|GREG RUCKA & MICHAEL LARK
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DF Interview: ‘Lazarus’ rises again in new series from Greg Rucka & Michael Lark
By Byron Brewer
Two years have passed since the Carlyle Family was betrayed in battle, and the Conclave War encroaches on every side. As a new era dawns, Johanna Carlyle goes on the attack to ensure the survival of her Family, relying on the loyalty and support of the Carlyle Lazarus – her sister, Forever – remaining at her side. And while their united front may be enough to turn the tide, the cracks are beginning to show...
Lazarus: Risen continues the story of Forever and the Carlyle Family featuring an oversized, 44-page story by Eisner winners Greg Rucka and Michael Lark, an all-new short story exploring the larger world of Lazarus by Eisner-nominated writer Lilah Sturges, an all-new supplement to the Modern Age: World of Lazarus Roleplaying Game by Green Ronin, original design artifacts and art supplements, and more!
DF HAD to find out about this sequel series (and bonanza!) so we sat down with the Eisner boys, Greg and Michael.
Dynamic Forces: Greg and Michael, so glad to see you are continuing the story of Forever Carlyle in Lazarus: Risen. Before we get to the new comic launching in March, tell our readers a little about how this Lazarus franchise (for lack of a better term) began back in 2012 or thereabouts – how you came together, etc.
Michael Lark: Greg and I had worked together on Gotham Central, of course, and were both really proud of the work we did there. We got chances to work on a few short-term things afterwards, but I know that I was anxious to work with Greg again on something longer-term. At first we talked about me drawing Black Magick after I finished up the Marvel exclusive I was under at the time.
About the time my exclusive was coming to a close, Greg and I got together for dinner one night, and he mentioned that he was thinking of something new. He then described the first scene in Lazarus #1, and I was instantly sold. I told him I would rather draw that book than Black Magick. In the end, I think it worked out perfectly, because in my opinion Nicola Scott is the perfect artist for Black Magick.
Greg Rucka: That’s pretty much it, honestly. When Michael left Gotham Central, I kinda vowed that, by hook or by crook, he and I would work together again, and for a while we both thought it was going to be Black Magick, but for a variety of reasons that never gelled. It’s absolutely worked out for the best, because I agree with him – Nic is the ideal artist for that story.
But we’d been spinning our wheels trying to get Black Magick going, and I’d been reading a lot about the financial crisis that Obama had inherited, and a lot of the behind-the-scenes stuff that went down. I know some people in finance, and their take was genuinely terrifying – most folks don’t have the first clue how close we came to everything collapsing. And being who I am, and looking at the world, I started playing what-if. The financial disparity globally had been growing, and growing faster and faster, and I began to wonder what it would look like when all the wealth was in the hands of, literally, just a few people. Doesn’t take long to get from that to neo-feudalism, and, well… boom, Lazarus.
I’d had an idea for an opening scene – it came to me almost fully-formed – and I pitched it to Michael and he literally was leaning forward further and further and when I was done he pointed at me and said, “That! I want to draw THAT!”
DF: Give new readers (and those who have been under a rock for a spell) the elevator pitch for the original Lazarus comic, the foundation Risen will set on.
Michael Lark: I’m going to let Greg take this one.
Greg Rucka: Lazarus is the story of Forever Carlyle, the Lazarus of the Carlyle Family, one of a handful of Families who now rule the world post the economic apocalypse. Each Family has a Lazarus – effectively an undying, engineered super-soldier who acts as bodyguard, assassin, and champion for their Family. Forever’s been raised to believe that her Family is right, that she’s a full-fledged member of the Family, and that their way is the only way.
And of course, that begins to crack as soon as she gets out into the world.
Risen begins two years after the end of the last series, the arc, “Cull.” The Families have now been at war for almost four years, and Forever has cut a deal with her sister, Johanna – who is now running the Carlyle Family – that in exchange for her loyalty and support, she’ll effectively get her freedom. So Forever is all-in with Johanna and the war effort. But Carlyle is losing the war.
And that’s where Risen begins.
DF: Greg, with Lazarus: Risen, two years have passed for the Carlyle Family. What has changed?
Greg Rucka: The biggest change is in the relationship between Forever and Johanna, honestly. The world has declined as the war has continued on, and Carlyle is in a dangerous position. To get out of it, Jo and Forever have to work together, and that means they have to trust one another. It certainly looks like Jo’s kept the promises she’s made to Forever at the end of “Cull,” our last arc – all but one of them, as we learn early in Risen. Forever is now, for the first time, the master of her own will – she’s no longer controlled by the chemical cocktail that Bethany and James were feeding her. The question is now what she will do with that freedom, and the answer may not be what anyone expects.
Saying anything else would give away too much, I think. It’s important, though, that if you’ve read through “Cull,” you’re not missing anything, and if you’ve also read the X +66 mini-series, you’re ahead of the game on a couple of fronts – Casey Solomon has been a Dagger for almost two years, now, for instance, and there are other (secondary) characters whose actions in that mini-series, and the stories of that series, will become more and more relevant. Basically, if you’ve read X +66 you’ve done the extra credit.
DF: Talk about who the characters are that are key to the book: Forever, sister Johanna, other main protagonists.
Greg Rucka: The series has always, at its heart, been about Forever and her journey. She began in the first issue very much as a vessel of her Family’s will, and as the sword – sometimes literally – by which that will is enforced. It’s not that she was brain-washed, per se, but she’d certainly been indoctrinated through a number of means – her education, her sheltered upbringing, and so on. But the series began with those fundamental truths being challenged, and Forever very quickly determining that things in this world are not right. As the series has progressed, and as she’s continued to serve her Family, she’s struggled to reconcile the truth of the world with the discovery of the truths about herself, and when we left Lazarus, she’d finally gotten a lot of the answers she’d been after, and, frankly, wasn’t happy with them.
Which brings us to Johanna. When the series began, I think I was a little lazy with her, to be honest – in the first issue, especially. By the third issue, though – at least to me – she’d become one of the most fascinating and complicated characters in the series. We know – I mean, we’ve seen it – that she can be pretty ruthless and very, very Machiavellian. Forever has always been very honest, if you think about it – she says what she means for the most part, and her actions have always spoken louder than her words, as far as that goes. She’s never been terribly good at deceit, at least outside of her “work,” so to speak. But Jo? Jo has kept readers guessing, and that’s as it should be. She’s certainly demonstrated that there are ample reasons not to trust her, you know? She wanted the crown, so to speak, and she cut a lot of throats to get it.
Now she has it. She’s Head of Family. But the Family is in jeopardy – Carlyle was betrayed by Morray at the end of “Cull,” so the southern border is a war zone. Hock is to the east, and we know how he feels about Carlyle. And now there’s Vassalovka, coming in through the Alaskan corridor. Oh, and to the west? The Pacific. So things are getting dire.
The further the series progresses, the more I write about these people, the more different themes become apparent to me. There’s always been a political edge to Lazarus, unashamedly so. There’s always been questions about what it means to be “family,” and the obligations and rewards that come of it. But in many ways, the series has become, more and more, about these two women in particular, about Forever and Johanna, and I love writing them. I’m excited for people to see not only how Forever has changed in the past two years, but how Johanna has, as well.
DF: Speaking of Johanna, she is very much in survival mode for her family in Risen, yes?
Greg Rucka: Absolutely. Carlyle is in real trouble. There was a sequence in Risen that I ultimately cut, but the essence of it was – it was cut because it was, frankly, just pure exposition, and we’ve got the inside front cover for that! – that Carlyle’s modeling puts them at roughly 100 days before they lose the war at the current rate. They have to do something, and Johanna – for all of her ruthlessness – is pragmatic as Hell. She fought for the crown, as I said, and she didn’t do that just to lose it to Morray, Vassalovka, and Hock. She actually wanted to become Head of Family for some very specific – and perhaps surprising – reasons. She’s said as much in the previous series, but I think a lot of readers wrote it off as “just another of Johanna’s lies.”
But the saying is desperate times, desperate measures, and that means that Jo is about to take some big gambles, and they’re gambles that rely – in enormous part – on Forever not only being in Jo’s corner, but on Forever being at the top of her game. And that is, actually, one of the things Michael and I have been discussing about Forever in this first arc in Risen – Forever is coming into the height of her powers. She has never been better at what she does. There’s a fight at the beginning of Risen issue 2 – and I don’t want to give it away – but it’s roughly 20 pages of Michael doing what Michael does best, it’s the “Conclave” fight versus Sonja all over again, but taken to the next degree.
So, yeah, Jo is fighting for Carlyle’s survival, and she’s gambling heavily on Forever’s support to win the day. The question is whether that’s a safe gamble now that Forever is finally free to think for herself.
DF: Michael, talk about using your artist’s tool box to create the fantastic mood these Lazarus stories have demonstrated. I know you were quoted somewhere – and this was long after your collaboration with Greg on Gotham Central – that you enjoyed working with the scribe because he wrote things you liked to draw.
Michael Lark: Part of what makes this book work (I hope) is that, while it is “speculative,” everything in it is based on our current reality, and it feels like the events of the book could really happen -- even more so post-2016. Greg often tells me that my style is not necessarily “realistic,” but it is what he calls “documentary.” That’s not something I had ever done consciously, but it makes sense to me. And I think that quality, that feeling that I’m documenting events as they are occurring, almost as a semi-detached observer, works for the things Greg is writing, and adds to that feeling that the events in the book could really happen.
Part of what gives my drawings that documentary quality is just the way I think and approach a story, but another element is my use of reference for everything I draw. I wish I was the kind of artist that could draw from some kind of visual memory, but, alas, I’m not. I need to see how a thing really looks before I can draw it. As a result, I use everything I can think of for reference: photos and digital 3D models of all kinds are absolutely necessary for me.
So, if I’m drawing a VTOL airplane that doesn’t exist in reality, I will discuss with Greg what sorts of real-life concept planes we can use as a guide for how the technology might evolve. From that I will design a 3D model for the plane. Then, once it is time to put ink to paper, I have a 3D model of it in my computer and can render it somewhat accurately. I think the fact that these things and people actually exist in my computer and I can study them as I draw -- that I can document them, if you will -- is helpful in creating that documentary feel.
I also think it helps that my style is a little rough, or has at least been described as such. I don’t spend a lot of time worrying about the quality of every line and shape. I’m far more interested in my art having a sense of energy, which leads to that roughness. And that quality lends itself well to the lived-in, sometimes distressed, feel of some of the settings and characters.
As far as working with Greg, I always end up feeling very attached and involved with his characters. They are real people, in my mind, and they do and say the things that real people say and do, along with all the messiness that goes along with that. My favorite thing about them is that they all have such rich inner lives, and Greg often leaves it entirely up to me to show those inner lives. I love it when I get pages with no dialog, and I am tasked with showing the inner conflicts they are dealing with, without any words to help. Those moments really push me as a storyteller, and I love that. I also enjoy it when the characters are saying one thing, but are feeling or thinking something entirely different. I like the challenge of showing that dichotomy and inner conflict at work. It’s extremely rewarding at the times I get it right.
Most comics fans love the big, splashy action moments, and I do, too. This is, after all, a visual medium. But it’s those quiet moments that really get my juices flowing, and are a use of the visual aspects of the medium that a lot of people -- readers and creators alike -- tend to take for granted, I think.
DF: I recall your desire in Lazarus to work with a European color artist for a different look from regular American comics, and I am glad to see Spanish colorist Santi Arcas returns (at least as credited on Lazarus: Risen #1’s cover) for this book. Talk about the interplay of your art and the hues of Arcas.
Michael Lark: We knew when we started this book that we didn’t want a bright, “comic book-y” palette. We wanted something that was more like European graphic novels. I’m no good with color myself, so mostly I just offer guides to Santi if the color of something is important to telling the story. I share some of my reference for him to use if he likes, especially if there is interesting lighting involved, but for the most part all of the decisions are his.
DF: Any new characters in this coming series that you enjoyed designing … or, conversely, were a pain to render. Or set piece, for that matter.
Michael Lark: Designing the sets and characters is one of my favorite parts of the process, though it can become time-consuming on a book like ours. I always wish I had more time to push the designs.
It usually takes me a little time to get into the characters -- after I start letting them “act” in the scenes, I can get a better feel for them and their personalities, which is what makes me like them. While we’ve introduced a few new characters in the re-launch, we are mostly seeing how our regulars from the first series have grown and changed. That’s been the most fun for me. The younger Forever is a couple of years older, which makes her almost a completely new character, and I absolutely adore her so far. And our main character has also gone through some changes in the last two years - she’s been at war, and is a lot more battle-hardened, both emotionally and physically. It’s been fun conveying those changes.
As for sets, we do indeed have a couple of big set pieces in the first two issues, and they couldn’t be more different. One is an arctic outpost, the other a floating launch platform in a tropical location that has been bombed into ruins. Both were fun to design, and both present unique challenges to draw. The one thing about being an artist in comics is that I constantly have to learn how to draw new things. A lot of artists draw things the ways that they’ve always been drawn, but I’m not really very good at things like that. So I always have to invent my own way to draw something new. So, everything is a “pain to render” at first. I usually only start to feel comfortable with new sets/locations/characters when I’m drawing the last page that they’re on!
DF: Haha! … Michael and Greg, any projects current or future you can tell readers about?
Michael Lark: Lazarus is my entire focus. I don’t have time to do anything else, even if I wanted to.
Greg Rucka: There are always other irons in the fire, but Lazarus remains – as ever – at the top of my priority list. The other two series I’m doing with Image will be resuming later in 2019 – Black Magick will be coming back in May or June, I believe, as will The Old Guard, drawn by Leandro Fernandez, with a second series. I’m working on another book for Image, as well, but don’t want to say more about it until the time is right. I’m keeping busy!
Dynamic Forces would like to thank Greg Rucka & Michael Lark for taking time out of their busy schedules to answer our questions. Lazarus: Risen #1 from Image Comics hits stores March 20th!
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