From transporting expensive coffee to finding out whether a wife is cheating on her husband, P.I. Dex Parios is on the case! I interviewed Greg Rucka, Justin Greenwood, and Ryan Hill on the upcoming volume of Stumptown.
Mexi Gremillion: I’d heard of Kopi Luwak vaguely before I read Stumptown Volume 4, but I never thought I’d thought I would hear it used in a graphic novel. How much research did you do case? What inspired you to use coffee and coffee extremists?
Greg Rucka: There’s a lot of Portland that is—I love it here, but it’s genuinely absurd. I’m a fanatic coffee drinker, I like my coffee, but even as much as I like my coffee, I’m not willing to spend the amount of money that some people are willing to spend for a cup of coffee. In every arc, I try to relate whatever the case is going to be to my hometown here, to Portland in someway. Playing with coffee absurdism was a part of it. We looked at doing a story at one point about the fact that we have a big food cart culture, right? At one point, we had a food cart that was destroyed as a result of arson. Some guy burned it down because they were in competition and it had won this other competition, so stuff like that, it’s all out there.
On the Kopi Luwak, it’s was like, “Okay, let’s start researching really expensive coffees and why are they so expensive”. That’s kind of how I got to it and the more you look at it, the more absurd it gets. And then when you see these things, of course, if it’s going to make a lot of money, there are going to be people who are going to exploit it, so then you see the rise of ethical Kopi Luwak and I found that fascinating, I found it genuinely fascinating.
MG: It definitely is. It’s definitely an intriguing craze. One of my favorite scenes in the volume was when Laid Law kidnaps Dex, but Dex is able to get the upper hand on her kidnappers. It’s a pretty fun scene. What’s your favorite scene that you wrote in this volume?
GR: Wow, that’s an interesting one. I like that bit a lot. I actually like the running gag of these guys trying to steal the beans from her and Dex not having any of it. It’s rare in Stumptown for her to get the upper hand, so it was kind of nice to give her a couple moments where she came out on top. One of the things about the character, she rarely comes out of her situations as a winner. She tends to call it a draw in most of them.
MG: That’s very true. Speaking of Dex, you brought in a new character this volume—Fuji. I find the names for each of the Parios siblings really intriguing. How did you come up with these names?
GR: It’s part of their backstory. You got to wonder about parents that name their kids Ansel, Dexedrine, and Fuji, and eventually, I’m hoping that we get to a point where you’ll actually meet the whole family and you’ll see exactly who the parents are who create these kids. It’s Ansel Achilles, Dexedrine Callisto, and Fuji Cassandra, and you can tell that there are certain connections to each of them. Dex got the short end because she got the first name Speed. “Yeah, I’m the one who’s drugs”, you know? All the other ones get Greek Myth and art.
MG: It’s pretty crazy, I hope to see the parents soon! They seem like they’d be an interesting pair.
GR: Yeah, they are.
MG: In addition to the coffee case, there’s a one-off case, the Case That Wouldn’t End. I found it really fascinating that you chose to do this one-shot story when you usually do multiple issue cases and I really like the silence that was in it. What inspire you to do this one issue case?
GR: There’s a tonal shift, you know? The Case of a Cup of Joe is very light until really the end, and then, emotionally, it gets a little more somber, but it is a pretty funny story. One of things that Justin and I’ve been talking about is sort of tonally where we’re going in the next one and we sort of wanted to begin to slowly slide into that, so that was part of it. Justin and I were talking about how the Case of the Cup of Joe is only going to be four issues and we wanted to do five for the trade, what would be a good one-off. We’d been bouncing around a few ideas about a maybe a day in the life story, things like that. It was Justin, if I remember, who suggested that it would be kind of cool to just do this stake out, and since we don’t do internal narration in the book, it was going to be, by definition, pretty quiet. Dex wasn’t going to have anyone to talk to. All communication until, really, the very beginning and the very end, it’s all via text message with people that aren’t there, people who aren’t aware that she’s working at the time.
MG: It’s a really cool choice that you made. I really liked it! Speaking of artist, you’ve had a few different artists teams throughout Stumptown. How’s it been working with these different teams of artist?
GR: When we started, Matthew Southworth was drawing the book. Matthew has a very film influenced style, I think, and it really played up the noir aspects of doing a P.I. story. And then, when Matthew stepped away and Justin came on the book, it was very important to all of us at Oni and myself that Justin really be able to take a good hold of the book and put his own spin and flavor on it. The humor in Cup of Joe isn’t something I think I would have ever considered while Matthew was drawing just because, stylistically, I don’t think it would’ve occurred to me to say “Let’s run to the absurd”, and one of the things that’s really been delightful with Justin is that there is a levity and an expressiveness that sort of juxtaposes really nicely with what Matthew did. I’ve been very fortunate with who I get to work with. I’m only as good as my collaborators, and I’m fortunate that I have great collaborators.
MG: Justin and Ryan, you both are not the first team that has worked on Stumptown. You both joined the project during Volume 3 and are the art team for Volume 4. What was it like to come into the project during Volume 3? What has it been like working with Greg Rucka?
Justin Greenwood: That’s right, yeah. Matthew Southworth drew the first couple volumes and they were really fantastic. I read it in issues as a fan of the book so coming on to draw it was a very exciting prospect. Anytime you join an existing project, there is always a little anxiety around how people will feel about there being a new/different artistic direction but it’s not something you can do a lot about, either. I remember talking to Greg and Oni Press Editor-in-Chief James Lucas Jones a bit early on about whether they thought my voice would make for a good match for the content, and their confidence helped me put aside whatever questions I might have had at the offset.
That’s especially true for Greg, actually. I remember feeling most apprehensive the first time I turned in page breakdowns for an issue because the way an artist chooses to tell a story in instinctual and specific, and I’d always felt like that STUMPTOWN was a more personal book for Greg.That was also particularly true for Volume 3, where the focus was on the Timbers and soccer culture in PDX. I had a really clear idea of what I thought it should look like, but wasn’t sure if that would mesh well with what Greg intended. But he was so enthusiastic and supportive right off the bat that it made things easy. He’s always encouraged me to jump in with both feet and treat it as my own.
I’m a firm believer that you have to draw it like you own it, regardless of the whether it’s creator-owned or work for hire. The best content comes from being willing to take liberties and do your best to be true to the story, regardless of expectations or what came before. Working with Greg is a joy because he’s not only open to that idea but downright encouraging of it. It makes collaborating with him both easy and extremely satisfying.
Ryan Hill: Was very lucky to be asked to be apart of this team and to work with Justin & Greg. Justin and I have done a couple of books now and he’s a favorite of mine to get to color. Coming into a project with an established look I feel you need to have some adherence to that to keep a book not looking too wildly inconsistent. But also Justin’s art I felt was very different than what had been done prior so I felt there was also some freedom to go out and try some different looks. Working with Greg has been a real pleasure. We both live in portland so getting to work on what I consider a “hometown” book and watching Greg fill it with all places and things I walk past on a daily basis is a real joy (plus it makes getting reference easier)
MG: Stumptown Volume 4 follows the story of the extremes people may go to get a good cup of Joe, mixing humor, seriousness, and neo-noir quite well. What did you think about the idea for this case when you first heard about it?
JG: We first talked about basing Volume 4 around coffee culture at dinner in PDX one night with the STUMPTOWN crew-it made me laugh! There’s something humorous about loving anything so much that they could essentially lose it. I guess in that way it’s not really about coffee at all. But it’s tricky thing to base the story around a funny idea because you have to make sure the motivations and stakes feel real. That’s a challenge artistically too, to build a story that feels serious but has these funny, almost absurd comedic moments. It gives you room to exaggerate and try to bump right up against the line of what it too far to be taken seriously. And Greg really nailed it with the way he wrote these characters and themes, even the initial dry read of the scripts made me laugh out loud. I was really interested in how he would weave these story elements together, and they came out perfectly so that even the funniest moments weren’t lost in the overall weight of the story.
RH: When I heard it, I was like “of course.” Again having lived in Portland for 15 years that story choice makes 100% total sense. Portland is a coffee town in a coffee state in a coffee region of this country. It’s one of those institutions that in the Pacific Northwest it eventually it becomes a bigger deal if you ignore it. Having Dex needing to solve a coffee mystery is as natural as Holmes stopping a Moriarty scheme. And I loved the story and how it executed.
MG: Volume 4 introduced new a character to the mix—Fuji Parios. How did you come up with her character design? What were you inspirations?
JG: Oh man, I was super hype to get to introduce more of Dex’s family and get a glimpse at how she grew up. Greg described her as basically an ultra-hipster and we took some of those elements and just ran with it. It seemed like a good idea to make her look a bit like a younger Dex and pretty but in a different way. She’s literally wearing her issues on her sleeve, and she’s such a great counterpoint to Dex in that way. I live in the Bay Area and Greg resides in Portland so neither of us had a hard time understanding how to give her a hipster feel, we are inundated with them 🙂
Fuji’s addition to this story added so much. Her dynamic with Dex is so great, and much like the overall plot of the story it exists in extremes. Having her in this story allowed for some downright funny interactions, but also some real weight and poignancy too.
MG: I loved the scene where Mister Dove tried to ambush Dex with a taser and ended up being tased himself. It was so unexpected and gripping, especially due to the art within the scene. Justin, what was your favorite thing to illustrate in this volume?
JG: Ha ha, thanks! I really enjoyed drawing this arc. There was a car chase sequence in the pouring rain I really liked a lot, and the last double page splash of The Case of a Cup of Joe was very satisfying. But I think my favorite thing from this volume was actually the single issue story included at the end. The Case of the Night that Wouldn’t End is a one-in-done case based around Dex on a stakeout. It’s a nearly silent issue and I really enjoyed the challenge of telling that story without a lot of dialogue and just sort of playing silent observer to a typical (and not so typical) day in Dex’s life.
MG: I loved the scene where Mister Dove tried to ambush Dex with a taser and ended up being tased himself. It was so unexpected and gripping, especially due to the art within the scene. Ryan, what was your favorite scene to color?
RH: All of issue 12. Really that was a joy and I think a culmination of a lot of different things we had been working on through the course of the book. I really got to push atmosphere and small variations on needing to convey that since it all takes place in the same local. Dex in and out of the car. Many single light source shots. The Neon sign that lite the parking lot. I really enjoyed the process and end result of that whole issue.
MG: Are there any other projects that you’re working on that you’re excited about?
GR: You know, we’re still doing Lazarus, and doing Wonder Woman right now and Black Magic will be returning 2017. There are a couple other things in development. I got more than enough to keep me busy.
JG: Yeah, I’ve been blessed with lots of cool projects on my plate right now. I draw another monthly, creator-owned book called THE FUSE with Antony Johnston and I’m nearly finished drawing Volume 4 of that. I also have a bunch of unannounced projects on my plate that will give me chance to try out some different genres than I typically work on. And more STUMPTOWN, of course- we haven’t made it a secret that things are going dark with the next volume as tensions that have been building in this series will start to come to a head. So very much looking forward to digging into that as well.
RH: Very excited about an upcoming Oni title “MOTRO” where I get to color longtime collaborator Ulises Farinas. Its a book thats been in the works for a little bit and I’m very excited it finally gets to be released.