queens, the first trade paperback collection was recently released; go pick it up now! This is one of the best comic books being produced with some amazing humor. Action, adventure, comedy, booze, mushroom-eating smidgens, this one has it all, so read Rat Queens!