Welcome to our seventh inaugural interview for GAME CHANGERS, a new series at Comicosity looking at female protagonists in comic books from the last decade or two (or more!) — and the original creators who brought them to life.
Our goal with this interview series is to highlight the vast wealth of great female characters that have been added to the genre in recent years, and, with any luck, inspire a few writers or artists today to continue adding to that treasure chest.
No character transcends so many essential “Rucka-isms” like Dex Parios of Stumptown. A down on her luck detective, strong, smart, funny, moral, and self-destructive with an addictive personality — a mess, really — Dex encapsulates so much of what is so compelling about Greg Rucka’s original female protagonists, and yet brings something new to the table at the same time.
Who is Dex Parios?
Dexadrine Callisto Parios is a Portland, Oregon P.I. in the not-so-grand tradition of rough-edged, down-on-their-luck detectives that peppered 1970s television shows. She’s broke from gambling, a smoker, a drinker, and has what can gently be referred to as a smart-mouth. In order to settle what would otherwise be a crippling debt, Dex endeavors to take on The Case of the Girl Who Took her Shampoo (But Left her Mini), searching for the granddaughter of the casino owner, who has gotten mixed up in the darkest corners of the city.
After a near miss death threat from the most powerful gangster in town, Dex endeavors to open up an actual office — and immediately is faced with a new case. The Case of the Baby in the Velvet Case begins as the lead guitarist of the band Tailhook shows up at Dex’s door looking for someone to find her first, and favorite, guitar — gone missing after her last show. The case quickly escalates into a showdown with skinheads and the D.E.A., leaving Dex in over her head once again.
A few words from her creator
Matt Santori: We’ve been told that ‘Dex’ is famously short for Dexadrine. What prompted such an unusual name for the character?
Greg Rucka: I liked the nickname ‘Dex’ and wanted to figure out why somebody would be called that. I hit on ‘Dexadrine’, which led me to wonder: Why in God’s name would you name your child ‘Dexadrine’? That led me to the creation of parents who would name their child Dexadrine, and everything else came from there.
Dex was originally created as a character for a TV pitch that I went out and did 15 years ago. And she stayed with me ever since. I just really like the back story I came up with for this character. And her family. Where she was from and where she was going. And why she was the way she was.
When the opportunity came about to do Stumptown, I knew that she was the P.I. for it. I dug all that out, tweaked it here and there. I trimmed off certain bits and sewed in new bits, and off we went. She’s another one of these characters that’s been with me for almost a decade before she was seen by anybody.
MSG: In a way, Dex is sort of like Lady Sabre in that she’s a woman who’s working in a genre that didn’t feature a lot of women originally — that 70s detective story.
GR: Right! But that’s again very deliberate. What does Jim Rockford look like in 2014? My argument is Jim Rockford looks like Dex Parios. That’s the difference in the era, forty years on.
One of the beautiful things about the American Private Investigator in particular as a genre is that protagonist lends itself to mere infinite reinvention. This is a form of literature that I have approached near academic analysis of. When I was in college, my thesis was going to be on the American Private Investigator As a Means of Social Commentary. Even now, 25 years later, I retain that.
This is a genre where that protagonist can be male, can be female, Asian or Caucasian, straight or queer, a rabbi, a nun — you go down the line, that is the American experience. These characters are always the product of their moment. If you’ve read the Spenser novels, you’ll see Robert E. Parker is writing Spenser as an early 1970s cool dude, who proudly describes in the first novel how wide his lapels are. You read it ten years later and you’re like, “Oh Dear God!”
While that’s an indicator of era, it’s not an indicator of the social mores of the time. What is that indicator is that in the novel, he sleeps with a mother and her daughter. Both are consenting and both are of legal age. One is married. At the time he’s writing, that is considered perfectly acceptable. And that’s one of the things the genre does beautifully. It not only illuminates the society through the case and the plot, but also through the characters themselves. There’s a reason why most of these novels are told in first person.
The nature of the private eye is to be a perpetual outsider. They are brought in to resolve a problem. They are rarely the problem at the start. Thus, that puts them in the position to be a liminal character and in the unique position to offer commentary.
MSG: One of the things that immediately distinguished Dex Parios in the first volume of Stumptown is her guardianship of her brother. Can you talk through that relationship a bit?
GR: You know, in looking back toward The Rockford Files, I really wanted her to have a relationship with a family member. And I wanted it to be a relationship that was non-traditional and complicated.
My older sister has Downs, and I don’t feel like I have ever successfully portrayed that life and the interactions of that life in a comic before. I tried it in Keeper [my first novel] and I don’t think I did it very well.
The in-house joke in Stumptown is, if Ansel likes you, you’re a good guy. And if Ansel doesn’t like you, you’re probably the one who did it. This has very much been my experience with my sister. Her ability to determine somebody’s character quickly is almost preternatural. It really is remarkable.
It was just me wanting to see something a little different in there that would ground Dex, and make her more than just another P.I.
MSG: Is Stumptown bigger than just Dex Parios? Is she really the central character or is it actually the city?
GR: That’s a harder one. The stories are about Dex, but the place is very crucial to who she is. That’s again part of the genre. The stomping grounds of the detective — those hidden corners and nooks and crannies — are crucial, because one of the things being done with them is to talk about the things that are around us. They’re what we see in our world, or what’s happening under our feet, that we are unaware of or persist to ignore. Thus, the protagonist is then our gateway into those places in our society where it is malfunctioning.
I would say, no, the core is always about Dex, but it grows, you know? I am writing a little bit about Portland. I love Portland, and I’m not terribly good at being critical of Portland. There are things I get really critical about — which tend to be aspects, rather than an aggregate issue.
The story we’re doing right now is about a lot of things, but one of those things is soccer culture in this town, and in the Pacific Northwest. I’m passionate about soccer, but there’s stuff that supporters’ groups do that I find really problematic. Supporters’ groups, if I put it unkindly, are gangs for predominantly white, middle-class hipsters. It’s gang behavior. It’s just “safe.” I find that problematic.
There are great things that supporter culture does as well — community outreach and social services, charity works and other good works that these groups do. But there’s also some behavior that’s very iffy.
Accordingly, the name of the first story in the new volume is “The Case of the King of Clubs” and it’s Justin Greenwood’s first arc. We are really, really excited. He’s doing some great work. He is very boldly putting his own mark on the book.
You’re never going to mistake Justin’s work for Matthew Southworth’s, or vice versa. When Matthew told he had to step off the book, one of the first things that came out of that discussion was that whoever is going to replace Matthew will need to have as much participation and say as Matthew did. I’m really delighted with what Justin is doing, and I think it looks great. I’m hoping people will dig it.
“Dex is the proof that you can be simultaneously a hot mess and a capable member of society at the same time. There’s this ideal of the woman who can ‘do it all’ and we seem to ascribe success to those who appear to have it all together. Dex doesn’t have it all together. She’s got a certain set of skills, she’s got a big heart, she’s terrible with money. She’s making life work on her terms.”
– Alison Berry, Comicosity
“Even in what I think is Rucka’s smartest scene, where Dex is finally getting the upper hand on an opponent (albeit over the phone), she still ends up spilling a Styrofoam cup of hot coffee all over her self. And it’s neither humiliating nor heroic — it’s Portland and it’s Dex’s luck.
Even when the story is going her way, she’s not going to come out of it with a metaphoric cape and boots or the adulation of millions. At best, she’ll get by, and that seems enough for her.”
Where can I read more?
- Stumptown Volume 1 #1-4 (2009): The Case of the Girl Who Took Her Shampoo (But Left Her Mini)
- Stumptown Volume 2 #1-5 (2012): The Case of the Baby in the Velvet Case
- Stumptown Volume 3 (Coming September 2014): The Case of the King of Clubs
For a full list of Comicosity’s Game Changers, please visit our index.