RAT QUEENS! Published by Shadowline Comics, RAT QUEENS is the story of Hannah, Violet, Dee, and Betty, the titular "rat queens" of the series. These young women—a crew of elves, dwarves, humans, and halfings—are best described as rowdy. They fight, they party, and when the time is right, they go out and kill monsters, orcs, and worse. These Rat Queens are adventurers, and good at the job. The series itself is great at what it does, too—written by Kurtis J. Wiebe and drawn and colored by the new ongoing art team of Tess Fowler and Tamra Bonvillain, RAT QUEENS has an extremely dedicated fanbase, one that shows up at comic conventions and signings en masse and in costume, ready to show their love. Later this month, the first RAT QUEENS deluxe hardcover arrives, including RAT QUEENS #1-10 and RAT QUEENS SPECIAL: BRAGA. In honor of the occasion, I interviewed Wiebe and Fowler about their work on the series, collaborating with Bonvillain, and what RAT QUEENS means to them.
Kurtis Wiebe: Tamra has this innate ability to read the mood of every single scene and adjust the palette to pull all the important pieces forward. What I love about her body of work is that even though she works on a number of different series, the way each is coloured is unique. Tamra can adapt her talents so seamlessly. She's the best colourist working in comics right now.
Tess Fowler: The thing I appreciate most about Tamra's work is her artful use of lighting. There's one market scene in the most recent issue that just glows. It exudes warmth and merriment. Sometimes she crafts a panel's colors in such a way that I can smell the food cooking or feel the palpable dread. It's delightful. I dearly love being teamed up with her on art duties.
IC: What do you see as the heart of RAT QUEENS? More than anything else, what makes the series go for you?
KW: It's about people who don't fit in the world they come from and yet find acceptance in each other. That doesn't just live with the Rat Queens, but a lot of the side characters as well. At the end of the day, it's the relationships that make this series what it is. From the beginning, I wanted this series to be about the complicated nature of friendships that are like family. What would happen when a group of big personalities work and live together?
The response I've received from fans has been that they see themselves in one of the characters, and I think that connection and relation has helped the series immensely.
TF: We live in a society that ostracizes noisy, outspoken women. It makes outcasts of them. The heart of RAT QUEENS is the love between such outcasts. That's something a lot of people can relate to. Including me.
IC: The RAT QUEENS deluxe hardcover is on the way. Looking back, how do you feel about the work you've done on the series so far? Is there an aspect of it that you're particularly proud of?
KW: The balance between drama and comedy. It hasn't always been easy; I've found comedy to be the most difficult part to write, honestly. While I enjoy that aspect, I've always had plans to develop the cast and make meaningful changes, to give each of the Rat Queens a unique arc. It's taken time to build it, but it's there and I'm happy that it's come together over the past two years.
IC: Tess is the new ongoing artist on the book. Tell me what appeals to you about her work!
KW: The thing about RAT QUEENS is that I want to work with someone who understands what the heart of the series is. Tess and I have been working quietly on projects over the past few years, before the BRAGA SPECIAL, even. We have similar sensibilities, both creatively and socially, and that has made our collaboration very easy and enjoyable.
Tess understands Betty, Hannah, Violet, and Dee. I could see it right away when I saw her first piece of fan art. It was what made me approach her to work together in the first place. I'm happy to be collaborating with someone who is committed to a regular schedule, that understands why I'm doing a series called RAT QUEENS, and brings her own unique vision to the world.
IC: What's at the forefront of your mind when taking over a series with an established style? Obviously the character designs can't change too, too much, but what kinds of things did you do to make the book yours, too?
TF: Taking over art duties on RAT QUEENS, I already felt like I knew the characters. I felt for them as if they were old friends. But with such a limited number of issues out in the public sphere, I felt like they hadn't yet had a chance to truly thrive. It takes time to get to know characters. To play with them. To help them find their true visual voice. My predecessors had only just begun to "find" the girls. So my goal was simply to continue that in the most honest way I could. Not to change or alter them. But to put them up on their feet and smooth out their rough edges. The bones were there. The first artful strokes of the painting. Now I'm fleshing it out. Completing the picture the way I believe is right for the characters.
For instance, some of the girls have more cemented, consistent weaponry. Some are always left handed. One has a tic where she's always pushing hair behind her ears. Another has a crooked smile. Their body types and heights are very specific to their regions of origin and fighting styles. These things are me making the book mine, of course. But I think they're the logical next step in the process too.
IC: What appeals to you most about Kurtis's writing?
TF: The emotional gut punches. There are moments of such stark poignant honesty in his work that it hits me where I live. He frequently follows this with biting, scathing humor. Which makes it easier to survive reading the emotional bits. But that's true of life. The laughter is what helps us survive the tragedy.
Kurtis's work on RAT QUEENS is something I feel is sorely needed in the world right now. It is an examination of loneliness born from standing up for one's own ideals. There is a macabre, sarcastic, almost manic edge to his work on the series that I feel is a telling commentary on what it means to survive as a rebel with no tribe. The saltiness of the language and the freewheeling humor...that's just the sugar that helps the truth pill go down.
RAT QUEENS is available in two collected editions (VOL. 1: SASS AND SORCERY and VOL. 2: THE FAR REACHING TENTACLES OF N'RYGOTH), one deluxe hardcover due for release on 11/25, and as ongoing single issues. Fowler's first issue as the ongoing artist is RAT QUEENS #11, which illustrates this interview. RAT QUEENS #13 goes on sale 11/18.