This week, writer Greg Rucka and artist Michael Lark enlist their fellow creators Eric Trautmann and Steve Lieber for a special mission as Lazarus: X+66 hits shelves. Trautmann will co-write the first issue of the mini-series, set in the world of Rucka’s creator-owned series Lazarus, while Lieber will handle the story's art chores.
As Lazarus: X+66 moves on, each issue will feature a story by different creators that will explore the world and backstory of Lazarus.
With Trautmann and Lieber kicking the series off, Newsarama spoke to the pair, alongside Lazarus co-creator Rucka, to get a glimpse of how the creators came together and what readers can expect from this first issue.
Newsarama: Greg, apart from the Lazarus: Sourcebooks that you’ve done with a few other collaborators, it’s primarily been you and Michael Lark steering the ship with Lazarus. Can you share a little bit about why you decided to shift gears and develop this six-issue mini-series?
Greg Rucka: Oh, I’d had the idea of telling these stories for a while, now, or at least doing something like this where we could shift the focus from the “main” characters of the series and take a look at things from a different angle, a different point of view. There just hadn’t been an opportunity until Michael and I discussed him taking some time off. As soon as Michael told me that he needed to take a break, we discussed what our options were on the title, and I proposed the mini-series idea, and Michael was absolutely aboard. So, it’s a mistake to think that Michael’s not involved in this from the get-go—his DNA is mixed into the Lazarus core, there’s just nothing we do in the universe we’ve created here that each of us doesn’t have some say in, some hand in.
Nrama: Can you share how you came about putting together the creative teams for each of the issues starting with Steve and Eric?
Rucka: Once we’d committed to the mini-series, Michael and I talked about how to actually make the thing. Michael had a long list of artists he wanted to see involved, and we bandied around names and basically settled on about a dozen people that we wanted to approach, and then I started writing emails and asking on our behalf if people wanted to come along on this journey with us. On the writing side, it was a little different, because one of the things I knew going in was that, while I have a very clear vision of the world and its people, there are some corners that are more ill-defined than others. Never mind the workload, it was a question of drawing on collaborators who could add strength where I was weak.
So, it was very much a case of trying to match the best teams to the story. Nothing more mystifying than that.
Nrama: I understand you have a good deal of trust in your collaborators on X+66 - especially given Eric’s past and present involvement in Lazarus and in others series with you. But this will no doubt introduce some different elements into the story. What are those elements, and why do you think they prove vital to the lifeblood of the story you’re telling here?
Rucka: Oh, I think — fundamentally — bringing in different collaborators guarantees differing perspectives. Eric—and Neal, and Aaron, for that matter, just on the writing side—ask questions about the world that I think I often take for granted, and that alone forces me to re-evaluate and re-examine what we’re doing and the way we’re doing it. I think the same thing goes on the art side, honestly—Justin Greenwood sees San Francisco in X+66 differently that Michael did, and while Justin is absolutely going to try and be faithful to Michael’s vision of that city in this future, he cannot help but bring to his depiction his own personality and experiences. We run into this on the sourcebooks a lot, as well—building out the world requires going back an examining what we’ve already constructed, and determining if it still holds water in terms of where the overall story of Lazarus is heading.
Nrama: Steve and Eric, what about Lazarus inspires you most as creators and what were you most anxious to dig into with your issue?
Eric Trautmann: Lazarus cleaves to my own...let’s call it “skeptical” view of humanity, so I feel very at home in that setting. More’s the pity, I suppose, but there it is. A fair amount of the setting development work I’ve done over the years (during my Star Wars roleplaying game and HALO days, notably) has been fleshing out things on the margins of the setting. A fair amount of “lore” about the Daggers, the Carlyle special operations soldiers highlighted in this issue, came out of a document I’d written up just for fun, when I’d been asked to design their insignia.
So, being able to put some of that unit history and “legend” onto the page in a way people can actually see, that was a huge inspiration.
We wrote the issue with Steve in mind; I’ve only worked with Steve a couple of times (doing some introductory pages for The Question: The Five Books of Blood, and on a Vertigo graphic novel I co-wrote with Brandon Jerwa, Shooters), but it has been uniformly great. So, the idea that Steve might draw the thing hugely informed our script. When he said “yes” to doing this issue, it was both gratifying and honestly, a tremendous relief.
Steve Lieber: I bought Lazarus at the shop the week the first issue came out. I was instantly hooked by the characters and the world Greg, Michael, Eric & Santi [Arcas] created. This is a very well-thought-out near-future, and it was easy to get immersed in it. As for what I was most anxious to draw, in a story like this I’m all about expressing emotion through character. Fortunately, Greg and Eric know these people inside and out, and every line in the script made them real.
Trautmann: I’m blushing, Steve. :)
Nrama: One thing that struck me about you being paired with the Lazarus series, Steve, is how there’s something about your line and inking work that seems like a good match to Michael Lark stylistically [especially seen in the southern horror Alabaster]. What aspects of X+66 #1 were most challenging for you and what elements of this world do you feel played into your strengths?
Lieber: I’m a huge admirer of Michael Lark’s work. I’ve never had the chance to talk with him, but I’m pretty sure he and I draw from a similar well of influences and inspirations.
I’ve found when working with writers like Greg and Eric, the most effective approach is a heightened naturalism. The story is so strong that putting a bunch of exaggeration into the art comes across as distracting rather than expressive. When a story IS interesting, you just communicate what’s happening and let the content do its job. The tricky part is that this requires a lot of diligent draftsmanship with none of the stylish short-cuts that can help a super-hero artist get a page drawn quickly.
Nrama: Is there a particular scene you especially grew to love ... or hate Eric and Greg? J
Lieber: I loved every page of the story, so no hate to share. The toughest part was definitely the double page training montage spread. That was a lot of work, but it’s a hell of a sequence.
Trautmann: If Steve didn’t hate me by page 4 of Shooters, I figure I’m safe.
Lieber: It took a long time, but now we’re in a place of healing.
Nrama: So, Eric, you mention that you collaborated on the design elements for Lazarus, but can you discuss the process of co-writing this first issue of X+66 with Greg? What was the process like and what would you say you’ve learned in working w/ Greg in this capacity?
Trautmann: Greg and I have collaborated on several projects in the past (Checkmate, Final Crisis: Resist at DC for example), so at this point, we’re a pretty well-oiled machine. Honestly, the toughest part is lining up our schedules so we can get together and break a story down. In the case of this issue, we actually set up a sort of writers’ room in Las Vegas, so the trip did double duty of getting the issue written and acquiring some badly-needed downtime.
Our process has stayed pretty consistent throughout the years; we get together (we live within a couple hours of each other), brainstorm the issue, and then figure out the individual beats. Then we determine a page loadout of who’s writing what, and then we go off, write our separate sections, and then smooth over each other’s bits to file down the seams.
So, this was that process, only it was also in a nice hotel in Vegas and there may have been some alcohol consumed.
Nrama: Greg - a sort of follow-on to this: How does it feel letting someone else take the wheel on your’s and Mike’s creator-owned baby?
Rucka: Heh. This is actually more complicated a question to answer than you might think. Nobody’s taking the wheel, so to speak, because neither Michael’s nor my own are entirely off it, to begin with. There’s nothing in these issues that’s going to happen that we didn’t want to happen, that isn’t happening, ultimately, the way we’d imagined. Or, to put it more crudely, I’m co-writing these things for a reason, and if Trautmann gets any big ideas, I can always take my ball and go home.
Working with Eric, in particular, is very easy for me, very comfortable. We’ve been collaborating on lots of different projects over many, many years, and we’ve got a rhythm, and a system, and a hell of a lot of trust, and it’s that last that I think helps bring out our best in each other. It’s also crucial to remember that Eric has been part of Lazarus from the get-go in one way or another. As the graphic designer on the series, he’s worked very closely with Michael, under Michael’s direction. His work on the backmatter, everything from the artifacts we’ve published to the fake ads, really speaks for itself. And as much as I talk to Michael about what we’re doing with the story, what I’m writing, I talk to Eric almost as much about the things I’m thinking, if only to use him as a very, very valuable sounding board for me.
All of this is a long way of saying, it wasn’t actually that difficult or that traumatizing, not working with Eric, nor with Aaron Duran on Issue #2, nor with Neal Bailey on Issue #3. These are all writers I have great trust in, but they are all also writers who, I know, respect what Michael and I have been doing, and are trying to keep doing, with Lazarus, and are only looking to help augment that.
Nrama: Although we’ll continue to see your thumbprint on this series after X+66 concludes, you do only have one issue to make your mark from this storytelling perspective. What part of the story are you most proud of introducing in this first issue?
Trautmann: I enjoyed seeing the Dagger creed that I penned for the aforementioned design doc show up on the comics page.
Lieber: I really liked the characters of Hackett and Cervantes, and it’d be very cool to see either of them show up in future stories.
Nrama: As we wind down, I’d like to dig a little deeper into the story for Issue #1 itself. For this issue, we’re going to be digging into the Carylse SpecOps forces, specifically Casey Solomon. Why was she the person for us to begin this mini-series alongside?
Rucka: I’m not sure there was incredible calculation to it, if I’m perfectly honest. I’ve known Casey’s arc since before she was introduced, and this was a crucial step in her journey and growth, though, in truth, the story is as much—or more—about the character of Cervantes (who’s introduced in the story) than it is about her.
Speaking more thematically, I think it sets the tone well for what we’re intending in the X +66 series—that we’re shifting the camera away from the inner machinations of Family Carlyle and drilling down, instead, on those characters who exist in the periphery of that world but who are, for one reason or another, inexorably tied to Forever—specifically —and the Carlyles more generally.
And I like Casey. So there’s that.
Nrama: Why do you think these types of “laser focus” stories are important when it comes to building the greater narrative of Lazarus?
Rucka: I have always liked stories that contextualize the broader setting and that, in particular, reveal established characters in a new light. This was one of the great pleasure of Gotham Central for me, to be honest—to be able to speak, however softly, about Batman from the point of view of those characters to whom he remains a mystery, and a power, and a potentially dangerous power, at that. Providing a different perspective, an “outsiders” perspective, can add even more strength to the “interior” story, I think. So telling stories like these, the way we’re telling them, can actually buttress and even expand on the world building, because it reminds the audience that it is, in fact, a big world, and that while we tend to walk with the giants of that world—so to speak—there are far more people who have to live in their shadow.
Nrama: What do you think the greatest drawbacks and benefits are for Casey as she’s considered for Dagger Selection?
Rucka: It’s established on the first page that Dagger selection is voluntary, and that the reason it’s voluntary is because the attrition rate on the selection course is not only incredibly high, it can be fatal. There are candidates who show up in the hopes of becoming a Dagger who leave Camp Coyote in a body bag.
Casey is the only candidate who has ever been ordered to report for selection. She didn’t have a choice. And she was ordered to attend selection by Forever. While Forever’s position in the Carlyle military can be muddy, one thing we’ve tried to make very clear from their introduction is that the Daggers are hers—they’re her unit, her people. She is their Commander.
The Daggers take that very seriously, as you’ll see in the story.
Nrama: Casey doesn’t volunteer but instead, is volunteered. How does that make her initiation process that much more challenging?
Rucka: So Casey shows up because she was ordered to be there. She jumped the queue. Two years earlier she was a corporal. Now she’s a sergeant. Almost every one else at selection has gone through extensive training, has spent years in various units, acquiring their myriad skills required for this duty. Casey’s playing catch-up. When she first shows up in the story, she is quite literally arriving on a helicopter from having completed the pre-requisite course for selection (scout-sniper training). She’s filthy, she’s exhausted, and she gets thrown into the deep end…again.
And then the sergeant in charge of the selection, Hackett, introduces her to the rest of the candidates by making a point of this. He, in essence says, all of you? You’ve earned the right to be here. This one? The one who’s been allowed to show up late? She hasn’t.
So, yeah, Casey starts in a hole. Without a shovel. Or a flashlight.