Lazarus: Going From 0 to X +65 [Interview]

IMAGE COMICS: LAZARUS: THE SECOND COLLECTION collects issues ten through twenty-one. What do the readers need to know going into this volume?

GREG RUCKA: Ideally, not a darn thing—you should be able to pick this up having never read any of LAZARUS prior and be able to find your way, admittedly having been chucked into the deep end, so to speak

If pressed, though, I'd say a new reader would want to know the following: the world pretty much sucks, it's ruled by 15 Families, and each of these Families has a champion, called a Lazarus. Two of the Families, Carlyle and Hock, pretty much loathe and detest one another. Our hero is the Lazarus of the Carlyle Family.

And her brother, Jonah, tried to kill her a couple months back.

Go from there.

IC: Michael, LAZARUS is a comic that's extrapolated from the real world. The science and technology both have their roots in what's possible or theoretical today, rather than pure fantasy. What's your research process like for designing new gear or armor?

MICHAEL LARK: I love stuff like industrial and architectural design, and if I had my way I'd be able to spend a lot more time working on it. But the realities of keeping up with a near-monthly publication schedule make it difficult.

Greg and I spend a lot of time swapping pieces of reference, and we have a Pinterest folder that is full of things that we may or may not use some day. Mostly it's a matter of looking up the various concepts that are floating around the internet. I try to avoid things that are currently in use, but at the same time I don't want to go too far out. So I look for concepts that seem to be one or two generations in the future, stuff that still seems grounded in reality while still looking technologically advanced.

Once we've researched things, I take all the bits and pieces that I/we like and that fit the design aesthetic of the Family in question and frankenstein them together into something that (hopefully) makes some sense and looks good. From there I create virtual 3D models of the design—whether it be a tank or a kitchen or a skyscraper.

IC: Forever Carlyle, Johanna Carlyle, and Sonja Bittner feature pretty heavily in this volume. What can you tell us about them? Not so much what happens to them in THE SECOND COLLECTION, but how you see them in terms of personality or temperament?

RUCKA: At its heart, LAZARUS has always been Forever's story—as she goes, so goes the world. But Forever has been incredibly sheltered and manipulated, and her journey is both of self-discovery and enlightenment, at least of a sort. She is learning the truths of her world, and she's learning that those truths are radically different from what she's been raised to believe. She's an interesting mass of contradictions in many ways, I believe—she's an exceptionally trained soldier, a warrior for her Family, and when it comes to doing the job, there's arguably no one better in the world.

That said, she is still, in a great many ways, an innocent, and an innocent in some very fundamental ways. She's never experienced true friendship, she's never been in love, she's never been free to experience life outside of the confines of her upbringing, her training, and her duties. That innocence is, I think, very compelling. She wants to believe in the good of the system that she serves, though that is becoming steadily harder and harder to maintain.

Jo, in contrast, knows the truth of the world, with all of its contradictions. She is very, very smart—she's as smart as her father, Malcolm, the patriarch of the Carlyle Family, and the man who is pretty much responsible for crafting the current state of the world. That kind of intelligence translates to deliberation, and she's been quite careful in pursuing her own agenda thus far, and when it looks like it's about to go wrong, she's forced to make some very risky—for her—decisions. But Jo...Jo is a much deeper water than she's appeared up until this point, and one of the things I'm personally most fond of in this collection is how she's continued to grow, how her layers are being slowly peeled back to reveal not only her long-term goals, but what's driving her towards them.

Which brings us to Sonja, who in many, many ways mirrors Forever in terms of lack of experience, in terms of “living.” Another Lazarus, she—like Forever—has been treated less as a person by her family than as a tool. But where Forever is becoming more and more aware of the gross injustices of their world, Sonja's never been moved to ask such questions. Her duty, above all things, remains to the Bittner Family, and it's a duty she follows without question.

IC: There are notably few double-page spreads in this series. How do you describe your storytelling in LAZARUS? What kind of approach are you aiming for?

LARK: The answer to that depends on the kind of double-page spread we're talking about. I see a lot of spreads that have tons of panels on them, which I personally find very difficult to read, and kind of pointless. I think it is much easier on the reader to have two pages of 6 panels each than to try to force someone to read across the gutter in the middle of a 12 panel spread—especially once the books start being collected into trades and hardbacks. Art gets lost in that gutter, never to be seen or heard from again!

With regards to spreads that are one big splash panel, I would love to do more of them. But every double-page splash represents at least one less page of story. So we have a choice: do we give the readers more story? Or do we give them splashy and fancy? That is a no-brainer for me. Our readers spend too much of their hard-earned money on our book, and I think we owe it to them to tell as much story as possible in every single issue.

On a stylistic level, LAZARUS isn't a summer blockbuster. It's got more of a real world documentary feel. Throwing in lots of splashy, huge images would diminish that effect, in my opinion. The setting is the future, but it's in the same way that next week is the future, and I want the art to reflect that "this could happen tomorrow" feeling.

IC: Eric, you're credited with "publication design and additional content" on LAZARUS. What does all that mean, exactly?

ERIC TRAUTMANN: I have a weird sort of "jack of all trades" behind-the-scenes role on the book; I make most of the computer screens and signs and propaganda posters and military insignia, and so forth. I also generate the "faux-vertising" on the back covers of the individual issues. I also have an unfortunate habit of taking simple concepts introduced in the scripts and throwing additional detail at the guys. For example, when Greg mentioned the Daggers for the first time, a couple hours later, he had a complete unit history (building from material in the timeline we generated for earlier issues), insignia, unit creed, weapons and tech, etc. It's fun for me, and it seems to inform how the characters are presented to the reader.

IC: The ads you mock up do a lot to suggest the personality of each family. Can you walk us through the creation of an ad from the first spark to final execution?

TRAUTMANN: Sure! Greg had written up fairly detailed histories of each Family, which showed where their wealth came from. In the case of D'Souza, for example, they were a major South American meat producer. At the time I did the back cover ad for them, we had done a few Family ads that were more modern, so I wanted to shake it up and do something more retro, and the D'Souza bio allowed for the 1960s-1970s to be appropriate.

Once I've figured out a general era, I research advertising from that time period (ideally in the area they're operating in) so I can get a sense of appropriate type and "lingo." Ideas tend to spring naturally from that, and I usually start with the ad copy first. So, for D'Souza, it was a matter of working out the copy (which I try to lace with some fairly dark humor where I can; in this case, the ad calling for people to put D'Souza's products on the table are instructed to "Serve D'Souza...") and the approaching the final piece like it's a real ad. What would the goals be for the advertiser? What striking graphics or colors would help?

All that has to fit into the framework of the overall "look" we've determined for the various Post Year-X Families, too—corporate logos that over time would morph into the final, militarized insignia, for instance.

So for D'Souza, I found a pretty good piece of retro stock art of a steak in a pan, which I carefully morphed and "painted" into the shape of South America, which amused me greatly. "What are you working on, Eric?" "Painting steak. This is my job."

And once all that is done, to indicate that these are "artifacts" of that Family's history, I digitally "age" all those ads, painting in burns, water stains, smudges, wrinkles, etc. That aging process usually helps sell the creepiness of the setting, I hope—a model's smile turns into a scary rictus when sufficiently weathered.

It's a fair amount of work.

IC: World-building is a tricky thing, and all three of you collaborate on making the world of LAZARUS seem "real," whether that means using standardized computer interfaces or carefully defining the chain of command for a certain military force. What is it that makes a world feel real to you?

LARK: Characters and story. That's what makes it feel real. Nothing else.

When Greg first told me the beginnings of his idea for Lazarus, he didn't mention the setting much at all—he told me about Forever. He mentioned the setting, but only as much as I needed to know to understand the character. The rest came about later, as the characters developed.

Everyone—including us—loves the world-building in this book. But (and I will bang this drum until the breath leaves my lungs) it only matters if there are interesting characters with interesting stories. World-building is setting, and any high school English student can tell you that setting is only one part of a good book. And the setting MUST serve the story and the people in it. To focus on the world-building without paying attention to the characters and their stories is to miss the point entirely.

If I, as the artist, have to make a choice between getting across an emotional character point and developing the world, I will choose the character. Every time. Without question.

RUCKA: I think, for my own purposes, this comes down to consistency, both within the world and within the characters. LAZARUS isn't high science-fiction—we're not chasing theoretical particle physics or interstellar space travel. The world is very grounded, and that's something that all of us take very much to heart. That sense of verisimilitude is crucial to me; otherwise the story—and the story is always, always about character—has no context, no setting, no place. We react to our environments, and the LAZARUS environment is a very specific one. The characters know the rules of the world. The reader doesn't. So if we're inconsistent, the reader is lost.

A lot of what we work on to construct the world is invisible, honestly—the eye passes over it, or it's presented as de facto within the story — and I personally prefer that approach. Otherwise, we become bogged down in exposition. It goes back to what the characters know and understand on a very fundamental level as compared to what the reader is familiar with. The comfort of the characters within the world builds the world itself.

But—and I echo Michael here, and Eric, as well, I'm certain—none of that matters if we do not believe in the people the story is about. The world is, quite literally, the stage they walk upon, but if the play's no damn good, nobody will care how beautiful the set is, to mix metaphors horribly.

TRAUTMANN: As a reader, I like to see that kind of stuff in the background. If the little details are right, it's a lot easier to swallow some of the bigger leaps a story may make. As a kid, it always drove me nuts me that the Nazis at the Tanis dig in Raiders of the Lost Ark are all carrying weapons that wouldn't be manufactured for years; as an adult, I view my small contribution to LAZARUS as being the guy who pays attention to silly, picky details most won't actively notice, but could—even on a purely subconscious level—erect a barrier to the reader's entry into the story. Typography looks a certain way in Carlyle territory to help sell the environment as a real, lived-in one; Hock's propaganda works differently, because he's different and where he operates from is different; and so on.

Greg and Michael are absolutely correct that the characters and emotional core of the story are priority number one, and they're both master practitioners of that kind of work; but it sure helps knowing HOW things work, and WHY things work (even if the reader never has to).

And the worldbuilding stuff tends to happen pretty organically. Greg and Michael built a hell of a framework, which makes it fun for me to pipe up with "Hey, wouldn't it be fun if..." moments from time to time.


LAZARUS: THE SECOND COLLECTION, collecting LAZARUS #10-21 is available now, as is LAZARUS: THE FIRST COLLECTION, which contains LAZARUS #1-9. The LAZARUS SOURCEBOOK #1 is out now, and LAZARUS #22 arrives 6/15.