Do you believe in magic? It’s hard not to, honestly, when you see the results of a Greg Rucka-written script hit the illustrative hands of superstar artist Nicola Scott. With four issues in the tank for Image Comics’ latest sleeper hit Black Magick — and issue #5 right around the corner — the prestidigitatious pair sat down with Comicosity to talk all things Rowan Black in a two-part interview that would make the biggest skeptic believe.
Matt Santori-Griffith: I’ve talked to Greg quite a bit about how his original characters came to be, so I just want to start off getting a sense from both of you: Where did Rowan Black come from, personality-wise and visually?
Greg Rucka: Well, she definitely claims Renee Montoya as a mother. I don’t think there’s any question about that. I wanted to write a cop, and at the time when I came up with the idea, Renee was still very fresh in my mind. Not that she’s ever been terribly far from it. I think that’s part of it.
There were some things in design early on that I knew I wanted. I knew I didn’t want her to be wispy or frail. I wanted her to be a “big girl” with a physical presence. A lot of it came out of research beyond that. And also some of what I knew would be her conflict, that she was the inheritor of this very long tradition, and her difficulties with that. It’s a mantle she’s not comfortable with.
I think there were others before her in the Black line that have been comfortable with it, but none of them have been Rowan. Rowan is unique in that legacy, which is why we’re telling her story.
Beyond that, I didn’t sit down and write a long bio for her. She sort of just filled in the blanks for me as I started writing. I knew I wanted her to have a confidence and an attitude. And I didn’t want her to be nice. I didn’t want her to be someone you’d immediately want to have a beer with. I wanted her to be difficult. I don’t know how else to put it.
I didn’t want her to be soft. She has some really sharp edges to her and some pretty dramatic flaws that will become more readily apparent as the series continues.
Nicola Scott: I think “Attitude” is a really good word. She has a real attitude, for a number of really good reasons.
GR: I think a lot of it is a deep simmering anger, which makes a lot of sense. Her kind has been persecuted in every possible way. I don’t think you forget when someone in your family tree has been burned alive. And when that has happened more than once, you start to hold certain grudges. And not unreasonably so, I would argue.
NS: Obviously, what Greg gives me is where the conversation starts, but I think there were probably only a couple of paragraphs initially in the description of who she was. But there was so much personality and character in the first two scripts, which were pretty much unchanged once I started. There was so much information there and it got us talking. And pretty quickly we were on the same page in how we pictured Rowan’s personality.
From there, I just had to construct a visual that made sense and added something to the mix. The visual cues that I remember Greg had written down for me were: she was tall; she had black hair; she wore a black leather jacket; and she rode a motorbike.
Those ingredients make sense in terms of her being a witch and being a cop, but the question was, how do I make that interesting? I spent quite a bit of time drawing lots of different faces and looking at photos of different faces, trying to find what worked for the character. What felt a little bit witchy, what felt a little bit “attitude-y,” and what felt like she could pull off working in a police station.
It came down to this sort of mid-seventies rock and roll look, once I settled on the haircut. And I wanted her to have these dark smoky eyes. And that pretty much determined what the rest of her black leather jacket get-up would resemble. And we went from there.
MSG: I think it’s really interesting, because a lot of women in comics set up the way Greg described, tend to have sharper features. But Rowan has a very soft, round look to her.
NS: Well, that was probably me, because I can’t help myself. [laughs]
GR: No, I think it was a stylistic choice. Because if you were to look at some of your DC work, I think you would see what fits more into super-hero comics and that physicality. And one of the things Black Magick requires is that they look like people. So, when Rowan is standing there in her underwear in issue #1, she actually looks like a healthy woman in her underwear. She looks physically fit, but she doesn’t look like a super-hero.
She has soft spots, as she should.
MSG: I don’t think it’s just the overall style, though, because you look at how Alex looks in the book, and she looks very different.
NS: Yeah. It’s the Joan Jett hair and the really smoky eyes — which is not necessarily make-up.
GR: She has sexy eyes.
NS: Yes! She needs to have sexy eyes.
GR: Yes, she does.
NS: If I’m going to be drawing those eyes every day, they have to be sexy!
MSG: And looking at the style of the book overall, it’s such a divergence from so many other titles today in that it’s almost monochromatic. There’s also a certain darkness to the atmosphere you’re creating.
NS: There are a number of factors that came into why the book looks like it does now. From the very beginning, I knew it was a witchy, noir book and that we were aiming for something that was a little noir pulp as well, in terms of designs and locations.
I knew it needed to be dark and muted. And for my own creative satisfaction, I needed to do something not super-hero-ish. I knew I wanted a lot more shadow on the page than I had been drawing previously.
And the more I thought about it and started experimenting with different mediums and different looks for each character, I knew I wanted to paint it rather than just draw it. I wanted the lightness of touch that a pale wash could bring while still being able to get some heavy, dark shadows in there. And medium tone shadows without crosshatching.
I just didn’t want it looking like comic book art. I wanted it to have more of a feel of an artifact.
And also, it’s a control freak thing. I’ve spent the last ten years going with the flow with work-for-hire. You’re part of team, and have to submit to that, which means you can’t get too precious about anything. But this was my first creator-owned project and it brought out in me the super-precious control freak that’s not too far below the surface. I just wanted to not have to relinquish control to a colorist or anyone else.
As soon as I started playing with the idea that the book would be really well-served in black and white, color could be reserved for magick or how Rowan and Alex see the world. They’re particularly gifted, and can see things in a way that the rest of the world can’t. Those decisions came hand-in-hand, and Greg was very accommodating to me throwing ideas against the wall.
But, of course, it’s all in the execution. And whether or not you can pull it off. Once I delivered the first scene in issue #1, Greg seemed to be really on board.
GR: Yeah, you didn’t make it hard. It wasn’t a challenge to see that art and go, “Oh my gosh.”
Nic and I have these conversations and she’s like, “I’m going to work in this heavy wash, in black and white and greyscale.” And I think, well, that wasn’t what I had envisioned in my mind’s eye when I wrote it. But then, the moment you see it, it’s like, “OH. That’s what you meant. That’s AMAZING.” From there, it became something that very rapidly was integrated into the writing.
I feel like if I’ve learned anything in the appalling number of years I’ve been in comics now, it’s to have an open mind and manage my own expectations. Not to steer any disappointment, but because otherwise, it limits what a collaboration is.
MSG: I really do get that feeling of artifact from the art, like the look of an old tintype photograph, where there’s no absolute white except in the word balloons. And it feels like it brings the sense of history you’re developing in the back matter to the structure of the book as a whole.
NS: That’s what I was hoping for. I didn’t want it to feel like it could be computer-generated. It serves the property for it to feel crafted.
And that was one of the things I decided at the very beginning, that there were no absolute whites. In fact, the very first thing I do is put down a really pale wash. And even then, when I scan them in, I scan them in really quite dark, because I want to get the layers of shadow to show. And it makes the speech balloons stick out.
GR: And it also helps produce a contrast when you have those rare moments of absolute black. They’re not actually as prevalent as you think.
NS: Oh yeah. When I’m doing the line work, the only solid blacks I’m putting down are Rowan’s hair and jacket. There’s maybe a few more, like in Hawthorne, her cat, but that’s it.
GR: Because the cat had to be a black cat, right? [laughs]
Continue reading Part 2 of our talk with Greg Rucka and Nicola Scott on Image Comics’ Black Magick, where we’ll get into the nature of magick and the threat of the Aira…