It’s a world not unlike our own — and getting closer every day. But at the center of it all is Forever, the Lazarus (“Protector”) of the Carlyle family. And her world is about to turn upside down with the release of Lazarus: The Second Collection in May, encompassing issues #11-21 of the ongoing series. Including the story arcs designated “Conclave” and “Poison,” plus two standalones, this volume continues what master storytellers Greg Rucka and Michael Lark have developed for the series, its protagonist, and the world around her. The duo sat down with Comicosity to walk through where the series has been the last year or more, and where it’s going next when it returns this June!
BONUS: Scroll down to take a sneak peek at the first unlettered pages of Lazarus #22, due from Image Comics on June 15, 2016!
Matt Santori: It’s such an awesome thing to be able to talk to you two again. You may not recall we spoke last — the three of us — right before Lazarus #1.
Going into the second collection now, does the world feel more fleshed out to you, or has it always been in your head that way? Tell me about the world-building.
Michael Lark: You know, I don’t like putting the focus on the world-building. I know a lot of people who talk about this book do, but I personally think the world-building has to be in service to the story and the characters. If it’s not, it’s pointless. Then it’s just us playing with army men.
The world-building is irrelevant without the rest of the stuff. To me, it’s always about the story and the characters, first and foremost. That’s all.
Greg may beg to differ because he puts a lot of work into that. But when I get a script, I draw what I’m told to draw in terms of the world.
Greg Rucka: You stumbled on a minor nerve there, Matt.
I think Michael’s point is a really valid one. We do get a lot of discussion about the world we’ve created, but Michael is absolutely right to point out that the setting is irrelevant if the story is not there. That’s not to dismiss the world-building that needs to be done, because the world is part of this story. We can’t tell this story without describing this world. These characters are the product of their environment.
I love William Gibson, the author. His world-building is astonishing and it’s never expository. It’s always in service of the story he’s telling. Sometimes it makes his stories difficult. The first time you read something like Neuromancer, you’re like, “I don’t know what the hell he’s talking about.” Because he’s not explaining. It’s contextual exposition in that sense.
I think, ideally, that’s the world-building in Lazarus.
Back matter exists in large part to explicate and further enhance the setting, but if we have done our job well, you should be able to read the book and never need the back matter. The back matter should answer questions that you have, but it shouldn’t address questions that you have to have the answers for the story.
You don’t need to read the Rosling bio to know that there’s a family named Rosling. Where they come from and their history, sure, that adds to the experience. But it shouldn’t be a prerequisite to enjoy the material.
Where we are now, especially in the second collection, the world is well established. In the second half, we start tearing it down. That too is world-building. The destruction of what we built is part of it. The world continues to grow.
So, I don’t disagree with Michael. We follow our characters. Inasmuch as their world affects our characters, it has to be built. But that’s never the primary goal. Neither of us has ever sat down with an issue and said, we have to build the world more here. It’s more that we look at it and decide, the nature of the world means the story has to develop this way.
Issue #22 coming up is a great example of that. I had a lot of struggles in writing it, because I’d created all sorts of problems for myself that needed to be answered in the world. I’d set rules for myself and I had to answer in the context of the rules I’d made. And that all needed to be done in service to these characters and the story.
MSG: So, give me a good example.
GR: The primary one is that Forever is really messed up at the end of “Poison.” How do you operate on someone who regenerates? That’s a fundamental question. How do you do it?
If she’s capable of recovering from rather minor trauma almost instantaneously, how do you open her up to get in there to fix a ruptured spleen. That’s a world-building question.
There’s a long answer to that, of course. But that’s boring comics. Spending three pages on talking about the technique that has to be used is not good storytelling.
So the world necessitates that we see this is a dilemma for them, that we have to have a solution for it, and that we come up with a solution for it. And then we show only enough of that answer as is necessary to move the characters forward.
ML: We were talking to someone not long ago about the amount of work that goes into every scene, page, or issue before my pencil ever hits the paper. This is unlike any other book I’ve worked on in that regard. I mean, I did a lot of stuff when I worked on Gotham Central. I’ve done a lot of stuff with every book I’ve worked on. But nothing like this.
Even though they’re in a world that’s not too far removed from our own, there’s so much stuff that needs to be invented from the ground up. Not only the kind of things Greg is talking about, but visually. In issue #2, Greg put in the script “Forever is riding a pretty awesome motorcycle.” Well, the number of questions that goes into that for me as the guy who has to draw that motorcycle…
Do they run on gas? Are they electric? Do they have solar panels? What kind of tires does it have? So many questions that we have to answer going into these things. The amount of work that happens behind the curtain is… a lot. We have Pinterest pages full of reference material.
MSG: And that’s on top of introducing a whole new suite of characters in the second collection. We had met Joachim in the first collection, and now we’ve seen him again, but met Sonia and a whole host of other Lazari.
ML: I wanted to strangle Greg when I got the script for that poker scene.
ML: Oh my God. I have to design all these characters? It was as if I was asked to design all of the X-Men at once, and I had to get them right the first time.
That was tough. But once I got it, it was a joy. I immediately turned around and did a pin-up of all the Lazari. Here’s our people!
We probably had dozens of phone conversations about that.
GR: Yeah, because you had to incorporate all of the family styles.
ML: You gave me a little more on the Lazari than with the motorcycle. [laughs] There was an addendum to the script that had more on each of the Lazari. But even so, we sat on the phone and talked about who we would cast as each of them. What kind of vibe we wanted to get from each of them. I had to design the wheelchair for Xiao Ling.
Yeah, there’s a lot that goes into all of that stuff. And the Lazari were particularly critical, because even if they weren’t going to be in the book a lot, they were important characters. They had to be right. Thankfully I think Greg knew all of them fairly well by the time he wrote that scene, so it was really easy for me to get to know them quickly.
MSG: Let’s talk specifically about Sonia, because she obviously plays a huge role in these two story arcs.
GR: We actually met Sonia back in “Lift.”
ML: Yeah, she made a cameo in the holographic training simulation.
GR: I think in the back of my head I was thinking “Valkyrie” with Sonia. I don’t think I articulated it as such to Michael, but over the years we’ve developed a pretty good shorthand. I think we both knew that’s what we were after. She was coming out of Northern Europe. I specified “big and blonde” and that she was classically strong, as opposed to Forever’s strength, which is more lithe. Forever is very agile, but Sonia was meant to contrast that. I wanted her more deliberate in her physicality.
ML: I don’t know that I knew that going in. I think that’s something I learned later, especially going into the fight scene in “Conclave.” I didn’t design her to be that much bigger and strong. If we talked about that early on, I missed it.
I was just thinking “Swiss Miss with a sword.” [laughs]
GR: Whatever works! [laughs]
MSG: One central theme of this collection is the path to war. How have you played with the idea of power — and power shifts — in “Conclave” and “Poison”?
GR: Oh wow. You don’t ask easy ones, do you?
If you’re going to break it thematically, that’s exactly what’s going on. You’re looking not only at power shifting between individuals, but also on the global scale. The whole balance of power in the world is shifting.
ML: And the balance of power in the Carlyle family is shifting. The balance of power inside Forever is shifting, too. She’s going through a sea change. I never really thought about that, but it’s interesting. That’s really what’s happening here. Everything is changing.
GR: In the grand scheme, it goes back to the world-building question. This is what we’ve been building to! You have to build the structure before you can tear it down. And a lot of what this second collection is about is us breaking it.
But even starting with the earliest moments in “Conclave,” you’re looking at the nature of all of these relationships shifting. Who has control and who doesn’t?
Then, moving into “Poison,” it’s both more subtle — because it appears to be a fairly lineal primary story — but also enormous in terms of what’s happening with Johanna and the rest of the family.
ML: To me, the first two collections are really kind of the first act. We’re really putting everyone in position, and now at the end of “Poison,” we’re just going to knock everything down!
MSG: The other big thing that continues into the second collection is Forever’s questioning of her own identity and place in the family. How has that evolved for each of you?
ML: That’s what the whole book is about. It’s about this young woman coming of age and questioning and learning who she is. She has to make her own identity for herself. That’s not a story that only works with this setting or this world. That’s a universal story.
This collection is really about her beginning that questioning.
GR: I think it begins at the end of the first issue, frankly. But at its heart, Lazarus is Forever’s story. It’s her coming to learn not just the truths of herself, but the truths of the world.
There are two big thematics that run through the series. The first is family. What does it mean? What does it mean to be born into one? What does it mean to make your own? And the second is a nature versus nurture question. It’s most obviously asked with the Lazuri, but it extends to every character.
Johanna is entering an interesting time in the narrative. Her story is going to start becoming much more crystallized. One of the things you’re going to see is that she is her father’s daughter. If you loathe her, but like Malcolm, you need to reevaluate.
Michael is very fond of telling me that even your worst bad guy has someone who loves them. All of these people have got these internal lives and struggles that they have very few outlets for in this world. Both Casey and Michael are going through huge things in “Poison.” We may not be completely aware of their nature, since we only met them back in “Lift.” But we’re definitely getting a sense of their nurture.
ML: And we’re going to see more of that moving forward. They are essential to the story as well.
MSG: Any final thoughts you want to share about the wealth of Lazarus stuff coming up? The Carlyle Sourcebook that arrived in stores yesterday, issue #22 arriving in June, or the second collection hitting stores in May?
GR: You know, we take these hardcovers very seriously. They’re huge. This one is going to be 352 pages, I think. We just had to add another 8 pages to it. We want all of extras in there to be worth people’s while. We want it to be beautiful, because we like holding beautiful books. And if we’re asking people to spend $35 or $40 on a book, we want it to be something they can physically enjoy. Every time we get to put one of these out, I get excited.
ML: The hardback has a lot of nice “behind the curtain” stuff. We give some peeks into the work that goes into everything. There’s so much stuff we do and that our designer Eric Trautmann provides that no one ever sees. We’re trying to make sure some of the stuff we think is interesting and fun is stuff everyone gets to see.
GR: The Sourcebook is deep nerd. I don’t have another way to put it. I’m delighted with how it turned out. It’s full of all sorts of crunchy information about life under Carlyle.
And then, yeah, starting with “Cull” in issue #22, we’re back in June — and in Act 2. Things are going to start happening pretty quickly.
ML: I have two words for you: jet packs. That’s all you need to know.
And without further ado… jet packs and the first five pages of Lazarus #22, arriving in comic shops and online June 15, 2016.