Interview with a Rat King: A Chat with "Rat Queens" Creator Kurtis Wiebe

I was always writing something, whether it was embarrassing emo poetry or short stories about the pain no one understood, I spent a pile of my teenage years creating.
— Kurtis Wiebe
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Emily Koopman: First of all, I am absolutely obsessed with Rat Queens. I'm a sucker for comics, but in my experience anyway, it's tough to find a series in which the leads are almost exclusively female (and bad ass). When you were creating the four women, did you base (or partially) them on anyone you knew in real life, or were they completely from your imagination?

Kurtis Wiebe: It’s a mix of both, actually. You tend to write from your experiences and the people who’ve influenced your life, whether you intend to or not. Each of the main characters are an odd blend of my own personality, or aspects I wish were part of it, and little parts of people in my life. From family to friends.

Emily: Is there a particular girl in the series that you are most proud of? Be it their character arc, how they turned out on paper, or their abilities?

Kurtis: Betty has always felt very natural to me. She’s a woman who loves unconditionally, is thoroughly accepting of everyone she comes across and has a real genuine compassion for others. I love playing off that naivety a little, it comes from an honest place of believing every person is good, no matter who they are. That type of personality allows for real character comedy and I adore writing her.

Emily: Which Rat Queens villain would you LEAST want to encounter yourself and why? And which one do you think you could kick the shit out of?

Kurtis: It’s weird, I’m not entirely sure there’s been a long running villain. I suppose Gerrig could be considered one, but he wasn’t a true nemesis to the Rat Queens. The villain in the story is often the conflict that arises between the characters from time to time. I know that’s not a fantastic answer, but strangely there hasn’t been a major antagonist in the series so far.

Emily: I would personally love to see a Rat Queens TV show or film franchise. I also think it would be a hit If you could choose your entire cast, a director, and a screenwriter (feel free to nominate yourself!) who would they be?

Kurtis: I’d love to write it, obviously, but as for the rest? That’s a huge question. I’ve seen so many fan posts about what actors should take the lead roles, and they’re all amazing. My favourites so far are:

Betty - Mika Boorem

Hannah – Krysten Ritter

Dee – Lyndie Greewood (Who cosplayed Dee at SDCC a few years ago!)

Violet – Thora Birch

Emily: I know this is a cliche question, but how did you end up working with Image Comics? And when did you learn how to write in the comic book script format?

Kurtis: I attended Emerald City Comicon in 2010 to hand out pitches to the various publishers that were in attendance. It was a series then called Rat Bastards, which eventually became the Intrepids, with artist Scott Kowalchuk. It was pretty daunting, honestly, but it seemed like a few publishers liked what they saw. Three months after the show, Image Comics sent an email saying they wanted to publish the series. It was an incredibly exciting time.

The thing was, I never grew up reading comics like a lot of comic writers and artists. I came into them in my mid-20’s when a friend bought me a few for my birthday. They were outside the realm of superhero stories, a few were Image books, and it blew my mind. I had no idea that comics like these existed.

I’d been writing a lot of short stories, so I was already deep into writing for my own enjoyment, but I became obsessed with comics. I searched the internet for sources on how to craft scripts. It wasn’t long before I was writing my own and soon after began reaching out to artists to see if they wanted to work with me.

Emily: Is there a series (comic or novel) you’d really like to pen an issue of?

Kurtis: Honestly? Not particularly. For me, telling my own stories is the best part about my career. I wouldn’t turn an offer down if it was a great opportunity, but there’s nothing like having full say in the direction of story and characters you created.

Emily: Can you draw? What is it like seeing someone else’s visual take on something you’ve written?

Kurtis: I cannot. At all. What makes comics so addicting is the collaboration that comes with the medium. When you work with an artist on a project, it becomes something equally owned. You both contribute in a unique way. So many ideas I’ve had, most of them actually, have been propelled into a final product I could never have envisioned. The artists take what notes I give them and turn it into a living, vibrant world. It’s remarkable.

Emily: What or who has been the greatest influence on your life and/or career?

Kurtis: That’s hard to say. My style is reminiscent of Joss Whedon, I think. Not that I’m anywhere near his talent, but that characterization is one I emulate in my own work. The sort of dialog that comes naturally from people who’ve known each other a long time. I also infuse my work with comedy when I can, even if there is a dramatic aspect to the narrative. Comedy is human. We use it to relieve all kinds of stress and pain.

Emily: Could you describe your typical work day routine?

Kurtis:

7:30 – Wake up, get the kid ready and off to day care.

8:15 – Gym

9:00 – At the desk for my morning piece of work.

12:00 – Lunch

1:00 – At the desk for my afternoon piece of work

4:45 – Pick up the kid from daycare.

That’s my Monday to Friday schedule. I tend to take weekends off as much as possible, but sometimes I’m attending cons or have big deadlines, so I have to make those sacrifices. I know a lot of writers work on five or more projects at once, but I’m happier working on one or two.

Emily: Did you read more comics or novels growing up -- what are some of your favourites (genre-wise and story specific-wise)?

Kurtis:I read novels growing up. They were always fantasy or magical in some way. Weirdly, I wrote more than I read back then. I was always writing something, whether it was embarrassing emo poetry or short stories about the pain no one understood, I spent a pile of my teenage years creating.