Interview: Kurtis J. Wiebe Unleashes The ‘Rat Queens’

Kurtis J. Wiebe is one of the most prolific writers working under the Image Comics banner. He first sprang onto the scene with “Green Wake” (one of my favorite series of the past few years) and “The Intrepids” and followed those up with “Debris,” “Grim Leaper” and “Peter Panzerfaust.” At the recent C2E2 in Chicago, Wiebe showed off his latest (with Meg Dejmal and John “Roc” Upchurch), the fantasy/action/comedy series “Rat Queens.” Think of “Rat Queens” as a smash-up of early, punky, profane Peter Jackson and later, epic, “LoTR” lord Peter Jackson.

I chatted with Wiebe through email about who these “Rat Queens” are, the inspiration for the series, working in the fantasy genre, and more.

MTV Geek: Give me a rundown of the characters in “Rat Queens.”

Kurtis Wiebe: Rat Queens is the name of a monster slaying, all-female adventuring group in a fantasy world. We’re following some familiar fantasy tropes with the series but twisting it up a bit with some modern flourish.

Hannah is an Elven Mage with a Rockabilly style but grew up in a fairly twisted way. Growing up the daughter of infamous necromancers is bound to take its toll. Hannah enrolled in Mage U, a venture even her overly protective parents couldn’t deny, and learned after a brief time with ‘outsiders’ that her folks could, quite simply, be the most evil people in the world. She’s chosen to leave that all behind and forge her own destiny.

Dee’s the healer and comes from a reclusive and fanatic sect of N’Rygoth worshippers. She left her family and faith behind once she realized how silly it is to make sacrifices to a giant floating squid in the clouds. Sure, she believes that N’Rygoth is real, just not a god. So, really, Dee’s an atheist cleric.

Violet grew up in the upper caste of Dwarven society and, for a long time, was the show model for her father’s weapons and armour line. Despite dreams of killing the crap out of monsters with the gear she merely modeled, Violet was stuck in her uppity, boring life. Until one day she’d had enough. She stole the best weapons and armour from her father, shaved her beard in defiance of her cultural custom and set out to see the world. Now she’s rather upset that beard shaving is a growing trend, since she started it for meaningful reasons. Yes, Violet’s a Dwarven hipster.

And finally there’s sweet, little Betty. Growing up in a Hobbit commune definitely made her an accepting, laid back lady but her carefree spirit definitely means her heart is never settled. There’s got to always be more in the next town, the next city, the next continent. Along the way she’s done her fair share of booze and drugs, and somehow landed in the company of the other three. Betty’s acts as both thief and drink maker for the Rat Queens.

Geek: Fantasy seems like a new genre for you. Is this your first time venturing into that world?

Wiebe: In comic format, yes. I wrote a novel a few years ago that was a modern fantasy story about an alcoholic fairy hunter and I’ve also been writing original content for my tabletop RPG games for decades. So, this isn’t all that new for me, fantasy was actually the first genre I dabbled in for both writing and storytelling.

Geek: Based on the preview of the series, it looks like you’re taking a more grounded approach with the action and dialogue. More of an “Army of
Darkness” feel, as opposed to heavy fantasy, is that true?

Wiebe: That’s actually a pretty good comparison, thanks for the heads up on that one! (laughs). Yes, this is first and foremost and action comedy with room left over for some long form plots that will blend in more dramatic themes and character moments. I’ve always been more of a character than gag writer, so this will be a bit of a new stretch for me, but I’m definitely not going to be sacrificing the character work in this series at all. Another comparison I’d choose for tone would be “Buffy” or “Angel.” There are some silly scenes, they play with both action and comedy, but also use storytelling that builds up to huge character moments. That’s what I ultimately want to do with “Rat Queens.”

Geek: What made you want to tackle this story?

Wiebe: It really comes down to my desire to take a lot of my passion for fantasy and do my own thing with it. Have a little fun with some of the more silly tropes you find in fantasy and also update it with some modern concepts and devices (magic cell phones and a really messed up version of reality TV, for instance).

Wiebe: And even though I find the tropes to be silly, I still absolutely adore them, so it won’t be this cynical, angry subtext, but a real honest love for the genre that brought me into storytelling in the first place.

Geek: How did you land on the specific tone for the series?

Wiebe: I had a rough outline and idea for each of the characters and even had some basic concepts for the setting but I was lucky enough to have a friend by the name Meg Dejmal who helped me define each of the women and also to find the right balance in both the comedy and the look of the girls.

Geek: Tell me about Meg and John “Roc” Upchurch.

Wiebe: As I mentioned above, Meg’s also a co-creator of the series as she brought some good advice to “Rat Queens” while it was still young. While I’ll be writing the monthly series, Meg will be co-writing a weekly webcomic that will be going live the first Wednesday of June and will continue to come out until the release of “Rat Queens” #1 in September.

Some people may know Roc’s work from “Vescell” which came out from Image Comics in 2011. His art brought to life a crazy amount of inventive and fun ideas and there’s no one else who could’ve delivered that excellent series. I met Roc in New York during NYCC in 2011 and had it in my mind to work with him ever since. We actually put together a pitch called Goblinettes, a comic series about an all-girl Goblin punk band. The little twist was that they’re Goblins, so punk music is all about love, peace and getting along just fine thank you. It was a bit too strange a concept, and even though we both loved it, we shelved the idea and moved onto what we’re publishing now.

Geek: Is “Rat Queens” ongoing or a mini-series?

Wiebe: “Rat Queens” is an ongoing series told in five issue arcs, similar to what we’re doing in “Peter Panzerfaust.” So, five months in a row, take a two month breather to release the trade paperback, and then back to five more issues. Rinse, repeat.

Geek: What other genres are you interesting in jumping into?

Wiebe: You know, it’s always been about the story and sometimes a particular genre works best for a particular narrative. I’ve got a few ideas brewing and one of them is actually a sci-fi drama in the vein of “Moon,” as opposed to the science fantasy series I did last year, “Debris.”

Geek: What’s going on with the “Peter Panzerfaust” motion comic, quite a cast was assembled for it.

Wiebe: Well, we just released the trailer for it the last weekend at C2E2 and the cast list was announced a few weeks ago. We’ve got Elijah Wood as Peter, Summer Glau as Wendy and Ron Perlman as our version of Captain Hook.

It’s still in development and both release dates and who’s distributing it are still up in the air, as far as I know.

Geek: What else are you working on?

Wiebe: Well, with two ongoing series in “Peter Panzerfaust” and “Rat Queens” by September, I’ll have my hands pretty full. I’m putting together a new series with Johnnie Christmas, whose work you’ll see in Image Comic’s series “Sheltered” with Ed Brisson (“Comeback”). That’s at the very least a full year off yet, but that’s all I’ve officially got planned at the moment.

“Rat Queens” is out in September, watch the awesome trailer here!

Rat Queens 1 from Rat Queens on Vimeo.

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