Andy Diggle first came to prominence in the North American comic book scene as the writers of the The Losers for Vertigo, an acclaimed 32-issue run with artist Jock. He also had stints on Swamp Thing and Hellblazer, both also for DC’s mature readers imprint.
As a Marvel exclusive writer for a couple of years now, Diggle’s had recent runs on comics like Thunderbolts and Daredevil, but his return to Vertigo is now in stores — Rat Catcher, under the “Vertigo Crime” label. The book, his original graphic novel debut, involves federal agents assigned to the Witness Protection Program investigating the mysterious mob informant-assassinating “Rat Catcher” — who just may have blown his cover.
Newsarama talked to Diggle via e-mail about what made this return to Vertigo possible, collaborating with Rat Catcher artist Victor Ibañez, the differences in writing an original graphic novel as opposed to monthly comics, and what movies inspired him along the way. (Review of Rat Catcher, by Michael C. Lorah, here.)
Newsarama: Andy, the first thing I think comic book fans are curious about is the fact that this is coming out now, given that you've been Marvel exclusive for a couple of years. So I assume this is something that's been in development for a while?
Andy Diggle: Yeah, I was partway through writing Rat Catcher when Marvel offered me the exclusive, but they were happy to carve out an exception for it, same as they allowed Jason Aaron to continue writing Scalped for Vertigo. I was fitting Rat Catcher in between other jobs, so it took a while to complete.
Nrama: Rat Catcher is, I believe, your first original graphic novel, and the approach (pacing alone, without having a chapter break every 22 pages) must be vastly different than that of a series — down to the dimensions of the Vertigo Crime novels, which are a bit shorter than average comic book pages. In what ways did the construction of Rat Catcher differ from your past work?
Diggle: It’s the first time I’ve written an original graphic novel, so it required a different way of working. Normally everything’s broken up into 22-page chapters, but with a 180-page book I had to think a lot more about structure. I ended up blocking it out using colored scene cards on a giant corkboard. The smaller page size also took a bit of getting used to, as I had to re-learn how much action and dialogue would fit on a page. It sets up a different rhythm.
Nrama: Similarly, you introduce a good number of characters in a short time here, and unlike in a series, you don't have a lot of time to develop and explore them. Is that a challenge, then, to flesh out the characters sufficiently in a short time while also keeping the plot moving?
Diggle: Character is action. A person’s true character is revealed through their actions, not their words, so I had fun setting up some friction between what the characters say and what they do. The reader has to figure out for himself where the truth lies.
Nrama: The art of Victor Ibanez really drives the story well — on the same note of the previous questions, does this format also alter the relationship between writer and artist, simply because there's less average panels per page?
Diggle: Victor did an amazing job; I was so lucky to work with him. I think he’s going to become a comic art superstar. I’m not sure the book’s format altered our working relationship, though. The day to day process is pretty much the same.
Nrama: The Witness Protection Program is a continually intriguing concept, and something that has inspired a good deal of fiction in the past — is it something you were fairly fascinated with before starting to write the book?
Diggle: I think I’m more interested in messing with the preconceived notion of “good guys and bad guys.” Everyone thinks they’re the good guy. Really it’s all just gray areas. That’s one of the things I loved about The Wire; it didn’t judge or preach, it just showed the cops and the criminals doing what they do for reasons that made sense to them.
Nrama: Rat Catcher, like The Losers, is completely grounded in realism — unlike, say, Shadowland, which was full of mystical elements like resurrection and possession. Do you have a preference between the two types of stories, or is it nice to be able to jump back and forth?
Diggle: It’s nice to have a mix of story styles, but I’m definitely more comfortable writing stories that have one foot grounded in the real world. If the world itself isn’t believable, the action and high drama have nothing to define themselves against.
Nrama: This may be a complete coincidence, but Daredevil Reborn opens in New Mexico, and this takes place in West Texas — is that, possibly, a deliberate choice based on a particular interest in that section of America?
Diggle: Let’s just say I’m a big Sergio Leone fan! Plus when you set a story like this in the big city, you have to answer boring questions like “Why doesn’t somebody just call the cops?” I prefer to take the characters out into the wilderness where there is no law. It’s every man for himself.
Nrama: It's fair to say that a Vertigo Crime novel is about the same length, story-wise, as a short film or novella — with that in mind, was there any particular movies or literature that inspired you while writing Rat Catcher?
Diggle: I had originally intended to write Rat Catcher as a spec screenplay, but when Vertigo offered me the chance to write an OGN I thought it’d be a perfect fit. I was very much channeling the “neo-noir” vibe of movies like Blood Simple, Red Rock West, Breakdown, and No Country For Old Men. Classic film noir is always set in the urban jungle, but neo-noir is often set out in the desert. I like that bleakness.