Vermin Royalty: Interview with Kurtis Weibe and Roc Upchurch

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Thom (center) with Kurtis Weibe (left) and Roc Upchurch (right)

Every once in awhile a comic comes along that feels like it was made just for you; for me, Rat Queens is that comic. It brings back a world of swords and fantasy to a market largely dominated (volume-wise) by capes and superpowers. It’s funny (very funny), action packed, and just all out fun. Last month I had the pleasure of interviewing creators Kurtis Weibe and Roc Upchurch at the “Rat Queens #1” Launch Party at Third Eye Comics in Annapolis MD.

Thom Obarski: How’s the reception to the book been so far?
Roc Upchurch: The reception has been overwhelmingly good, such a warm welcome. It’s been fantastic! It’s really overwhelming.

TO: Did you ever expect this type of response for a fantasy book in a world where sword and sorcery isn’t as hyped up as it used to be?
RU: I didn’t really know what to expect; it’s kind of a niche genre, so you never really know. It’s something, obviously, we’re into so we knew it would be appealing to some groups; but no, we didn’t expect this level.

TO: Sold out at the distributer level within twenty-four hours!
Kurtis Weibe: Yeah, that was crazy! It’s a comedy book, and I never know how people are going to take it, but people have messaged me and said they’re actually laughing out loud at scenes.

TO: Yeah from the facial expressions, to the dialog…
KW: I was saying to Roc before, there was a scene in the first issue where there were lines of dialog for a joke, but then I cut them because the expressions just told the joke so much better. And that’s not something I’m used to. Normally I have to write the joke full on out, but that’s one of the nice things working with Roc is our styles compliment each other really well in the book.
RU: There’s a lot of back and forth; we play off each other a LOT. I laugh out loud when I read the script, every time!

TO: For those unfamiliar with the book, can you give us the twitter length synopsis.
KW: I really like this one, so I’m going to use it. It’s Lord of the Rings as if directed by Quentin Tarantino. It’s about four mercenary women who are hired by the town of Palisade to go and kill monsters and they spend that money nefariously with drugs and booze and parties.
RU: Basically what any twenty-something would spend their money on.

TO: As someone that grew up loving the whole fantasy genre, it’s great to see a book that simultaneously knows the tropes of the genre but can then turn them on their head.
KW: Yeah I grew up with fantasy and D&D; as a storyteller its a very natural thing to do, to play a story based game that’s interactive. I still try to play a weekly game—it’s something I’ve always had a love for—and this is kind of like my love letter to it in a lot of ways. A love letter to the ACTUAL way people play the game, and that’s infused a lot in the way we tell the story: the way the characters talk. And the humor in it is very much based on my experiences with the amount of hilarity that happens around the gaming table.

TO: Yeah, things like an elf that hates to take walks through the woods, or a cleric that’s an atheist; you know, wrap your head around that!
KW: Exactly! To some people an atheist cleric might not mean anything; but if you’re a gamer, you’re like, how does that work? If a clerics get their powers from gods but if you don’t believe in god how do you get your powers? Obviously we’re going to be dealing with that a little bit more as the series goes on.

TO: I absolutely love the art on it! It’s kind of like a cross between what you might see if you picked up the monster manual with an infusion from the modern MMO type avatar design.
RU: The MMO thing is probably where I get a lot of inspiration from, because my fantasy experience was games and movies, things like Final Fantasy or WoW. I came in (to the industry) concepting for MMOs, I’d spend eight, nine, ten hours a day designing fantasy characters and worlds. I wanted to come up with something different than what I was used to designing, different from what people were used to seeing but still be identifiable with the genre and have individual elements of personality and costume in each character.

TO: Speaking of personality, we get to a little bit of everyone’s backstory in this first issue; how much are we going to see them grow and see their individual assets they bring to the group and what influences them?
KW: It’s going to be pretty detailed, even as soon as issue #3. Issue #2 is a follow up to the action of issue #1, but in #3 we kind of take a step back from that a little bit and each of the girls has a little bit of a spotlight where we get to know their backgrounds or hint at where they come from or hint at what’s happened before. We’re going to be slowly reveling those characters over the course of the series. This isn’t a straight up comedy; there’s going to be a bit of drama in the series as well. So the characters will learn and grow, they’re going to change with the things that happen to them, so it’s actually a character piece as well. Right now it’s in your face, over the top, violent comedy/action series, but we have a lot of heart to it that I think will surprise a few people as we go on.

TO: With the action, I love the way the fight scenes move; it has almost an anime influence to it, what you’d expect from real-life animations of your MMO characters.
RU: Definitely, animation is also a big influence—to get across that action is so over the top and dynamic. We have an action book, so of course you want the action to be action-y!
TO: To move cinematically, yeah.
RU: Yeah, I like that cinematic feel and to make it flow from one end to the other. I have a lot of fun playing with those.

TO: What’s it been like working with Image? Were they your first choice?
KW: They’re great! They’re easy to work with. They promote and support your book. Actually we were going to self-publish it, and back then—I don’t think I’ve told anyone this—the original title used to be Pussy Rats. And then we changed that because that was really offensive. I don’t know what we were thinking. But anyway, we were going to do a kickstarter for it, and the week before we were going to launch the campaign a friend of mine—Riley Rossmo, who’s going to be doing the second print cover—he was like, ‘You should bring this to Image.’ I didn’t think they’d like it, but he said just send it to them, and literally ten minutes later they had it on their schedule! Now all we have to do is get it done and send it in, and they take care of everything else.

TO: And you mentioned this is going to be an ongoing story; you already have something like three years worth of storylines plotted out?
KW: Yeah, I can easily see thirty issues, and if it continues to grow and be successful, I really don’t have an end in sight. It could go on for years and years and years as long as this guy is attached. I can’t do it with anyone else!
RU: This is a playground. It’s non-stop fun. This world, these characters: this is a dream.

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You can check out the full audio interview at Geek Girls, Nerd Boys Podcast for a chance to win an autographed first print copy of “Rat Queens #1,” and be sure to grab “Rat Queens #2” which hits shelves this week!

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Thom Obarski is an editor with a writing problem. Also, a podcaster, nerdy comic gamer guy & opinionated consumer with a penchant for geeky fitness involved in a dark and twisted love/hate relationship with pop-culture and run-on sentences. Check him out weekly on Geek Girls, Nerd Boys on Fanboys Inc. When not inside hiding from the sun, you can find him running from zombies, slinging arrows with Hawkeye, sparing with the Cavalier, or target shooting with Deadshot.