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DF Interview: Alex Grecian works on ‘Image’ of Rasputin
By Byron Brewer
Rasputin #1 combines the dark horror of Dracula with the historically rich drama of Downton Abbey. In one night Rasputin was poisoned, beaten, stabbed, shot in the head, drowned, then tied up and thrown in a frozen river. And that is just the back story recap!
New York Times bestselling writer Alex Grecian (Proof) and fan-favorite artist Riley Rossmo have resurrected the mad monk in their new ongoing historical fantasy, and readers have fallen under their spell.
To find the method behind the madness, Dynamic Forces quizzed Grecian on the mag. Here is what we were able to dig up.
Dynamic Forces: Of all the figures in history, Alex, why choose Rasputin to be part of this historical fantasy tale?
Alex Grecian: He’s got a lot going for him. Most people have at least heard of him, so the name has a certain cache, but those same people don’t know much about him, so the name doesn’t get in the way of telling the stories I want to tell. Beyond that, I’ve always been fascinated by the legend surrounding his death and if there’s a better character to ask Riley Rossmo to draw, I don’t know who that would be.
DF: Is this particular storyline with Rasputin inspired by any factual events?
Alex Grecian: Very loosely inspired by fact. I’m using the bare bones of history. The actual Rasputin is a sort of a skeleton that I’m draping the skin of my story over. Really, once you look beyond the more sensationalized aspects of his life and death, he wasn’t much more than a petty-ante conman. Many of the things he did were sleazy, but they were garden-variety sleaze, nothing to write home about. Or write a comic book about. I’m more interested in pretending he could actually tap into some sort of supernatural talent. This is our own character who happens to share certain traits with the real-life man. What if you could help other people, but in doing so you’d lose your own personality? And by doing good, you have to allow yourself to be corrupted? There’s a terrible dichotomy there between intentions and repercussions. What is that they say about the road to hell?
DF: At the point this interview is being connected, Rasputin #1 has sold out and is being sent back by Image Comics for a second printing. Did you anticipate this reaction to your work?
Alex Grecian: Well, I hoped for it, but you never know. These days I’m known more as a novelist, and I wasn’t sure anyone would really care that I was diving back into comics. I don’t think this book is like anything else being done in comics right now and that makes it kind of a gamble. I’m glad Riley chose to throw in with me because I’m sure his art is the biggest selling point for the book. Just look at it! And Eric Stephenson didn’t hesitate to commit to this project, so I’m grateful to him and to everyone at Image. And, of course, to the retailers and readers who’ve taken a chance.
DF: How does it feel to be reunited in these pages with Riley Rossmo, your artist on Proof? Why is Riley right for Rasputin?
Alex Grecian: This book honestly wouldn’t exist without him. I didn’t decide to make a Rasputin comic and then go out looking for an artist. It all kind of happened organically. Naturally, my first thought was to write this as a novel. That’s where my career’s been for the last few years. But I love comics and I think this story works better in this medium. It’s a better comic book than it would have been as a novel. But it took Riley suggesting that for me to see it. And just to be clear, that doesn’t mean I’m slumming or using comics as a steppingstone to go do something else. I’ve always thought that each story has its own natural way of being told. A story has to fit the medium being used to tell it. Rasputin was (and is) so much larger than life that his story needs to be visual.
DF: Even though the book has already debuted, for the uninitiated tell us about the intrigue in which the famed Russian peasant/mystic will be involved?
Alex Grecian: We’re building our own version of Rasputin, so we’ve gone back to his childhood. His entire life is summed up by a choice he makes as a child in the first issue. When he heals someone, he takes on aspects of that person or creature. So he loses a little bit of himself and has to choose carefully whether someone’s worth the trouble to help. Maybe a person just isn’t worth it. At least, that’s what Rasputin decides in the first issue. From there, we’re jumping forward in time and fleshing out who he is and how he does the things he does before getting him to the Winter Palace and spooling out the bits of his history that made him famous. His assassination actually plays right into the plans that were laid out for him at birth.
DF: How important to the story is the fact that the tale is set in pre-World War I Russia? Did you do much research for such historical trappings?
Alex Grecian: Hugely important. In fact, we’ll be dealing with the war directly by the time we get to issue #5. What happens on the front lines completely changes how he’ll approach everything in his life. It’s a sort of loss of innocence. Research is the part of my job I enjoy most. I love it. I think that’s why I’m often drawn to write historical fiction.
DF: I heard something about a supernatural monster being involved in the scenario? Is this creature the main big-bad and can you tell us if we will see a bit of Rasputin’s proclaimed “master of the mystic arts” side?
Alex Grecian: In issue #3 we’ll be revealing what kind of thing Rasputin really is. I’m not gonna say he’s a monster, necessarily, but it’s a big tonal shift, another storytelling gamble. I will say there’s not just one supernatural critter running around in this book. There’s a lot of them. And one is most definitely the “big bad.” Maybe it’s even Rasputin himself. (Maybe not.)
DF: Going forward, what may be planned for Rasputin if the book proves to have staying power?
Alex Grecian: We kind of painted ourselves into a corner with Proof and didn’t want to repeat that mistake with our new series. I had a grand five-year/sixty-issue plan for Proof, but the sales were just awful toward the end and we had to step away too early. Image was incredibly supportive and we felt like we were free to keep going, we weren’t going to be cancelled, but it was depressing to keep shoving this thing we cared about into the world and hearing crickets chirp. Since then, we’ve discovered that the trade collections have had some real staying power, but back then we didn’t know how many people were actually paying attention to the book. So we’re approaching the first ten issues of Rasputin as “season one.” If this book is still doing well by the time we get there, we’d love to keep going and do “season two,” “season three,” etc. Issue ten ends at a point where we can stop and feel good about the story we’ve told or we can roll up our sleeves and push on and build on that story. We’re anxious to see what happens.
Dynamic Forces would like to thank Alex Grecian for taking time out of his schedule to answer our questions. Rasputin #2 from Image Comics hits stores today, November 26th!
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